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Big man in the middle
There’s no question that Brandon Mebane has been a big key to the success of the Seahawks’ run defense. He is, after all, right in the middle of everything and anything as the nose tackle.
But it’s not just his imposing presence, it’s his disruptive performance.
“Brandon has been a huge part of the run defense, there’s no doubt about it,” defensive line coach Todd Wash said. “Some of the reason we don’t play him more on third down is because we don’t want to wear him out for first and second down.
“When we get any type of weak-side run game, regardless of how they’re going to block it, we feel he can handle two guys at the point of attack. And that’s allowed us to be successful so far this season stopping the run. He’s doing a great job for us.”
That leads to a question: Which is more difficult, trying to block the 311-pound Mebane, or getting him to talk about his importance to a run defense that ranks 10th in the league in average rushing yards allowed and leads the NFL by allowing a per-rush average of 3.2 yards?
You be the judge.
Asked about his low center of gravity and disruptive style being the start of the Seahawks stopping so many running plays, Mebane offered, “It’s been good. What they’re asking me to do plays to what I do well, because …”
Pausing in midsentence, he said, “It’s not just me. It’s Red. It’s Clem. It’s Alan.”
That would be fellow starters Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, the ends; and Alan Branch, who was added in free agency to play the three-technique spot that Mebane filled the past few seasons.
But Mebane was just getting warmed up. Rising from his cubicle in the locker room, he not only named all the other D-linemen, Mebane pointed them out like a tour guide on one of those double-decker buses.
“It’s all these guys,” he said. “It’s Clint. It’s Ant. It’s Raheem. It’s Al. It’s Pep.”
And that would be the backups who work in the rotations that allow the starters to stay fresher, longer: tackles Clinton McDonald and Al Woods; swing man Anthony Hargrove; and rush-end Raheem Brock. Pep? That’s practice squad lineman Pep Levingston.
“It’s all of us,” Mebane said. “We’ve all been jelling together and trying to make things happen. So it’s not just one guy. It’s all of us.”
You want to argue the point with him? You’d lose, because saying the Seahawks’ current group of linemen is tight knit isn’t just a cliché, it’s a reason for the way they play.
“It’s amazing,” Wash said when asked about that camaraderie in the defensive linemen’s meeting room, and corner of the locker room. “They’re very close friends. They give each other a bad time and they heckle each other quite a bit, but some of the reason to the success they’re having as a group is because they care so much for the guy next to them.
“At this level, you hear that. But there’s true care for each other in that room.”
You definitely hear it from the Seahawks linemen. They all talk about the feeling in “the room,” and how much they appreciate the efforts of the other linemen.
“I’ve been coaching for 19 years, and this is my fifth in the NFL, and I thought we’d had some good rooms before,” Wash said. “Nothing against those, but it’s not even close as tight knit as these guys are in that room for us.”
But back to Mebane, even in his fifth season with the team he continues to impress his coaches with the things he can do. It started when he was a rookie, after Mebane joined the Seahawks as a third-round choice in the 2007 NFL Draft out of the University of California. During the pass-rush drills in a spring minicamp, Mebane opened a few eyes and even left a few mouths hanging open with his ability to pressure the passer.
“Honestly, we weren’t aware he was that good at doing it,” then-coach Mike Holmgren admitted.
Mebane’s shoulder-shrugging, smiling response, “That’s because they never asked me to do that at Cal. My job was to engage a blocker or two and keep them engaged, so the linebackers could make the plays.”
His job description was rewritten with the Seahawks, as Mebane collected two sacks as a rookie and then produced a career-high 5½ during his second season. In 2009, he had a career-best 49 tackles to lead the D-linemen. Last season, he had 31 tackles in 12 starts, as he missed four games with a calf injury. But that was while playing the three-technique tackle spot.
This season, Mebane has moved to nose tackle.
“Coming in and just seeing his body style, his lower center of gravity, we saw a guy that would be very, very solid at that position,” said Wash, who is in his first season with the Seahawks. “Not many nose tackles have pass-rush ability, and Brandon has a little bit of pass-rush ability.
“And he’s so smart. We do a lot of things with our nose in rush protections and that kind of stuff. So it’s really allowed him to have a real successful year so far.”
Mebane has 20 tackles entering today’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals at CenturyLink Field, which ties for tops among the linemen with Clemons. But Mebane’s contributions can’t be measured in stats alone. He is the anchor to – and a definite reason for – everything that has been happening around him.
Those who know Mebane best know that best.
Like running back Justin Forsett, who also played with Mebane at Cal and joined the Seahawks in 2008.
“Brandon is a blue-collar guy that just goes about his business,” Forsett said. “But he gets the job done. He’s been hugely successful for us, just like he was at Cal.”
Mebane is the type of often-overlooked player whose efforts help those players who get the notoriety reap their notoriety.
“Brandon is versatile and he’s an athlete,” Forsett said. “Just look at him, he is a nose tackle. But he’s also got a lot of heart. He’s a battler. He goes out every day like he’s got something to prove.
“I’m definitely proud of him to see how far he’s come.”
Proud isn’t exactly the word center Max Unger would use. Unger played against Mebane while at the University of Oregon and now lines up opposite him in the daily pass-rush drill in practice.
“Mebane is a load,” Unger said. “He’s probably one of the best leverage players in the game. It’s just how low he plays. It’s not that he’s short, he’s just very compact and he uses his weight well.
“Mebane is the guy, absolutely. No question.”