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One already has broken the club single-season record for blocked field goals, while another is a yard shy of the mark for return yards off interceptions. One joined the team this season as a rookie free agent, but is the club’s leading receiver. Another was added in free agency, and has been a key reason for the team’s ability to stop the run.
Individually, they are – in order – Red Bryant, Brandon Browner, Doug Baldwin and Alan Branch. Collectively, they are the “Killer B’s” who have helped spark a second-half resurgence that has seen the Seahawks win three of their past four games.
“Hmm, I never thought of it that way,” nickel back Roy Lewis said, smiling and shaking his head. “But when you think about it, why not? The ‘Killer B’s.” Makes sense. I don’t know where we’d be without those guys.”
Actually, Bryant, Browner, Baldwin and Branch comprise just half the B-boys on the roster. There’s also Atari Bigby, a role-playing safety and one of the club’s leading special-teams tacklers; Deon Butler, a wide receiver who was active for the first time this season in Thursday night’s 31-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles; Raheem Brock, a pass-rush specialist who lines up opposite end Chris Clemons in the nickel defense; and Allen Barbre, an offensive lineman who was just re-signed two weeks ago.
As Bigby is fond of saying, “If you’re going to play a role, why not win an Oscar for it.”
But the capital B’s in this bunch of B’s are reserved for Bryant, Browner, Baldwin and Branch.
Red Bryant – A little-used defensive tackle in his first two seasons, the team’s fourth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft was moved to the five-technique end spot in coach Pete Carroll’s defense last season. After Bryant got a season-ending knee injury in Week 8 against the Raiders, the run defense slipped from No. 2 to No. 21.
Bryant is back, and better than ever. In addition to blocking three field goals and a PAT this season, the 330-pound Bryant also has returned to being a disruptive force against the run. The Seahawks entered Week 13 ranked 11th in average rushing yards allowed (100.9) and tied for third in yards per carry (3.5).
“I’m just proud of the big fella,” Clemons said. “He went through a lot last year with the knee surgery. But now he’s showing each and every week how much better he’s getting. To me, it’s almost like seeing your little brother get the opportunity.”
Clemons hasn’t been the only one to notice, as his teammates voted Bryant the Ed Block Courage Award.
“To be able to come back and have the flexibility and move my feet as swift as I’m able to, to help me run plays down, I can’t tell you how grateful I am,” Bryant said.
Bryant has 24 tackles, a sack, an interception and six QB hits. But even connecting the dots between the versatility of his numbers doesn’t create a true picture of how valuable he has been to the defense and the special teams.
Brandon Browner – Carroll has been talking about wanting to get bigger at cornerback since he walked through the doors at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in January of 2010. This year, he and general manager John Schneider reached into the CFL to sign the 6-foot-4 Browner.
All Browner has done is return an interception a club-record 94 yards for a touchdown to ice the Week 5 upset of the Giants; and pick off three more passes the past two games, including a pair against the Eagles. His 178 return yards off those four interceptions are one off the record set by cornerback Dave Brown in 1984, when he intercepted eight passes.
“Brandon Browner for the Pro Bowl,” fellow corner Richard Sherman said to no one in particular in the locker room after Thursday night’s game, when Browner had a 55-yard return to setup a third-quarter touchdown and added another in the fourth quarter.
Browner’s physical style cost the defense at times because of pass interference and holding penalties, but he obviously finds ways to compensate.
“Brandon has been playing well the whole time,” Carroll said. “He’s just been a little over the line with some of the stuff aggressiveness-wise. That’s his style of play, and it’s a very good style of play. But we still have to continue to not take plays away from our defense because he’s reaching out and grabbing a guy.
“We’re learning, and we’re learning more about him more so. He played really well (Thursday night).”
Doug Baldwin – Undrafted out of Stanford, Baldwin also was undaunted. He signed with the Seahawks as a free agent and has been making plays from the first day he stepped on the practice field in training camp.
As backup QB Charlie Whitehurst put it earlier this season, “I’m really not surprised, honestly. The first few days of training camp we all kind of had a smirk on our face like, ‘How in the world did we get this guy?’ ”
Now, it’s what in the world would they do without this guy? Baldwin has emerged as the team’s most productive receiver as Mike Williams, last year’s leading receiver, is struggling to find his game; Sidney Rice, one of the team’s big free-agent additions, is out for the season after being placed on injured reserve Wednesday; and Zach Miller, a Pro Bowl tight end with the Raiders, is spending more time blocking than receiving.
Operating primarily from the slot in the three- and four-receiver packages, Baldwin has taken advantage of every opportunity that has come his way to catch 38 passes for 625 yards. He’s also among the league-leaders in third-down receptions.
“He’s a shifty guy,” Eagles Pro Bowl corner Nnamdi Asomugha said during the week. “He’s been real good for them in the slot, where he’s able to take advantage of different coverages that he’s seen. He’s really stepped up his play in there, so he’s a guy to look out for.”
Just don’t try to overlook Baldwin.
“I think we have a special guy there,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel said. “He’s very talented. The first day when he was out here at training camp, you start looking at each other like, ‘Wow, check this guy out.’ You knew that he was going to be good. You could see the talent. You could see the things that he’s done.”
Alan Branch – Underutilized, and eventually unwanted, in his four-season stay with the Arizona Cardinals, the 6-6, 325-pound Branch has found a home with the Seahawks. It’s at the three-technique tackle spot, where Brandon Mebane played before being move to nose tackle this season.
Branch has brought more length and size to the position.
“He’s faced a lot of double-teams and it’s hard to get movement on him,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “He plays the technique really well. I think when you watch us, we’re not a big slant team and we’re not going to trick you by slanting and shooting a gap and things like that. So in turn, we say we have to be great technicians. That’s allowed him to be really successful.”
That, and waiting his turn. Branch has 21 tackles and a sack, but as with the rest of the D-linemen his effectiveness can’t be measured in stats.
“He brings a lot. He brings size. He brings height. He brings a skill set because of those long arms of his,” Clemons said. “On the pass rush, he moves the pocket. Once he saw how we roll, he immediately grabbed on and just rolled with us. He’s been playing great ball.”
Just like the Seahawks’ other “Killer B’s.”