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Red Bryant arrived in 2008 with the kind of natural leadership qualities that coaches always talk about finding in players.
It’s just that it took awhile for Bryant to step into that leadership role for the Seahawks. Like two years.
“My first couple years in the league I was just trying to figure it out, and we had more veterans than we do now, so I was trying to figure out what it is that I needed to do,” Bryant said Wednesday following the team’s 45-minute workout in its offseason program.
It was the arrival of coach Pete Carroll in 2010, and the suggestion by then-line coach Dan Quinn that they move the 332-pound Bryant from defensive tackle to the five-technique end spot, which started Bryant’s emergence from his cocoon of inactivity and subordination.
In Bryant’s first two seasons, he was inactive (22 games) more than twice as much as he was in uniform (10 games).
“It’s always been a dream to not only make it to the NFL, but actually be a guy that can contribute,” he said. “So I’d be lying to you to say I didn’t have doubts my first couple years – dealing with injuries, and on a 4-12 and a 5-11 team still was inactive.
“So that definitely weighs on you. But the one thing I tell a lot of the young guys is, the NFL it’s a mental game as well. And a lot of times you have to continue to work and continue to keep a belief in yourself, although it might be hard at times.”
Belief started to become reality for Bryant in 2010, when he started the first seven games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Last season, Bryant turned in his first 16-start season, and the Seahawks’ defense turned into Top-10 unit in the league.
Bryant’s reward? A new contract, and a lucrative one at that. But he also gained some affirmation about the direction his career is heading while involved in the free-agent process.
“I was actually surprised when the Patriots were making a push for me, given their track record in terms of everything that franchise stands for,” Bryant said. “Coach (Bill) Belichick, he’s arguably one of the great coaches. So for him to pursue me, it made me feel even more confident in my abilities and what I bring to the table.”
Bryant definitely brought a lot to the table last season. In addition to slamming the door on opponents’ running games that dared test his side, he set club records by blocking two field goals in a game and four kicks overall and also returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown.
Now that Bryant is back, he does not intend to stand on what he already has accomplished in his now-you-don’t-see-him/now-he’s-impossible-to-miss career.
“I have bigger expectations than just a contract,” he said. “I definitely want to be a guy when my playing days are over with and they think about the Seahawks, they think about big Red Bryant.”
Just like his father-in-law, Jacob Green, the franchise’s all-time sack leader and a member of the team’s Ring of Honor.
Green also led by example, and through well-chosen words. And that brings us back to Bryant’s leadership skills. Carroll often calls upon the fiery Bryant to talk to the team just before it takes the field on game days, or after a big win. You’ll also often see him on the sideline or in the huddle demanding even more from his teammates with animated gestures and contorted facial expressions.
Bryant was on the leadership council all four years during his career at Texas A&M, and became the first freshman to be voted to the group.
“I definitely had the qualities, as far as leading by example,” Bryant said.
It just comes naturally, even if it was just as natural to keep his thoughts and emotions in check during his first two seasons with the Seahawks.
The rollercoaster ride that has been Bryant’s NFL career and life continues to be headed in an up-only direction. Last season, he was voted the Ed Block Courage Award for his recovery from the season-ending injury in 2010; as well as the Steve Largent Award, which is presented annually to the player who best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the Seahawks. He also became a father, as his wife, Janelle – Green’s daughter – gave birth in late December to Joseph Brooks Bryant.
And how is fatherhood?
“It’s great. It’s great,” Bryant said through a large smile when asked about Joseph, who is now four-months old, weighs 22 pounds and is 29 inches tall. “Best experience in the world.”
Take it from a guy who has had more than his share of experiences.