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One large return

Posted Dec 8, 2010

The Seahawks’ beleaguered run defense got a needed boost on Wednesday when 325-pound nose tackle Colin Cole practiced for the first time after missing five games with a sprained ankle.


The Seahawks’ run defense ranked second in the league through their first six games of the season. Now, it ranks 21st.

Their problems stopping the run started when nose tackle Colin Cole and defensive end Red Bryant where injured in the Halloween Day loss to the Raiders in Oakland.

Coincidence?

THE R/C FACTOR

The Seahawks’ run defense just hasn’t been the same since it lost defensive end Red Bryant (for the season) and nose tackle Colin Cole (for the past five games) during a Week 8 loss to the Raiders. Just how different is evident by the contrasting averages in this chart compiled by ESPN.com’s Mike Sando:

Category Weeks 1-7 Weeks 8-13 Differential
Carries/game 23.2 34.5 +11.2
Rush Yds 77.5 165.0 +87.5
YPC 3.3 4.8 +1.5
Rush 1st Downs 4.3 8.3 +4.0
Rush TD 0.7 1.5 +0.8
PPG 17.8 30.3 +12.5
Record 4-2 2-4  

“No coincidence. It’s no coincidence,” middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu said Wednesday after practice, well aware that the average rushing yards allowed by the Seahawks has more than doubled and their opponents’ per-carry average has increased by a yard and half over the past six games (see chart).

“Colin and Red, those are the two guys who really allow us to do what we like to do – what our coaches like to do – as far as scheme.”

Bryant will not be back, after damaging a knee ligament during the second quarter against the Raiders that required surgery. But Cole was back on the practice field Wednesday for the first time since the week before that turning-point game in Oakland, when he got a high sprain of his right ankle when Raiders right guard Cooper Carlisle jumped on Cole’s leg late in the fourth quarter.

Cole’s first practice in 5½ weeks was the first step in getting his wide body back in the middle of the defensive line for this week’s game against the 49ers in San Francisco. And that would be the first step in getting back to stopping the run.

Cole admitted he was “tentative” on Wednesday, but he took every snap with the No. 1 defense and even a few on the scout team.

“It’s definitely good to get back on the field with my teammates and my comrades, and move around a little bit,” Cole said.

How long has the layoff seemed to Cole? “You can’t really put a number to it,” he said. “It seems like it’s been an extremely long time. I’ve missed getting out there with the guys and it’s been pretty hard watching the games and watching the teammates, especially knowing that I couldn’t help them.”

His teammates needed his help, as evidenced by the rushing totals surrendered during the dual absences of Bryant and Cole: 239 yards against the Raiders; 197 against the Giants; 112 against the Saints; 270 against the Chiefs; 131 against the Panthers.

“That’s like 700 pounds,” Tatupu said, referring to the combined run-stuffing presence of Bryant and Cole.

Junior Siavii (for Cole) and Kentwan Balmer (for Bryant) have done admirable jobs filling in, but they’re lighter and a lot less experienced in the nuances of the Seahawks’ defense – since Balmer was acquired in a mid-August trade with the 49ers and Siavii was signed in early September. With Cole’s return, Siavii can slide out and help Balmer man the five-technique end spot, as well as rotate with Cole at nose tackle.

“Body types, they’re not the body types that most people use to run a 3-4 (defense),” Tatupu said. “Which is what we’re kind of running – a hybrid 3-4.”

That’s why everyone was happy to see Cole – and his made-to-play-the-nose body type – back in the lineup. He was playing his best football just when he was lost. In the Week 7 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Cole led the team seven tackles. Against the Raiders, he had four solo tackles and also deflected a third-down pass incomplete.

“I was real encouraged with the work Colin was able to do today, and I’m looking forward to seeing him progress through the week,” defensive line coach Dan Quinn said. “Like all the guys who come back after they got banged up, it was awesome to have back out here today.”

Offered coach Pete Carroll, “I’m anxious to get him back. It seems like it’s been forever since we’ve had him. He makes us stout, gives us experience, allows us to do some other things with Junior. So it’ll be a welcome return, if he’s OK.”

Said defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, “It’s good to get him back. We get more depth now. We can keep guys fresher. It just adds to where we can have more flexibility.”

But no one is happier to have Cole back than Tatupu. His performance is directly related to havoc the big guys in front of him can create.

“Colin is one of our horses, and one of the guys we rely on,” Tatupu said. “When he’s in there, you’ve got to pay attention to him as an offense. Otherwise, he’s going to make a tackle for a loss, or he’s going to hold the double-team (block).

“He’s a big plus if we can get him back.”

That’s a lot to put on one player’s shoulders, even if they are as broad as Cole’s. Can one player make that big a difference?

“I hope so,” said weak-side linebacker David Hawthorne, who definitely has done his part to pick up the slack with 53 tackles in the past five games.

“It’s always good to get your soldiers back. We fought through OTAs and minicamps and we’ve had him, and his presence was definitely felt – and it was definitely missed when he left. So we’re all pumped up to get him back out there.”

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