Mebane, 28 and in his seventh season, and Bryant, 29 and in his sixth season, are the longest-tenured Seahawks on the team’s 90-man training camp roster.
Although a year older, Bryant has one less season with the team – and didn’t become a starter until 2010, when Mebane already had been starting for three seasons after being selected in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Bryant was a fourth-round pick the following year.
In fact, during a 2009 interview for a story on how the Texas-born-and-raised Bryant and the Los Angeles-born-and-raised Mebane had become best friends, Bryant offered, “Mebane, he’s a dominant D-tackle right now. He’s been starting in the league and for being so young he gives great advice. I’m just trying to get my playing ability up to where his is, so I won’t let him down.”
Bryant has done just that. And now, here they are – still best friends and also cornerstone players on a Seahawks defense that last season allowed the fewest points in the NFL and ranked a franchise-best No. 4 in average yards allowed.
In the past four offseasons, they have watched general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll flip the roster. Only four players remain from the team Carroll inherited in 2010, and it’s obvious why they’re still here –
“It’s amazing,” Bryant said. “I’m still young, extremely young, but not feeling young.”
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been an enabler in this odyssey – and oddity – that has left Bryant and Mebane in their present situations. Quinn was the defensive line coach in 2009-10, before leaving for two seasons to become the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida. It was during that first stint with the Seahawks that Quinn moved Bryant, a seldom-used tackle in his first two seasons, to the five-technique end position in Carroll’s defense. Mebane, meanwhile, has moved from the three-technique tackle spot to nose tackle.
When Quinn called him into his office to discuss the position change, the first thought that flashed through Bryant’s mind was, “They’re going to cut me.”
Instead, Bryant is now in a position where he has become a cut-above performer.
So Quinn has been pleased with the progress Bryant that made in his absence – from 18 tackles in an injury-shortened 2010 season; to a career-high 32 tackles in 2011, when he also had five sacks, two interceptions and blocked four kicks; to 24 tackles in 2012, when he played much of the season with plantar fasciitis in his left foot that forced him to wear a protective boot during the week.
It also helps that Bryant’s foot is feeling better, and that he’s sleeping better. He was diagnosed with sleep apnea this offseason and now uses a mask to help him sleep better.
“It’s great,” Bryant said. “Coach Carroll will come up to me and say, ‘I don’t know what it is, but you just seem different.’ So I guess it’s paying off.
“This is one of the best camps I’ve ever had, and I’m looking forward to the season.”
Bryant couldn’t always say that. The Seahawks went 4-12 in 2008, his rookie season which also happened to be Mike Holmgren’s final season as coach. In 2009, Jim Mora’s only season as coach, the Seahawks went 5-11. Then came mismatched 7-9 seasons under Carroll before last season’s team posted the third-best regular-season record (11-5) in club history and won the franchise’s first road playoff game since 1983 – when Bryant’s father-in-law, Jacob Green, led the Seahawks’ defense with 16 sacks.
“I’ve seen it,” Bryant said. “I tell guys all the time how hard it is to win. It’s tough, really tough. And now to be on the other end, in terms of everybody expecting us to win, there’s a responsibility that goes with that as well.
“There are a lot of expectations on this season, and it’s always good to have expectations,” Bryant said. “And I really believe we’ll be able to live up to them if we continue to work the way we’ve been working during camp.”
Take it from one of the longest-tenured Seahawks.