By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
A torn plantar fascia foot injury negatively affected his play for the second half of the 2012 season. But Seattle Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant says he’s healthy now, and ready for a return to being a dominant force in defending the run, as he did two years ago.
“It’s behind me,” Bryant said. “It’s something I constantly dealt with, making sure I take better care of my body. It was unfortunate to have that flare up midway through the season. But I fought through it, and I feel great right now.”
Part of the adjustment for Bryant will be continuing to control his weight by doing a better job of monitoring his diet. Bryant is listed at 6-4 and 323 pounds, but his weight fluctuates throughout the season.
“I like where I’m at in terms of my agility,” Bryant said. “I’ve got to constantly work on my weight, but I like where I’m at right now. I don’t see anything that’s going to stop me from taking that next step and being considered the top 5-technique in the game. That’s definitely my goal.”
Bryant should benefit from the return of former defensive line coach Dan Quinn. After two years away from Seattle serving as the University of Florida’s defensive coordinator, Quinn was named Seattle’s defensive coordinator when Gus Bradley moved on to take the head coaching job in Jacksonville.
Quinn originally thought of moving Bryant from defensive tackle to a run-stuffing defensive end in Seattle’s hybrid 3-4 scheme, revitalizing Bryant’s NFL career. Bryant said he’ll return to being more of a penetrating, 1-gap defensive end, playing mostly over the right tackle.
“It’s been great getting DQ (Quinn) back because there’s familiarity there,” Bryant said. “There’s just some subtle changes in terms of how he’s going to play me. He’s basically putting me back to where I’m going to be on the tackle the majority of the time, in a phone booth and just getting back to the basics of playing heavy on a guy and just being disruptive.”
Bryant said last season he followed the tight end wherever he lined up, and was not as aggressive as he usually is when lined up against a tackle.
And it showed in his play. Bryant finished with just 24 tackles and no sacks in 2012, after signing a lucrative five-year, $35 million deal in the offseason.
The Seahawks finished a respectable No. 10 in the NFL in rushing defense last season, allowing an average of 103.1 yards a contest. However, according to Football Outsiders, on first-and-10 carries when trailing or leading by two scores during the second half of the season, the Seahawks allowed opponents to average 5.6 yards per rush attempt, 30th in the league.
Bryant hopes the slight change in technique will help get him back to being stout at the point of attack in the run game.
Bryant also said will get an opportunity to rush the passer as a defensive tackle in passing situations. The Texas A&M product usually came off the field on third down. Bryant has just two sacks in five seasons.
“It will give me an opportunity to push the pocket, or give me an opportunity to try and clear up some holes for some of our blitz packages,” Bryant said. “DQ (Quinn) is just giving me an opportunity to showcase that I’m more than just a line of scrimmage player. “I feel like for what we’re doing with the edge rushers we’ve got, a little bit more push up the middle — whether it be from me, or (Brandon) Mebane or Clinton McDonald — it will help the overall defense.”
Bryant understands other players along the defensive line will have to fill the void, with defensive end Bruce Irvin suspended the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs, and defensive end Chris Clemons’ availability a question mark while he rehabs from ACL knee surgery.
“It’s definitely going to be an opportunity for other guys to step in and have a big role for us,” Bryant said. “That’s the National Football League. That’s no different than a guy you’re counting on getting injured, and you have to move on. You recognize the issue, and then the next guy has to step up.”
Bryant also recognizes that he and other veteran players will have to keep the rest of his teammates focused and humble, with several national publications picking the Seahawks to contend for a Super Bowl title in the upcoming season.
Bryant, one of four players still left on the roster when head coach Pete Carroll took over in January 2010, still remembers Seattle’s four straight losing seasons, before finishing 30 seconds from the NFC Championship game last season.
“It’s definitely a different vibe,” Bryant said. “Even when I’m in the grocery store in the community, more and more people recognize who you are. More and more people are excited about the season. And the expectations are a lot different from when I first got here in the league. And so that can be a great thing, or it can be a burden as well if you don’t stay focused.
“All of our guys that was on the 4-12 team, and on the 5-11 team, we all know what it took to get to this point. And so it’s our job to continue to let the younger guys, the guys that we’re counting on, let them know this is what you have to do. All that other stuff, that’s for everybody else. We have to get back to the basics. And the basics are working hard, being accountable to your team and doing the little things.”