RENTON — Like so many successful athletes, Brandon Mebane has a long list of people he credits with making him what he is today.
But most Seahawks fans would never guess who Mebane says deserves a lot of credit for his success through two seasons of NFL football.
It’s not a current or former coach, not a teammate who has passed on important lessons, though all of those people have helped shape the stout defensive tackle’s career.
No, if this is to be the breakout season that many are predicting for Mebane, if this is the year he elevates from solid defensive player to dominant play-maker, Seahawks fans owe a big thanks to Dr. Verda Delp.
Dr. Delp is a professor in the University of California Berkeley’s college writing department, and was, believe it or not, instrumental in helping shape Mebane into an NFL defensive tackle.
“She really helped me with a lot of stuff,” said Mebane, who took classes from Dr. Delp his last two years at Cal. “I wish I’d have had her earlier in my schooling. She was somebody who would work with me one-on-one, a different way, and I’ve been able to apply that to the field. She taught me kind of how my position coach is teaching me now. A lot of one-on-one, ‘Don’t hesitate to ask questions, I’m here to help you.’ I wish I had had that kind of teaching when I was growing up, that would have been real beneficial for me in school and in football.”
Dr. Delp didn’t teach Mebane how to read an offense or how to handle an NFL centers, guards and tackles, and she certainly didn’t bless him with size and strength, but Mebane said making him more comfortable in classroom and meeting room settings has made him a better player.
Instead of being the quiet guy in the back of the classroom that he was in high school in Los Angeles, Mebane is now the guy that can’t get enough information from Seahawks defensive line coach Dan Quinn.
“I ask a lot of questions,” said Mebane, who has started 26 of 32 games since being drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft. “A lot of questions. I ask what might seem like little stupid questions, probably questions other people wouldn’t ask, but people learn different ways, and one of my things is to keep asking questions. If I don’t know something, I don’t feel bad asking, because when I was growing up, I never asked questions in class. I was always quiet, I didn’t take school as serious as I should have.”
That changed at Berkeley.
“One thing that was remarkable to me when I worked with him — he’d practice until 7 or 8 o’clock and night and then he would meet me afterwards to work — was that he was meeting me every night,” said Dr. Delp. “That’s pretty unusual … I knew that if he was given the opportunity and the support he could become a better student. It was the perfect time in his life I think.”
Still, for all he has learned, there are plenty of other reasons why Mebane could turn what so far has been an impressive training camp into a breakthrough season.
As his former defensive line coach at Cal, Ken Delgado, puts it “The thing that he has is tremendous power and leverage. Almost the kind of power that is immeasurable.”
“I know a lot of times kids spend a lot of time in the weight room and there’s a lot of measurables involved, but the one thing about Brandon more so than any player I’ve been around — and I coached (six-time Pro-Bowl defensive tackle) La’Roi Glover at San Diego State, so I have a reference point — he has tremendous, tremendous physical power to the point where it’s hard for one man to handle him.”
Delgado, who now coaches at Louisville, said Mebane was the star of the Pilates program. Pilates were part of Mebane’s offseason workouts, which helped him lower his weight from around 330 pounds in the spring down to 304 to open camp.
Mebane wants to be lighter and quicker this season because his role on the line has changed with a new scheme and the addition of defensive tackle Colin Cole. Over the past two years, the bigger version of Mebane was asked to be the anchor on the line. The 330-pound Cole will now fill that role, however, and Mebane will play a three-technique, meaning he’ll line up between a guard and tackle and be asked to get into the backfield and make plays.
“He’s not so responsible to just stay there and take on the double team and hold a point at the point of attack, as much as get up the field and disrupt …” said Seahawks president Tim Ruskell. “He’s so excited about that. If you hand out gold stars for offseasons, you might have to start there with what he’s done this offseason.”
Then again, calling this season a potential breakout year may not be entirely accurate.
“He’s been doing that from day one, you guys just haven’t seen it,” said linebacker Lofa Tatupu. “I don’t know what you guys have been missing, if you watch film with us, I’ll show you some things. He’s been like that since he got here … Mebane, he’s always been a terror ever since he played at Cal. When he got here, he had it. Some guys just have it and he’s one of them.”
So maybe Mebane has had it all along, but if things go according to plan, a lot more people might take notice in 2009.