Role reversal

KIRKLAND — In a matter of months, Darryl Tapp has seen his football career turn upside down.

He was a young, up-and-coming player this time last spring, hoping to unseat veteran Bryce Fisher as the Seattle Seahawks’ starting right defensive end. He eventually did just that, paving the way for Fisher to be traded to Tennessee one game into the 2007 regular season.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot.

With just one year of starting experience under his belt, Tapp is on the verge of being cast aside in favor of a younger player. The Seahawks used a first-round draft pick on USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson in last weekend’s draft, and now the coaches are letting the rookie get a shot at Tapp’s starting job.

“Things come full circle,” the engaging third-year player said. “You just have to continue to work and see how things work out.”

For now, Tapp still has his starting job at right defensive end. He showed enough flashes last season that the Seahawks feel good about his potential, but his inconsistency played a part in the decision to draft Jackson.

Is Tapp the same guy who had four sacks in the 33-6 win over St. Louis last October? Or is he the player who had just a half-sack over the final six weeks of the ‘07 season?

Tapp himself admits that he hasn’t shown his full potential yet.

“Up and down,” he said when asked to describe his first season as an NFL starter. “It was a great foundation for my first year as a starter, but it was up and down. It helped teach me how I have to grab a hold of the job as a starter at this level.”

Speaking on draft weekend, defensive line coach Dwaine Board defended Tapp’s 2007 season by pointing out that he played much of the year with a broken hand. Tapp fractured his right hand during the second half of the St. Louis game and played with a cast for the rest of the year.

“I think his hand affected him a lot during the season,” Board said. “Once you break that hand, you don’t want to use it quite as much. It takes a while to get your confidence back.”

Tapp said the cast was a factor in his play over the final nine weeks of last season.

“It became a mental thing as far as my hand,” said Tapp, who underwent surgery on the hand the day after he broke it. “Being a defensive lineman, your hands are a major thing. You trust your hand to hold up during the game. That was definitely a big issue for me. It was a trust thing, as far as how it was going to hold up.”

The bone has since healed, and now Tapp can concern himself with bigger issues. The most obvious is his desire to keep his starting job.

“It fueled my fire, no doubt,” Tapp said of his reaction to the Seahawks taking a defensive end in the first round of the draft. “But that’s the name of the game. You’ve just got to work harder on your technique, because you could be in, or you could be out. It just depends on the situation.”

Tapp’s pass-rush skills have rarely been questioned, but his size (6-foot-1, 270 pounds) is considered a bit small for starting defensive linemen. One school of thought is to let the 6-foot-4, 271-pound Jackson start and play on first and second downs, while Tapp would be used as a situational pass rusher.

“I don’t really want to be in that role,” he said after Monday’s minicamp practice. “I feel like I can offer so much else to this team.”

If Tapp is going to keep his job as a full-time starter, he’ll have to earn it. The Seahawks have an eager rookie waiting to take over as soon as possible.

“Tapp is a competitor, and that’s what we like,” Board said shortly after the Seahawks selected Jackson with the 28th overall pick in the draft on April 26. “… Tapp is going to compete, along with Lawrence Jackson. It’s just making us better.”

Tapp, 23, is not ready to give up his starting job quite yet. He knows why the Seahawks drafted Jackson, and he’s using it as motivation.

“It was what it was,” Tapp said with a shrug and his typical grin on Monday afternoon. “They’re making decisions that they think are best for the team, so that’s what they did. But at the same time, it pushes you.

“They’re throwing the young man that they drafted into a battle with me, and that’s all well and good. We’ll both be competing, and we both want to do everything we can to make this team better.”

Notes: The Seahawks started a voluntary, four-day minicamp Monday afternoon, minus the rookies. Only veterans are allowed to attend the current camp, and there weren’t any notable no-shows. … Guard Rob Sims watched the practice but did not participate so that he can heal injuries. … The Seahawks signed rookie defensive tackle Kevin Brown after a weekend tryout. The 6-foot-2, 303-pound Brown played at UCLA last season. To make room for Brown, Seattle released defensive tackle Kelly Talavou, who was on the practice squad at the end of last season. … Seattle also signed wide receiver Joel Filani, a first-year player, and released rookie wideout Travis Brown.

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