RENTON — Red Bryant was one of Pete Carroll’s biggest gambles.
And not just because Bryant checks in at a listed weight of 323 pounds.
In one of his earliest moves as the Seahawks’ head coach last season, Carroll took Bryant, a defensive tackle who had done little in his first two sea
sons in the NFL, and turned him into a starting defensive end. It seemed like a curious move, to say the least, turning a man that size into an end. Yet six games into his second season at a new position, Bryant has turned himself into one of Seattle’s most valuable defensive players.
That’s hardly what the man known to teammates as Big Red thought would happen when his coaches suggested the position change last year.
“When they asked me to move to end, I really though I was getting ready to get cut,” Bryant said.
Instead he’s a key component of a defensive line that has helped turn the Seahawks into one of the best run-stuffing defenses in the NFL. Through six games last year, the Seahawks had the No. 2 run defense in the league, but then Bryant went down for the season with a knee injury. That combined with several other player injuries took their toll as Seattle’s ranking dropped from second to 21st by end of the season.
This season, with the front four staying healthy thus far, the Seahawks are the stingiest defense in the league when it comes to yard-per-carry average, allowing opponents just 3.1 yards per attempt.
A big part of that has been the play of Bryant, who isn’t the prototypical end in that he rarely rushes the passer. Instead, the pass rushing is left mostly to Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock, while Bryant’s job is to take on blockers, set an edge and stuff the run.
“Usually think of a traditional end like Clem and Raheem, guys who are extremely quick and able to get to the quarterback consistently,” said Bryant, whose father-in-law is former Seahawks great Jacob Green, the franchise leader in sacks. “In my case, I feel like I’m more of a space eater. I can take on blocks and clog up the running lanes and things of that nature.”
Of course, it’s more than just Bryant who has made the Seahawks an elite run-stopping team.
None of Seattle’s eight defensive linemen has made a Pro Bowl, nor were any of them first-round picks. Yet despite having a line devoid of super stars, the group in the trenches has worked together to create a nightmarish scenario for opposing runners.
“It’s just being able to trust each other knowing that the other person is going to do their job,” defensive tackle Alan Branch said. “We try to cause as much ruckus as we can, but we all know our responsibilities and gaps, and we hold ourselves accountable on those pretty well.”
Branch came to Seattle this offseason after four seasons as a backup in Arizona. Carroll immediately made him a starter, seeing something in him that the Cardinals didn’t. That addition allowed Brandon Mebane to move from the defensive tackle position he played last year to nose tackle. It’s a move that has made Seattle better at both tackle positions.
“Alan Branch is playing out of his mind,” Bryant said. “He’s as big as I am, he’s extremely quick, agile. Every time we turn on the tape, we’re amazed. He’s playing extremely well right now.”
Those three big bodies, plus Clemons — known as a pass rusher, but also proving adept against the run — have turned what was already a strong unit last year into an even more impressive group this year.
When the defensive line is doing its job effectively, the Seahawks’ linebackers have more room to roam and defensive backs can come flying into the backfield to make plays.
The defensive linemen are “holding their gaps, and we’re getting a lot of double teams because they’re big and they’re allowing the linebackers to fit in,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “It’s real clear where the gaps are for the DBs as they’re fitting in. I think it really does start up there with those (defensive linemen).”
And perhaps more than anyone, it starts with Bryant.
A year ago, he was an odd experiment that seemed to be working out. This year it has become clear that he is a big part of the reason the Seahawks are so strong on defense, particularly against the run. That’s rewarding for someone who, after two seasons, wondered if he even had a future with the team.
“It’s just validating that it wasn’t a fluke last year,” Bryant said. “You’re always going to have expectations in the National Football League, so to be able to come back from a serious injury and to be on a great defense and play with great guys like that, I couldn’t ask for anything better. …
“We’re a young defense. Right now we don’t understand how good we can be, and that’s a good thing.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog