KIRKLAND — Look at him in uniform and Brandon Mebane looks like a bag of sand.
Which, of course, is ideal for an NFL defensive tackle.
But, unless you’re talking about the evil Sandman in Spider-Man III, sand can’t burst into an opposing backfield to bring down a startled runner.
Sand can’t explode past an offensive guard to get to the quarterback.
At 6-foot-1, 314 pounds, Mebane, rookie defender for the Seattle Seahawks, shows a lot of promise in that way.
In fact, he may yield even better results as a pro than he did at Cal, which is saying something.
It’s all about defensive systems. Mebane was meant to play in the Seahawks’ defensive system. While much of Mebane’s job with the Golden Bears was to hold up blockers and let the linebackers get the tackles and subsequent glory, the Seahawks free their line to make plays.
“We would work on pass-rush techniques (at Cal), but in a way, it really didn’t fit our system,” Mebane said this week. “We didn’t do too many stunts, like we do here.”
The Seahawks drafted Mebane in the third round for his interior run-stuffing ability. Last season, San Francisco 49ers runner Frank Gore took advantage of Seattle’s softness in the middle and ran for 212 yards and 144 yards in two games.
Mebane can help in that regard because of his deceptive quickness and sudden burst. His powerful legs and stout body allow him to push a blocker straight back, into the backfield. As a senior, the third-team All-America recorded a career-high 52 tackles. In his career, he had 1412 sacks and 1612 tackles for loss, mostly while being double-teamed.
“His best trait is his ability to hold the point and be stout at the point of attack,” Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said after April’s NFL Draft. “He is also a very quick first-step guy. We thought he was a disruptive run player.”
One-on-one is the expected blocking scheme against Mebane, which figures to play into his sizable hands. In a recent practice, he routinely delivered a forearm to the blocker, kept his feet moving and blasted past the lineman and into the backfield.
It looked second nature. Almost easy.
“The main focus is getting off the ball,” Mebane said. “That’s the main thing in the pass rush and run-stopping. I have to get off the ball and go low and hard. Right now, I’m working on my feet and my hand placings. I’ve got a lot of things to work on. I’m learning new things every day.”
At Cal, Mebane relied a lot on a spin move that freed him from blockers. He said that technique is unlikely to work in the NFL, just because of the high caliber of offensive guards and different blocking techniques he will face every time out.
“I’m trying to see where that would work here,” Mebane said. “A lot of the guys tell me it won’t work. A lot of times, the guards sit back like they’re offensive tackles. Right now, I’m just learning to see what things work and try to capitalize off of that.”
Teammate Chartric Darby is Mebane’s primary teacher at training camp, which is a huge advantage. Both are at the smaller end of the scale for nose tackles Darby is 6-foot, 297 pounds and Darby can pass on to Mebane what works for him.
Mebane has shown his intelligence. As the season goes by, he figures to be in the rotation defensive coordinator John Marshall favors in his defensive linemen. Marshall loves to shuffle players in and out of games, to keep throwing fresh bodies at the opposing lines.
Darby is the projected starter, followed by former first-round draft pick Marcus Tubbs, who was limited to five games last season and eventually needed microfracture surgery on his left knee.
Then comes Mebane.
“He’s on the third team now, but he could be a starter in the future,” Tubbs said.
Not bad for a bag of sand.
Sports columnist John Sleeper: email@example.com