Fourth-year defensive tackle Red Bryant won’t be hard to spot. He’s the 335-pound due chasing 180-pound receivers into the Seahawks secondary.
Seahawks fans get their first in-person look Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings at what a 7-9 team can do with a lot of available payroll cash, little time time to implement its rewards and even less veteran leadership to help execute the plan.
You might want to practice watching the game through the fingers of one hand.
Nevertheless, as fans sort out whether newcomer Tarvaris Jackson is even the question at quarterback, much less the answer, it will be fun to cast your eyes for a few moments on No. 79 on defense.
He won’t be hard to spot. He’s the 335-pound dude chasing 180-pound receivers in the secondary.
“Imagine a wide receiver seeing that big ol’ guy with him,” said Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, grinning maniacally. “That might get him to hesitate a little.”
Thursday in practice at the VMAC, it was a tight end who was the target of Red Bryant, AKA Deion Sanders Heavy. Dominique Byrd (6-3, 255) took a short pass and moved well upfield, only to be mooshed to the ground by Bryant, 75 pounds his superior, in a drill where tackling is banned to avoid injury.
Hoots erupted across the lawn for the big man downfield, for both the hustle (yay) and the beat-down (boo).
Reds antics were up today, head coach Pete Carroll said. He was having fun playing football. I think when he tackled Byrd about 25 yards downfield on a full-speed, live tackle, we realized that Red was officially back.
“That came just two plays after he thumped (backup quarterback) Josh Portis in the back on a pass rush. Reds alive and well. And when youre cooling Red down, thats when you like him the most.”
“Cooling Red down” is Carroll’s reference to keeping the big man’s emotions under control and directed. When that happens, the Seahawks have no more influential defender than the fourth-year end from Texas A&M.
His over-enthusiasm on the rush that jolted Portis drew a post-practice admonishment from fullback Michael Robinson, who interrupted an interview to tell Bryant, politely but firmly, to chill when the drill calls for no contact with the QB. Bryant nodded his head a little sheepishly, and the two shook hands.
“It was as close as I’ve come to a quarterback a long time,” Bryant said, smiling. “I got a little excited.”
Bryant hasn’t come close to a QB since he went down Oct. 31 in Oakland with an injury — teammate Chris Clemons crashed into his right knee during a tackle — that required surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The injury might have been the season’s most significant, given how Bryant was contributing following his move from tackle to end. The Seahawks rush defense fell apart, and the team ended up ranked 31st in NFL defense.
But Bryant seems almost fully mobile, except for the conditioning that did not take place because of both rehab and the lockout. Both are over, and Bryant will start Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against the Vikings.
But full-time play is a ways away.
“I feel great,” he said of the knee, “but I’ve got to two weeks to make more (conditioning) progress.
“Now, I really do appreciate the OTAs and mini-camps. We always worked out (during the lockout) but for us linemen, it’s not the same. We need continuity and accountability, which you just can’t get working out.”
Carroll has lamented the lack of fitness for most of his big men, but the complaint is a universal one across the NFL. No team will truly be ready for the regular season opener, which the Seahawks have Sept. 11 in San Francisco.
When play begins, Bryant will test not only his knee but his expanded duties. The idea of dropping him into pass coverage occasionally came because the Seahawks realized they were tipping their blitz package. Bryant’s presence exclusively as an upfield rusher, while Clemons dropped into coverage, gave away the plan.
“They knew what was coming,” Bryant said, “so (defensive line coach Todd Wash) thought we’d try something different.”
The switch wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Bryant’s athleticism. Asked what techniques he needed to learn, he shook his head.
“What it takes,” he said, “is a lot of encouragement.” Then he laughed.
“If I didn’t do it, there’s probably a plane ticket waiting for me back (home to Texas).”
Dropping back to chase little guys isn’t going to happen often for Bryant. But it only has to happen a couple of times for offenses to get either scared, or excited about the potential match-up.
Either way, as Bradley said, it amounts to a hesitation. The thought of a 150-pound open-field mismatch on a tackle is often all edge a defense needs.