Renton – Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is a key cog in the Seattle Seahawks’ hopes to turn around a dismal performance on the defensive side of the ball last season.
Just ask new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
“That’s a big position for our defense,” Bradley said. “The three technique (pass-rushing defensive tackle) has to create a lot of indecision. He’s a guy who we ask to penetrate and cause disruption. And he’s lost some weight and become more athletic by doing that. But he’s got to be a staple on that defensive line. A guy that we count on to play that position and play it well.”
Mebane said he’s up to the challenge. To get ready for the position change, Mebane lost 25 pounds during the offseason, reporting to training camp last month with a svelte 304 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame.
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The Cal product finished with 51/2 sacks in 2008, tying defensive end Darryl Tapp for team-high honors. He expects to improve on that number in 2009.
“I feel comfortable in this new role,” Mebane said.
“I’m excited to get going. I’m trying to calm down and keep from getting real anxious. But I’m happy. I don’t have any complaints. I really can’t complain about nothing. I just have to just do my job and execute my assignments.”
Mebane is the pivotal change in a seismic shift on the defensive line this season. The Seahawks brought in free agent Colin Cole to take over for Mebane as the run-stuffing nose tackle in Seattle’s four-man defensive front. Cory Redding, acquired when the team traded linebacker Julian Peterson to Detroit, will play left end, and provides a stouter defender who matches up better against a tight end.
With Redding in the fold, the Seahawks shifted the team’s best pass rusher, Patrick Kerney, to right end. He’ll focus on rushing the passer on what is traditionally considered the offense’s weak side.
The Seahawks hope the changes lead to a more consistent pass rush from the team’s front four. Seattle finished with a respectable 35 sacks a year ago, but 13 of those came against the San Francisco 49ers, who gave up a league-high 55 sacks in 2008.
A better pass rush should help improve the Seahawks’ pass defense, which bottomed out as last in the league in 2008.
“It’s an old cliché, but they say it always starts in the trenches, both sides,” said Seattle coach Jim Mora. “And I think it’s a cliché because it’s true. The guys up front have to play well.
“Pass defense is a function of all 11 (players). It’s getting heat on the quarterback, affecting him whether it’s hitting him, sacking him, getting in throwing lanes, forcing him to throw before he’s prepared to throw or the receivers are out of the breaks. Those things have to happen. Linebackers have to get depth and secondary guys have to squeeze routes and make plays, but certainly it’s a truth that it starts up front.”
Bradley said the Seahawks also will rotate guys in more, with young players like Tapp, Lawrence Jackson, Red Bryant and Nick Reed, along with veteran Craig Terrill, seeing regular playing time to keep the first unit fresh.
“A lot of guys have to set their ego aside,” Bradley said. ‘They’re not going to play 60 plays a game. It’s going to be by committee. It’s going to be all of those guys who are going to get an opportunity.”
But the success of the defensive line will hinge on guys like Mebane pushing the pocket on a consistent basis.
Defensive line coach Dan Quinn worked with Mebane after practice on Wednesday on getting off the ball quickly and getting up field, a key to getting a good pass rush.
“When you’re talking about defensive line play, the guys who can be disruptive are guys who have good get-off,” Quinn said. “And he (Mebane) has it. And I’ve seen it, and that’s why we’re going to continue to work it hard.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437