I will start writing some more topical stuff as we approach the season. It's about time this site came alive again.
It is common for fringe players to be talked up during the off-season. It is a product of a few forces. The fringe player is clinging to a roster spot and has a lesser threshold for improvement. This is what I call the Homer Simpson Most Improved Odor award. When you stink, sometimes it's enough to take a shower to seem like a new man. The fringe player is by definition an underdog, and people reflexively like underdogs, and writers tailor their writing to what people like. The fringe player is likely to pop when established players are going through the motions. Good players do not play their best football in June. The fringe player is scrapping for a job while established players are healing.
Fringe players sometimes figure it out and become effective regulars. That is the final and most essential reason why every off-season some fringe player emerges from the pile. It's not enough to want fringe talent to breakout, sometimes it has to actually happen. It does every so often, through position change, coaching change, lifestyle change or just late growth.
So, Red Bryant is currently the Seahawks starting left defensive end. This is all Dan Quinn. Quinn coached a 3-4 line in New York and installed Cory Redding at left defensive end upon arriving in Seattle. He also, I presume, added a couple end-tackle tweeners through free agency in Michael Bennett and . It's not clear who calls the shots on roster moves, but I presume many people have a say and as surely as we can affix any one person's stamp to any one move, we can say Quinn had a part in the recent wave of oversized ends.
So, what are the benefits and sacrifices of moving Red Bryant to end?
+Bryant was a misfit talent languishing without a position.
Bryant was the Tim Ruskell commemorative fourth-round project pick of 2008. I was a big Bryant backer but aghast at how poorly he showed at Texas A&M. He was high talent, high ceiling but low ability. Finding somewhere that Bryant's particular blend of size, length, power and quickness could play, that also minimizes his weaknesses regarding discipline, leverage and awareness, could save Bryant's career. And that's added talent.
+Bryant is a huge presence on the strong side.
Red is 330. He would be the largest starting end in the NFL. Sometimes size doesn't matter, but it matters in the trenches. Bryant is a matchup headache for tackles and has the length and mass to control the edge.
+Cory Redding was not a disaster.
I was unenthused by Redding's placement at left defensive end last season, but though it might not have been schematically sound, Redding played well. He was immovable when he needed to be immovable. He was disruptive when he needed to be disruptive. He contributed 12 quarterback hits and two sacks.
+Seattle lacks an incumbent at left defensive end.
Pete Carroll wants to win now. I would rather just win eventually. That is going to be my book, my other book, Win Eventually: Live, Work and Play like a Procrastinator. Though I bristle at the notion of rebuilding, Seattle should be building the core of their next contender: Identifying young talent and locking them into a position. We are in the brainstorming period. Succeed or fail, I welcome testing ideas and seeing if Bryant's talent can be repurposed while filling a vacant position. I am just not sure end in a 4-3 makes much sense.
-Bryant is not a defensive end.
No way around this: Red Bryant is a defensive tackle. What does that really mean? It means he's big and thick and if not slow, also not particularly versed at rushing the passer either. Coach Fran played Bryant in a defense designed to stop the option and that partly explains his anemic pass rush numbers. Explains, but does not excuse. Whether it's because of the system or the system just prevented him from developing, Bryant had only four solo and two assist sacks in four seasons at Texas A&M. He also had just two quarterback pressures. Bryant is decently quick and agile for someone his size, but he is fringe-slow and fringe-stiff for a dedicated defensive end. He is, plainly, a defensive tackle.
-Bryant will not adequately rush the passer.
This is an extension on the previous point. Redding had hits, but Seattle struggled to generate consistent pressure. Seattle lacks a premiere pass rusher. It lacks an even good pass rusher. Choosing to put a run defender at a designated pass rush position is playing with fire. Football is about time. The pass rush hurries a quarterback, minimizing his reads and forcing bad decisions. If Bryant doesn't develop markedly as a pass rusher, Seattle's front four could be the worst pass rushing line in the league.
Ok, so let's say Pete Carroll does not blindly favor former USC players. That doesn't mean he is free of bias. And as such, one must wonder what he thinks about Lawrence Jackson. Jackson was a bit of an underachiever at USC and his Seahawks career to date has been inconsistent. He flashes for a snap and then disappears. He started last season strong and then faded as the season fell apart. I am not sure what the future holds for Jackson, but since we're trying new things, spitballing and seeing what sticks, Jackson has better potential than Bryant and is a true end. Right now, he is without a position. That seems like a waste of resources.
The fringe player made good storyline continues to resonate despite long odds, and as a Bryant fan, I wish him success. The rub is that should Bryant succeed and secure the position, Seattle might be worse off for it. In a passing league, Seattle continues to shuffle its talent towards defending the run. One can envision four Colin Cole-types manning gaps and containing runs, and one can envision opposing quarterbacks completing 65.8% of their passes against that defense. That is what Seattle allowed in 2009, fourth worst in the NFL. And it's not going to get better until Seattle finds players that can shorten the clock and force bad decisions. I would love for that to be Bryant, but it's a reach, impractical and probably asking for trouble.