Seahawks' slimmer Bryant striving for more sacks in 2012
As a native Texan whose taste buds percolate at the aroma of pulled pork, chicken and dumplings, or sweet potato pie, he was oh so enticed to go home to Jasper this summer to put on the feed bag a time or two. Instead, he resisted the temptation and stayed in Seattle, where he trained a bit harder after the Seahawks' offseason program ended and dined on healthier foods like salmon and halibut.
As a result, a svelter Red Bryant is 20 pounds lighter, his weight having dropped from 345 to 325.
"Yeah, I had to give up a lot," said Bryant, chuckling at the idea of missing his favorite dish, fried catfish. "I stayed committed."
The Seahawks noticed a lighter Bryant when he reported for training camp.
"He was in great shape," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "You can just tell if you're watching tape. You see him run. On plays that are longer developing, you'll see him chase the ball. He's at a good weight right now, and I think that's where he feels comfortable."
After three mostly frustrating seasons in Seattle, Bryant emerged last year. He made 32 tackles, had one sack and intercepted two passes, including one for a 20-yard touchdown against Chicago.
The son-in-law of former Seahawks star defensive end Jacob Green, Bryant was offered Green's No. 79 jersey when Seattle picked him in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. At first, Bryant hesitated, knowing the standard he would have to live up to. Green is the Seahawks' all-time sacks leader and in the team's Ring of Honor. Also, Bryant came out of Texas A&M as a tackle, not an end.
"We were just extremely different," Bryant said. "But he finally convinced me to wear it, and that it would mean a lot to him. I'm making a niche, I'm making it my own way, but I'm definitely glad I'm able to make him proud by wearing his number."
Success did not come instantly. Bryant said he was "extremely frustrated" during his first two seasons because he wasn't able to get on the field often enough (he played in only 10 games and started just one). After coach Pete Carroll arrived in 2010, he and then defensive line coach Dan Quinn decided to move Bryant from tackle to end. Bryant started the first seven games that year but his season ended when he suffered a knee injury in an Oct. 31 game against Oakland.
At 6-foot-4, Bryant was a little tall for an inside lineman, and he sometimes found himself losing the leverage battle. On the outside, he's able to make more of an impact because he can take advantage of his long legs and athleticism.
"When I first got here in 2009, he was just kind of figuring things out," Bradley said. "We had him inside, and he did some good things in there, but I think he was still trying to figure out the position. And then when we moved him outside, he just had a different outlook. He became confident in his abilities and truly felt at home there."
The Seahawks move Bryant around. Sometimes he lines up across from the tight end in a traditional 4-3 alignment. Other times he'll be head-up on the tackle in more of a 3-4 look. In nickel situations, Bryant might slide inside to tackle and rookie Bruce Irvin, Seattle's first-round draft pick, will come in to play end.
Bryant, 28, has carved out a reputation for being a good run stopper on the edge, but the Seahawks have challenged him to pressure the quarterback more. Right end Chris Clemons, who plays the "Leo" position in Seattle's defense, had double-digit sacks in both 2010 and 2011, but Seattle needs pressure from Bryant, too. Now that he has dropped some pounds, Bryant wants to show that he can be a versatile lineman.
"If a team feels like I'm [just] a run stuffer, maybe I can surprise a tackle and show him I'm quick enough to get around him," said Bryant, who doesn't have a sack through two games. "Just continue to work on things like that. I know it's going to pay off. I know it is."
Last season, Bryant also made his mark on special teams by blocking four kicks -- a pair of field goal attempts at Cleveland in Week 7 and a field goal and an extra point try against Washington in Week 12. Those plays weren't abnormal. Bryant blocked three field goal attempts at Texas A&M, where coaches instilled in him the importance of playing hard on every play.
Bryant was the first freshman in Texas A&M history to be voted to the team's leadership council. He is one of the Seahawks captains and has developed into one of their leaders. Carroll sometimes asks Bryant to speak to the team before it goes out on the field for a game.
"I just tell the guys what I'm feeling at the time," Bryant said. "It's just something I feel, and I talk from my heart. I hope my teammates can relate to whatever it is at that particular time. I hope I can inspire them to go out and just give their all.
"A lot of guys respect how I go about taking care of my business. I was like that at Texas A&M, and I've been like that since I've been with the Seahawks."
Most men nicknamed "Red" have red hair. Not Bryant. His given name is Joseph Anthony Bryant, but he has been called "Red" since he was a baby. His mom thought he had some red tone in him, like his grandfather.
"She always told me my grandfather called me 'Red Man,' " Bryant said. "I've never heard my mom call me Joseph; she always called me 'Big Red,' her red baby. So it just stuck with me. When I go somewhere, or someone asks me my name, I say 'Big Red.' They always look at me funny, but that's my name."
Seahawks fans finally saw a full picture of Bryant last season, when he started all 16 games for the first time in his NFL career. Although he's somewhat still a work in progress, Bryant has high aspirations.
"Last season, everybody got to see me finish the season and see what type of player I want to reveal every time I have the opportunity to go out there," he said. "I always knew I could be a starter in this league; it was just getting the confidence and the opportunity to be able to do that. If there's anything a person can take from the way I play, I want them to know I play extremely hard, extremely passionate."
Bryant convinced the Seahawks. Instead of allowing Bryant to get away on the first day of free agency last March, they awarded him with a lucrative, five-year contract ($35 million, with $14.5 million guaranteed). But Bryant admits he considered making a coast-to-coast move after he learned that Patriots coach Bill Belichick expressed a keen interest in him.
"That was big," Bryant said. "Coach Belichick, when it comes to football, his resume speaks for itself. So when they showed interest in me, it helped validate what my father-in-law and my teammates and coach Carroll saw in me as a football player and what I bring to the table. It was a deep honor for me. I strongly considered [pursuing a contract with New England], but my heart was in Seattle."
Even if his stomach craved to be in Texas, near a plate of fried catfish.