Does quarterback Matt Hasselbeck look healed from the back problems that cost him much of the 2008 season? (Yes, completely).
How does the team seem to react to the new staff and its new schemes? (It’s too early to judge, but there’s no shortage of enthusiasm).
Can high-profile draft picks Aaron Curry and Max Unger step in and upgrade the team immediately? (Indications are good).
With all these options attracting attention, it seems unlikely an observer would come away from several practice sessions with such a strong impression of a second-year defensive tackle who played in only four games and came up with eight tackles last season.
But in almost every team session, this huge guy wearing No. 79 kept showing up in the offense’s backfield. When a body was getting tossed around, No. 79 was often the tosser.
Ankle and knee injuries kept Red Bryant – last year’s fourth-round draft pick from Texas A&M – from having much of an impact in 2008. And the addition of free-agent tackle Colin Cole seemed to push Bryant further back in fans’ consciousness.
But the 320-pound Bryant just keeps shoving people around, and looking more comfortable as a run-stuffing force in the middle of the defensive line.
Since the job in the middle is to stand ground against double teams and stack up a pile of bodies, nose guards have evolved into squatty, leverage players.
At 6-foot-4, Bryant is from a much taller mold. But, according to defensive line coach Dan Quinn, other attributes are more important.
“You’re looking for guys who are enforcer-type guys who want to get their hands on guys and play physical,” Quinn said. “He has that mind-set; he has the temperament to play in there.”
Technique and conditioning remain issues for Bryant. But the temperament? No, that’s not a concern.
That was on display during Senior Bowl workouts before Bryant was drafted. He thought Chris Williams, who would be a first-round draft choice of the Bears, was trying to take advantage of him. Bryant sent a forceful message that such things were unacceptable.
Just a little flare up? “Nah, I was trying to break his facemask,” Bryant admitted after getting drafted last spring.
To talk to Bryant, though, is to see a very humble and respectful man with what seems to be a very gentle disposition. He no longer lives in Jasper, Texas, but there’s still a great deal of Jasper in him.
As a rookie, Bryant came across as “country strong,” like a big guy who was just naturally tough to block. But he’s spent almost a year now working on conditioning and toning his upper body and developing his flexibility and agility.
And, he’s watching his diet. “I’m a country boy, so the hardest thing for me to get away from is fried chicken. … I can eat that with the best of ’em’, ” he said. “But I’m learning from the veterans you’ve got to take care of your body. I’m eating baked foods, and more vegetables. And being up here in Seattle, I’m falling in love with salmon; I’ve had halibut a couple times, too. It’s pretty good.”
One of Bryant’s best friends and influences on the team is burly defensive tackle Brandon Mebane.
“When I first got here, we hit it off right away,” Bryant said. “He’d take me to his home and we’d go to movies and go downtown. He keeps me motivated. To see him getting better all the time because of how hard he works, that makes him somebody for me to look up to.”
Given that the two weigh in at well over 600 pounds combined, they have a strange new passion.
“He’s got me eating sushi, now,” Bryant said.
Informed the two don’t particularly look like delicate sushi connoisseurs, Bryant almost shouted: “I know!”
“But I like it now … I love those California rolls … those are my favorite.”
When asked about the injuries that sidelined him much of last season, he said he was most disappointed “because I wanted to show Mr. Ruskell that he made a good investment in me.”
Mr. Ruskell is Tim Ruskell, Seahawks general manager. And to Bryant, just about everybody is a “Mr.” – especially his new father-in-law, Seahawks Ring of Honor member Jacob Green.
“I have a great relationship with Mr. Green,” Bryant said.
Don’t you call him Jacob now that you’re part of the family?
“No, he’s Mr. Green; he’d probably be all right if I called him something else, but he’s Mr. Green to me, as a sign of respect for him, him being such a great man.”
Bryant gets a daily reminder of Green’s legacy in Seattle, with a giant banner of his likeness hanging in a hallway at the Seahawks’ headquarters.
“A lot of guys tease me about it; Coach Quinn is always asking, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ ” he said. “Hopefully I can be half the player he was … but I know I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Clearly, Bryant is putting in the work, and it seems to be having a positive effect on the Seahawks, except for those guys who are trying to block him.