Maybe it’s because they have joined to form such a formidable wall, it’s easy to start thinking of Seahawks defensive linemen Colin Cole, Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant as an inseparable unit.
Symbolically, close friends Bryant and Mebane agreed this week that it’s time to invite Cole with them on one of their favorite brotherhood bonding sessions: eating sushi.
The three provide almost a-half ton of run-stopping power on the Seahawks’ defense. We may only speculate whether they can match the combined consumption of seafood as the sea lions near the Ballard locks.
“I don’t know if Cole eats sushi,” Bryant said, “But I like the idea.”
Mebane managed only a few affirmative words on the topic: “Cole … sushi … hee, hee, hee.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last week that a crucial part of the 31-6 win over San Francisco was the ability to stop the 49ers’ running game with its base scheme. That forced the San Francisco offense to become one-dimensional, which created problems for quarterback Alex Smith.
By holding San Francisco to 49 rushing yards, the Seahawks are ranked third in the league in that category. They finished 15th last season.
At the core of the improved effort are Cole, Mebane and Bryant, technically manning positions called the 1, 3 and 5. In general terms, their jobs are to be wide, strong and immovable.
“When Coach Carroll came in here, he had the idea of the three of us big guys being in that middle area and playing off each other,” Cole said. “He thought part of the scheme would be to give people a different look in the front wall.”
But it may be less about scheme than it is about attitude.
“It’s about guys being aggressive and playing off blocks and battling people at the line of scrimmage and not giving the offense the opportunity to get to the second level,” Cole said.
Cole and Mebane were forces at their positions last season, too, but the conversion of former reserve tackle Bryant to starting strong-side defensive end has made a difference in several ways. At 330 pounds, he’s a load to root out of there, and playing with exuberance and new-found confidence, he has emerged as one of the more visible Seahawks defenders.
“Since Red came here, I knew he had the talent and ability to do anything; I had confidence in him,” Mebane said. “Believe it or not, Red is one of our team leaders; I don’t think he really wants to be, but he’s blessed with many different talents.”
Cole sees Bryant’s bulk as critical in altering opponents’ plans.
“You put a guy like Red on the strong side, you know most teams want to run that way,” Cole said. “It’s a great opportunity to force teams to go away from their strength, from what they want to do.”
Bryant’s career looked stalled, because he tended to play too high at defensive tackle, tending to lose leverage against blockers. But when Carroll moved him out to end, he blossomed as a player and a personality.
“You get tired of sitting around watching everybody else; you want to get out there and help,” Bryant said. “I just feel like I’m more mature in year three than I was in my first couple years”
In his eighth season, Cole is the veteran of the bunch. He performed consistently in 15 starts last season but looks even more at home this year as the line shows its potential.
“I feel blessed to play with these young guys who play with such passion,” Cole said of Mebane and Bryant. “I just see how much potential there is for the future with this group.”
The three bring with them a bit of swagger, too. Bryant’s confidence has been accompanied by the occasional display of delight after a big stop. Mebane has a habit of barking like an angry watchdog when the other team approaches the line. And Cole may be among the better quotes and more affable men on the team.
The three, in short, play tough on the field but certainly act like professionals and gentlemen elsewhere.
For instance, asked if he could spare a minute for an interview between film session and practice preparation, Cole said, “Of course, absolutely, that’s part of my job description.”
When thanked, he noted, somewhat philosophically, that it doesn’t cost him anything to be nice.
And when told that he might soon be invited to a meeting of the Sushi Devouring Brotherhood, he said that he would definitely be up for it.
“I don’t know, though,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to contribute to any restaurant going out of business. We might be able to do too much damage.”
He may be right; better to restrict their collective damage to the field on Sunday afternoons.