Branch key part of defensive line overhaul

Alan Branch was looking for an opportunity to start.

The Seattle Seahawks were happy to oblige.

Seattle targeted Branch as someone they wanted to acquire as early as the draft in April. When the lockout was lifted, the Seahawks followed through by signing Branch during the free agency frenzy of a week ago.

“I didn’t really find that out until after because of the lockout and everything,” Branch said. “Being a backup on a different team and knowing that another team wants you, that’s a really good feeling to have in your back pocket.”

Branch was quickly tabbed the starter at the team’s pass rushing defensive tackle position alongside the re-signed Brandon Mebane.

With Colin Cole on the physically unable to perform list and weeks away from getting back on the field, Mebane has added more weight for a move from pass rushing tackle to nose tackle. Branch will take Mebane’s old spot and will be asked to penetrate and get upfield to disrupt the passing game.

“I’m just a little bit more aggressive,” Branch said. “That’s the main thing. I’m still kind of reading, but mostly it’s just aggression. I’m just trying to get in the backfield as much as possible in this defense. That’s the way I kind of like it.”

The Seahawks’ coaching staff loves his athleticism. At 6-foot-6 and 300-plus pounds in high school, Branch returned kickoffs and punts for Cibola High School in Albuquerque, N.M., where he had three returns for touchdowns.

He’s got really good lateral movement for a big man, and his change of direction is good,” defensive line coach Todd Wash said. “We aren’t going to allow him to return any punts here, obviously, but we’re excited about him right now. He continues to improve every day he comes out and competes.”

The Seahawks have signed six players along the defensive line since the start of free agency. Branch, along with defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson and defensive tackle Ryan Sims are new additions to a defensive line that fell apart when beset by injuries last year.

After five games in 2010, the Seahawks’ run defense was ranked second in the NFL. Two weeks later, defensive end Red Bryant was lost for the season to a knee sprain, and Cole sustained a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the next six games.

Seattle didn’t have the depth along the defensive line to handle the losses.

While Branch will mostly play inside, he has the ability to bounce out to the end position and back up Bryant if necessary.

“He’s really played all around,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We’ve had a chance to see him do all of the things, so we’re not going to ask him to do anything he can’t do. I want to see him do it all the time. That’s really what he’s come here to do.”