Red Bryant was helped off the field with a minute remaining in the first half of Seattle’s seventh game.
He never returned last season, and Seattle’s run defense never recovered. Not when Brandon Mebane returned from his calf injury. Not when Colin Cole returned from an ankle injury in December.
Bryant was the most important player on Seattle’s defense last year. That’s the conclusion you take from looking at the rushing totals of the Seahawks’ opponents, a reality neatly delineated in that very game he was hurt.
Before Bryant’s injury, the Oakland Raiders had rushed 20 times, gaining 72 yards. After he was helped off the field, the Raiders rushed 19 times for 167 yards. That was part of a larger trend.
I was surprised by just how significant Bryant was last season. Coach Pete Carroll was crowing about the success of moving Bryant from defensive tackle to end during the offseason workouts, but I chalked it up to the sort of wishful thinking that tends to bloom over the offseason and even into training camp.
After all, Bryant hadn’t ever been much of a factor at defensive tackle — the position he was drafted to play — and there were some teams that looked at his height — 6 feet 4 — and top-heavy build and deemed him not a draftable prospect.
This year, the question isn’t about Bryant’s bona fides, but his durability. He has never played more than seven regular-season games in a season. He indicated he weighed 335 pounds when he reported to training camp, and that he wanted to get down in the 320s. The team held him out of training camp for more than a week partly to improve his conditioning and not to push his surgically repaired knee.