(Eds: Adds details, quotes. With AP Photos.)By TIM BOOTHAP Sports Writer
There are so few of the older guys left in the Seattle Seahawks locker room that players like defensive end Red Bryant are an anomaly.
Bryant is one of only four players that were around before Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle in 2010 with a mission to turn around a franchise coming off two of the worst seasons in its history. The Seahawks were at the bottom of the NFC West and the massive overhaul that followed replaced nearly the entire roster.
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”Just starting out rough early on in my career going 4-12, 5-11 so I saw a lot,” Bryant said. ”I saw a lot of people leave.”
That Bryant was there when the Seahawks were an afterthought makes him even more appreciative of what Seattle has accomplished this season, going 13-3, winning the NFC West title and earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the postseason.
Bryant and the Seahawks get a weekend off before preparing to host either Green Bay, New Orleans or division rival San Francisco in the divisional round of the playoffs on Jan. 11. It will be Seattle’s second postseason home game since 2007.
Seattle will be going into the playoffs after a challenging final month of the season. The Seahawks failed in two attempts to win the NFC West, losing to San Francisco and seeing their 14-game home win streak snapped in a stunning loss to Arizona.
The Seahawks rebounded to knock off St. Louis in the finale and wrapped up all they hoped to get out of the regular season while matching a franchise record for most wins in a season.
”We had our work cut out for us. I feel like we’re one of the luckier teams that toward the end of the season we knew some of our tougher games would be in our own division. The 49ers pushed us, the Cardinals pushed us and the Rams wanted to push us and we responded the right way,” Bryant said. ”I feel like those experiences are going to help us on this next journey in the playoffs because that’s how the playoffs are going to be, every game everything is that much (more) magnified, crucial, details are more important as far as the room for error is small. I really believe we’re going to be prepared for it and put our best foot forward.”
It really has come full circle for Bryant from his rookie season in 2008, when he barely got any playing time and the Seahawks went 4-12 in Mike Holmgren’s last season as head coach. Bryant was a defensive tackle struggling to find a role the next season – Jim Mora’s lone season as head coach – when the Seahawks finished 5-11.
When Carroll arrived in 2010 and the idea of moving him to defensive end was suggested, Bryant thought it was a signal he was about to be cut. Instead, Bryant quickly flourished playing the ”5” technique on Seattle’s defensive line, where his main responsibility was to be a space-eating run stuffer and hold the point of attack on the defensive edge.
His ability to play the unique role is critical to Seattle’s defensive success. The Seahawks finished the regular season with the No. 1 overall defense, No. 1 against the pass and tied for seventh at stopping the run.
”Coach Carroll gave me an opportunity in turning around what we were trying to do defensively so it’s just been full circle for me,” Bryant said after the Seahawks beat St. Louis last Sunday. ”This moment was worth all those adverse situations, all those ups and downs, all those valleys. Today justified it. I’m just grateful the Seahawks organization gave me an opportunity to be here and be a part of this. Hopefully, we can do something special with it.”
Bryant, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, punter Jon Ryan and center Max Unger are the only four players still around from the season before Carroll arrived in Seattle.
”They’ve grown through it and they appreciate it more so where we are than the guys that just showed up lately,” Carroll said.