When Red Bryant was approached by defensive line coach Dan Quinn after the 2010 season with the proposal of moving from defensive tackle to defensive end, the big guy was more than a bit incredulous.
“You think of guys like Chris Clemons and Jared Allen, guys who are relentless pass rushers, and I’m the farthest thing from that,’’ Bryant said.
When Allen Bradford broached the idea to linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr. of making the more radical transition from running back to linebacker shortly after arriving on Seattle’s practice squad from Tampa Bay in 2011, he figured he might be shot down.
“I didn’t know what the outcome would be — were they going to say yes, no, or we’ll think about it,’’ Bradford said.
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The fact that Bradford was working out with the Seahawk linebackers at practice the next day speaks volumes about a vital aspect of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider culture in Seattle: the willingness — indeed, it’s almost a yearning — to think outside the box.
“Probably the other 31 teams wouldn’t have done that,’’ said Bradford, who worked his way onto the Seahawks depth chart at linebacker in training camp this summer.
That creativity in team-building has been a major factor in transforming the under-performing roster this regime inherited into a talent-laden one that is expected to compete for a Super Bowl.
“It’s a good team, on the verge of being great,’’ Bryant said.
And the Seahawks have gotten there by journeying down the road not taken by most teams.
The Seahawks had no qualms about not only drafting an undersized quarterback in the third round, but giving Russell Wilson the starting job as a rookie. They dipped into the Canadian Football League for vital cornerback Brandon Browner. He had gone undrafted, as did Doug Baldwin, now a key member of Seattle’s receiving core, and defensive tackle Benson Mayowa, pushing hard to make the roster this year.
Star running back Marshawn Lynch was obtained for fourth- and fifth-round draft picks from Buffalo, where some off-the-field issues had made him expendable. Starting guard J.R. Sweezy was a defensive tackle in college. All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman was a converted wide receiver when the Seahawks astutely grabbed him in the fifth round.
Not all their unorthodox moves work out, of course; the insertion of wide receiver Phil Bates at fullback in training camp didn’t seem to gain much traction. But there is a tangible benefit to being open-minded and innovative, for emphasizing the exploitable aspects of a player’s skill set rather than disdaining his drawbacks.
For one thing, it tends to breed hungry players with an edge, eager to prove their detractors wrong. It fosters versatility and depth, two traits invaluable in today’s (or yesterday’s, or tomorrow’s) NFL.
And, most important, the Seahawks have shown an uncanny ability to unearth productive players from unlikely venues, which is what makes the venture worthwhile. There’s no gain in being outside the box if the goodies that spill out are undesirable.
In Bryant’s case, the Seahawks wound up with a run-stuffing defensive end who nicely complimented speed rushers like Clemons — himself a hidden gem unearthed from a journeyman’s career in Philadelphia and brought to Seattle in a trade for the unlamented Darryl Tapp.
“Coach Carroll, he’s unorthodox in his approach,’’ Bryant said. “He actually looks for guys that other people might not think are very good, or might not fit their idea of a particular defense. He uses it to his benefit.
“If you look throughout our roster, we have countless guys, including myself, he took a chance on and it paid off for him.”
Quinn, who is now the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, said that the mindset for open-mindedness in personnel trickles down from the top.
“They train us as coaches in terms of a style and an attitude of how we want to do things,’’ he said. “Pete’s always challenging us to find ways to challenge the players to do something better or different. It’s no different when it comes from them towards us.”
Whatever half-baked idea is put forward, it’s given every chance to become fully baked. And if it proves unpalatable, they move on, remaining vigilant for the next opportunity to play mad scientist.
“We try to create those looks in practice, put those guys in those situations and see if they can do that,” Quinn said. “Once you see it on tape, you say, ‘OK, let’s keep going down that road.’ Or: ‘We tried that. Let’s find some information about something else.’”
In Bryant’s case, Quinn was looking for ways to defend the run at the point of attack without compromising their pass rush. Carroll quickly bought in, and now Bryant is established as a mainstay of the Seattle defense.
“That’s just another testament to coach Carroll and his vision in terms of how he wants to play defense,” Bryant said. “I have a great role, and I take pride in it. I was nervous at first, but now I love it.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. O