RENTON — Only Red Bryant, the charming beast from Jasper, Texas, can stretch the word “chef” into four syllables.
“Got me a ch-eee-eee-ffff,” the Seahawks’ 330-pound defensive end said proudly.
It’s all part of his preservation plan. Now 29 years old, the irreplaceable run-stuffer understands the myth of invincibility. After grinding through a foot injury and playing only so-so in 2012, he spent the offseason thinking about what he must do to play at a high level through the rest of his prime years and beyond.
He started that process by hiring a chef and changing his diet. It’s a rather common approach for multimillionaire athletes — getting a chef is right there on the to-do list with buying mom a house and starting a foundation — but for Bryant, this was a big deal.
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Because he loves his Southern food.
“I’m just a country boy at heart,” Bryant says, laughing.
He spoke wistfully about his old diet.
“Fried fish — that’s one of my favorite foods,” Bryant said. “My wife, she makes good chicken spaghetti, lasagna. If I make me some collard greens, I’m going to put me some ham hocks in it. That’s just how we do it, you know.”
But as Bryant started inching closer to age 30, he noticed a diminished energy level and more nagging injuries. A few major injuries had limited his NFL career until his breakthrough season in 2011, but like most young players, the minor, day-to-day injuries were never a concern until recently.
So, after playing with a plantar fascia foot issue last season, he decided to be more proactive about maintaining his health. First, he fixed his diet. Then he was tested for sleep disorders, and he found out that he had sleep apnea. He now sleeps wearing a mask connected to a machine that increases airflow through his throat to ensure he is breathing properly at night.
Bryant says he has never felt better, and so far this preseason, it has shown in his play. Pete Carroll says Bryant is having his most impressive training camp in the four years he has coached the defensive end.
When Bryant signed a five-year deal worth $35 million ($14.5 million guaranteed) before last season, he vowed not to “go in the tank” after his payday. He’s a proud and earnest man, and he never wants to be a player who lost his edge after getting his money.
Because he struggled last year and the Seahawks’ run defense regressed as a result, he’s intent on returning to the impact player that he immediately became after the Seahawks made the surprising decision in 2010 to move him from defensive tackle to end.
In the big picture, Bryant’s pride and refusal to “go in the tank” represents something the Seahawks are counting on as they reward previously underrated players with sizable contracts. They can’t pay one-hit wonders. They have to choose carefully and make sure the players they reward have the fire to continue to produce. Otherwise, they’ll become a lazy, overpaid team.
Like most Seahawks who have received big contract extensions (Max Unger, Chris Clemons, Marshawn Lynch and Kam Chancellor among them), Bryant is hungry — and not just for Southern food. He still burns to be great. He wants to be more of a pass-rushing factor. He wants to be an all-down player and not just be a run-stuffer. Will he be able to do everything he wants on a roster this deep? No. But the commitment to improve remains.
“Part of my responsibility, I feel, is to give everything I’ve got and be the Red Bryant that got that contract,” he said. “That’s what keeps me grinding. That’s what keeps me motivated.
“Last year, I felt like I wasn’t at my best, and I wouldn’t need anybody to tell me that. I know what my expectations are for me, and you can’t allow injuries to be an excuse, especially since I play a key role in terms of how we run this defense. When I’m dominant, I’m knocking blocks back. I’m taking on double-teams. I’m constantly in the backfield.
“I just felt like at times last year I didn’t play at the level that I’m accustomed to for myself. And so more than anything, I wanted to go back to the basics. I wanted to work hard. I wanted to attack the offseason. I wanted to give myself the best chance, especially since I’ve been blessed financially.”
Now, his chef prepares salmon and grilled chicken and “just about every healthy thing you can imagine,” Bryant said.
“It’s just amazing how food, something so simple, can play a big role in terms of an athlete,” Bryant said. “I just feel more alert, ready to go. You can’t really perform at an elite level with that type of food I was eating all the time. It’s going to wear you down. And you can’t be in a better place than Seattle because they’re health-conscious anyway compared to the South. It’s just two different worlds. So it’s been a good transition for me in terms of not only trying to eat healthier, but having a healthier lifestyle.”
Big Red is determined to get better — and live better. He has the ch-eee-eee-fff to prove it.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org