By Chris Cluff
Brandon Mebane, DT #92
Hometown: Los Angeles
Experience: 6 years
Last year the Seahawks sent three defenders — all defensive backs — to the Pro Bowl. This year, there seems to be a big competition to see who can join them. And Brandon Mebane is right in the thick of it.
It’s hard to stand out on a defense with as much talent as Seattle’s unit. But even on a squad that has Pro Bowl safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, explosive pass rusher Chris Clemons, mammoth run-stopping end Red Bryant and rising linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner, Mebane definitely has stood out in the first month of the season.
As good as Mebane was last year, when his career-high 56 tackles were sixth on the team and his seven tackles for loss were tied for second, he is playing even better this season.
With 15 tackles through four games, he is on pace for 60. And he has two sacks, which are the most he has had since he notched 5.5 in 2008.
He got both of his sacks in Seattle’s eight-sack first half against Green Bay on Monday, but they were somewhat overshadowed by the NFL-record four by Clemons and the two by first-round pick Bruce Irvin.
But those sacks symbolize how well Mebane is playing. He has been everywhere, stuffing the run and adding a dimension he showed earlier in his six-year career by pressuring the passer.
He started strong against Arizona in the opener, clogging the running lanes, tipping two passes, making four tackles and recovering a fumble. He kept it up against Dallas and then got to Aaron Rodgers twice (one was a gimme when Rodgers simply fell down and Mebane covered him). Against St. Louis, Mebane was everywhere again. He had a season-high five tackles, stopping Steven Jackson for losses twice during a fourth-quarter drive. He also offered more pass pressure, flushing Sam Bradford out of the pocket and into the arms of Alan Branch, Mebane’s linemate, for a sack.
Mebane is a major reason the Seahawks rank No. 2 in scoring defense and rushing defense and No. 3 in total defense.
“He’s playing very well,” defensive line coach Todd Wash told Seahawks.com after his two-sack performance last week. “He does a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage. He plays with great effort. He’s a sideline-to-sideline nose guard, and there aren’t a lot of those out there.”
A third-round draft pick out of California in 2007, Mebane has been a steady starter his entire career. But this year his play has been reminiscent of the dominance displayed by Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and John Randle, who both were great two-way tackles for Seattle.
Mebane is one of seven Seahawks who pre-date coach Pete Carroll’s regime, and he’s one of only five Carroll and general manager John Schneider have decided to re-sign to long-term deals. They gave Mebane a five-year deal worth $25 million in 2011.
Mebane, the fourth most-tenured Seahawk, has become a reluctant leader on the defense. But he’s always been a great teammate.
In fact, Bryant gives Mebane a lot of credit for helping him stick it out long enough to get a nearly identical contract from the Hawks last offseason.
“My first two years, I wasn’t playing, and he would always encourage me,” Bryant told The News Tribune last December. “And he had been starting since his rookie year. But he saw play-making ability in me. When I got down on myself because I wasn’t able to get on the field, he would always encourage me.
“A lot of times you don’t see that in the National Football League because it’s so competitive. And for him to think enough of me…it just speaks volumes of what type of person he is. I consider him my best friend, and more like a brother.”
No surprise to Marshawn Lynch, who played with Mebane at California.
“He ain’t changed,” Lynch told the TNT in the same story last December. “He was always quiet. He always was just goofy, just laughing and giggling all the time. But on the field, he was a monster. He’s always been a great teammate. He’s always going to tell you the truth. He’s just one of those guys that if you ever need him and call him, he’s going to be there for you.”
He’s definitely been there for the Seattle defense the last two seasons. And if he keeps it up, he will be in Hawaii with a few teammates after the season.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.