CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

After Further Review: Powerful Bryant makes quick impressions

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Video shows the hustling Bryant has surprising quickness at 332 pounds. (Getty Images)  
Video shows the hustling Bryant has surprising quickness at 332 pounds. (Getty Images)  

You see this huge player, wearing Seattle Seahawks jersey No. 79, and you immediately think this is a power player. Listed at 6-feet-4, 332 pounds -- but who looks to be about 10 to 15 pounds light -- Red Bryant is an imposing defensive end, one who would seemingly be all brute and little finesse.

The reality is this is a huge man who can move.

Or as one player who faced him said, "he's slippery."

Bryant is one of the hidden gems on the free-agent market, a big man set to get a big contract.

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In a league starved for good defensive linemen, especially those who can play in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, Bryant is about to get paid. Seattle would be wise to do everything it can to keep him.

The numbers he put up last year don't do him justice. Bryant had 32 tackles and one sack, and half of that sack actually came when Colt McCoy was flushed up into the pocket and into Bryant.

But that doesn't mean he wasn't a force at times.

We're not talking Mario Williams-type edge rushing ability here, but more of a big man who can anchor in against the run and also has the quickness to chase down plays and also get some pressure.

In watching four games of tape on Bryant, I came away much more impressed than I expected for a guy with just one sack.

"At his size, you expect him to be more of a head-up type of player, but he is more finesse than I expected," said one offensive lineman who faced him.

Bryant's path to potential big money hasn't been an easy one. A fourth-round pick in 2008, he was used in a limited role as a defensive tackle. In 2010, the Seahawks moved him to end and he flourished, even overcoming a season-ending knee injury midway through the 2010 season.

He played all 16 games in 2011 and appears ready to be one of those breakout players and a hot commodity when free agency opens.

Here's a short breakdown of Bryant's game in several categories:

Effort

He seems to play hard all the time. Usually with a defensive lineman who is his size, you see them wear down.

That wasn't the case here.

In fact, I was truly impressed with how hard he played. On a screen pass against the Giants, Bryant was on the opposite side of where the screen went yet chased the runner 15 yards and just missed catching him as he ran out of bounds. The play was called back for penalty, but it was a clear effort play.

There were many other instances where a play went away from him and he fought to get into the action, several times making tackles as the back tried to cut it back.

Against Atlanta, he was rushing on a pass play from the left side of the defense. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw a quick pass to the left side of the offensive formation to tight end Tony Gonzalez. Bryant quickly disengaged his blocker, right tackle Tyson Clabo, and ran 6 yards down field to get a piece of the tackle on Gonzalez.

There is no quit in this guy.

Grade: A

Power

On a first-down running play against the Giants, Bryant was lined up across from right tackle Kareem McKenzie in a three-point stance. At the snap, he exploded into McKenzie with brute force, quickly throwing him to the side. Bryant then quickly jumped to the outside, keeping the play inside, and dumped Ahmad Bradshaw for a 1-yard loss.

As I watched that play over and over again, one word came to mind: Wow.

On another play in that game, Bryant was lined up over left tackle William Beatty. At the snap, he quickly exploded into Beatty and again shed him with a strong move. As he did, he came face-to-face with tight end Jake Ballard, who was pulling through the hole. Bryant exploded into Ballard, forcing Bradshaw to pop the run outside a bit, which allowed linebacker David Hawthorne to scrape and make the tackle for no gain. Hawthorne got the credit for the tackle, but it was Bryant who made the play.

Whenever he lined up against a tight end, he seemed to own the player in the run game. Several times in the games I watched, he was simply too strong for the tight end trying to handle him.

On one of those plays against the Browns, he was lined head up on tight end Alex Smith. He exploded into Smith, shed him quickly and won the line to make a tackle on Monterio Hardesty for a 1-yard gain. Later in that game, he was ejected because of a head-butt to Smith, who Bryant said was taking cheap shots.

Grade: B

Quickness

On a run play against Cleveland, Bryant lined up at left end. The play was a designed run to the left side of the offensive formation. For that reason, Bryant was not blocked -- the idea being he couldn't get there.

But as the play developed, Hardesty tiptoed some into the hole. That allowed Bryant to show off his quickness. He crashed down the line and was able to tackle Hardesty for no gain. It was a show of impressive quickness for a man that big.

His initial quickness is also impressive. It's part of how he can engage a blocker and get away from him so easily. He also does a great job of using his hands and his body to disengage to make plays.

Grade: A

Run defense

When you run at him, he does a great job of holding the point. On many of the run plays in his direction, I saw him at least get a standoff with the tackle or tight end to allow the pursuit to make the play.

In the four games I watched, it was rare to see him get moved off the line. Cincinnati tackle Andrew Whitworth, one of the better left tackles in the league, got good push on him on a long run.

Most of the time, Bryant was able to hold the point and do his job. Again, it didn't always mean a tackle for him, but it's that type of stout play that enables teams to be good in the run game.

Grade: B+

Pass rush

He moves well for a man his size, but he is not a natural pass rusher. He does use effort to get pressure, but most of the time the Seahawks didn't have him on the field in passing situations.

I did see him get some pressure, but it's not enough to think it's a strong point of his game. That doesn't mean he can't be better at it and he might be able to slide inside in some 4-3 scheme and be a six-sack type of player.

Against the Bengals, he beat right tackle Andre Smith with a nice swim move to get pressure on Andy Dalton on a play, but Dalton got rid of the football. That swim move said the ability is there to improve his pass rush.

He will never be an explosive edge rusher, but with the right team -- even in the right 3-4 scheme -- he could be a decent pass rusher.

As it is now, he needs work in that area.

Grade: C-

Criticisms

Aside from not being a great pass rusher, the one criticism I would have of Bryant is that he doesn’t play to his size all the time.

One play against the Falcons shows this. It was a trap play, with Bryant being the player being trapped.

He was lined up on the left side of the defense. The action of the play started to the left of the offensive formation, but was a counter back to Bryant's side. The Falcons left him unblocked and pulled the tight end -- Ryan Palmer -- across the formation to block Bryant.

Rather than explode into Palmer, which is what he should have done, Bryant seemed to try to sidestep him to make a play. When he did, he took himself out of the play somewhat and allowed Michael Turner to run inside of him. If he takes on the block, he might blow up the play.

That might be nitpicking, but there were also other times where his play called for brute force and he tried to be too cute.

But this is a player who I really came to like the more I watched him play. At 27, his best football is in front of him. He's also a top player in terms of blocking kicks.

The big man with the finesse game is about to become a rich man.

Overall grade: B+


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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