The drill for Brandon Mebane interviews follows a script: Writer asks Seattle Seahawks PR guy to set it up, PR guy asks Mebane and Mebane responds “Why’s somebody want to talk to me?”
It’s not an affectation but an ingrained humility that hasn’t changed since he showed up in 2007, before any of the other current Seahawks.
Mebane is the somewhat silent Seahawk, an elder statesman. He’s softly spoken with a gentle nature (he calls to his daughter, Mahailey, and makes smooching sounds to her as she rolls nearby in a stroller during this interview).
He’s long been considered among the true professionals on the team; never a problem, never anything but complete effort.
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But he’s newsworthy on several fronts. He’s returned in impressive condition following the hamstring surgery that cost him the last seven games of 2014. Still, at age 30 and in his ninth season with the Seahawks, he’s been viewed as one of the veterans most vulnerable to being cut for salary cap space.
Although, when it came time to prune a defensive tackle, it was Tony McDaniel who was let go, leaving Mebane with his $5.5 million salary intact for 2015.
The reason? It looks like Mebane can still play up to the level of his cap number.
“I just feel good, really good,” Mebane said, noting that he’s down to 326 pounds after playing at 330 last season. “I trained really hard and prepared to be ready for camp. I’m ready to go. If you look at me and think, oh, he’s 30, he can’t play, well, I’m gonna show you.”
He’s shown coach Pete Carroll. “Gosh, he’s come out flying. I think Brandon is probably in the best shape of his life,” Carroll said early in camp.
There’s no glamor to Mebane’s job, and he’s fine with that. He plays nose tackle, or what is sometimes called a 1-technique. His duties against the run are to take on a double-team by the center and a guard.
If he can earn a stalemate against 40 percent of the opposing offensive line, staying stout against 650 pounds of force, the Seahawks nearly always win that play. And when he gets low and quickly into the gap to split the double team, the play blows up entirely. Call the punter.
Before Mebane went down last season, All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman lamented what he felt was an annual snub of Mebane in Pro Bowl voting. “He is like the engine that helps our defense go. Brandon (is) an immovable object out there ... you rarely see a defensive tackle running, making tackles on the sidelines or tackles on screen plays. He does all that.”
Mebane has started 118 regular and postseason games for the Hawks, and still has a quickness into the gap that is rare at any age. His low center of gravity gives him profound leverage. The first time I saw him scrimmage as a rookie, I described him as a giant Weebles toy, seemingly impossible to knock down.
But now he has to play smarter. “You don’t want to always depend on your athletic ability,” he said. “You have to have a thinking game. It’s knowing and understanding what is around you, knowing what you’re going against and what you can do against it.”
The surgery and rehab time last fall, he said, has made him better. “I’ve been going a long time without missing any games,” he said, having made 57 consecutive starts from 2011 through the first nine games of last season. “This is a rough game, and I thank God I’ve been able to come back and play with the high intensity I’m able to play at now. So I’m looking forward, not back.”
And he’s not looking over his shoulder, either. The reality is that every time the Seahawks need to bring in somebody to plug a spot, they’ll be looking for ways to clear cap space.
“I can’t control the cap or those books, and I’m cool with that,” he said. “The thing I understand is that I can still play football. I know where I am in my career and I know what I can do, and I’m at peace with it all.”
For nine seasons, Mebane has absorbed the poundings so others can make the tackles and the sacks, every play a bruising dose of humility.
Few have been more accepting of that nose tackle truism.
“Here’s what people need to understand,” he said. “I don’t play this game for Instagram, I don’t play this game for Twitter, I don’t play this game for fame. I don’t care about fame.
“I care about taking care of my family, playing this game the way God blessed me to play and being a good teammate. That’s why I play this game.”
And it’s why he’s still so valuable to the Seahawks’ defense.