RENTON – Seek and destroy.
After four years in Arizona playing as a read-and-react defensive end, Alan Branch signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks this season, and they are turning him loose to be a disruptive force as a pass-rushing defensive tackle.
So far, so good for Branch. He was one of the key contributors who helped hold San Francisco to 2.7 rushing yards per attempt last week.
“Really, this system just allows me to be aggressive, which is the way I like to play, so I’m loving it right now, honestly,” Branch said. “It’s probably the best fit I’ve played under for a while; being able to go out there and cause havoc in the backfield.”
Selected by the Cardinals in the second round of the 2007 draft out of Michigan, Branch was noticed by Seattle coach Pete Carroll in the two games his team played against Arizona last season. With Brandon Mebane switching back to his nose tackle position, Carroll thought Branch would be a good fit on the Seahawks’ defensive line.
“I feel like he’s a young player that we’re developing,” Carroll said of the 26-year-old. “That’s what it feels like. Now, I know he’s a little farther along than that in his career, but for us, that’s what it feels like. We’re developing him into our style of play.
“He’s been most willing. His attitude has been great, his work ethic has been excellent and he’s improved. He did a nice job last week.”
The Seahawks will need Branch at his best when they take on Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, the Steelers’ quarterback is one of the toughest players to bring down when he breaks out of the pocket, so Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley understands the importance of his players staying disciplined when they pursue.
“The big thing for us is just our principles,” Bradley said. “OK, he breaks loose. Who’s coming up to re-contain and what does everybody else do? Because he doesn’t scramble to throw it short, or hit a check down and dump it to the back.
“He’s scrambling to throw it deep. So it’s really for our deep players, whether it’s half-field coverage or quarter-field coverage, it’s important that our safeties are back. And that’s what we’ve got to try (to) mimic tomorrow.”
Veteran defensive end Raheem Brock talked about the importance of keeping Roethlisberger off balance.
“He’s a good vet,” Brock said. “He’s a great quarterback. So we have to be on our toes and try to get after him as much as possible. Try to keep him out of sync and try to get him to throw the ball up and make some mistakes like Baltimore did last week.”
So what’s the best way to get Roethlisberger down?
“If you can hit him when he’s not looking,” said Brock, chuckling. “You know when you hit the big guys you have to get them off their feet, because if you bounce off or you don’t take him down right away, he’s going to just toss you aside.”
Branch, who measures 6-6 and 325 pounds, actually returned punts at Cibola High School in Rio Rancho, N.M. – three of them for touchdowns. So Branch has the fleet feet and the size to keep up with Roethlisberger.
“Fans love him so much because he’s a huge dude that makes a lot of plays after breaking a tackle and scrambling,” Branch said. “So we’ve just got to get in there and make sure he doesn’t scramble, and try to stop those big plays because those big, explosive plays are what win games sometimes.”
READY FOR BLITZBURGH
After turning the ball over three times against San Francisco – two fumbles and an interception – Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson says offensively his team has to limit turnovers to have a chance at Pittsburgh.
“We have to take care of the football first,” Jackson said. “Make sure we take care of the football. They’re going to bring different blitzes and stuff at us. As long as we’re in it going to the end of the game you want to make sure you take care of the football to give yourself the best chance to win, so first of all we want to do that.”
Jackson understands that Pittsburgh has an experienced group on defense – one that includes eight players age 30 or older – and Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau disguises blitzes well in his 3-4 zone-blitz scheme, bringing a lot of pressure up front.
And with Seattle starting one of the youngest offensive lines in the league, it will be important for Jackson to understand where the pressure is coming during his pre-snap reads.
“We want to make sure we target it right,” Jackson said. “If we don’t, we won’t have a chance. We know they’re going to mix it up, and they’re going to give good disguises. They run some of the same blitzes, but they kind of mix it up a little, they kind of keep you off guard. So we’re going to make sure we use our indicators and just follow our rules.”
Wide receiver Sidney Rice participated in team drills at practice Thursday for the first time in three weeks but still was listed as a limited participant. Rice, who missed last week’s season opener in San Francisco with a sore shoulder, again looked comfortable running and catching the ball. Carroll’s decision on making the talented receiver available Sunday is a tough one, particularly with the team hosting NFC West rival Arizona on Sept. 25 in the home opener at CenturyLink Field. “I don’t know his status for this weekend, but we’re going to continue to keep plugging in,” quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said about Rice. “I know he’s going to do his best to get out there.” … Coming off a sprained right knee, offensive guard Robert Gallery fully participated in his second straight practice and looks on track to play against the Steelers. Linebacker David Hawthorne (knee) also fully participated in his second straight practice, and is on track to play. … Offensive tackle Jarriel King (ankle), linebacker Malcolm Smith (hamstring), fullback Michael Robinson (ankle), cornerback Byron Maxwell (ankle) and defensive end Dexter Davis (hip) did not participate in practice on Thursday.
Seattle (0-1) at Pittsburgh (0-1), 10 a.m., Ch. 13, 710-AM, 97.3-FM