How brilliant has Jarran Reed been for the Seahawks this season?
Ask the best player on Seattle’s defense — heck, one of the best defensive players in the NFL — about Reed and he invokes the name of an iconic defensive tackle from the Seahawks’ best times, their recent Super Bowl seasons.
“He kind of reminds me how (Brandon) Mebane was,” Bobby Wagner said Thursday, four days before Reed figures to have a pivotal role in the Seahawks’ home game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Mebane was the Seahawks’ perfect defensive tackle during their run of consecutive Super Bowls in the 2013-14 seasons. He was the relatively unsung coal miner of Seattle’s star-packed defense, doing the dirty work that keeps any defense’s playmakers behind him clean.
Mebane was the reason Wagner became a superstar middle linebacker. Mebane occupied blockers, sometimes multiple ones at the same time, as the nose tackle just off the opposing center’s helmet. Mebane’s freed Wagner to make plays and eventually to Wagner cashing in on a $43 million contract extension that ends after next year.
So Wagner essentially calling Reed Seattle’s 2018 Mebane is tall praise for the third year pro.
The Seahawks traded Michael Bennett in March then watched fellow Pro Bowl end Cliff Avril retire this offseason because of a neck injury. They needed a second pass rusher, to help their only proven one left on this year’s roster, end Frank Clark.
Seattle’s coaches keep waiting for Dion Jordan to get his chronically pained knee healthy; the end missed practice again Thursday. They drafted Rasheem Green in the third round this spring from USC to be a Bennett-like, inside-outside pass rusher.
While Jordan and Green struggle to stay healthy and effective, Clark has been sublime with 10 sacks to tie his career high with four games still left. But Reed has been better than any Seahawk expected. So much more consistent and productive than in the two previous seasons after Seattle drafted him in the second round in 2016.
Looping on stunts, crossing with teammates and sometimes just plain beating his man with power and speed, Reed had a remarkable six hits on San Francisco quarterback Nick Mullens last weekend. That’s an Aaron Donald-like number for an interior defensive tackle. Especially one known only as a run stuffer and blocker devourer in college playing for Alabama.
Now he goes against Kirk Cousins and the quick-passing Vikings Monday.
“He was a real dedicated run defender coming out (of college). We did not see him specialize in rushing the passer,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “His numbers weren’t great, and the first couple of years (for Seattle), his numbers weren’t great, either.
“He’s just emerged through his focus and dedication and hard work. He’s become a complete player.”
Through 12 games this season Reed has 16 quarterback hits and a career-high 6 1/2 sacks.
Yes, that’s 6 1/2 of his 9 1/2 career sacks in the last dozen games.
“He’s been getting after it,” Wagner said. “He’s been amazing in the run game. The thing that I’m impressed with the most is his growth leadership-wise. He’s been very vocal, especially up front. He takes a lot of pride and accountability in not just understanding — he has his job — but understanding what the offense is trying to do. He tries to call out the plays (like Mebane did for Seattle before snaps).
“Just the way he’s been playing, you watch him work on his pass-rush moves, every single game. You see the production growth. You see the leadership growth. It’s just been really good for us.”
Wagner had an even more Herculean game last weekend against the 49ers, maybe the best one of his superstar career. He had 12 tackles, his first sack of the second, two more tackles for losses, hits on the quarterback, a strip of San Francisco running back Jeff Wilson in the red zone for a fumble recovery — and then a Seahawks-record 98-yard interception of Mullens while stepping in front of Wilson near the goal line in the fourth quarter.
For checking every block of the defensive stat sheet, Bobby Wagner Bingo, he is the NFC’s latest defensive player of the week.
Wagner thinks he should split the award with Reed.
“He’s very important,” Wagner said. “As a linebacker, you always love a guy that takes pride in making sure nobody touches you. He’s definitely one of those guys. I mean, him being on the team is super important, because he keeps me clean. Other guys (help) keep me clean, but J-Reed is the guy that most of the time I am (lined up) right behind. So he keeps me clean.
“If they try to come get me, he makes the play in the backfield. If they stay on him, then I make the play. We play off each other.”
Told Wagner appreciates him as much or more than any other Seahawk, Reed flashed a grin almost as wide as his massive shoulders at his locker before practice Thursday.
“That’s good! That’s good!” he said. “I take a lot of pride in that. Because, you know, it starts up front. If you don’t have anybody up front linebackers can’t do what they do. We have a job we have to do. We’ve got to keep guys off them, sometimes help them make plays.
“That’s why I take pride in that.”
Reed has been as opportunistic as he’s been effective.
In addition to Bennett leaving and Avril retiring, Seattle’s defensive line lost tackle Sheldon Richardson in March to the Vikings because, as Carroll said Thursday, “the (free-agent) market just kind of took him away from us.”
The team also lost tackle Tom Johnson in mid-September, during their dark days of the 0-2 start to this season. It miscalculated the veteran would perhaps sign back with Seattle after it released him days after he started the season opener at Denver, to add special-teams help for week two in his roster spot.
The jilted Johnson saw an opportunity to return to Minnesota, for which he played before he signed with the Seahawks last year. He signed with the Vikings instead, after his veteran contract was guaranteed by Seattle after he was on its roster for week one. So, salary cap-wise, the Seahawks are paying Johnson to play against them Monday.
All that left huge voids in production and experience on the defensive front.
Reed has stormed into opposing backfields and been speaking up in meeting rooms to fill that.
“People in the room have been kind of different,” Reed said of suddenly being a veteran of the defensive line this year.
“Definitely with me, Frank and Shamar (Stephen, a fellow defensive tackle signed this spring from Minnesota) having most of the experience we are the guys who have to step up and speak up more.”
Reed set a goal last offseason to improve, on his own, his step off the snap, to become quicker and more aggressive. He wanted quicker hands and feet to beat offensive linemen. He sought speed, speed and more speed.
“That was a major emphasis I had last offseason, to be better in my all-around game,” he said. “To be more reliable. To be able to be more reliable to be on the field more for the team.”
Most NFL veterans today go to fancy performance labs in sunny, warm areas of the country in the offseason to get specialized training in palaces.
Where did Reed spend his winter and spring improving his speed?
He chuckled at that.
“Right in Atlanta,” his offseason home, “or back at Alabama,” Reed said. “I don’t go to all these fancy other things everybody goes and spends their money on.
“I just use what the Earth has. If there is grass to run on, I can run on that. If there is sand to run in, I can run on that. I lift at a regular gym, Athlete One in northeast Atlanta. That’s what it’s called. And I just go out to regular field, any open field.”
He works out with his coach from Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, N.C., Michael Harper, instead of a fancy, personal trainer from a glitzy performance academy
“So they don’t take my money,” he said, chuckling.
The way Reed’s playing right now, he may be earning more money soon. Some are touting him for consideration for the Pro Bowl—including Reed himself, on his social-media account.
Players and coaches vote next week, just as fan voting for next month’s all-star game ends.
“It’d be fine. It’s not something I’m keying on,” he said of the Pro Bowl. “I’ll get it out there. It is what it is.
“Everybody wants to get that out there. I’ll leave it at that.
“I’m worried about just going out for Monday night football.”