Dan Quinn conjured a plan.
His defensive tackle, Red Bryant, wanted a more prominent role. Quinn thought Bryant could provide more. He had faith switching the 6-foot-4, 323-pound Bryant from tackle to a five-technique defensive end would give the Seattle Seahawks a formidable run-stopping presence.
It worked. Bryant played a combined 10 games his first two seasons, and 39 in the three seasons since the position change in 2010.
“He believed in me,” Bryant said.
But Quinn wanted a more prominent role, too. So he left his position as Seattle’s defensive line coach and accepted the defensive coordinator job at the University of Florida following the 2010 season, hoping it would lead to a similar position in the NFL.
So when the Seahawks announced in January that Quinn would earn the most noteworthy role of his career – his first NFL defensive coordinator job – Bryant said he was happy for him, just like Quinn was for Bryant when he first broke out.
“He was with me from the beginning in terms of me trying to become an NFL starting player,” Bryant said. “He saw my development, helped fine tune me and gave me an opportunity. And I know that the D-line is always first in his heart, so it’s going to be good.”
Quinn – who has 10 years experience coaching NFL defensive lines, including two with the Seahawks – takes over a unit that ranked fourth in total defense (306.2 yards per game) and first in points allowed (15.3) last season under Gus Bradley, who is now the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Quinn’s defense at Florida ranked fifth in the NCAA in total defense last season.
“I was prepared for this,” Quinn said. “And that’s why I went to Florida – to hopefully have a chance to do this. I loved coaching D-line, I had a blast doing it for 10 years, but it was just a matter of I wanted to take on a bigger leadership role.”
Quinn plans to put his stamp on the Seahawks. It’s a defense that possesses versatility, especially with players the Seahawks brought in during the offseason such as Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.
And there is the “Legion of Boom” secondary, which is gearing for a third season of starting together.
Quinn has a defensive background with a hybrid 4-3/3-4 defensive scheme, learned mostly in his days with coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp with the Miami Dolphins in 2005 (he got to work with the scheme more with Muschamp the past two years in Florida).
Quinn plans to use a mix of the schemes, based on each opponent.
If it’s a pass-heavy team, Quinn can use a package with a mix of Avril, Bennett, Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons – when they are all available – or he could deploy a bigger front line for running teams with Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Clinton McDonald, Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams.
He can also use Avril and Irvin in the “Leo” spot (a hybrid linebacker-defensive end) and Bryant and Bennett can play inside and out.
With all the versatility on that line, it’s easy to see why the Seahawks brought Quinn back.
“I’ve kind of sensed how this would look and if I ever got the opportunity to do this, I knew the fashion I’d like to do it in,” Quinn said. “I think our scheme is going to be week to week as we need. If a team plays more open, we’ll have rushers available, and if it’s a strong, power team then we’ll try to feature more of the big guys.”
The defensive adjustments aren’t just about the secondary and the line. Linebacker K.J. Wright said he is looking forward to the changes Quinn has introduced.
“We ran a lot of zone last year, Cover 3 most all the time,” Wright said. “With these corners we got, they are really lock down. For me, I get to match up with some tight ends and show what I can do, too.
“When you stay back in zones, teams can kind of pick you apart. But when you are in man-to-man, we are on them and locked in and I really like that he brought that to the team.”
But Bryant said Quinn brings more to the team than schemes. Quinn knows how to motivate players to reach their potential and to put them in the right position.
Bryant is the illustration of that.
“I feel like it’s no different now than when he used to work with me,” Bryant said. “He knows when to push me, when to get on me and when to give me space. It’s just a great relationship we have.”
Quinn knew some of the players from before he left for Florida, but the linebacker core is new and the Seahawks didn’t have Richard Sherman or Brandon Browner when he was here.
Since Quinn’s been back, he’s learned that his defense is not only talented, but driven to be special.
“You can sense with all the players and coaches here the development and that they really want to go for this hard,” Quinn said. “And our coaching philosophy is we go at it.
“The big thing for us is we just want to play fast and physical. We want to play our style.”
MOVING ON UP
Dan Quinn is heading into his first season as a NFL defensive coordinator, but he held that position with the University of Florida the past two seasons. The Gators play in the closest thing to the NFL – the Southeastern Conference – and possessed one of the strongest NCAA defenses under Quinn in 2012.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 2012 FLORIDA GATORS
306.2 (4th – NFL) Yards allowed/game287.5 (5th – NCAA)
15.3 (1st)Points allowed/game14.5 (5th)
203.1 (6th)Passing yards/game192.5 (17th)
103.1 (10th)Rushing yards/game94.9 (4th)