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Originally published Thursday, July 31, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks defender anchors middle of the line

The Seattle Seahawks are counting on Brandon Mebane to anchor the middle of their defensive line. Mebane, a Cal product, is listed at 314 pounds, and at 6 feet 1 is difficult to push around.

Seattle Times staff reporter

KIRKLAND — His jacket size: 52.

Waist: 44 inches.

Even those measurements don't really convey the enormity of Brandon Mebane's presence in Seattle's defensive line. It requires a little imagination to describe just how stout and strong he is.

"Remember when Fred Flintstone used to work at the quarry?" guard Mike Wahle said. "There were all these gigantic rocks sitting around. That's like Mebane when you run into him."

"Bang Bang." That's the nickname teammates hung on Mebane, the 6-foot-1 boulder of a defensive tackle drafted by the Seahawks last year. He started the final 10 games of his rookie season, and one week into this training camp, he is looking like a piece of bedrock with the first-unit defense.

"He's not a tall guy, but his legs are so thick," Wahle said. "You just can't move him. Getting underneath that guy is very difficult."

How difficult? Talk to the men who practice with him. Ask them to complete the following sentence: Blocking Brandon Mebane is like ...

"Pushing a Mack truck," guard Rob Sims said.

"Flipping over one of those 1,000-pound tires," center Steve Vallos said.

Mebane is listed at 314 pounds, but then, football is full of enormous men and 16 of Seattle's 81 players at training camp weigh 300 pounds or more. Only one of those guys stands just 6 feet 1, though. That's Mebane.

The Seahawks have planted stout men up front before. It's a trend that can be traced back to Tim Ruskell's history in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers didn't mind using a guy who looked like a molehill so long as he played like a mountain.

That's how Chuck Darby ended up a starter in two different Super Bowls, first with Tampa Bay and then after coming to Seattle in 2005. It's also why the Seahawks had no qualms choosing Mebane out of California.

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The surprise now is how he was available with the 85th pick of the 2007 draft. "I have no idea how he lasted until the third round," linebacker Lofa Tatupu said.

Maybe for very much the same reason Tatupu lasted until the second round in 2005. He doesn't quite fit the mold in terms of his size and specs. Also, Mebane plays a position that can't be measured by statistics. He had four sacks as a senior, spending most of that year occupying two blockers and enabling Cal's linebackers to make plays.

He wasn't anonymous, though. He had his pick of Pac-10 schools coming out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. Cal had been recruiting him since he was a junior, and his parents wanted him to get out of L.A., and so he ended up in Berkeley.

He played as a freshman, started as a sophomore and by the time he finished his senior season in 2006 he became his coaches' gold standard along the defensive line.

"We certainly miss him and will miss him," said Bob Gregory, Cal's defensive coordinator. "He's always the guy you compare people to. 'Is he going to be the next Brandon Mebane?' "

A defensive tackle earns a living in the boiler room of the field, his job to line up across from two 300-pound road graders, hold his ground and keep the blockers from advancing past him and picking off the linebackers.

Former Seahawks defensive end Bryce Fisher once explained the special kind of starch it takes to play defensive tackle.

"It's unlike any other position in the game," Fisher said. "You've got two 300-pound-plus men leaning on you every single play for three hours, and you've got to be a really tough man to handle that.

"A lot of guys wilt under that."

Mebane thrived last season, stepping into the starting lineup for the final 10 games after Darby suffered a season-ending knee injury against New Orleans. Mebane finished the season with 29 tackles and two sacks, but his impact is best measured by the person who played behind him.

"I don't think we make the playoffs without him," Tatupu said.

The Seahawks were running desperately thin up front last season. Marcus Tubbs suffered a season-ending knee injury in the final exhibition game, Darby went down in the sixth game, and by the end of the season Rocky Bernard was playing games despite having two sports hernias and unable to practice during the week.

This offseason, Darby left for Detroit as a free agent, Tubbs still is recovering after knee surgery, and Mebane is starting alongside Bernard.

Mebane stepped into the void up front last season and did what any NFL team wants from its defensive tackle: He held his ground, occupying a spot that he looks prepared to hold onto for a number of years in Seattle.

Notes

• Single-game tickets for the season go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday. Tickets will be available only at www.seahawks.com or by calling Ticketmaster at (206) 628-0888. Tickets are expected to sell out in minutes. Fans can buy a maximum of six tickets per game.

• TE Jeb Putzier missed Wednesday's practices with a sore hip.

• Former Seahawks FB Mack Strong, who retired last season, has joined the local FSN broadcast team as a football analyst. He will also host a 30-minute show called "Mack Strong: Seahawks Insider," which is soon to debut. Strong will make his first FSN appearance at 6 p.m. Monday on the premiere of the network's "Inside Seahawks Camp" show.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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