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Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By José Miguel Romero
KIRKLAND Rocky Bernard made about as smashing a debut as any Seahawks rookie two years ago.
A fifth-round draft choice in 2002, the defensive tackle collected four sacks in his first month and was named the league's defensive rookie of the month.
And then he was hardly heard from again. No more sacks that year. Only two in an injury-plagued 2003 that saw him inactive for four games.
But Bernard is feeling fine these days, and his fortunes have changed. He's getting plenty of playing time in relief of starters Cedric Woodard and Rashad Moore, and he is making those snaps count. Bernard is pushing a talented group of defensive tackles for more and more action as he leads the Seahawks with three sacks.
On a defense that is among the league's best so far, such a performance says a lot about Bernard's resolve.
"Rocky is playing his best football in three years," coach Mike Holmgren said. "Not even close. He has really been a force inside. If there's one player that's elevated his game, it's been Rocky. I always knew he could do it."
Bernard wrapped up San Francisco quarterback Ken Dorsey for a sack in the first quarter Sunday. He also had a sack in each of the first two games, at New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
But the sacks don't tell the whole story. Bernard is doing his part in the trenches, taking on blocks to plug holes and prevent big runs and taking up blockers to free up other pass rushers.
"It really means a lot, but that's my job, to go out and just play as hard as I can," Bernard said when told of Holmgren's compliment. "Last year really wasn't that good a year for me, so I feel like coming into this year I had to go out and prove some things. Sometimes you have to just sit back and take a look at the things you've been doing and try to change them."
Bernard has made the adjustments through film study and better conditioning, and he has even come up with a new sack dance. Much was made about his celebratory dancing in 2002, but Bernard has busted out in 2004 with a kneel and violent double-shoulder shake he picked up from music videos.
"I might come up with some new ones later on in the year," he said.
One year, Holmgren's Green Bay team was playing so well going into its bye that the coach decided to give players the entire week off from practice.
The 3-0 Seahawks are not so lucky, but they will have a very short work week with their bye scheduled for this weekend. Holmgren has scheduled practices for today and tomorrow, with the coaches and players getting Thursday through Sunday off.
"I think they can enjoy it," Holmgren said. "The reality sets in on Monday when we come back to work, that that's over and it's nose to the grindstone again. The thing with the bye is: If you have momentum, you always run the risk of slowing that momentum down. And I think we have momentum, so in that case, who knows? In a perfect world, you'd probably like to keep playing."
An MRI on FB Mack Strong's right knee yesterday revealed a medial collateral ligament sprain and slight ankle sprain. Strong, who was injured in Sunday's game, isn't expected to practice again until next Wednesday when the team begins preparations for the St. Louis game Oct. 10.
Linebacker Tracy White suffered a concussion on kickoff coverage Sunday and will miss at least today's practice.
Linebackers Isaiah Kacyvenski and Orlando Huff have muscle pulls and aren't expected to practice today.
Holmgren said LB Chad Brown, who is walking with a protective boot over his broken left fibula, could be back in the lineup as soon as the Arizona game in Tempe on Oct. 24.
Holmgren called the play of the defensive tackles, "the best probably since I've been here."
Times staff reporter Greg Bishop contributed to this report.
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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