RENTON — Jaye Howard didn’t think he needed to be humbled, but he’s glad it happened.
A fourth-round pick out of Florida last year, Howard arrived in Seattle having played in the rugged SEC, a conference well known for producing NFL defensive linemen. He thought he’d been through the gauntlet and was ready for the pros.
Then reality: He played in only two games as a rookie defensive tackle. He didn’t record a tackle or a sack.
“Every day I worked out,” Howard said, “I thought about not playing, not being active.”
That motivation carried Howard through a rugged offseason he hopes translates into more playing time.
For starters, Howard elected to stay around the team’s Renton facility during the offseason. He put on between 15 and 20 pounds as a result — and coach Pete Carroll pointed out that it’s “good weight.” Howard now weighs 305 pounds.
“When people weren’t in here,” Howard said, “I was working out by myself. I wanted to show them that I was hungry, that I wanted it.”
Under first-year defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the Seahawks are trying Howard at defensive end; he will be used in the same run-stopping role as Red Bryant. It’s an ironic twist: When Quinn arrived at Florida, he moved Howard from defensive end to tackle for his senior season.
Carroll said Howard, who is fighting for a spot along a crowded and competitive defensive line, will rotate between defensive tackle and end during camp.
“He’s playing with more strength,” Quinn said, “and that’s important to us.”
Yet perhaps the biggest adjustment for Howard had nothing to do with his body. He had always been a player athletic and strong enough to produce, but when he got to the NFL he realized he had entered a new world.
Strength and skill alone weren’t enough to separate him from other guys who were just as strong and just as athletic. So he spent this offseason not only working on his body, but also working on his understanding of the game. He studied more film, watched Bryant play defensive end and tried to pick up some of the nuances along the defensive line.
“That’s the key in the transition from a college player playing defensive line to a professional player,” Howard said. “You have to be more of a student of the game.”
The payoff, in the short term, has been that Howard has stood out the first couple of days of training camp. In fact, when asked about Howard’s improvement, Carroll quickly responded, “That’s a good one to point out.”