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Here’s what the “Red Bryant role” means for Cowboys defensive lineman Brent Urban

The Urban Cowboy will have a crucial, thankless job.

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

It didn’t take long for new Cowboys defensive lineman Brent Urban to bring up the Red Bryant role. In his press conference on Thursday, it took Urban all of 30 seconds to mention former Seahawks standout Red Bryant, a seven-year veteran who was a vital, albeit underrated, part of Seattle’s legendary Legion of Boom defense.

Bryant actually predated the Pete Carroll era of Seahawks football, being drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. At nearly 330 pounds, Bryant was drafted to be a nose tackle, not unlike new Cowboys rookie Quinton Bohanna. But injuries limited him to just 10 games in his first two seasons. That’s when Carroll arrived, and his blend of a 3-4 and 4-3 up front switched Bryant to the 5-technique spot out on the edge.

It was a new position for the former Aggie, but it paid dividends. Bryant would tally 66 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and somehow two interceptions over the next four years.

While those numbers don’t scream productivity, context is important here. First of all, Seattle had a very deep rotation on the defensive line during that time, so Bryant only played on about half of all defensive snaps, largely on early running downs. But Bryant’s biggest contributions weren’t things that showed up in the box score. At the 5-technique, Bryant’s job was to largely plug holes and set the edge in run defense, and he did so at a very high level. From 2011 to 2013, the Seahawks ranked top ten in run defense DVOA and Bryant coming into his own in his new role was a big part of that.

Urban has already had a similar career to this point, as it relates to doing the dirty work that nobody notices and doing it at a high level. Drafted originally by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, Urban never saw the field for even a quarter of all defensive snaps. That’s not surprising given how good Baltimore’s defenses have been lately, but it led Urban to sign with the Titans ahead of the 2019 season. He was cut during that year, but landed with the Bears, who re-signed him for the 2020 season. That’s when Urban hit a career high for defensive snaps played with 35% in 2020, and he did not disappoint:

But, of course, few people had heard of Urban when Dallas signed him this offseason. He has just 104 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits, and six sacks to his name across six seasons, but he’s built a reputation as a stout run defender.

The Cowboys obviously brought in Urban to shore up a dismal run defense from last year, and his comments from Thursday suggest that Dan Quinn sees him filling the same role Bryant did for those Seattle teams that Quinn won a Super Bowl with. That likely won’t be the only thing Urban does in Dallas, as he’s displayed solid pass rushing skills for his profile and could find some snaps at the 1-technique spot in certain packages too.

How exactly Urban lines up on each play is up to Quinn, a supremely qualified person to be making those decisions, but one thing is clear about Urban’s 2021 season: his impact will be much bigger than the box score suggests, just as it was for Bryant in Seattle. The hope is that this leads to the same kind of success - a Lombardi Trophy - that Bryant’s time in Seattle did.

I would like to issue a correction. I referred to Red Bryant as a “former Aggie” in this article, but have since been reminded that there is no such thing as a “former Aggie.” Once an Aggie, always an Aggie.

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