A Playmaker in Pursuit of a Dream

The Scene: Qwest Field, November 27th, 2005. Middle of the 3rd Quarter, with Seahawks back on defense following a second TD from Hasselbeck to Jurevicius to resume the lead, 14 to 13. The fan noise has reached near-Kingdome decibel levels.

The New York Giants have the ball in their own territory with a 3rd and very long, attempting a first down near midfield.

The play-by-play transcript of Steve Raible:

[Emphatically] The Seahawks need a big stop here on 3rd and 15. Ball at the Giant’s 42 yard line. Manning in the Shotgun. He’s got Tiki Barber beside him and three wide receivers.

Snap is to him; Manning pump fakes, he’s in trouble, he’s hit and he’s dropped!!!

Manning is sacked and Rocky Bernard gets to him!!!

As the Seahawks continue to lead the NFL in sacks, they managed only one very important sack last Sunday against the New York Giants. Appropriately, that sack was instigated by Seattle’s talented rising star, defensive tackle Rocky Bernard.

Timing is everything for great playmakers. From a Seahawk defensive upgrade standpoint, the timing could not have been better for Rocky to emerge as a leading sack producer in the NFL.

Pursuing great plays is Bernard’s business.

This was certainly the case two weeks ago at Monster Park by the Bay where Bernard ratcheted up his play in timely fashion. Marcus Tubbs had been out of the DT rotation that week nursing an injury. Rocky’s pressure on QB Ken Dorsey during the critical two-point conversion sequence at the end of regulation practically decided the outcome of the game. While 49er QB Ken Dorsey was looking to throw a strike the back of the end zone with 18 seconds remaining in the game, Rocky’s pressure forced Dorsey to make a hurried, unbalanced throw off the wrong foot, resulting in a fatal grounder in front of his intended receiver. Without question, Rocky’s pursuit saved the game while adding two sacks to his impressive record.

Of all of the Defensive Lineman in the current Seahawk rotation Bernard, in his fourth season, has been with the Hawks longer any other starter. So, while we are familiar with Rocky’s presence on the field, many of us are taking a double-take in seeing a slightly different Bernard than before.

”Robert” (his actual name) came to Seattle as a fifth round (146th overall) pick in the 2002 draft. He was selected after the Seahawks acquired rookie defensive end Anton Palepoi. Serious questions were raised about the Seahawks’ drafting decisions that year, but to Seattle’s credit, two great players have emerged in stunning fashion this season: Jerramy Stevens on offense and Rocky Bernard on defense.

At Texas A&M, Bernard played in a defensive line whose nick-name was the “Wrecking Crew,” a formidable defensive front that got the attention of the draftniks. From an interview during his collegiate years:

“Coach (Buddy) Wyatt pulled me aside after practice and said, ‘Hey, it’s your senior year… don’t let it slip away . . . That’s one thing I realized . . . is you just can’t take anything for granted because it can be taken away from you just like that.”

During his junior year at Texas A&M, Bernard suffered from a knee injury that could have ended his football career. “It was just a shock,” Bernard said. “I knew my knee didn’t feel right, and it hurt really bad. One of the players came over and said, ‘Oh, you’ll be alright. You’ll be back for Notre Dame.’ I already knew I wouldn’t be back for it. It was really disappointing because I was looking forward to a good season.”

There were times during his rehab that he wasn’t sure he’d make it back to playing football, but began to pursue his goal and dreams, knowing deep down that he was destined to make an impact on the football field.

Regarding the Wrecking Crew, Bernard added, “We have to go out and beat some teams to get the recognition we deserve.”

Fortunately, Rocky made a comeback his senior year, bringing significant improvements to the Wrecking Crew, and gaining some recognition of his own by NFL talent scouts.

As a rookie in 2002, Rocky played in all 16 games and made two starts. Most importantly, he got out of the gate impressively with 18 tackles and four sacks, earning the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for September.

The toughness of Seattle’s front seven had been an area of deep concern for fans and prognosticators alike - folks have been uneasy about the group since Mike Holmgren jettisoned many key defensive players during his second year as (then) GM at the Kirkland front office.

Palepoi’s development was slow (and eventually a “bust”), so Bernard’s progress as a DT gave Seattle a ray of hope in what looked to be a diminishing, frustrating defensive line program.

Rocky rose to the occasion that year in Arizona, forcing a fumble to stop the Cardinals from scoring at the Seahawks 1-yard line.

For the past few seasons, however, Rocky’s production had been in near hibernation compared to his rapid and auspicious rookie beginnings. Still, blocked passes, sacks, fumble recoveries and many solo tackles have been his mainstay during the past four years, even though he hadn’t necessarily been lighting up the board, statistically.

Then came another test as Bernard became a restricted free agent last year. Would Rocky get picked up by another team where good defensive lineman have become a premium in the league?

Rocky started last season with 3 sacks, but finished the season with just four total, as if to make a statement that his true coming out would not yet materialize with three years as a veteran in with the Seahawks.

Not, at least, until something sparked a flame under his fourth year (2005).

One has to wonder what makes this a special year for Rocky - where over half of his 18 career sacks have come before three-quarters of the season has even been completed.

Perhaps it can be attributed to his team orientation. At Texas A&M, Bernard spoke in terms of the collective accomplishments of the “Wrecking Crew” rather than “Rocky Bernard show.” It stands to reason, then, that in the kind of team architecture that a Tim Ruskell can build, Rocky’s attitude figures prominently. Teammates go out of their way to pay compliments to Rocky’s relatively low profile, yet group camaraderie ethic.

Perhaps this special year can be attributed to Rocky’s arrival as a hard-working technician. Coaches have noticed how he gets off the line with greater quickness and tougher pursuit to “home.” John Randle, who had great years with the Vikings and a twilight time with Seattle became Bernard’s mentor in Seattle, where Rocky picked up few things from the seasoned veteran before Randle retired.

Rocky’s strength and conditioning improved as well during the past seasons, but during the 2002-2004 campaigns, he still faced the challenges of new players competing for his position, a limited roster and mediocre results on the football field. As fate would have it, “Booger” Moore and Cedric Woodard where set to vie for Rocky’s spot, but had difficulties overcoming their own respective injury issues. After Moore and Woodard were released, Rocky went to work to secure his spot during training camp, in pursuit of his opportunity advance his career.

Echoing in his mind were the evaluations of 2004, suggesting that he had played well but was inconsistent at times. Those statements challenged Rocky to find a way to prove otherwise, and the doors opened in 2005 in ways that even he might not have imagined.

From a fan’s perspective, if someone were to project by the end of last season that Rocky would lead the Seahawks in sacks as the number one sacking team in the NFL, many of us would say that they were crazy.

Getting crazy is what it is all about for Rocky Bernard, who, while in pursuit of many big plays at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday Night, may play his role in turning a few heads toward a defensive line that was regard as a team weakness just a short time ago. A chance to get some hits on the QB and break out into his “three shake shimmy” may very likely be a reality before a national television audience.

Chuck Darby, Craig Terrill and Marcus Tubbs have had their spirits ignited by the infectious play of their teammate. Meanwhile, Grant Wistrom continues to make critical tackles at the line of scrimmage while forcing opposing QBs out of the pocket, Bryce Fisher, who is second in sacks with 7.5 can agree that everyone is playing with greater intensity as a unit that has yielded a positive group result.

Whether Rocky is the flint, the spark or the flame of this emerging defensive line has yet to be determined. This “no name defense” includes a talented, passionate group of players who go after it from play to play.

One thing is for certain. Bernard is having a terrific year, and his knack and timing for the big play has captured the imagination of his fans, coaches and fellow Seahawk team members.

And to think that this is only the beginning of great things ahead; dreams yet to be pursued and taken by Seattle’s break through defensive lineman, Rocky Bernard.


Rocky Bernard keeps company with the finest pass rushers in the NFL with his team-leading 8.5 sacks on the year.

Rank
Player
Team
Sacks
Tackles

1

Robert Mathis

IND

11

48

2

Derrick Burgess

OAK

11

34

3

Kyle Vanden Bosch

TEN

10.5

52

4

Osi Umenyiora

NYG

10

50

5

Simeon Rice

TB

9

26

6

Adewale Ogunleye

CHI

9

35

7

Rocky Bernard

SEA

8.5

37

8

Rod Coleman

ATL

8.5

27

9

Aaron Schobel

BUF

8

45

10

Jason Taylor

MIA

8

55

11

Jared Allen

KC

8

35

12

Greg Ellis

DAL

8

27

13

Bryant Young

SF

8

29

14

Bryce Fisher

SEA

7.5

38

15

Michael Strahan

NYG

7.5

55

16

Dwight Freeney

IND

7

23

17

Shawne Merriman

SD

7

33

18

Kalimba Edwards

DET

7

27

19

Paul Spicer

JAC

6.5

26

20

Jevon Kearse

PHI

6.5

30

Columnist Karl Betts is also known as "KingdomeKarleesimo" in our Fan Forums. You can reach him at karleesimo@myway.com.


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