The franchise is the same, but there aren’t many other similarities between Benson Mayowa’s first year in the NFL and his eighth.
The bowl-winning former Idaho defensive end narrowly made the Seattle Seahawks’ cut as an undervalued, undrafted free agent in 2013, fashioning a spot on the 53-man roster out of a regional combine and a rookie minicamp tryout.
“He was a raw player coming in, but a good athlete and, you know, we really took him for the upside,” coach Pete Carroll said Monday on a Zoom call with reporters. “(General manager) John (Schneider) just figured out how to wait for the upside to come on back to us, so we’re lucky we got him back now.”
Mayowa, having returned to where he launched his pro career, has become a featured pass rusher in a Seattle D-line corps that could use one. He’s starting to appear well worth the one-year, $3.05 million deal he signed in April – if not completely exceeding the price tag as a presumed starter.
“I’m happy to have the opportunity of being the guy in front,” Mayowa said during a Zoom call Sunday. “That’s something I never had.
“I was always the rotational guy, the second guy. … It just feels good being the guy stepping on the front line.”
Putting it mildly, the Seahawks’ defensive line is far from what it was when Mayowa first entered the league ahead of Seattle’s star-studded Super Bowl run, which included D-line mainstays like Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett – complemented by a “Legion of Boom” in the secondary.
Mayowa earned himself a ring but was stashed deep down the depth chart, and only played in two games.
Seven years later, he’s providing direction for an unproven Seattle defensive line, the Seahawks’ position group most shrouded in uncertainty.
“We don’t have Cliff, we don’t have Mike, we don’t have Clem,” Mayowa said. “It’s me and Bruce (Irvin). I’m the vet now, and those guys that I was looking up to aren’t here, and now the guys that are here are looking up to me. It’s a big change, man, from Year 1 to Year 8. My role’s bigger now. They’re depending on me, and I’m depending on myself. It’s a big change, and I’m taking it on.”
Mayowa, in the words of Carroll, has been a “real nice surprise.” About a week into camp, he’s begun to turn heads among Seattle media members, earning praise for his pure-form pressuring of quarterbacks and sharp jump off the line that’s been measured as one of the league’s quickest by Pro Football Focus.
“He’s really a pass rusher, and you can see it in his mode of play,” Carroll said. “He’s good off the line of scrimmage. You know, he was an outside ’backer, mixing kinda in and out before, when we had him. But he’s learned a lot over the years, and he comes to us really fitting the position well. So he’s off to a good start, had some really good highlight rushes (Sunday).”
The 6-foot-3, 265-pound product of Inglewood, California, has floated around the league, steadily nailing down professional techniques and gaining traction as a rotational edge rusher. Overall, he’s appeared in 87 games for the Seahawks, Oakland Raiders (two stints), Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals.
He’s totaled 20 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in his career, only playing around 40% of defensive snaps in most of his seasons.
“I just always had that chip on my shoulder, and I feel like it never left,” he said. “Once you get comfortable, that’s when you get out, and I’ve never been comfortable. I’m still not comfortable, man, eight years later.”
The last time Mayowa was relied on so heavily – and when he grasped his starter-caliber capacities – was Dallas’ 2016 season, when injuries to teammates nudged him into a first-team role. He broke out with a team-high six sacks, in just 13 games.
“There were six D-linemen active … there was no one behind me,” he said. “That’s one of the years I told myself, and showed on film, that I can play this game, and I can play this game at a high level.”
Mayowa finished second on the team in Oakland last year with a career-high seven sacks, all coming in his first eight games. He played in only 29% of possible defensive snaps, but still, his sack tally would’ve surpassed Seattle’s best in 2019, Rasheem Green, by three. The Seahawks compiled 28 sacks last season, tied for second to last in the league.
And that was with the services of Jadeveon Clowney, the NFL draft’s No. 1 pick in 2014.
“(Mayowa is) just a much more accomplished football player, as is Bruce, too, in the pass rush, and it shows,” Carroll said. “In the first couple of days you can feel the constant of the edge, which is so important for us. It’s what we came back to this camp to find.”
Irvin, a former teammate of Mayowa’s in 2013, leads the group of pass rushers with 52 career sacks and 63 TFLs. Combine the pair’s sack total from last year – 15½ – and it’s more than half Seattle’s sum as a team in 2019.
It’s uncertain whether Seattle will attempt to re-sign Clowney, or go by committee, with Irvin and Mayowa acting as anchors.
Mayowa acknowledged the benefit of a “big-name” player like Clowney, but reiterated a team will only be at its most successful if every D-lineman can contribute.
“It don’t matter who the hell the guys are, (pass rushing) just takes a village of guys with the same mind on the same track,” Mayowa said. “You don’t always need the big-name guys … you just need whoever’s active, working together to get to the quarterback.
“You can have the best guy in the world, and if you’re not working together, you’re not gonna get sacks. … It’s everybody, it’s a joint effort, it’s a village.”
Among those unseasoned players in said village, Mayowa will be leaned on to furnish guidance, and usher in a Seattle pass-rushing resurgence. It’s different, but Mayowa – who had to “scratch and claw” to even get a roster spot as a Seahawks project – welcomes the task.
“How I came into the league, you know, I was an underdog … so I wouldn’t be a good vet if I don’t tell them what’s gonna make them succeed in this game,” he said. “That’s what I’m here for, that’s Year 8. If vets like Avril, Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley – and the guys that were helping me – do that, I’m always gonna help pass that game off.”
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