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Back in Seattle, ex-Idaho defender Benson Mayowa seeks a breakout season

UPDATED: Mon., May 11, 2020

Oakland Raiders defensive end Benson Mayowa watches  play during the first half against the Houston Texans Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, in Houston. (Eric Christian Smith / AP)
Oakland Raiders defensive end Benson Mayowa watches play during the first half against the Houston Texans Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, in Houston. (Eric Christian Smith / AP)
By Colton Clark Lewiston Tribune

It’s just a matter of time for defensive end Benson Mayowa, an eighth-year NFL veteran.

“I still feel like I haven’t broke out yet; I’m not in my prime,” said Mayowa, the Seattle Seahawks’ most recent signee and one of the University of Idaho’s most successful athletic products in recent memory.

On April 6, the 28-year-old Mayowa reunited with his first pro team, signing a one-year, approximately $3 million (guaranteed) deal with Seattle, according to NFL.com reporter Tom Pelissero. As a seldom-used rookie in 2013-14, Mayowa appeared in 24 plays but got himself a Super Bowl XLVIII ring for the trouble.

“Honestly, it’s just the culture there, the coaching,” Mayowa said of why he jumped at the chance to return to the Pacific Northwest and reunite with 10th-year coach Pete Carroll.

He also said he’d considered linking back up with Seattle in the past few seasons but simply had better offers elsewhere.

“I haven’t been there in years, but I’m sure it’ll be the same thing,” Mayowa said. “They build a competitive atmosphere that gets the best out of their players.

“Mostly I’m excited for the opportunity, just being back. I already won a Super Bowl with them, and every year they have a chance to pull it out in the playoffs.”

It’s been 87 games and 2,366 defensive NFL snaps since the undrafted free agent burst into the top-level pro ranks – impressing Carroll, who had name-dropped the former Vandal (2009-12) for his performances at a 2013 minicamp. Mayowa said it’s been a gradual build to a breakout.

“I’m not fresh, but I do have less mileage,” the past prep standout at Inglewood High School (California) said by phone from his place in Los Angeles, where he’s been staying busy amid the spread of the coronavirus, training from home daily and often running a concrete hill near the beach.

“My mental game is there, and I’ve gotten better with my feet, hands, speed moves – everything’s working together. That’s the repetitions, from years and years of doing it.”

Mayowa, standing 6-foot-3 and checking in at 265 pounds, doesn’t consider certain earlier achievements peaks of his career, where some might.

In 2016, he finished with a team-best six sacks – four in his last five games – for the Dallas Cowboys, with whom he spent two seasons. He’d been signed to provide depth for a corps limited by suspensions but made himself valuable enough to stay in the rotation and eventually crack the starting lineup.

“There were only four or five of us active on the D-line, so I started five games after those guys went down, and that’s what propelled me to start playing my best football,” he said of 2016-17, a turning point of sorts in terms of usage, productivity and adjusting to steady and significant snap counts. “No one behind me or above me to worry about, just me balling out.”

Since then, Mayowa has established himself as a reliable rotational defender and commodity as a reserve. In his career he’s bounced from team to team five times – with four organizations – but when released hasn’t had to wait long for calls.

“(Seattle) is where I started, so I’d love to end there,” he said. “Moving around doesn’t bother me, but it would if I wasn’t playing well, doing my job and making some big plays. Since I’m doing my job, it feels good being wanted.”

His numbers are noteworthy, considering his defensive snap counts have generally hovered between 30% and 40%. In 2018 with Arizona he bagged four sacks and a career-high 38 tackles and 11 stops for loss, playing half of all defensive downs for the Cardinals.

Last season, in his second stint with the Raiders – after spending 2014-15 in Oakland – he was second on the team with a career-best seven sacks, adding 10 quarterback hits and a career-best three fumbles forced. Mayowa’s sack total would’ve led the 2019-20 Seahawks by three, and he only appeared in 29% of Oakland’s defensive plays.

Next Gen Stats, a football data-tracking website, clocked Mayowa’s average pass-rush get-off as the second fastest in the league at 0.77 seconds, behind Carolina’s Brian Burns at 0.75.

“I haven’t been playing 800 plays (like starters typically do in a season), but when I get in I try to maximize my opportunities,” he said. “The get-off is something I stress in my game. It stresses the tackles. Pass-rushing, I’m better than good. Playing the run, I’m good there, too (evidenced by his TFL numbers in 2018). I try to be an all-around player, not something specific, just the places coaches put me in.”

In Seattle, Mayowa will push the group and potentially carve out his role as a first-teamer. ESPN’s early depth chart lists him as a starter.

The Seahawks recently signed Mayowa’s former Seattle teammate, Bruce Irvin, and still have some young talent to bolster the edges. There’s also been no word yet on free-agent edge-rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah – when healthy, both started last year.

How nice of a full-circle it’d be for Mayowa if his “breakout” were to be in Seattle, where he got his initial shot, won a Super Bowl and soaked in championship-level advice from D-line standouts including Cliff Avril, with whom Mayowa remains friends.

“Going all the way my rookie year, it’s still surreal,” he said. “There’s not all that many people, maybe 95 in the team meeting room. How many people can say they have Super Bowl rings? It was just a blessing to be on that team.”

Of his time with the Vandals under coach Robb Akey, Mayowa said it “taught me to overcome obstacles.” He retains a determined mentality that might come with playing at small schools, especially ones 1,000 miles away from home, and in this case no way resembling Inglewood.

At UI, which because of academics was the sole D-I school to offer him, Mayowa played in 46 games, starting 27 and recording 70 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 TFLs and eight forced fumbles. He registered two TFLs and a sack as a freshman, in the Vandals’ 2009 Humanitarian Bowl win against Bowling Green in Boise.

At Seattle, Mayowa will join his former one-season (2009) teammate Mike Iupati, an All-American Idaho guard. It might be just a matter of time before the Seahawks have two Vandals atop the depth chart.

“For me, it’s just having that chip on my shoulder; that hasn’t left,” Mayowa said of his ability to stay in the league. “It’s about not getting complacent, it’s repetition and opportunity. And I’ve been around this long because coaches gave me chances. When you get the chance, make the best of it.

“The accolades, the all-stars don’t matter. Can you whup the person in front of you?”

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