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Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Seahawks
Notebook: Bernard looks like rookie again

By José Miguel Romero
Seattle Times staff reporter

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KIRKLAND — Rocky Bernard made about as smashing a debut as any Seahawks rookie two years ago.

A fifth-round draft choice in 2002, the defensive tackle collected four sacks in his first month and was named the league's defensive rookie of the month.

And then he was hardly heard from again. No more sacks that year. Only two in an injury-plagued 2003 that saw him inactive for four games.

But Bernard is feeling fine these days, and his fortunes have changed. He's getting plenty of playing time in relief of starters Cedric Woodard and Rashad Moore, and he is making those snaps count. Bernard is pushing a talented group of defensive tackles for more and more action as he leads the Seahawks with three sacks.

Seahawks rewind


Coach Mike Holmgren met with his team before a spring minicamp and detailed several key areas where he would like to see improvement. Here's a look at how the Seahawks fared during their 34-0 win over San Francisco, along with a final analysis (step forward, step back or running in place) for each category.

1. Cut down on the 43 sacks allowed last season

The Seahawks did a good job of giving Matt Hasselbeck time to throw, and he responded with his best statistical performance of the season. Linemen Walter Jones and Robbie Tobeck drew holding penalties that never factored in the game; Jones' penalty was declined. Right tackle Chris Terry couldn't keep defensive end John Engelberger from getting past him for San Francisco's sack, and linebacker Julian Peterson got part of that sack when he overpowered running back Maurice Morris from the opposite side. The Seahawks have allowed six sacks — a pace for 32.

Final analysis: Step forward.

2. Lower opponent third-down success

The Seahawks ranked 30th in opponent third-down conversion rate (42.1 percent) last season and gave up more conversions (99) than any other team. But they are much improved in this category after three games. Seattle allowed the 49ers just two conversions on 13 attempts, and opponents are just 9 for 42 (21.4 percent) this season. That is the second-best percentage in the NFL.

Final analysis: Step forward.

3. Don't drop passes

The good news: The Seahawks got over their dropsies early and such mistakes never mattered in the lopsided win. Wide receiver Koren Robinson dropped one pass in the first quarter and another in the third, and tight end Itula Mili mishandled a pass in the first quarter. The bad news: The three for the game gives the Seahawks six for the season, four by Robinson, but at least the errors haven't been a factor in the team's 3-0 start.

Final analysis: Running in place.

4. Bigger returns

The Seahawks ranked 22nd in the NFL in average yards per kickoff return (20.9) last season. They were 14th in punt-return yardage (9.4). On Sunday, Bobby Engram made four fair catches on punts. Morris had one kickoff return for 17 yards. Engram is averaging 8.5 yards per return this season, and Morris is up to 22.7.

Final analysis: Running in place.

José Miguel Romero

On a defense that is among the league's best so far, such a performance says a lot about Bernard's resolve.

"Rocky is playing his best football in three years," coach Mike Holmgren said. "Not even close. He has really been a force inside. If there's one player that's elevated his game, it's been Rocky. I always knew he could do it."

Bernard wrapped up San Francisco quarterback Ken Dorsey for a sack in the first quarter Sunday. He also had a sack in each of the first two games, at New Orleans and Tampa Bay.

But the sacks don't tell the whole story. Bernard is doing his part in the trenches, taking on blocks to plug holes and prevent big runs and taking up blockers to free up other pass rushers.

"It really means a lot, but that's my job, to go out and just play as hard as I can," Bernard said when told of Holmgren's compliment. "Last year really wasn't that good a year for me, so I feel like coming into this year I had to go out and prove some things. Sometimes you have to just sit back and take a look at the things you've been doing and try to change them."

Bernard has made the adjustments through film study and better conditioning, and he has even come up with a new sack dance. Much was made about his celebratory dancing in 2002, but Bernard has busted out in 2004 with a kneel and violent double-shoulder shake he picked up from music videos.

"I might come up with some new ones later on in the year," he said.

Bye-ing time

One year, Holmgren's Green Bay team was playing so well going into its bye that the coach decided to give players the entire week off from practice.

The 3-0 Seahawks are not so lucky, but they will have a very short work week with their bye scheduled for this weekend. Holmgren has scheduled practices for today and tomorrow, with the coaches and players getting Thursday through Sunday off.

"I think they can enjoy it," Holmgren said. "The reality sets in on Monday when we come back to work, that that's over and it's nose to the grindstone again. The thing with the bye is: If you have momentum, you always run the risk of slowing that momentum down. And I think we have momentum, so in that case, who knows? In a perfect world, you'd probably like to keep playing."

Notes

• An MRI on FB Mack Strong's right knee yesterday revealed a medial collateral ligament sprain and slight ankle sprain. Strong, who was injured in Sunday's game, isn't expected to practice again until next Wednesday when the team begins preparations for the St. Louis game Oct. 10.

• Linebacker Tracy White suffered a concussion on kickoff coverage Sunday and will miss at least today's practice.

• Linebackers Isaiah Kacyvenski and Orlando Huff have muscle pulls and aren't expected to practice today.

• Holmgren said LB Chad Brown, who is walking with a protective boot over his broken left fibula, could be back in the lineup as soon as the Arizona game in Tempe on Oct. 24.

• Holmgren called the play of the defensive tackles, "the best probably since I've been here."

Times staff reporter Greg Bishop contributed to this report.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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