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Not everything has changed as the Seahawks prepare for the first practice of Bing Training Camp on Saturday morning. It just seems that way after the busiest offseason in franchise history.
Gus Bradley returns for his second season as defensive coordinator, one of three assistant coaches retained after Pete Carroll was hired as head coach in January – the others are defensive line coach Dan Quinn and defensive assistant Mike Phair.
The defensive side of the ball also features a cast of incumbent starters: Linebackers Lofa Tatupu, Aaron Curry, Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne; the tackle tandem of Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane; and defensive backs Marcus Trufant, Josh Wilson, Kelly Jennings, Lawyer Milloy and Jordan Babineaux.
There are, however, ample changes in store for a unit that ranked No. 24 in total defense last season and was 30th against the pass, in large part because the Seahawks generated only 28 sacks. But they also faced, in order, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Brett Favre, Matt Schaub and Aaron Rodgers – a six-pack of hot-handed veterans who ranked among the league’s Top 10 passers.
“In the (spring) OTAs and minicamps, we kind of established what our philosophy is going to be and the approach we’re taking,” Bradley said. “Now we’re on to the next phase to continue that and then even get a better feel for our personnel.”
And that philosophy and approach would be?
“It’s going to be an aggressive style of defense and we’re going to be very multiple,” Bradley said. “First and foremost, we’re going to stop the run – that’s the emphasis – and eliminate big plays.”
Those two goals are directly related to what Carroll stressed in his first meeting with the defense: Get the ball back.
“In order to do that, we’ve got to play an aggressive style of defense and be multiple – create different looks for the quarterback and confusion, and force them into making bad decisions,” Bradley said. “All those things come into play where you get the ball back.”
By multiple, Bradley means looks and personnel. It will start upfront, with a base line of Red Bryant and Chris Clemons at the ends and Cole and Mebane in the middle being supplemented by still-to-be-determined pass rushers in the nickel defense. The coaches plan to use Curry, last year’s first-round draft choice, as a blitzer and rush-end.
In addition to Clemons, who was obtained in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to play the “Leo” end spot in the defense Carroll learned while an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers, the Seahawks also drafted Earl Thomas in the first round to give them a free safety with better range and playmaking ability.
“A lot of things will play out during training camp,” Bradley said. “The good news is we’ve got strong competition, so it’s just going to help us get better as a unit.”
Here’s a closer look at the defense on the eve of the first training camp practices:
Linemen (have 12, could keep eight or nine): Bryant, Cole, Mebane, Clemons; DE Lawrence Jackson, DE Nick Reed, DE E.J. Wilson, DE Ricky Foley, DE Rob Rose, DT Craig Terrill, DT Kevin Vickerson, DT Jonathan Lewis.
The word: Quinn’s idea to move the 323-pound Bryant to end turned out to be what Carroll has labeled one of the most pleasant surprises of the offseason. If Bryant continues to progress in his new role it will give the line another big, active body to achieve Bradley’s first goal: Stopping the run. While it might appear the “run out of the tunnel” starters are set, Bradley included this unit when he offered, “There’s so much competition that it can change. That’s what we’ve got to establish: Who’s going to come to the forefront.” Besides, “starters” is a relative term with the linemen, because the coaches will continue to rotate players and mix-and-match them to create the “multiple” affect Bradley talked about. The club also added size on draft weekend with the selection of Wilson (289 pounds) in the fourth round and the trade to acquire Vickerson (listed at 321). “That whole D-line, it’s going to be an interesting dynamic,” Bradley said. “We need pass rush. So in the nickel formation, who’s going to be the four there?”
Lineackers (have eight, could keep six or seven): Curry, Tatupu, Hawthorne, Hill; Will Herring, Matt McCoy, Dexter Davis, Joe Pawelek.
The word: The impact of Tatupu’s return after missing 11 games last season can’t be overstated. As Carroll has said, and Bradley concurs, Tatupu makes those around him better players because of his instincts, knowledge of the defense and approach to the game. Another key is getting Curry to play as well for an entire season as he did at the start of his rookie season, and also step up as a productive pass rusher. Hill has been suspended by the league for the season opener, so Hawthorne slides outside after replacing Tatupu in the middle last season. Herring adds depth and versatility. “That is a talented, talented crew,” Bradley said. “Now it’s just a matter of putting them in the right spots where they can make plays and feel comfortable to where they can play fast.”
Defensive backs (have 18, could keep eight or nine): CB Marcus Trufant, CB Josh Wilson, CB Kelly Jennings, FS Earl Thomas, SS Lawyer Milloy, SS Jordan Babineaux, SS Kam Chancellor, S Kevin Ellison, CB Walter Thurmond, CB Roy Lewis, FS Jamar Adams, CB Chris Richards, CB Marcus Brown, CB Josh Pinkard, CB Kennard Cox, CB Cord Parks, CB Marcus Udell, FS James Brindley.
The word: Trufant appears to be all the way back after sitting out the first half of last season with a back issue and then not playing to his Pro Bowl potential once he did return. Jennings, a former first-round draft choice, is pushing Wilson for the starting spot opposite Trufant. Thurmond, who was drafted in the fourth round, is coming off major knee surgery that ended his final season at Oregon. But he has the skills and size (5-11, 190) to push for a starting spot when fully recovered. There also is competition at safety, for the starting berth opposite Thomas as well as the backup spots. Babineaux began the spring as the strong safety but was replaced after the re-signing of Milloy, a savvy player who is in his 15th season and turns 37 in November. Looming large – very large – is Chancellor (6-3, 232), who was drafted in the fifth round. And then there’s Kevin Ellison, who was added last month and played for Carroll at USC. “We’ve got strong completion back there,” Bradley said. “We drafted two safeties, so just that has instilled competition.” Shuffling safeties is nothing new. In the past 10 years, the Seahawks have started the same tandem in back-to-back seasons only twice – Brian Russell and Deon Grant in 2007-08 and Marcus Robertson and Reggie Tongue in 2001-02.