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For their first six games of the 2010 season, the Seahawks’ defensive line was a formidable front of frustration for opposing running games.
With the move of little-used tackle Red Bryant to the five-technique end spot, the disruptive duo of Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane at the tackles and the relentlessness of Chris Clemons at the “Leo” end position, the Seahawks ranked second in the league in rushing defense – allowing averages of 77.5 yards per game and 3.3 per carry.
In their first five games, no team – let alone a single back – rushed for more than 100 yards against the Seahawks. And that included matchups with two backs who went on to produce 1,000-yard seasons: Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams and Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears.
Then, it all came to a crashing – and crushing – halt.
In the Seahawks’ Week 8 game against the Raiders in Oakland, with Mebane already sidelined because of a calf injury, Bryant was lost in the second quarter with a knee injury that required season-ending surgery and Cole sprained an ankle that would force him to miss the next five games. Read
|Eyeing The Draft|
Numbers and dates to know as the Seahawks prepare for the NFL scouting combine: Read
The Raiders ran for 239 yards and before the Seahawks really knew what had hit them, the New York Giants went for 197 the following week; the New Orleans Saints added 112 two weeks later; the Kansas City Chiefs rushed for 270 the next week; and the Carolina Panthers put up 131 the week after that.
Numbers and dates to know as the Seahawks prepare for the NFL scouting combine:
The run defense slipped from No. 2 to No. 22, with the Seahawks allowing averages of 118.9 yards per game and 4.2 per carry.
“When we got banged up at the Raiders game, we didn’t respond very well to that,” coach Pete Carroll said during his postseason news conference, when he identifying improving the talent and depth on both lines as offseason priorities.
“I didn’t feel the depth was at the level that allowed us to maintain the same level of play.”
Is it any wonder that the Seahawks are looking to bolster their line with another big body – or two – in April’s NFL draft? Or that they will focus on, as Carroll mentioned, improving the talent and depth in the unit at the scouting combine in Indianapolis next week?
“We just had such great camaraderie between Cole, Mebane, Clem and me,” Bryant said this week, when he was continuing to rehab his knee. “We had been through all the OTAs and minicamps together and training camp together. So we were more familiar with how each other played, and I believe that’s why we complemented each other so well.”
On any given mixed-down snap to start the season, Cole would take on and split a double-team block at nose tackle; Mebane would force the back to alter his plan with his explosive penetration from the three-technique tackle spot; Clemons would use his persistent pressure to make the tackle as the ball carrier cutback to elude Mebane; and Bryant would lockdown the other side of the line with his size and physical presence, while also flashing his deceptive quickness moving along the line.
“Anyone of us could make a big play,” Bryant said.
And they often did. Carroll and general manager aren’t looking to breakup this Gang of Four, just complement it.
“You can never have enough depth on the D-line in this league,” Bryant said. “It’s a tough position and you’ve got to be a man-child to play it. You count on your starters, but your backups also have to understand that if a guy goes down the level of play can’t go down.
“You have to march on. That’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. So you can see why every year they bring in D-lineman after D-lineman. They’re trying to find quality guys because it’s a premium position.”
In the past five drafts, the Seahawks have selected eight defensive linemen, including Bryant in 2008 and Mebane in 2007. During that same period, they traded for six D-linemen, including Clemons last year; and signed 11 in free agency, including Cole in 2009.
With that said – and with Auburn tackle Nick Fairley, Clemson end Da’Quan Bowers and Alabama tackle Marcell Dareus projected to be Top 10 picks – here is a look at five D-linemen who could help the Seahawks when it comes times to make the 25th pick in the first round of the draft:
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa – An All-American selection and finalist for the Lombardi Award last season, he could be gone by the time the Seahawks pick. But Clayborn’s combination of quickness, strength and size (6 feet 3, 286 pounds) would be a good fit.
“Clayborn saw his production drop in 2010, because Iowa coaches asked him to take on more blockers as a senior to free up his teammates,” said Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com.
Cameron Jordan, DE, California – Because he played end in Cal’s 3-4 scheme, Jordan has the size (6-4, 287) to play on the edge or inside. He did both during practices for the Senior Bowl, when it was estimated that he could have had 10 sacks if allowed to take the QB to the ground.
“Jordan was unquestionably the most disruptive defensive lineman at the Senior Bowl,” Rang said.
Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois – He is skipping his senior season to enter the draft and didn’t become a fulltime starter until last season, but the 6-3, 300-pound Liuget definitely made the most of the opportunity with 63 tackles, 12½ for losses and 4½ sacks.
“Liuget is just scratching the surface of his potential as a three-technique defensive tackle,” Rang said.
Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor – He uses his 6-4, 337-pound body to clog running lanes, and Taylor’s combination of size and strength make him a fit for teams that run either a 4-3 or 3-4 front. His 62 tackles last season were the most by a Baylor interior lineman since Ethan Kelley in 2002.
“He is potentially one of the more highly coveted defensive linemen available, but scouts will want to know the specifics of his suspension and transfer from Penn State,” Rang said.
Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple – He is coming out after his junior season, and comes out of a school better known for providing a professional education than the number of players it sends to professional football. But Wilkerson’s size (6-5, 305) and ability to rush the passer (9½ sacks last season and seven in 2009) make him an intriguing prospect.
“If Wilkerson had played in the SEC or Big Ten, he’d likely be viewed as a Top 20 prospect,” Rang said. “That doesn’t mean he won’t get drafted in the first round. Teams love his motor, production and versatility.”
It’s a good year to be in the market for a defense end, as ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay views the situation.
“To be honest, I don’t think there’s a position with more quality depth than the defensive end position – and there’s all different shapes and sizes,” said McShay, who projects that eight or nine defensive ends could be selected in the first round.
“Different teams will rank the defensive ends slightly different depending whether they’re looking for a traditional right end in a 4-3, a pass-rusher; or a power end that can play that left defensive end position; or a defensive end/outside linebacker ’tweener-type to play a 3-4 outside linebacker spot.” Read