Dan Quinn fired up for his first NFL training camp as a coordinator

Posted Jul 22, 2013

Monday metatarsal musings: Dan Quinn left the Seahawks after the 2010 season for a chance to become a defensive coordinator. Now, he’s back and coordinating one of the best defenses in the NFL.

Dan Quinn never really wanted to leave the Seahawks. But he also really wanted to be a defensive coordinator.

That’s how Quinn, the Seahawks’ assistant head coach/defensive line coach in 2009 and D-line coach in 2010, ended up at the University of Florida the past two seasons as the Gators’ coordinator. With Gus Bradley entrenched as the Seahawks’ D-coordinator, the college game provided Quinn the opportunity to run his own defense.

But when Bradley left in January to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Quinn was the no-brainer replacement for the Seahawks. And this week, he’ll begin his first training camp as a defensive coordinator in the NFL.

“I’m really excited,” Quinn said through a smile as he sat in his lake-view office at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “Just knowing the organization – what we stand for, what we’re about – that was exciting, too.

“I couldn’t be more fired up to be part of it.”

And in the role that prompted him to leave the Seahawks in the first place.

While at Florida, Quinn didn’t just prove something to himself, he proved to the football world that he is indeed worthy of being a coordinator at the highest level. The Gators’ defense ranked among the Top 10 in the nation in both seasons under Quinn – eighth in 2011 and fifth last season, when Quinn’s crew allowed an average of 286.7 yards and 14.5 points.

The Gators played an aggressive style that Quinn plans to unleash now that he’s back with the Seahawks – where he inherits a unit that last season yielded the fewest points in the NFL and also ranked a franchise-best No. 4 in average yards allowed.

“That’s just my nature and the way I coach,” he said of being aggressive – a term he prefers to gambling. “I had an opportunity to do that Florida. I like that. I like that as a position coach and I like that as a play-caller.

“I like making the offense have to deal with us, too. I like them to have to know they have to deal with us. I just want to play with an aggressive mindset.”

The Seahawks’ defense that Quinn inherits isn’t the same group he left after the 2010 season. Ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant are still here, as is tackle Brandon Mebane. But it remains to be seen who will win the starting three-technique tackle spot in the base defense that opened when Alan Branch was allowed to sign elsewhere in free agency – as well as that same spot in the nickel line that was vacated when Jason Jones also left in free agency. Quinn also has to determine who will start at Clemons’ Leo end spot as he completes his rehab following knee surgery. Among the candidates to fill these vacancies on the line are free-agent additions Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and draft choice Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams.

At linebacker, K.J. Wight and Bobby Wagner have become starters the past two seasons in Quinn’s absence, while Malcolm Smith has the inside track to be the starter on the outside opposite Wright. In 2010, the starting linebackers were David Hawthorne, Lofa Tatupu and Aaron Curry. All are gone. In the secondary, cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner and strong safety Kam Chancellor were not starters in Quinn’s first stint. But they have replaced 2010 starters Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings and Lawyer Milloy.

Here are the three things that Quinn is most eager/anxious about as he prepares for his first NFL training-camp practice as a coordinator on Thursday morning:

The linebackers – Wagner not only led the team in tackles as the middle linebacker after being selected in the second round of last year’s draft, he did it with the fourth-highest total in franchise history (140) and finished second in balloting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Wright, who has finished second in tackles the past two seasons, moves from the strong side to the weak side. But who wins Wright’s old spot on the strong side? And who supplies the depth that also will need to be key contributors on special teams?

“The thing I’m most eager to see is some of the development at linebacker, in terms of who can step up into some roles,” Quinn said. “That one is always one of the really good things about when you go into camp. Whatever team you’re with, whatever camp you’re at, there are some camp battles. It’s one of the things that stand out each year.

“It’s also fun to see the guy who is now making a role for himself. There’s what you may have thought would happen, and then there’s the guy who comes along and says, ‘No, I’m going to do this.’ ”

As Wright did in 2011, when his play forced the coaches to find a way to get him on the field. As Wagner did last season, when he made the free-agent signing of Barrett Ruud unnecessary by winning the starting job in the middle during training camp.

Is Smith that player this summer? “I couldn’t be more encouraged by Malcolm and the style he brings,” Quinn said.

The chemistry – The Seahawks’ defense definitely had it last season, but the scheme has been tweaked and so has the roster. The moves in both areas where made with improvement in mind, but it still takes times for everything – and everyone – to fall into place.

“It’s nice to talk about it in the offseason and you’re starting to build on it,” Quinn said. “But really when you get into camp and now you’re starting to select your team, that’s really when it comes together. There are new parts. And every year, no matter how well you did, there are going to be some new parts to it. So each year, that team takes on its own identity.”

The pass rush – Improving it has been a priority for coach Pete Carroll as the Seahawks’ sack totals have gone from 37 to 33 to 36 in his three seasons. That’s why Avril and Bennett were signed in free agency. That’s why Hill was selected in the third round of the draft.

Who plays where is far from set. Sack-leader Clemons is on the mend. Bruce Irvin, who led all NFL rookies in sacks last season, will be unavailable for the first four games. Avril, Bennett, Hill, Williams and Tony McDonald have been added to the mix.

“I’m eager to get a chance to work with those guys,” Quinn said. “We haven’t had all the pieces together yet, and we won’t even at the start of camp. But the ones who will be there, I’m eager to work with those guys and see how those rushers can help our team.”