Free agency, draft provide D-line with even more depth and versatility

Posted Apr 30, 2013

Since Red Bryant joined the Seahawks in 2008 almost three dozen other defensive linemen have rotated through the roster. But Bryant looks at the 2013 group and offers, “It’s going to be something special.”

Defensive linemen have come and gone since Red Bryant joined the Seahawks in 2008.

Too many to remember. Enough that it takes almost seven hands to count.

Gone: Rocky Bernard, Darryl Tapp, Lawrence Jackson, Baraka Atkins, Craig Terrill, Nick Reed, Dexter Davis, Pep Levingston, all draft choices; Patrick Kerney, Colin Cole, Raheem Brock, Alan Branch, Jason Jones, Anthony Hargrove and Jimmy Wilkerson, all signed as free agents; Cory Redding, Kentwan Balmer and Kevin Vickerson, who were acquired in trades; Brandon Miller, Jay Richardson, Amon Gordon, Pierre Allen and Patrick Chukwurah, who were signed as rookie free agents or off-the-street free agents.

Still here, for obvious reasons: Brandon Mebane, a third-round draft choice in 2007 who has started at both interior positions and was a Pro Bowl alternate at nose tackle last season; Chris Clemons, who was acquired in a 2010 trade and has produced 33.5 sacks the past three seasons; Bruce Irvin, who led all NFL rookies with eight sacks after being the team’s first-round draft choice last year; Clinton McDonald, a versatile situational tackle who was acquired in a 2011 trade; and Greg Scruggs and Jaye Howard, who were selected in the draft last year, in part, because of their versatility.

Returned: Michael Bennett, who made the Seahawks’ 53-man roster as a rookie free agent in 2009 and then played the past 3½ seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before re-signing with the club as free agent last month.

This year’s additions: Cliff Avril and Tony McDaniel, who were signed in free agency along with Bennett; and Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams, who were selected in the NFL Drafted over the weekend.

Of all the lines, in all the seasons, Bryant likes this collection best because of its depth, versatility and the unique skills the individuals bring to the whole.

“We’re going to miss Alan Branch, that was my dog; and J.J. (Jason Jones),” Bryant said Tuesday, when the players worked outside on Day 2 of Phase 2 in their offseason program. “But this is probably the most-talented D-line I’ve been a part of.

“And it’s across the board. I feel like if a guy goes down, you can honestly say we won’t miss a step. And that’s saying a lot.”

That is it, because the Seahawks’ defense allowed the fewest points in the NFL last season and also ranked a franchise-best No. 4 in average yards allowed. But by getting better, and deeper, up front, it should only make the overall defense even more difficult to contend with.

“It just gives a lot of good shots to do good things,” is the way coach Pete Carroll put it.

The Seahawks have not just lucked into this situation. It has taken the hard work of general manager John Schneider and staff and director of pro personnel Tag Ribary and his staff to come up with this impressive collection of linemen who will allow Carroll to play defense the way he wants to – fast, physical, aggressive – in Dan Quinn’s first season as coordinator and Travis Jones’ first season as D-line coach.

“It’s really exciting,” Carroll said Saturday night during his postmortem of the draft, when the Seahawks selected two players capable of replacing Branch as the three-technique tackle in the base defense (the 325-pound Williams in the fourth round) and Jones in that same spot in the nickel line (Hill in the third round).

“Getting Jesse in here, he’s much different and that really gives us a chance just in what we’ve added.”

Then there are the moves the team already had made in free agency.

“The addition of Michael Bennett is a very exciting addition to us. He can play end. He can play on the guard in third-down situations. He’s a very active pass-rusher,” Carroll said. “The addition of Cliff Avril, with Clem and with Bruce already, we have a very good makeup to build around what we already have with Red and Mebane.

“So this is a really good group. It should be the most-competitive group we’ve had. We have a lot of versatility and we have to figure out that out – how it fits together.”

It should make for a spring and summer featuring the kind of competition that is the cornerstone of Carroll’s program, and also for some tough decisions when it comes to the final roster cut the weekend before the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Panthers in Carolina.

“This is not something to worry about, this is something we can’t wait to see how it unfolds,” Carroll said. “Hopefully, we can keep a big rotation going, keep guys healthy and keep them fast and really play at a high level.

“If we’re doing that, then we’re on the right track.” 

If there’s one element that stands out more than any other in this latest new-look line, it’s the versatile provided by the number of players who can lineup at more than one position.

“That’s what’s really going to make our defense ready to take that next step,” Bryant said. “Because we can go big or we can go small. We can be 3-4. We can be 4-3. There’s just a lot of versatility.

“We’ve still got to put the work in, but it’s going to be special.”