In versatility they trust

Posted Jul 2, 2013

The Seahawks’ defense has a new coordinator and new line coach, not to mention a handful of new players who can play multiple positions on the line. And that’s exactly the way Dan Quinn and Travis Jones want to play.

The more things you can do.

It’s an adage that’s as old as the game of football. But with the Seahawks and their impressive collection of defensive linemen, it’s also a prerequisite.

Dan Quinn, the former D-line coach who’s back as the coordinator after a two-season stint in the same capacity at the University of Florida, wants as many of his linemen to be able to play as many positions as possible. Travis Jones, Quinn’s handpicked assistant to coach the linemen, feels the same way.

And with these two, it’s not just talk. Their actions speak even more directly to just what they’re looking for, and what they expect.


Defensive linemen on the 90-man roster: 16

Defensive linemen carried on the 53-man roster last season: 9, but coordinator Dan Quinn kept 11 in 2009 when he was the D-line coach

Incumbent starters: DE Red Bryant, NT Brandon Mebane, DE Chris Clemons

Incumbent backups/situational players: DE Bruce Irvin, DT Clinton McDonald, DT Jaye Howard

Veteran free agents signed: DE Cliff Avril, DE-DT Michael Bennett, DT Tony McDaniel

Draft choices: DT Jordan Hill (third round), DT Jesse Williams (fifth), DE Ty Powell (seventh)

Rookie free agents: DT Benson Mayowa, DE Kenneth Boatright

Claimed off waivers: DT Michael Brooks

Injured: DE Greg Scruggs

Keep an eye on: All of them. As D-line coach Travis Jones says, the mixing-and-matching approach the coaches have used to this point – including who’s playing with which unit, as well as at which position – will only increase this summer. But pay special attention to Williams to see if the rookie can replace Branch, the starter at the three-technique tackle in the base defense the past two seasons; and Bennett, who is versatile enough and productive enough to replace Jason Jones as the three-technique tackle in the nickel defense and also work in the rotation at end.

Take a quick glimpse at the current crop of linemen. It includes valuable and versatile holdovers in Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, Clinton McDonald and Jaye Howard. When coach Pete Carroll decided upgrading the pass rush was an offseason priority – again – Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett were signed in free agency. When the club decided against re-signing Alan Branch when he became an unrestricted free agent, Tony McDaniel was signed in free agency and Jesse Williams was selected in the fifth round of April’s NFL Draft – with the thought that one is capable of replacing Branch as the three-technique tackle in the base defense.

The draft also delivered Jordan Hill in the third round and Ty Powell in the seventh, and the club augmented the group by signing Benson Mayowa and Kenneth Boatright as rookie free agents and claiming rookie Michael Brooks off waivers.

There are injury issues, with Clemons still recovering from the ligament and meniscus damage he got in his left knee during the wild-card victory over the Washington Redskins in January; and Greg Scruggs likely lost for the season after tearing a knee ligament during a drill in the offseason program. Also, Irvin will sit out the first four regular-season games after being suspended by the league.

But the Seahawks feel they have enough depth and versatility to weather any storm.

“We have some guys who have played, and are playing, multiple positions,” Jones said. “We’ve got some guys who have different talents and different strengths that can be assets to our team.”

For example: McDaniel can be found at one of four positions – five-technique end and three-technique tackle in the base defense; either of the tackle spots in the nickel. Bennett, who was with the Seahawks in 2009 and re-signed this offseason, also is a four-spot player – three-technique tackle in the nickel, his primary position; but also either end spot and three-technique tackle in the base. Hill is another “four” – either tackle spot in both the base and nickel defenses.

Williams is playing three positions in the base defense – five-technique end, three-technique tackle and nose tackle. Bryant, Mebane and Howard are playing two positions – one in the base, another in the nickel. And this the-more-things-you-can-do approach has carried over to Irvin, Clemons and Avril, Leo ends who also can help at outside linebacker.

The 2013 crop of linemen also comes in a wide assortment of sizes and shapes. There are bigger, stronger players – like the 323-pound Bryant and 325-pound Williams; as well as the 311-pound Mebane and 297-pound McDonald, who carry their weight on more compact frames. There are lighter, faster players – like the 254-pound Clemons, 248-pound Irvin and 260-pound Avril. There are taller players capable of using leverage to their advantage – like the 6-foot-7 McDaniel. There are those in-between players – like 6-4, 274-pound Bennett.

The proof of just who can do just what and from just where will be played out in the training camp practices that begin July 25 and the preseason games that kickoff Aug. 8 against the Chargers in San Diego.

“It will be necessary in training camp for everyone to kind of define themselves and show how they’re going to be attributes to our team,” Jones said. “So it will be a big time for us in training camp because what we’re doing now is a pretty big change over for the group of guys from last year. We’ve got so many new guys here as part of the group.

“So it could be a different look and feel for that group.”

The primary area where Carroll is looking for something different is in the pass rush, after the Seahawks generated 36 sacks last season and 33 in 2011. Clemons and Irvin eventually will return, and with them the career-high 11.5 sacks Clemons produced last season and the eight Irvin had to lead all NFL rookies. Until then, there’s Avril, who had 29 sacks the past three seasons for the Detroit Lions; and Bennett, who is coming off a nine-sack season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bennett is expected to replace Jason Jones, who also signed elsewhere in free agency, as the three-technique tackle in the nickel defense.

“This game is about situations,” Jones said. “Some people have some great skills in different areas. You want to make sure you’re assessing those and getting what guys do well on the football field, and getting it more often.”