Looking to turn up the pressure

Posted Feb 26, 2012

Pete Carroll has a definite defensive goal in his third season as Seahawks coach: Improving the pass

INDIANAPOLIS – As former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox was fond of saying, “Pass defense is rush plus coverage.”

In his first two drafts as coach of the Seahawks, Pete Carroll definitely has addressed half that equation. In 2010, free safety Earl Thomas was selected with the 14th pick overall, cornerback Walter Thurmond was drafted in the fourth round and strong safety Kam Chancellor in the fifth round. Last year, cornerbacks Richard Sherman (fifth round) and Byron Maxwell (sixth) were added.

Thomas, Chancellor and Sherman finished last season as starters, with Thomas and Chancellor playing in the Pro Bowl – along with Brandon Browner, the former All-CFL cornerback who was signed to a future contract last January.

In this year’s draft, Carroll would like to add a disruptive splash of rush to go with all that Pro Bowl-caliber coverage.

“We need to address the issue about our pass rush, and it’s a big factor for us,” the team’s third-year coach said during the NFL Scouting Combine. “We would love to see if we can make some movement there.”

Because there wasn’t enough forced movement of opposing quarterbacks last season.

The Seahawks generated 33 sacks. Only 10 teams in the league had fewer, but even that underwhelming fact tells only part of the story. Chris Clemons, the Seahawks’ “Leo” end, produced a third of the Seahawks’ sacks (11), but even that doesn’t get to the bottom of Carroll’s frustration. The rest of the Seahawks’  linemen combined for 10 sacks.

“So it’s a big issue for us,” Carroll said. “And it’s not just an outside pass rusher, it’s inside as well. But that’s something that’s real important to us and it is one of the considerations.”

Free agency, which begins March 13, is another avenue that could scratch Carroll’s itch for a more-productive pass rush. But as Carroll said, “We’re going to entertain every opportunity, because that’s just the way we do it and our conversation is about every chance that’s out there for us. We have set our direction from the beginning to try and build through the draft and do everything we can to just young and competitive and healthy. But we’re always looking.”

And Carroll is getting a look at several players at the Combine who – if there – could warrant consideration when the Seahawks make the 12th pick in the first round of April’s NFL Draft, or slide to them in the second round:

Quinton Coples – The pass rusher from North Carolina is 6 feet 6, 281 pounds and has 33-inch arms, which helped him produce 17½ sacks the past two seasons. Coples has played end and tackle, a plus for Carroll because he likes linemen with the ability to play more than one spot.

“I take pride in being versatile,” Coples said. “It definitely has raised my stock in that it lets teams know that I can play inside or out. And I take pride in playing any position from zero (nose tackle) to the nine (wide rusher).”

Melvin Ingram – Another versatile player who lined up at end in the base defense and slide inside in the nickel at South Carolina, where he had 19 sacks the past two seasons. But he did not move into the starting lineup until his senior season.

Asked about his leverage and stature, Ingram said, “I feel like it helps me a lot. I feel like when I come off the ball I already have leverage. So I just try to countermove off whatever the offensive linemen do.”

Whitney Mercilus – Another late bloomer who had two career sacks before leading nation with 16 last season. Mercilus, the son of Haitian immigrants, must show he is more than a “one-year wonder,” as well as a “one-trick pony.”

“I think it’s a negative label because once you have it, you have it,” Mercilus said of the “one-year wonder” tag. “Once you’re able to produce like that (16 sacks) and you put it all together, in your mind, you know you’re able to repeat that success.”

Nick Perry – No introductions necessary here because Carroll recruited Perry to USC, where he led the Pac-12 last season with 9½ sacks and also was a stand-up rusher as well as an end.

“It’s just the edge,” Perry said of making that switch. “Some people have a better edge getting off the ball with their hand in the dirt. I’ve been playing it a long time now, and I have experience in that. Being put further away from what you’re used to doing makes you a little uneasy.” 

Devon Still – The 6-5, 303-pounder from Penn State is the cousin of former Pro Bowl defenders Art Still of the Kansas Chiefs and Levon Kirkland, the ex-Pittsburgh Steeler who started at middle linebacker for the Seahawks in 2001. Still is capable of providing the pass rush from the tackle position that Carroll mentioned.

“I think hands down I’m the best defensive tackle in this draft, just because I feel like I want it more,” Still said. “I was able to take over a lot of games this season. Just the production that I had, I was able to disrupt plays even if I wasn’t making tackles or sacks.”

And pass rushers can alter the course of plays, games and even seasons. Just look at what the New York Giants’ collection of sack-masters did. The Giants produced 48 sacks during the regular season, to rank second in the league, and then added 11 more during their run to winning the Super Bowl.

"I think everybody has the same characteristics for pass rushers," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. "You want guys who are big and long and fast and powerful. You want everything as a personnel guy, but if a guy is big and has got long arms, that helps. If he has speed off the end, that helps. Power to rush up the middle. Your pass rushers are different breeds. Good athletes. We like pass rushers and we look for them."

This year, count Carroll among those also looking for a pass rusher.