Newness along the line nothing new for Seahawks defense

Posted Apr 10, 2014

Travis Jones was pleased with his unit’s ability to affect the quarterback in his first season as the Seahawks’ line coach. In 2014, he’s striving to do it from start to finish – and also do it with some different players in different roles.

Before wringing your hands over the losses along the line on a Seahawks defense than ranked No. 1 in the NFL during the 2013 season, consider that the unit also was in transition last year.

There was a new position coach – Travis Jones, the team’s third D-line coach in four seasons. There were three new linemen who were added in free agency – Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Tony McDaniel.

And what did they bring to the team’s Super Bowl run? The versatile Bennett led the defense with 8.5 sacks; Leo end Avril was second with eight sacks and also forced a team-high five fumbles; McDaniel, the three-technique tackle, led all the linemen with 52 tackles; and Jones, along with first-year coordinator Dan Quinn, devised a rotation that kept everyone fresh and hungry.

It was that thought which stayed with Jones as he was conducting the self-scouting session from his first season as the Seahawks’ line coach.

“We lost some key elements last year,” Jones said of tackle Alan Branch and end Jason Jones leaving in free agency. “Then we added three linemen in free agency and two more in the draft – Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams. So they were new to the team. We try to improve the team every year and that’s going to be the approach this year.”

What Jones liked most about his group last season was the ways it found to disrupt the opposing quarterbacks. And it goes beyond the Seahawks’ 44 sacks, their highest total since 2007.

“We always had a good plan to try and put a little stress on the quarterback we were playing that week,” Jones said.

That was never more apparent than in the Super Bowl, when the Seahawks sacked Peyton Manning once, but pressured him the entire game. That was a key to holding the highest-scoring offense in NFL history to eight points.

“I don’t believe in just sacks, I believe in affecting the quarterback,” Jones said. “So every time the ball comes off the line, you’ve got to find a way to affect the quarterback. It can be a reset. It can be a hit. It can be batting a pass down. It came be a variety of things.


DE Michael Bennett
NT Brandon Mebane
DT Tony McDaniel
DE Cliff Avril

DT Jordan Hill
DE Benson Mayowa
DE Greg Scruggs
DT Jesse Williams
DT Michael Brooks
DT D'Anthony Smith
DT Dewayne Cherrington

Lost in free angency
DE Red Bryant (Jaguars, after his release)
DT Clinton McDonald (Buccaneers)
DE Chris Clemons (Jaguars, after being released)

Re-signed in free agency
Michael Bennett
Tony McDaniel

2013 Tackle leaders
DT Tony McDaniel 52
DNT Brandon Mebane 45

2013 Sack leaders
DE/DT Michael Bennett 8.5
DE Cliff Avril 8

2013 Significant statistics
Allowed a league-low average of 273.6 yards (franchise record for a 16-game season); four rushing touchdowns allowed (tied for fewest in the league and also tied the franchise record set by the 1991 team); 44 sacks (the most since the 2007 team produced 45); allowed an average of 3.9 rushing yards per carry (tied for third best in the past 20 seasons).

“Like in the Super Bowl. There were multiple quarterback resets from linemen getting powered back into him. There were tipped passes. There were forced bad throws. Those things add up, and I think you have to approach it like that whenever you rush anybody, because the sacks will come if you’re doing those other things.”

As for patching the spots that were hit by losses in free agency, Bennett and Avril are scheduled, respectively, to see more snaps as the replacements for five-technique end Red Bryant and Leo end Chris Clemons. Bryant and Clemons were released and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are now coached by former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

At the five-technique spot, Jones also has Greg Scruggs, who spent last season on injured reserve after tearing a knee ligament during an offseason workout; and Williams, who spent his rookie season on IR after being selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. At the Leo end spot, there’s also Benson Mayowa, who made the 53-man roster last season after being given a tryout at the team’s rookie minicamp; and 2012 first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin, who was moved to strong-side linebacker last season but still has the pass-rush skills that initially attracted the coaches.

“We’re excited about the group,” said Jones, knowing that group could increase with linemen added in the NFL Draft next month and the next tier of free agency. “We’re looking forward to getting started again so we can keep this thing going.”

As for moving forward, Jones wants his linemen to do a better job of diagnosing schemes earlier in games.

“I feel like we’re aggressive at the line of scrimmage, but we can be more complete players individually in being able to diagnose what people are doing against us earlier in games,” he said. “I thought we did a good job at halftime making adjustments, and I’m very pleased about that because we do believe in it takes four quarters.

“But at the same time, you’re looking to strive all the time toward perfection. So if we can be strong in the second half, why not try to be strong in the second quarter and the first quarter? We want to be dominant the whole game. That’s kind of a goal to strive to achieve. And at this level, that’s definitely a goal to work toward.”