Rush hour returns to CenturyLink Field

Posted Aug 18, 2014

After generating a so-so pass rush against the Broncos in their preseason opener, the Seahawks unleashed their hounds during Friday night’s preseason home opener against the Chargers.

Less than satisfied with the pass rush in the Seahawks’ preseason-opening loss to the Broncos in Denver, coach Pete Carroll had a hunch a return to CenturyLink Field for his team’s home opener would produce more satisfactory results.

Five sacks, 10 quarterback hits, countless pressures and a 41-14 victory later, the what’s-up residue from the opener was jolted back to the what’s-next anticipation after the relentless showing against the San Diego Chargers on Friday night.

“It was better. We were more active. We moved around pretty well,” Carroll said after practice on Monday, and after reviewing video of that Seahawks’ back-at-home, back-on-track outing.

“A lot of guys contributed. It was great to see some of younger guys – Benson (Mayowa) got one and Mike Mo (Morgan) was involved in a nice pass rush. Just in general, I thought we were moving a little bit better. Here, with the stadium and the crowd and all that, we kind of hoped to see that and we did.”

Did they ever. The sacks came from ends O’Brien Schofield and Gregg Scruggs; cornerback Terrell Thomas on a blitz; Mayowa and Morgan on the play Carroll mentioned; and the fifth was, appropriately, a “team sack.” Schofield had four of the QB hits, with five other players contributing the rest – Morgan, Scruggs, Mayowa, Thomas and rookie free agent Jackson Jeffcoat.

And there are no stats to measure the way Leo end Cliff Avril tormented Chargers’ right tackle D.J. Fluker with explosive bursts off the edge – unless you count the number of times Fluker slammed palm to helmet after a play, or the wattage of the smile Avril flashed along the sideline.

It was the type of performance that showed the Seahawks’ pass rush should be just fine, despite the losses of three key contributors from last season’s defense that led the NFL in average points and yards allowed and registered more sacks (44) than any Seahawks team since 2007 (45). Ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons were released and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while versatile tackle Clinton McDonald signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

“It’s just different dynamics,” line coach Travis Jones said. “There are always changes in the NFL on every team. So you have to be flexible.”

And it helps to have players that play into that flexibility. Michael Bennett and Avril, who led the team in sacks after being signed as free agents last offseason, needed to play more. So Avril has stepped in at Leo end for Clemons, while Bennett is at the five-technique end for Bryant – in addition to sliding inside in the nickel defense.

Who fills McDonald’s spot? How about six-time Pro Bowler Kevin Williams, who signed with the Seahawks in June after playing 11 productive seasons for the Minnesota Vikings? Williams started at the three-technique tackle spot against the Chargers, as incumbent starter Tony McDaniel – all 6 feet 7, 305 pounds of him – moved out to five-technique end because Bennett was a pre-game scratch when he felt tightness in a hamstring.

But that’s what Jones wants in his linemen – the versatility to allow this flexibility.

“We want to see how many guys can play multiple positions, then you can roll people in as you need to,” he said. “I want to have guys that can be able to play different positions for me and not be pigeon-holed at one spot. It just provides more versatility for you and gets more guys plays and reps and roles.

“It’s just a big benefit, and the competition adds to it.”

Monday, as the Seahawks began preparing for Friday night’s game against the Chicago Bears at CenturyLink Field, the No. 1 line in the base defense featured Bennett and Avril at the ends and Williams and Brandon Mebane at the tackles. In the nickel, the line was Avril and Mayowa at the ends with Jordan Hill and Bennett at the tackles.

At the top of Jones’ must-do list for every practice, and even more so in every game, is effort.

“I was pleased with the effort and that’s first and foremost what we look for,” he said. “And it certainly was there, and with good intensity. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was good effort in the pass rush. And that’s exactly what I’m after.”

Especially when it translates into getting after the passer the way the Seahawks did on Friday night.