Seahawks turning up the heat on defense

Posted Mar 20, 2013

When the Seahawks signed pass-rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency last week, no one was happier to add their versatility and productivity to an already good defense than coordinator Dan Quinn.

In three seasons under coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks have averaged 35.3 sacks. And that, as the team's recent and continuing actions have shown, just won't cut it.

While the Seahawks' defense led the NFL in average points allowed last season and also checked in at a franchise-best No. 4 in average yards allowed, they also tied for 21st in sacks with 36 – three more than they produced in 2011 and one less than in 2010. And that's not what Carroll is talking about when he stresses consistency.

Now, the Seahawks have four players on their roster who combined for 38 sacks last season. There's on-the-mend Leo end Chris Clemons, who had a career-high 11.5 sacks last season before tearing a ligament in his left knee during the wild-card playoff victory over the Washington Redskins. There's also rush-end Bruce Irvin, last year's first-round draft choice who led all NFL rookies in 2012 with eight sacks. Last week, the club signed end Cliff Avril, who had 9.5 sacks last season and 29 the past three seasons for the Detroit Lions; and versatile rusher Michael Bennett, who had nine sacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season but entered the league as a rookie free agent with the Seahawks in 2009.

These four didn't just sack the quarterback, they also combined for nine forced fumbles (three each by Clemons and Bennett); 69 QB hits (22 by Clemons, 19 by Irvin and 14 each by Avril and Bennett); and seven passes defensed (four by Clemons).

Talk about addressing your top offseason priority. And no one was more pleased with the back-to-back signings that general manager John Schneider pulled off than defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

"The importance of having rushers on your team, and having enough of them, I don't think you can ever feel like, 'Well, we're good in that department,' " Quinn said this week. "It's always something you're looking to add. It's like guys who can cover; guys who can rush are just such an important thing."

Quinn is in Gainesville, Fla., where he's using the coaches' week off to complete his move after rejoining the Seahawks in January. He was with the Seahawks in 2009 and 2010, as the defensive line coach on the staffs of Jim Mora ('09) and Carroll ('10). Quinn then left to become the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida for two seasons, returning to the Seahawks in that capacity after Gus Bradley was named head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

So Quinn knows just a little bit about using pressure generated by the line to set the tempo for even more aggressiveness on defense. And as much as he likes the ability of Avril and Bennett to pressure the passer, he's also enamored with their versatility.

With Clemons' return date unknown at this early stage of his rehab, Avril can play either right or left end. With Jason Jones signing with the Lions in free agency after one season with the Seahawks, Bennett has the size (6 feet 4, 274 pounds) to replace him as the three-technique tackle in the nickel line as well as playing end in the base defense.

"Through my experience with Pete, I learned that you need to have some versatility too – guys that can play more than one spot and do more than one thing to help," Quinn said. "That's what these two guys can do, too, to add to an already good group of guys. So they really give us some flexibility."

But when Quinn and new line coach Travis Jones have all four rushers available, that's when the real fun will begin. The last time the Seahawks produced more sacks in a season than Clemons, Avril, Bennett and Irvin combined for last season was 2007 (45). Since then, it's been 35 (2008), 28 (2009), 37 (2010), 33 (2011) and 36 (last season).

That's simply not enough, which is why the Seahawks have done so much this offseason to bolster their pass rush.

"that relentless attitude that good rushers have."

Here's what Quinn likes most about his two newest rushers:

Avril – The first thing Quinn looks for in a rusher is the initial quickness, and you don't have to examine Avril that long to see it.

"When you look at his tape, that's one of the first things that jumps out – the way he can get off the ball and put pressure on the offensive tackle," Quinn said. "He also can play on the right side, the left side. He can play on his feet. And he kind of brings that relentless attitude that good rushers have.

"It's very rarely that you beat the guy with a first move, so a lot of times it's the fight and the strain that you have to go through. And you can see on tape that he understands that and is willing to go that route."

Bennett – Quinn advocated signing Bennett in his first stint with the Seahawks, when the defensive end out of Texas A&M went undrafted in 2009. Bennett made the 53-man roster but was claimed by the Bucs after being waived at midseason.

"We liked his explosiveness and the way that he played and the style," Quinn said. "So it was certainly no surprise to us how well he did when he moved to Tampa. He's really coming on and we're glad to have him as part of the group."

Bennett had success sliding to tackle with the Buccaneers, and Quinn sees no reason why it can't continue with the Seahawks.

"That's really one of his strengths, where you can match him up on a guard because he's strong enough to play tackle yet has the quickness when you move inside," Quinn said. "It kind of adds another dimension for the guards to have to go against when you've got a rusher who is really sudden and really quick as opposed to the 320-pounder who has different strengths."

So, the first week of free agency couldn't have gone much better for Quinn.

"There's no doubt," he said. "On all teams, when you have some guys that are versatile and play different roles, it adds to the total package of what we'd like to do. It already was a good group, and we're just adding to it."

The toughest part of this? Waiting to see just how Avril and Bennett mix with the players that already are here and how much their versatility and productivity can enhance and improve the group.

"It's something to look forward to," Quinn said. "And I can't wait for the new guys to get here and start working with them."