Where's the rush?

Posted Apr 21, 2012

The one lingering need the Seahawks did not address in free agency – an edge pass-rusher – could be on their draft-day agenda; if the right player is there at the right time.

The opinions and analysis contained in this feature represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks' coaching staff and personnel department.

BLOG: 2012 NFL Draft: Defensive Line | A Few Moments With: Whitney Mercilus

When the Seahawks go shopping for defensive linemen, they hang in the aisles not necessarily frequented by other teams.

That’s because they play fast and furious at the “Leo” end spot with 254-pound Chris Clemons, who has produced back-to-back 11-sack seasons during his first two years in Seattle; but big and bold at the five-technique spot with 332-pound Red Bryant, who returned one of his two interceptions last season for a touchdown in addition to daring teams to run his way.


This is the sixth in a series of articles previewing the three-day NFL Draft. Today: Defensive line. Tuesday: Linebackers.
Previously: The Seahawks’ take on the draft; the quarterbacks; the running backs; the receivers; the offensive line.

The Draft
Round 1: Thursday, April 26, 5 p.m.
Rounds 2-3: Friday, April 27, 4 p.m.
Rounds 4-7: Saturday, April 28. 9 a.m.

Seahawks picks
First round: No. 12 overall
Second round: No. 43
Third round: No. 75
Fourth round: No. 106
Fifth round: No pick; to Bills in Marshawn Lynch trade
Sixth round: No. 181
Seventh round: Own pick, No. 219, traded to Lions for Tyler Polumbus; No. 225, from Raiders in Aaron Curry trade

Seahawks Draft party: Thursday, April 26, CenturyLink Field Event Center, 4 p.m. More information available here.

At tackle, they moved Brandon Mebane from the three-technique to the nose last season and all he did was lead the NFC interior linemen in tackles; with the length and leverage of 6-foot-6 Alan Branch taking over at the spot Mebane vacated.

The efforts of this foursome are a big reason the Seahawks ranked ninth in total defense in 2011. But coach Pete Carroll wanted more heading into free agency, and wants still more entering next week’s NFL Draft.

Who backs up Clemons, and plays opposite him in the nickel? Dexter Davis, a seventh-round draft choice in 2010, is a candidate. But he spent last season on injured reserve and played sparingly as a rookie. So is Jameson Konz, another seventh-round pick in 2010 who has spent the past two seasons on IR. Raheem Brock filled the role the past two seasons, but he’s an unrestricted free agent.

“We thought Dexter was going to come in and do a great job for us and he couldn’t get over that hip,” general manager John Schneider said. “He’s doing a great job now. We’re excited to have him back in that pass-rushing mix.

“They’re excited about Jameson. I really hope it works out for him. He’s had a real rough go.”

But Carroll is all about competition, and improving a pass rush that generated 33 sacks last season – 11 from Clemons and only 10 from the rest of the D-linemen.

“It’s a big deal. It’s an area of our football these last two years where it’s not been what we need it to be,” Carroll said. “That’s an area that really needs to improve for us to take another step.”

But, as far as the draft is concerned, in what direction – and when?

“The defensive end class, to me, is one of the most volatile,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.

And it starts at the top of the draft class. North Carolina’s Quinton Coples is generally considered the best of the ends. If not Coples, than it’s South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram.

Coples had 17.5 sacks the past two seasons, while splitting his time between end and tackle – but versatility is viewed as a plus by Carroll. Ingram had 19 sacks the past two seasons, but at a shade under 6-2 and with 30½-inch arms he comes up short when compared to Coples (6-6 and 33).

Whitney Mercilus led the nation with 16 sacks at Illinois last season, after collecting two in the previous two seasons. “Which begs the question, where were you before then?” as Mayock put it. Still, Mayock also rates Mercilus “one of the most gifted natural pass rushers in this draft.”

It’s a different situation with the tackles. While Mayock reiterated he is “not a fan of the defensive ends,” he added, “I love the defensive tackles. I’ve seen anywhere from 5-7 defensive tackles that have first-round grades, and the depth in it is really good, too. You can go four, five rounds with the defensive tackles.”

But the Seahawks already have gone there, acquiring Jason Jones in free agency to provide some needed pressure from the inside.

“This is an exciting acquisition for us,” Carroll said. “We really have needed, since the day we got here, an inside pass-rush ability. Jason has unusual quickness for a long, tall guy and he has a good knack for rushing inside.

“We’re hoping that we can really feature him in all our nickel package stuff and also fit him in to other situations that will suit him. He got big-play ability in him. He attacks the football really well. He forces fumbles. He knocks passes down. He’s got an activity to him that we think can really help us and enhance our pass rush that needs to continue to grow.”

If the Seahawks decide to continue to be active at the position, the top-rated tackles are Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox, a fast riser on many teams’ draft boards; LSU’s Michael Brockers; and Memphis’ Dontari Poe.

“It’s a deep group, and there’s a lot of talent here,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay concurred. “Fletcher Cox, the more tape I watch, the more he just grew on me – and I love his versatility.

“Brockers, I like. I realize that he has some maturing to do – both as a football player and just a young man. I think he shows a lot of potential, but he’s not quite there yet.

“And Poe, I get it. I see the workout numbers, and what I found myself waiting and wishing and hoping is what I keep saying: Every single play I watched from Memphis, just hoping he would make a big play. He will disrupt and he’ll be involved in some plays, but for a guy that you’re talking about a potential Top 10, Top 12 pick, I just don’t see the production.”   

For teams looking to upgrade their pass rush, like the Seahawks, it’s a case of weathering the possible risk to reap the potential reward.