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The defensive nucleus

Posted May 27, 2009

Despite all of the changes on the defensive side of the ball, Lofa Tatupu is still the glue that holds the Seahawks defense together.

 

From Lofa Tatupu’s vantage point, it’s all good.

All, of course, being everything the Seahawks have done this offseason to energize and improve the defense that lines up around its middle linebacker and leading tackler.

The January additions of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, defensive line coach Dan Quinn and secondary coach Tim Lewis to the staff of first-year head coach Jim Mora.

The free-agent signing of wide-bodied nose tackle Colin Cole in March, which has allowed Brandon Mebane to take his equally large frame and deceptive talents to the other tackle spot. The re-signing of former second-round draft choice Ken Lucas a few weeks later, providing the defense with a needed bigger cornerback to play opposite Marcus Trufant.

The selection of Aaron Curry in the first round of April’s NFL draft to fill the strong-side linebacking spot that opened when Julian Peterson was traded to the Detroit Lions for Cory Redding, and the signing of weak-side ’backer Leroy Hill to a long-term contract a few days later.

In what has become an annual upgrading of the defense since Tim Ruskell was named club president in 2005, no offseason has featured more significant moves aimed at getting the Seahawks to rank among the better defenses in the league.

Tatupu’s view of all this activity comes from the middle of that defense.

“I’m not part of the front office, or the people that make those decisions,” he said Wednesday after the team’s latest OTA session. “But you’ve got to love what they’ve been doing with the guys they’ve brought in here.

“No quarrels. It’s very, very exciting.”

Tatupu has led the defense in tackles the past four seasons – the first player in club history to accomplish that – since being a second-round draft choice in 2005. He also played in the Pro Bowl after each of his first three seasons.

But as steady as Tatupu has been, change has been occurring almost everywhere he has looked.

Cole takes over at the pivotal spot where Chuck Darby, Marcus Tubbs and Mebane once played in front of Tatupu. Former defensive ends Grant Wistrom and Bryce Fisher are gone, replaced by free agent Patrick Kerney and a combination of first-day draft choices Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson. Just as Curry steps in for Peterson, Hill stepped in for Jamie Sharper midway through his rookie season in 2005. Kelly Herndon, Andre Dyson, Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson previously had filled the cornerback spot opposite Trufant. Whereas the safeties were once Michael Boulware and Ken Hamlin, they are now Deon Grant and Brian Russell.

All this hasn’t been change simply for the sake of change. The idea behind this annual addition, and subtraction, is aimed at getting the defense somewhere it has been only once in the past 11 seasons – a Top 15 ranking. The Seahawks were No. 15 in 2007. The last time they ranked in the Top 10 was in 1997, at No. 8.

In Tatupu’s tenure, the Seahawks have ranked 16th, 19th, 15th and, last season, 30th. That simply won’t do. Not by Tatupu’s standards. Not by Ruskell’s expectations. Certainly not according to Bradley’s plan.

So along with the obvious changes in personnel, there also will be subtle tweaks to the scheme.

For example? “I’m not sure the average person would understand. We barely do,” Tatupu said, smiling.

“There are so many different things. A lot of things are put in the defense to help you – like your alignments, which are very critical in this defense and help explain your assignments.”

The smile turned to a grin as Tatupu added, “Maybe we can back to this someday, in a Part II.”

The easier way to explain it is to go back to how Mora put it during his introductory news conference.

“We’re going to be a defense that plays with ‘relentless effort,’ ” Mora said. “That’s (something) you’re going to hear me say a lot: relentless effort.”

For Bradley, the path to relentlessness is more about having the parts than just a blueprint – a lesson he learned during time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks.

“Derrick Brooks told me something that has stuck with me: Many have the blueprint, few have the parts. I think that’s really accurate,” Bradley said.

“A lot of coaches have an idea what they want to do. But more important are the parts. The coaching staff. The players. The camaraderie. The passion the players have for the game. The athleticism. All those things are what’s really important. Some times you get so caught up in your plan that you forget about all the parts that go along with it.”

Brooks’ words have stayed with Bradley, and now he hopes they will serve him well with his new team and its new players.

“Over the last couple of years, I’ve always had that in the back of my mind – to be more aware of the parts and how important those parts are to making it run smoothly,” Bradley said. “That’s what we’ve got. We’ve got a great group of parts.”

He’ll get no argument from his man in the middle.

“We haven’t been too bad in the past, with the exception of last year,” Tatupu said. “But there’s always room to improve. With everything they’ve put together, it’s going to be exciting to see what kinds of things we can do out there.”

HAWK TALK: Lucas and fellow cornerback Marquis Floyd have swapped numbers, with Lucas now in No. 31 and Floyd wearing the No. 29 that Lucas was given after being re-signed. … Rookie wide receiver Deon Butler, the team’s third-round draft choice, continues to standout. Butler made a couple of nice catches Wednesday and also was getting some work returning kickoffs. … Grant and Tapp had interceptions, with Grant grabbing a Matt Hasselbeck pass that was intended for tight end John Owens at the goal line and Tapp somehow getting his hands on a low throw near the line of scrimmage by Jeff Rowe.