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Mike Macdonald Wants Revamped Seahawks Defense To "Build A Wall Up The Middle"

Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald talked about his new defense Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting.

at the NFL owners meetings, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
at the NFL owners meetings, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

ORLANDO—We don't yet know what a Seahawks defense led by Mike Macdonald will look like, and that's no doubt by design.

Yes, there are likely plenty of clues to take from what his defenses were doing in Baltimore the last two years, but one of the advantages of being a new head coach is that opponents don't entirely know what to expect come September.

But there are a few things Macdonald is willing to be open about when it comes to the key components of his defense that he did discuss on Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting. For starters, Macdonald wants his defense to be strong up the middle on all three levels, something the Seahawks have worked to do this offseason.

The Seahawks will definitely look different in that regard, having lost linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Bobby Wagner in free agency and having released safeties Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams, but they've also attacked those spots in free agency, signing linebackers Jerome Baker and Tyrel Dodson and safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and K'Von Wallace.

The Seahawks could still add to those position groups in the draft or free agency, but as things currently stand, all four of those players figure to play prominent roles in the defense, especially if Macdonald plans to use three safeties, as he frequently did in Baltimore.

"It's still coming together, but the middle of the defense is really, really important," Macdonald said. "You need a strong spine and we're excited about the guys we have. Guys that I haven't coached yet, but watching them on tape and the relationships that some of our coaches have with them, feel really strongly about it and I think we'll be really strong up the middle."

The Seahawks also expect to be strong in the middle of their defense up front, particularly after re-signing Leonard Williams and adding Johnathan Hankins. President of football operations/general manager John Schneider called re-signing Williams "huge" and "our biggest priority," and he noted that Hankins was a player new defensive coordinator Aden Durde was vocal about signing, having coached him as the defensive line coach in Dallas.

"AD was all over it from the first interview, like, 'We've got to have this guy,'" Schneider said. "He was cool. Good player, veteran, knows how to literally play a position, read blocks, sees blocks, super instinctive. Just a really balanced, aware player."

Those two signings, in addition to other players on the roster like Jarran Reed and Dre'Mont Jones, are why Macdonald sees the Seahawks as being in "a great spot" up front on defense.

"I'm really excited about the guys we brought in," he said. "I'm really excited about the guys on the roster. If the right opportunity presents itself to make us better, we won't hesitate to pull the trigger, but I think going in we're very confident in the guys we have. We have some position flexibility, more so than we might have had in the past. Being able to change up some fronts with the same personnel on the field will be exciting. Guys that can play multiple spots across the line, we'll have some cool combinations of people on the field at the same time. That will be fun to figure out with AD as we go. He's got some cool ideas we'll experiment with as we get rocking. It's going to be a lot of fun. We've got a lot of talent up there."

So just why does Macdonald, along with plenty of other coaches, focus so much attention on his defense being solid up the middle? Because if you aren't, opponents "are just going to gash you right up the middle. That's the quickest distance from point A to point B which you're trying to avoid. But in general, we are trying to build a wall up the middle. Trying to stay square, trying to set hard edges, make the ball do that (go outside), make them throw the thing outside. You don't want to get gashed up the middle of your defense, you've got to have the right guys who can play right there so you can get the job done.''

And in the players the Seahawks have added, Macdonald feels like they're getting the right guys, even if they're never done trying to improve the roster.

In Baker and Dodson and in Jenkins and Wallace, the Seahawks feel like they've added, talented and versatile players who can play multiple roles at linebacker and safety, respectively.

"I think there's position flexibility and both guys have played both spots," Macdonald said after noting Baker will start out playing weakside linebacker with Dodson at middle linebacker. "Jerome's played in several different types of defense and then Tyrel's played both the Mike (middle) backer and the weakside backer in Buffalo, and he's done it at a high level in my opinion. But two guys that can run, two intelligent football players, tough, I thought they're both good tacklers, they're both good players in space and those are things we're asking from our inside backers. Those guys have got to take up a lot of ground man. They've got to play people out of the backfield. They've got to play all the choice routes on the weak side, which is hard to do. I think we've got the right guys for the job. They've got to blitz, play man to man. We ask a lot out of our inside backers, so it'll be a great battle and we'll see how it comes to life, but I think there's some opportunity there to have a little bit more position flexibility than I think maybe you saw in Baltimore."

And blitzing is definitely something Macdonald plans to call on his defense to do well, be it those linebackers or defensive backs.

"If you want to play defense for us you've got to be able to blitz," he said. "Whatever your one-on-one is, we expect you to win. We carry a team pass rush mentality. It's not going to be built around one guy. It's prudent to let everyone have a chance to win on any given play. But if you're going to blitz from off the ball we expect you to win one-on-one. Those guys are going to hone their craft and figure out what moves work best for them and when the matchups are in our favor hopefully we're going to take advantage of those things."

As for the two new safeties, Jenkins and Wallace, Macdonald said, "I like that they're really tough football players. You turn the tape on and these guys play the right way. Talking to them and people that have coached them think they're really smart, so I think they'll be able to handle all the stuff we're going to ask them to do and spit all the calls out. It comes down to position flexibility so you're not just putting guys pigeonholed into roles. We'll see what they do best at, how they complement one another, see how they work together. But I think it gives us some flexibility to possibly be in some three safety sets based on how it shakes out at nickel, then we'll kind of go from there. Both guys can play man to man, they can play deep area of the field. Rayshawn played deeper more than you'd expect last year. Rayshawn has even moved down into the box in the second level, too. I think we have a lot of different skill sets we're bringing to the table up the middle. Combined with our corner situation I think we're in a good spot."

Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald continues to build out his coaching staff for 2024 so check out who will be will leading the team next season. (02/28/24)

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