Every day between now and the start of Seahawks training camp, Seahawks.com will take a look at some of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2018 season. Today, we take a look at the team's defensive end depth following the offseason departures of longtime Seahawks starters Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Tomorrow, we'll touch on one of coach Pete Carroll's top priorities for 2018: getting the run game back on track.
If tight end is one of Seattle's position groups to have undergone some of the most significant changes since the end of last season, then defensive end isn't far behind.
Absent in 2018 will be two of the Seahawks' most productive pass rushers from the last several seasons, with Michael Bennett departing through a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cliff Avril stepping away from the game because of an unfortunate neck injury. With Avril and Bennett, two longtime starters, out, the Seahawks' depth at defensive end will be a storyline to watch when training camp opens later this week.
Frank Clark represents perhaps the Seahawks' most well-known commodity at the spot. The fourth-year pro has racked up 19.0 sacks over the past two years, including a team-high 9.0 during the 2017 season. Without Avril and Bennett in the mix, Clark will undoubtedly be called upon to take on a bigger workload in 2018 when he'll look to build upon his recent success getting after the passer.
Beyond Clark, if Dion Jordan can stay healthy for a full season the former 2013 first-round pick out of Oregon has a big opportunity in front of him. Jordan returned to the NFL midway through the 2017 season, signing with the Seahawks and recording 4.0 sacks in five games, one more sack than he had in his career prior to that season. Having missed all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to both suspensions and injuries and given what the Seahawks saw in limited work from Jordan last season, the team feels as though Jordan has the potential to become a mainstay in the pass rush rotation moving forward.
"He can be a legitimate factor," coach Pete Carroll said at the end of last season. "How good? I don't know, I don't know that, but I do know he should be a legitimate factor in the (pass) rush and in the run game. He's a good pursuit guy, too. He is strong and big and all that. He just has a really unproven background and there is not much to go on there, so we're having to piece it together with the few plays that we've got. But he made some real positive overtures and he's an exciting prospect for us. Really exciting prospect."
After Clark and Jordan, the Seahawks have just three young players listed at defensive end on their current 90-man roster: rookies Rasheem Green and Jacob Martin, third- and sixth-round picks, respectively, in this past year's NFL Draft, as well as second-year pro Branden Jackson, who saw action in 12 games for Seattle last season, recording half a sack.
In Green, the Seahawks added a 6-foot-4, 275-pound player who Carroll has said the Seahawks will use as an inside rusher as well as in nickel situations. Green, who's just 20 years old, has plenty of upside but also produced in college at USC, starting all 12 games for the Trojans last season and earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors after tallying 12.5 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks.
"He's going to improve his pass rush for sure," Carroll said of Green after the 2018 draft. "Just all of the finesse part of it, he's just new at it. And he'll grow more, he'll get stronger the next couple of years. I bet he'll play 15 pounds heavier in the next two years, which will help him in the run game. But he's quick now, he's a quick slasher type of guy, he's not a load-up, heavy-duty type of run defender. We'll play him in positions where he can utilize that. He's just going to fill out more and just learn all the nuances that can make him a special player."
While they're technically not listed as defensive ends, the Seahawks will also likely look to their linebacker corps to help bolster their pass-rushing efforts. Marcus Smith, another former first-round draft pick, had 2.5 sacks playing defensive end for Seattle last season. Smith has made the transition to linebacker this offseason, but could still be an option in the pass rush. Rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin proved to be one of college football's most productive players last season and will compete for an opportunity to get to the quarterback at the next level. And Barkevious Mingo, yet another former first-rounder whose speed and upside the Seahawks like, was one of the club's top acquisitions on the NFL's open market this offseason.
"When you look at Mingo, he was pretty much our No. 1 priority in free agency outside the building," Seahawks general manager John Schneider told 710 ESPN Seattle in March. "Never been able to rush the passer, really, because he's such a good athlete and that's why he was drafted… He's such a good athlete and people put him in space and let him run around and stuff instead of putting his hand on the ground as much as we're going to let him do."
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