Ever since the Seahawks re-signed linebackers K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks, giving Seattle a formidable trio of Bobby Wagner in the middle and those two at weakside and strongside linebacker, respectively, head coach Pete Carroll has expressed a lot of excitement about that position group.
And while nothing has changed when it comes to feeling good about the linebackers, a couple of recent developments have shifted some of the excitement from that trio to the entire front seven. With Frank Clark leaving in a trade, there were questions about Seattle's pass-rush heading into the year, but with free-agent addition Ziggy Ansah returning to health, and with Jadeveon Clowney arriving via trade this weekend, Seattle's defensive line suddenly looks as loaded as the linebacker corps.
In addition to Clowney and Ansah, the Seahawks have Poona Ford, a potential breakout player in his second season at defensive tackle along with veteran Al Woods, who will fill in for Jarran Reed until he returns from a six-game suspension. The Seahawks have also have young players providing depth in whom coaches see a lot of upside, a group ranging from first-round pick L.J. Collier to defensive ends Rasheem Green and Branden Jackson, to defensive tackles Quinton Jefferson and undrafted rookie Bryan Mone.
"I think it just got real, it just got real for other offenses." T Duane Brown, on the Seahawks defense
"It's scary, man," left tackle Duane Brown said of Seattle's front seven. "It's scary. With Clowney and Ziggy on the edge, Poona Ford I think is going to be a star in this league, we get J-Reed back; Bobby and K.J. have been staples in this defense and in the league for a long time, playing at a high level, and Kendricks is a very, very great athlete, also someone who can rush the passer when asked to. I think it just got real, it just got real for other offenses. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to do our part on offense to try to be as equally dangerous, but watching those guys is going to be fun."
Added Wright, "It's going to be dominant. My guy Poona is going to lead the charge up front. What I love about Ziggy and Clowney, when they're out there, they're going to play the run really well, then on third down we'll get after it. There's going to be a lot of stuff that offenses are going to have to deal with."
Of course potential in September won't mean much come January if that group doesn't perform up to expectations. As Wagner noted, the Seahawks entered the 2017 season with a defense loaded with Pro-Bowl talent, but that group didn't quite live up to its expectations, though injuries had a lot to do with that.
"I think we have a chance to be really good," Wagner said. "You kind of don't want to get caught up in all the hype, as far as seeing all the names and seeing all the stuff. I'm not saying we did that, but we were at the point where we made a trade for Sheldon (Richardson) and they listed all the All-Pros and Pro-Bowlers that were on the team, and it didn't go the way expected it to. So I think the focus is, you still have to do the work. It doesn't matter who's on the team, we still have to make sure that we come out there, prepare, ready to go. I'm excited about this group, this is one of our closest groups. We spend a lot of time together, we've grown a lot together. I'm excited to see how our growth off the field turns out on the field."
While the linebackers should hit the ground running, particularly Wagner and Wright, who have been teammates since Wagner's rookie year in 2012, the defensive line will be a bit of a work in progress as Ansah and Clowney get up to speed.
"Hopefully we can play some really good football," Carroll said when asked about the front seven. "It's going to take us a while to get to our best. We're just so new, it's brand new guys, so we'll see how it goes. But our expectations will be really high as we move forward. Right now, we just got to get to playing football and see where we are and make some assessments as we go. Not just assessments of what they're doing, we have to figure out what we're doing some too. It'll be an exciting opener."
"It’s really exciting, the prospects of what it could be like.” Pete Carroll, on the pass-rushing duo of Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney
But even if it takes some time to fully realize the potential of an Ansah-Clowney duo, having those two on the field together Sunday will give the defense a boost because, as Carroll notes, "any coach in the history of football is looking for a pass-rusher going into Week 1."
And as the Seahawks experienced with players like Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons, the potential for success doesn't come just from what Clowney and Ansah can do individually, but in the stress that their presence on the field together can cause for an opposing offense.
"To have both Ziggy and Jadeveon on our team, that's different," Carroll said. "That's a unique matchup right there. It's very much where we were maybe with Clem and Cliff, and Mike and Cliff back in the day where we really felt like we had guys that really could do something off the edge and fly up the field and all that. These guys have the ability to do that. We got to develop it, it's got to happen, we've got to bring it to life and all that, but they have a chance. It's really exciting, the prospects of what it could be like."
As an offensive lineman, Brown knows what it's like for an offense to try to handle a pair of dominant edge rushers, and he's happy that it will be other lines and not his that have to deal with Clowney and Ansah.
"You can't really slide to one," Brown said. "If you have one that's dominant, and one that's kind of mediocre, you bring your attention to the more dominant force. You slide your protection there, bring guard help, you want to chip with a back or something. When you have two guys who can rush like they do, the tackle is going to be on an island for the most part, and that's how they like to work, one-on-one. It's going to be exciting to see. I've played against Ziggy, I know what he's capable of. I've practiced against Clowney a lot. If you watch both of those guys on film, they stick out. You can do so much because Clowney can play inside, you can put them both on the same side. The combinations are endless, I'm just excited to see what they can do."
And all of this front-seven talk shouldn't take away from what Seattle has in the secondary. The Seahawks really like what they have in the safety duo of Bradley McDougald and Tedric Thompson, and young starting cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers both appear to be on upward trajectories with their careers. But as good as that group could be on its own, the secondary and linebackers will only benefit from a strong pass rush.
"When you've got guys coming off the edge fast, the quarterback gets a little antsy, so it's up to the guys playing underneath to know, 'OK, this ball may come out fast, so let me take my (opportunities) to get the interception,'" Wright said. "We know (the quarterback) can't just sit back there and pat the ball, that should not happen, so the guys on the back end got to find a way to get picks."
Photos from Wednesday's Seahawks practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Sunday's regular season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.