When the Seahawks and Bears were still locked in a scoreless tie Sunday, the Chicago Bears' desire to establish a running game was obvious. And late in the second quarter, when Chicago running back Matt Forte was handed the ball yet again on first down, Seahawks defensive tackle Jordan Hill was quickly in the backfield to meet him, resulting in a 2-yard loss.
Hill's second tackle for loss in the half put the Bears in exactly the position they were hoping to avoid—having to throw because of unfavorable down and distance—and Seattle's defense quickly forced a three-and-out. Following a punt, the Seahawks drove for a field goal, their first score of the game, and they would go on to win handily in the second half.
That play was one of a handful of times that Hill has flashed early in this 2015 season, a very encouraging sign for Seattle's defensive line depth. And Hill is not alone in showing that the Seahawks are in good shape beyond their starting four on the defensive line. After playing roughly a quarter of the snaps in Seattle's first two games, rookie defensive end Frank Clark played 40 percent of the defensive snaps against the Bears, and while he didn't have the big plays that show up on the stat sheet like Hill did, the second-round pick was disruptive as a pass rusher and showed signs that good things are coming.
"Both those guys are really on the rise," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We've seen a lot of good stuff out of Jordan. He's really active and he's been hard to block, he's made stuff happen in the back field, which is really exciting. Frank has been very active as well. I don't think we've corralled all of the things exactly that we will eventually with Frank and what to count on, but he's playing fast and hard and he's made a lot of plays and caused problems. I think that there's a lot more to happen here, you're going to see him even more so as he gets more comfortable with what we're asking him."
Heading into the season, Carroll was encouraged about the depth on his team, and on the defense in particular, and nowhere can that depth make an impact like on the defensive line. While the Seahawks, like most teams, tend to keep the same linebackers and defensive backs on the field throughout the game—other than a third cornerback coming in in passing situations—it's normal to rotate linemen, which is why Clark and Hill can make a big impact this season even as non-starters.
"Both those guys have really been terrific, and they look like they have the chance to really be a factor as we go down the schedule," Carroll said.
When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl XLVIII, one of the strengths of a dominant defense in 2013 was a line that had enough depth for Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to come off the bench. Last year's line wasn't as deep, though it was still very strong, but this year with Clark, Hill, Cassius Marsh and Demarcus Dobbs, the Seahawks hope to again have depth that can keep everyone fresh late in the season.
The Seahawks drafted Clark with their first pick in the 2015 draft expecting him to be a player who could contribute right away, and after an impressive display in the preseason, he is slowly building his role on the defense every week.
"They did give me extra time this week, and I thank them for that," Clark said. "I just want to prove to them that I deserve more time on the field. That's all it's about, just building trust in my teammates and my coaches that I can get the job done out there on the field."
While Carroll praised Clark's play against the Bears, Clark knows there is still plenty of room for growth.
"I'm very critical of myself, so there were a lot of things I saw that I need to improve in my game," he said. "I had a couple of missed opportunities in terms of tackling… There are plays to be made that I believe I left on the field, and today I get an opportunity in practice to go correct them."
For Hill, meanwhile, the biggest key is staying healthy. Going back to his rookie season in 2013, the Seahawks have been high on his ability, especially as an interior pass rusher, but injuries have limited him each of the past two seasons. Hill was playing very well late last season, recording 5.5 sacks over a six-game stretch, but again an injury cut his season short.
"That's the biggest thing, just being able to be out there and be healthy," Hill said. "Being reliable is the biggest thing for me. That's something that I've got to continue to do, be available. That's what I've had to fight since I've been here, staying healthy. As long as I can continue to do that and keep getting better every day, I'll be fine."
Hill could become even more valuable to the Seahawks this week depending on the health of defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, who left Sunday's game with a groin injury. In addition to having a significant role in the line rotation, Hill is also Mebane's backup in the base defense. But while he could have a bigger role this week, Hill won't change the way he prepares this week.
"Just keep preparing how I have been," he said. "Like coach says, it's the next man up. So I've got to prepare as if I'm playing a whole lot either way, so it's the same thing."
Heading into the season, Carroll had high hopes for his defensive line thanks to its depth and athleticism, and while it is still early, Hill and Clark are showing that their coach's optimism was warranted.
MNF shifted the practice schedule, making Thursdays practice "Competition Wednesday" and featured a pop of pink as the players get their gear ready for the annual October Breast Cancer Awareness game.