Bruce Irvin, one of the players signed this offseason to help bolster Seattle's pass rush, knows what a lot of people think about that element of the Seahawks' defense.
After the Seahawks managed just 28 sacks last season, tied for the second-lowest total in the NFL, Seattle added Irvin and veteran defensive end Benson Mayowa in free agency, and drafted Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson. But for much of the offseason, the focus, externally anyway, was less on what Seattle added to its pass rush, but rather on who wasn't acquired via free agency or potential trade. Jadeveon Clowney's long free agency ended last weekend with him signing Tennessee, Everson Griffen eventually signed in Dallas, and the Jaguars traded Yannick Ngakoue to Minnesota. The Seahawks, however, aren't worried about the lack of "big names" on their defensive line.
"We've got a bunch of guys who are willing to work," said Irvin, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Seahawks from 2012-2015. "Let Twitter tell it… Let the media tell it, 'We're in big trouble because we don't have a so-called big name.' But at the end of the day, it's about guys willing to work. And these guys who we've got, we're a young group, but these guys have gotten better each and every day, and I'm really excited for Sunday to go out there and prove the other people wrong, but prove ourselves right. So I have the utmost confidence in myself and these guys. I think we're really going to prove people wrong this year."
Irvin, who will split time between an edge-rushing role and strongside linebacker, and Mayowa, the likely starter at the "Leo" defensive end spot, had 15.5 sacks between them and bring an element of speed coming off of each edge that the Seahawks didn't have last season.
"We do have more speed off the edge than we had last year with Benson and Bruce, so that helps create some things, obviously open things up inside for guys on the interior D-line guys on the rush," said defensive line coach Clint Hurtt.
Adding to the defensive end group will be 2019 first-round L.J. Collier, who is listed as the starting end opposite Mayowa, Rasheem Green, who had 4.0 sacks and three forced fumbles last season, rookie Alton Robinson who was one of the pleasant surprises of camp, and veteran Damontre Moore, who was added late in camp after Branden Jackson was placed on injured reserve. That group being healthy through camp, along with the interior line, added an element of continuity that Hurtt notes is an underrated part of defensive line play.
"The biggest thing is guys being on the same page on the rush plan," Hurtt said. "… You talk a lot about the cohesion of the five guys on offensive line, no one talks about that on the D-line, but that's a critical factor. It has been good that those guys have been out there consistently day after day."
Collier's development could prove particularly important if the defensive line is indeed going to take the step forward the team is expecting. Thanks in no small part to a serious ankle injury early in camp that nearly landed him on injured reserve, Collier was a non-factor for most of his rookie season, but he came back to camp this year in better shape and played his way into a starting role.
"Really good growth," said defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said of Collier. "He's come a long way from the first time he came here. He really understands the way we practice, understands the scheme, understands what his role is in the defense, what is his responsibilities are. So I think he's really going to take a lot of steps."
The Seahawks might not have players who people outside of the organization are expecting to put up dominant sack numbers, but the belief inside the building is that the speed and depth are better—and that's before second-round pick Darrell Taylor gets back—and that those elements, combined with what Jarran Reed is planning on making a bounce-back season, as well as the addition of safety Jamal Adams who is arguably the best blitzing defensive back in the league, will lead to the collective group being more productive than the team was last year.
"I sure like our speed on the outside," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "All of our guys have had numbers, they've got number to bring with them. To bring 16 sacks to us just in Benson (Mayowa) and in Bruce (Irvin), that's a real positive. Our guys last year didn't add up anywhere near that, so that's a positive, and hopefully we can enhance their play. We really would like to see J-Reed (Jarran Reed) come back to his number somewhere near what he did a couple years ago. He had kind of a stilted beginning last season. Now that he's back and he's in great shape and ready to go, if he can get his numbers anywhere near where he was to add to it, we can be in good shape."
Check out some of the top shots from Seahawks Training Camp, including behind-the-scenes photos of safety protocols in place at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.