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Seahawks See “Real Potential” In New-Look Defensive Line

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With several veterans moving on this offseason, a question posed to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on a number of occasions is one of his team’s leadership and where it will come from going forward.

Carroll has responded that “leadership is not an issue, not one bit,” in part because the Seahawks still have veteran Pro-Bowlers on both sides of the ball like Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Duane Brown on offense, and Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright on defense. But another thing Carroll is excited about is how, with some of those veterans moving on, younger leaders have emerged. On a few occasions when leadership has come up, Carroll has made a point of singling out one defensive player in particular.

“We’re seeing the emergence too of Jarran Reed,” Carroll said earlier this summer, a sentiment he also expressed all the way back in March at the annual league meetings. “He’s coming alive and he’s going to be a factor, you can see it.”

When the Seahawks selected Reed in the second round of the 2016 draft, Carroll and general manager John Schneider talked about him being a leader at Alabama, but with veterans like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in Seattle’s defensive line room during his first two seasons, there were already established leaders in that position group. Now, two weeks into camp, Reed’s leadership is really showing up on a young and promising defensive line.

“He has taken over that leadership role very well,” defensive tackle Nazair Jones said of Reed. “He’s doing everything a leader should do, he’s making sure we all stay together as a group. All of us are young and all of us are hungry, but we know we’ve got to play together as a unit. That’s one of the things we all talk about—being together.”

Reed says his version of leadership is “less talking, just going out there and doing it on the field. Go out there and let your play speak for itself.” And that’s exactly what the Seahawks have seen from him so far in camp.

“He’s there every day which is showing that toughness that the good D-linemen over time have always shown,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “He’s hard-nosed, he’s smart, he’s really passionate about what he does. Again, he’s like the middle, he’s the heartbeat, he’s the mainstay in the middle that we all depend on. He’s done everything and more that we’ve asked.”

And Reed’s play and leadership are just part of why the Seahawks are excited about their defensive line, a unit that will look considerably different in 2018. Gone are three starters, Bennett, Avril and Sheldon Richardson, while new to the team is a group that includes draft picks Rasheem Green and Jacob Martin, and free-agent additions Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen. And though listed as a linebacker, Barkevious Mingo will also have a significant role as a pass-rusher.

“We’ve got some real potential to make a good group out of these guys,” Carroll said.

What that group will look likes remains to be seen, in part because they have not yet been at full strength. Frank Clark, a presumed starter, has only recently returned to full participation at practice, the result of offseason wrist surgery, while Dion Jordan, who figures to compete for the other starting job at end, remains on the physically unable to perform list. For now, the Seahawks have used a rotation of Green, Branden Jackson, Mingo, Jacob Martin and Marcus Smith as edge rushers, while Stephen, Reed, Johnson and Jones have led the defensive tackle rotation. Quinton Jefferson has shown valuable versatility, playing with the first-team defense at both tackle and end.

Asked about Jackson and Jefferson in particular, Carroll said, “They’ve been real active. Both those guys are playing the best we’ve seen them. They’re the biggest and strongest they’ve been. The most physical they’ve been. (Defensive line coach Clint Hurtt) is moving them all over the place to kind of spread them around and they’ve handled all of that so these are guys, really rotational guys that are going to be really valuable to us.”

Earlier in camp, Hurtt noted he was “pleasantly surprised” by what he had seen from the line thus far, not because he didn’t think it was a group with potential, but because of how quickly the young players were coming along.

“When I say pleasantly surprised, that’s really with the young guys like Rasheem Green and Jacob Martin and Poona Ford," Hurtt said. "They’ve really come along and progressed from where we were in the spring. I’m happy overall with the group.”

For the Seahawks line to live up to its potential, they’ll need not just those rookies to come through, but also for their young returning players like Reed, Jefferson and Jones to improve their play as they take on bigger roles, and so far they’ve seen positive signs from those players.

“Obviously J-Reed is at the forefront of that, but Quinton Jefferson has had an unbelievable spring and it’s carried over into camp,” Hurtt said. “He’s finally healthy, his confidence is high, he’s quicker, but he’s also even bigger than he was. He’s put in a lot of work, and it’s a testament to him and how he’s grinded through coming back from a knee injury.”

The Seahawks' D-line will unquestionably look different when the 2018 season begins, but what remains to be seen is just how good that group can be, and even with three former starters moving on this offseason, this year’s line is excited about what’s to come.

“I think we have a lot of potential,” Jones said. “I think a lot of people are counting us out, and that’s going to be to our advantage. I think we’re going to shock people this year. We have a lot of guys working hard on their games, trying to become better, not being complacent about where they are. Those veteran guys have moved on, and this is our team now, and we’ve got to show what we can do.”

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