With Ahtyba Rubin re-signing this offseason, the Seahawks return three of their four starting defensive linemen from 2015. So there isn't too much to settle along the D-line in training camp, right?
Yes, Rubin is expected to be in the starting lineup, along with ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, but there is a lot more to figure out in that position group than just who will take over Brandon Mebane's spot in the starting lineup. When the Seahawks are at their best defensively, they like to have a deep rotation of linemen in order to keep everyone fresh, with different players coming into the game in different situations, so there is still a lot to work out beyond a starting role in the base defense.
"I kind of find myself taking a long time to decide on that because I want to see how these guys match up, how they play and how it looks and all that," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We have to figure out the nature of these guys as we put them together. We are looking for a big rotation. We would like to have a really good rotation if we can get that done, we like when we play that way best so we will see. There are some young guys that have done a nice job already, and we'll see how they fit in when we get to the games."
Added defensive line coach Travis Jones: "We've got a lot of competitors up front in a lot of different positions. It's a real competitive group right now, guys competing for jobs… I'm really excited about where we are, the types of guys we have."
And figuring out a rotation can take longer than just training camp and the preseason. Even after making roster cuts, it takes time to sort out exactly how to best divide playing time and use players in certain situations, a process that sometimes carries over well into the regular season.
"To get a real sense of how you're going to manage the parts and how much and how they fit, to me it takes quite a while to get that figured out," Carroll said. "The guys that have played a lot for us, we are in good shape. The news guys, we want to see how they complement. We have to figure out how we can use Frank (Clark). I said earlier, I didn't feel like we used him enough last year so we really want to fit him. We have a lot of stuff in mind, he is a very versatile football player, but still it is kind of the tweaking that we got to get to it so that we can put him in positons that he is really good and he makes the most of his abilities and all that and it is the same with the other guys."
Clark doesn't project as a starter, but he is expected to have a much bigger role in 2016 than he did as a rookie. With Bruce Irvin leaving in free agency, that opens up a lot of snaps as a pass-rusher in nickel packages, and Clark can also spell either Bennett or Avril in base packages if necessary.
As for that starting job in the base defense, the two candidates as of now appear to be rookie Jarran Reed and fourth-year veteran Jordan Hill. The two are different players, and Carroll made a point earlier in camp to emphasize that no one is going to be asked to be Mebane, but rather to do what they do well. And regardless of who wins the starting job, both of those players should play a big role in the rotation based on how things have looked in camp so far.
Talking about Reed, a player the Seahawks considered with their first-round pick, then later selected in the second round after trading up, Carroll said, "I've loved what we have seen from him. As much as Germain (Ifedi) on the offensive side has set the tone for the young guys, the approach they are bringing, I think Jarran is doing the same thing on the other side. He was billed coming in as a terrific run defender, he is going to be that the way I can see it, and that's just after a week of working with him. He has great technique, he is very, very solid, he was prepared very well at Alabama, all of that carries over for us. He is very good with his hands, he's got a real sense for the ball, but most of all he's really tough and he's physical and we love that part of him, so he has looked really good at the start."
In addition to his coaches, Reed has also impressed his veteran teammates, and not just with his physical ability.
"The young guy wants to learn, he wants to prove himself," Rubin said. "He's getting better at pass-rushing, he's a dog. I can't wait to see how he performs against Kansas City (in the first preseason game)."
Both Reed and fellow rookie Quinton Jefferson are also "asking the right questions," Hill said. "That's step one as a rookie, being able to put your pride aside to get some help."
For Hill, the No. 1 goal this season is not to win a starting job or to hit certain statistical goals, but rather "to be available and healthy. If I'm healthy and I'm available, I'll be out there doing my thing. The biggest thing for me is just being available."
Various injuries have limited Hill in his first three seasons, but when he has been right, he has shown a lot of potential, including a stretch of the 2014 season in which he had 5.5 sacks in the final six games of the 2014 season.
"It has been very frustrating," Hill said of his injury history. "Because it's stuff I can't control. The only thing I can do is be in good spirits—that helps—and work my butt off to get back out there on the field."
Hill primarily has played as an interior pass-rusher in nickel packages up to this point in his career, but he likes the idea of showing he can be more than just a situational player.
"I like doing both," Hill said. "I don't like being labeled, or just doing one thing. I like being able to play run, play pass, play base, play nickel, because I feel like I can be effective in all aspects of the defensive line."
Beyond the names already mentioned is a long list of young players fighting for jobs and spots in the rotation. It's too early to guess which players will win those battles, but it's a group that has everyone excited when it comes to their potential.
"I feel real good about this group," Rubin said. "Everybody is focused, locked in, the young guys are really making an effort to put their best foot forward. I'm just excited to see where we can go this year."
One of the many players looking to stand out is Ryan Robinson, a standout in offseason workout last year before suffering a torn Achilles that ended his 2015 season before it really got going.
"Ryan was having a really good camp last year when he got hurt, he did an incredibly good job getting back, that's a very serious injury, the Achilles thing," Carroll said. "He has come back, he looks good. We are going to manage him, hopefully very properly throughout this camp to make sure he's back. He is looking very good, he's really quick, plays really hard every snap he's out here so he has a good motor about him. He is going to get a really, really good look."
Robinson, who came into the league as an undrafted free agent in 2013, isn't taking for granted this latest shot at cracking an NFL roster, not after having to spend last year's camp on the sideline.
"It's a huge thing for me," he said. "Last year, I sat out the whole year, it was pretty tough watching training camp. It was a very disappointing thing for me. But I'm very optimistic right now and giving it everything I've got."
Check out the best photos from the Seattle Seahawks fifth training camp practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton.