The Seattle Seahawks recently signed defensive ends Cliff Avril, formerly of the Detroit Lions, and brought back Michael Bennett, who played the last four years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After already having defensive ends on the roster such as Red Bryant, Bruce Irvin, and Chris Clemons, one may wonder how head coach Pete Carroll is going manage this situation.
Carroll is a master at changing his basic schemes to fit unique talent. He will not often attempt to fit a round peg into a square hole. While he can be predictably unpredictable at times, we can analyze his base defensive philosophy that he has held dear to him for decades and attempt to predict what the starting defensive line is going to look like for the Seahawks in 2013.
Lets start with the right side of the defensive line, work our way to nose tackle, defensive tackle, and finish with the left defensive end.
Carroll wants his “Leo” to be athletic and size is not of the utmost importance. This player must be able to get to the quarterback and cover a lot of space in the open field. He needs to have the athletic ability to drop into coverage occasionally, too. Clemons had been a defensive end before coming to Seattle in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles and flourished in this role. Not only did he turn out to be good at getting to the quarterback, but he was quite underrated as a run defender and athletic in space. However, with the availability of Clemons in doubt coming back from ACL surgery in January, the door is open for either Avril or Irvin to step into this role, at least to start the season.
Irvin was drafted to provide instant situational pass rush last year and to eventually be the successor to Clemons. Although he led all rookies with eight sacks, he doesn’t yet possess an array of moves to consistently beat offensive tackles. He will have a year under his belt and almost everyone improves from their rookie year to their second season, so there is a chance he could emerge as the starter. Although he seems to have an abundance of talent for this position, he’s not the best football player for it yet.
I would put my money on Avril as the starting Leo of the Seahawks on opening day. He is athletic and has proven that he can hold the point of attack. At the press conference introducing him in Seattle, Carroll talked about his versatility and how he can get after it, yet expects him to be able to drop back into space once in awhile, as he had done at Purdue.
The Seahawks have the perfect nose tackle (one technique) in Brandon Mebane. He can penetrate double teams and isn’t going to get pushed around very often. He is the type of immovable force that is needed along the defensive line and in Carroll’s system.
Defensive tackle (three technique) next to Mebane was really a mess last season when Jason Jones was lost for the season. Although Alan Branch had been signed the year before, he wasn’t the stereotypical poster boy for this position. Ideally, Carroll wants a good pass rusher in this spot. With Mebane taking on double teams, this position is going to see more one on one type of match-ups that Branch couldn’t consistently win on his way to the quarterback.
Jones is now in Detroit and Branch is a free agent so that makes Bennett the most likely candidate, at least in obvious passing situations. It’s true that Bennett played left defensive end for the Buccaneers, but he has the skill set to do well in Seattle at tackle. In his previous tenure in Seattle, he lined-up in the interior as well.
Left defensive end (five technique) will be filled by Red Bryant. Carroll has said this position must stop the run and that it doesn’t need a big-time pass rusher. In Bryant, they have a great run stuffer who consistently seals the edge. The downside is his ability to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which isn’t the highest of priorities for Carroll at this position. However, Bryant is a two-down player and Irvin came in last season in passing situations. Expect that to happen again in 2013.
One thing about Carroll, if you think it’s going to happen a certain way, it probably won’t.