By Danny O’Neil
The Seahawks found 19 sacks in free agency by signing the trio of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel.
They drafted another couple of players up front, too, choosing Jordan Hill out of Penn State in the third round and Jesse Williams from Alabama in the fifth.
Throw in the addition of cornerback Antoine Winfield, a three-time Pro Bowler, and you’ve got some pretty serious defensive additions to a team that allowed the fewest points in the league last year. That only makes the subtraction a little more difficult between now and Aug. 31, when the Seahawks must have their roster down to 53 players.
After putting a microscope on the offensive half of the team earlier this week, it’s time to crunch the numbers on the defense.
• Average kept under Pete Carroll: 9
• Locks: LEO Cliff Avril, NT Brandon Mebane, DE Red Bryant, DL Michael Bennett, DT Jordan Hill.
• Almost certainly safe: NT Clinton McDonald, DT Jesse Williams.
• Injury uncertainty: LEO Chris Clemons.
• Decision time: LEO Mike Morgan or LEO Benson Mayowa, DT Tony McDaniel and/or DE Jaye Howard.
• Uphill climb: DE Kenneth Boatright, DT Michael Brooks, DT Martin Parker.
• Situation report: This is the single most up-in-the-air position group on the team. Not even the starting lineup is settled as the defensive-tackle spot vacated by Alan Branch could be filled by Williams, Hill or even McDaniel.
The pass-rushing defensive end spot termed the Leo in Seattle’s defense is even more unpredictable because Clemons is coming back from serious knee surgery. He hasn’t practiced yet, but hasn’t been ruled out of returning in time for the regular season. He also could remain on the Physically Unable to Perform list after Aug. 31, which would mean he would miss the first six games at least, but that would open up another roster spot.
If Clemons isn’t ready, Seattle will choose between Morgan – who has been impressive in the transition from linebacker – and Mayowa, the undrafted rookie from Idaho who was the team’s most productive pass rusher in the preseason opener. Is it enough to make the team?
McDaniel’s groin injury has prevented him from making a preseason impression so far, and Carroll said the team needs to see more from him to know if he’s got a spot on the team.
Howard is bigger and playing significantly better than he did as a rookie last year, but he needs to show he can back up Bryant.
Linebacker O’Brien Schofield’s ability to provide an outside pass rush makes him ideally suited to fill in for Bruce Irvin during his four-game suspension. (AP)
• Average kept under Carroll: 5.7
• Locks: K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith, Bobby Wagner.
• Appears safe: O’Brien Schofield.
• Suspended for first four games: Bruce Irvin.
• Decision time: Heath Farwell and/or Allen Bradford and/or John Lotulelei.
• Uphill climb: Craig Wilkins, Kyle Knox.
• Situation report: The starters are clear cut to begin the season, and Schofield is an outside power rusher who appears a custom-made replacement for Irvin during his four-game suspension.
Things get interesting after that. Farwell has been a core special-teams player for this team and a fundamentally sound backup linebacker, but he might not have the upside of Bradford, who is in his second full season as a linebacker and looking raw but promising.
Lotulelei is undersized, but quick both in terms of his feet and that first step.
• Average kept under Carroll: 5.3
• Locks: Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, Byron Maxwell.
• Almost certainly safe: Antoine Winfield, Jeremy Lane.
• Uphill climb: Will Blackmon, Ron Parker.
• Situation report: Unquestionably the deepest position on this team, but one without a great deal of suspense unless there’s an injury. There has been some speculation Winfield might not stick with the team if he were to be beat out by Thurmond as the team’s nickelback. That would require a leap of faith on Thurmond’s ability to stay healthy, though, a recurring difficulty in his career.
Maxwell has played so well there’s no doubt whether he makes this team. He’s now pushing to earn playing time, but his ability to stay healthy is also a question.
• Average kept under Carroll: 4.3.
• Locks: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor.
• Almost certainly safe: Jeron Johnson.
• Decision time: Chris Maragos and/or DeShawn Shead.
• Uphill climb: Winston Guy.
• Situation report: Seattle has the best starting safety tandem in the league, and Johnson is a player capable of backing up both safety spots. Yep, he’s strong enough to play behind Chancellor and fast enough to be the single-high safety like Thomas. Maragos is one of the fastest players on the team while Shead is one of its best athletes as a former decathlete.
With all the uncertainty at the front of Seattle’s defense, could it try and save a roster spot at the back end? That might be a stretch as the Seahawks haven’t entered a season with three safeties on the active roster since 2004.