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Seahawks’ plan at linebacker is still a work in progress


By Danny O’Neil

The offseason additions have changed the equation for Seattle’s defense.

The exact formula, though, is still being worked out. That became evident over a weekend in which the Seahawks didn’t draft a single guy to play linebacker yet kept mum on providing specifics for the changes they’re contemplating up front, specifically with Bruce Irvin and perhaps Cliff Avril playing the strongside linebacker spot, which is labeled the Sam in football jargon.

The Seahawks feel Bruce Irvin and fellow defensive end Cliff Avril are versatile enough to play outside linebacker. (AP)

“We’re moving some things around to make sure that we utilize everybody well,” coach Pete Carroll said. “You’ll see how that works out when we come out at camp.”

Hmmm, well that clears up just about nothing, but that’s by design. Monday was the first time in Seattle’s offseason program that coaches were allowed to be on the practice field with players, which means the Seahawks are only beginning to see if any wrinkles or position changes will work on anything more than just a theoretical level.

Specifically, Seattle’s depth chart is overflowing at the pass-rushing defensive end referred to as the Leo. Start with Bruce Irvin, last year’s first-round pick who led all rookies with eight sacks. Add in Cliff Avril, the top free-agent acquisition from Detroit who has 29 sacks over the past three seasons. Don’t forget Chris Clemons, who may be recovering from knee surgery, but has 11 or more sacks in each of the three seasons he’s played in Seattle.

That gives the Seahawks more than depth. It provides the possibility to get creative.

“Cliff is a very versatile football player,” Carroll said. “Bruce is a very versatile football player. Clem is. So those guys give us the ability to mix a little bit more.”

This is not necessarily new for Carroll. He said he did similar tinkering at USC when the Trojans had both Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, and in 2010, he tried to put Aaron Curry in a spot where he lined up close to the line of scrimmage with the possibility of coming off the edge to rush the passer.

But unlike a situation in which Carroll sought to get a linebacker to play more like a defensive end, the Seahawks now have three defensive ends who could play some linebacker.

“I just know that Cliff played in space at Purdue,” said John Schneider, Seattle’s general manager. “There’s no question that Bruce has the athleticism to play there, to play Sam.”

That would create a bit of a domino effect, bumping strongside linebacker K.J. Wright to the weakside (Will) spot where Leroy Hill started last season. While Hill is unsigned, Malcolm Smith remains on the roster, and to show just how fluid the situation is, he begins at the top of the depth chart at that spot.

“He’s the guy that has the lead shot at the Will spot,” Carroll said.

It’s a work in progress, especially after the weekend as Seattle drafted Ty Powell with the intention of trying him at pass-rushing end and then signed undrafted linebackers Craig Wilkins (Old Dominion) and John Lotulelei (UNLV) as free agents. Ramon Buchanan, a linebacker at Miami, was also signed, though he projects as a pass rusher.

But while we know the ingredients for Seattle’s front seven, no one knows the exact configuration that will be used. Not even the coaches, as Carroll pointed out that he hopes to have an idea of the format by the time Clemons returns from knee surgery.

“By the time Clem gets healthy, we should be in a pretty good swing with how it’s fitting together and all that,” Carroll said. “Were excited about it.”

The Seahawks are also uncertain about it.