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Top Seattle sports stories of 2017: Seahawks’ defense takes a big hit with injuries to Sherman, Chancellor, Avril

Richard Sherman ruptured his Achilles in the Seahawks' Week 10 game in Arizona. (AP)

The 12 hosts of 710 ESPN Seattle have voted on the top Seattle sports stories of 2017. Each day we will count down to the top story of the year with an article by a different host. Today, Gee Scott covers the second biggest story, the season-ending injuries to three Pro Bowl members of the Seahawks’ defense – Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril.

You can look at a football team a lot like a building.

When you remove pillars, the structural foundation is compromised. Some pillars are so important that the building will collapse without them.

This season, the Seahawks’ defense has been put to the test with three of its pillars going down to season-ending injuries.

Cliff Avril, coming off his first Pro Bowl selection (finally), was the first to go, suffering an injury in Week 4 that eventually required neck surgery. And a little over a month later, the Seahawks were hit with two massive blows in one fell swoop: Richard Sherman ruptured his Achilles and Kam Chancellor suffered a neurological injury similar to Avril’s in an ugly Thursday night game in Arizona.

Losing those pillars had an impact, for sure – especially when the Hawks couldn’t slow down the Falcons enough in a 34-31 loss at home. But Seattle actually won its next two games, including a surprising 24-10 victory over the NFL-leading Eagles.

There was still a pillar holding the building up a little bit. But then linebackers K.J. Wright (concussion) and Bobby Wagner (hamstring) encountered injuries of their own and the floodgates opened. That’s why you saw Seattle lose 30-24 in Jacksonville and 42-7 at home to the Rams. And it’s also why you saw the Seahawks bounce back when those two returned at something closer to 100 percent last Sunday in a 21-12 win over Dallas.

When coach Pete Carroll joined general manager John Schneider in Seattle in 2010, they cleaned house and started from scratch. They knew what they wanted to build around, so they picked Earl Thomas in the first round in 2010 over Carroll’s own player from USC, Taylor Mays. Chancellor came four rounds later, then Sherman in the fifth round the next year. That was no coincidence. Carroll and Schneider saw something in those two that they were looking for (and others apparently weren’t). Same thing with Wright and Wagner. And when Avril took a gamble on himself and signed as a free agent in 2013, the Seahawks really took off.

But it’s been six years since the core of this Seahawks team first arrived in the playoffs, and successful runs in the National Football League usually last for five to seven years. The only exception is Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The injuries on the Seahawks’ defense this year show just how much of Seattle’s future is on the shoulders of No. 3 – Russell Wilson.

After seeing multiple key members of its trademark defense go down to injuries in 2017, the Seahawks are going to have to evolve. But if there’s anybody that can get this team to do it, I believe it’s Pete Carroll.

More on the Seahawks’ injuries on defense

Gee: Cliff Avril gambled on himself to come to Seattle

Seahawks Insider: Avril to IR, but his next step is unclear

O’Neil: It will be heartbreaking to see Seahawks without Sherman

O’Neil: NFL’s hypocrisy on player safety on display in Hawks-Cards

Stelton: If Hawks can’t win without Sherman, they were built poorly

Salk: Chancellor’s leadership will be missed the most

Moore: Seahawks’ future is a question mark

O’Neil: Is Seahawks’ defense old or just injured?