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Can Seahawks take a step forward on D without Dunbar? Reed will be key

Defensive tackle Jarran Reed struggled in 2019 after missing six games due to suspension. (Getty)

At times this offseason, a look at the Seahawks’ defense may make you think Seattle is primed for a significant improvement from a subpar 2019 showing. Other times, not so much.

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Currently it’s more the latter, as the legal issues for the team’s key acquisition of the offseason, cornerback Quinton Dunbar, have gained steam again. And while 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake Heaps reported last week that the Seahawks have engaged in trade talks with the New York Jets about All-Pro safety Jamal Adams, Brock Huard pointed out on Monday that if Dunbar is unavailable for the season, Seattle will likely have to refocus on the cornerback position again.

So with that all in mind, how can the Seahawks’ defense as it is currently constructed take a step forward from last season, when it ranked 26th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (381.6) and 22nd in points allowed per game (24.9)?

Huard answered that question Monday in the Blue 42 segment of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant, and the former NFL quarterback and current FOX college football analyst named three returning players who the Seahawks need to get improved production out of in 2020.

Two of those players are younger members of the defense we’ve covered quite a bit on 710Sports.com this offseason: L.J. Collier, a defensive lineman who was Seattle’s 2019 first-round NFL Draft pick, and Marquise Blair, a 2019 second-rounder who is expected to be in the mix at both safety and nickel cornerback going into the season.

“L.J. Collier as a former first-round pick who really got a pass in year No. 1,” Huard said. “You invested a first-round pick into that guy and he’s got to be the versatile weapon that this defensive line needs. It functioned best when Michael Bennett could play all over that defensive line and they’re going to need L.J. to bring his talent and his skillset to the forefront where he was a zero last year in production. He’s gotta at least be a 4 or a 5.”

As for Blair: “Dude is violent. I mean absolutely stings you in a way that others on that defense cannot,” Huard said.

But there’s another player who Huard identified as at the top of that particular list.

“No. 1 has to be Jarran Reed,” he said.

Reed, a fifth-year defensive tackle, was re-signed by the Seahawks earlier this year on a two-year deal worth a reported $23 million despite having a down year in 2019, a season in which he missed the first six games due to suspension. He most likely received his contract on the strength of his 2018 campaign in which he had 10.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 24 QB hits and two fumble recoveries, as his numbers in 2019 were far off from that kind of production.

Huard said the contract means Seattle has put more responsibility of the defense on the 27 year old.

“I always look at guys that get paid a substantial amount of money as having more responsibility,” he said, listing quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner as examples. “… You went into the free-agent market and your most important asset based on what you paid them and the timing of it was Jarran Reed, and you need Jarran Reed to get back to being who Jarran Reed was in 2018. Not the guy that we saw in 2019 who missed the first six games of the year, who was playing catch-up and in no way was there even a game last year, a half last year where I was like, ‘Oh, man, that was nice to see Jarran take it over,’ like he did at times in 2018 where he had double-digit sacks.

“You’re paying him $10-plus million a year. There’s immense responsibility. He is a strong voice and leader. I think that too was muted a season ago as he missed the first six weeks and kinda had to come in with the chin down a little bit.”

Is the Seahawks’ defense better than in 2019?

That’s another question that Huard was asked, and something he could only answer with an assumption in place.

“If Quinton Dunbar is there, I would say yes,” he responded. “… I think they learned in the second half of last year that that whole base defense, just playing super-soft base zone and giving up all sorts of yards but not giving up points, was not in the DNA of many of those guys defensively, nor should it be. Yeah, I think they’ll be better than they were a year ago.

“Do I think they can be anywhere near where they were in ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16 or ’17? No. No, but you should not be 26th in the league. You should be 15th in the league, and if you’re 15th in the league (on defense) with this offense, you’re gonna win double-digit games and go to the playoffs.”

You can hear the full Blue 42 segment with Huard in this podcast.

Follow 710’s Brock Huard, Danny O’Neil and Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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