Most Important Seahawks: A possible answer for Aaron Donald at RG

Aug 3, 2021, 12:26 AM
Seahawks Gabe Jackson...
Gabe Jackson has had success against Rams star Aaron Donald, according to Jake Heaps. (Getty)

As the Seahawks continue to work through training camp, my co-host Jake Heaps and I are counting down the 15 most important Seahawks of 2021. We spotlight a new profile every weekday at 1 p.m. during Jake and Stacy.

No. 15 DE Carlos Dunlap
No. 14 LB Jordyn Brooks
No. 13 TE Gerald Everett

That countdown continues with numbers 12 through 10:

No 12: OLs Damien Lewis and Gabe Jackson

It’s two-for-one at No. 12. Guards Damien Lewis and Gabe Jackson make the list together for good reason: they’re both filling somewhat new roles in 2020 and will be essential parts of an O-line tasked with facing some of the best pass rush units in football.

Lewis enters his second season after a promising debut in 2020 and will switch from right to left guard. That switch follows the Seahawks’ offseason trade with the Raiders for Jackson, who will step in at Lewis’ old role on the right side (Jackson has started at right guard since 2016).

What Jake said (audio): “You look at Aaron Donald and what (the Rams) were able to do against this Seahawks offensive line in the wild card game and it wasn’t pretty. Now, there were a couple other things that were going wrong as a group with the Seahawks’ offense, so it’s not to put all the blame on them – not in any stretch – but that’s a big piece of it. These two guys, and the rest of this line, will be tasked with trying to slow down a great defensive pass rush in your own division.

“Gabe Jackson is one of the better guards in football. He’ll bring veteran presence, he’ll bring nastiness, he’ll bring toughness. A couple years ago I watched some film of him playing against the Rams and Aaron Donald and he and Donald got into a couple scraps. And I love seeing that in between plays. Why? Because Aaron Donald wasn’t getting his way and Gabe Jackson wasn’t intimidated by Donald. So bringing some of that toughness and that talent to this interior is a welcomed addition.

“And then the guy who I think has tremendous upside and has the ability to become maybe a Pro Bowler this year is Damien Lewis. He had a great rookie campaign. He hit that rookie wall kind of in the second half of the season that nobody wants to talk about – he wasn’t stellar in the second half, but I think that’s not a surprise for young rookies in the league no matter what position you play. I have high expectations and high hopes for Damien Lewis moving over to the left side and being next to Duane Brown… I love the combination of Lewis and Jackson, I love the positive mentorship that can be there, and I’m really excited about what this group can be.”

No 11: DT Poona Ford

From the interior of one line to the next – defensive tackle Poona Ford makes the list at No. 11.

Ford made the Seahawks’ 53-man roster in training camp in 2018 as an undrafted rookie out of Texas. By 2019, he was a full-time starter. He finished 2020 with a 79.8 Pro Football Focus grade and was rewarded for a strong first three seasons with Seattle with a two-year contract extension in March.

While the Seahawks haven’t topped the league in total defense for years, they have been solid against the run thanks in part to Ford’s ability as a stout run-stuffer. But 2021 will bring a unique challenge: it will be Ford’s first season without fellow defensive tackle Jarran Reed, now with Kansas City. The Seahawks tapped into some veteran talent, adding free agents Al Woods and Robert Nkemdiche, but Ford otherwise becomes one of Seattle’s most experienced starting D-tackles at just 25 years old.

Seattle will be looking to hit the ground running on defense this year, which means ironing out some issues from last year’s passing defense. A strong start from consistent performers like Ford, particularly against the run, makes that task more manageable.

What Jake said (audio): “Poona Ford makes this list at No. 11 but almost cracked the top 10 because the important of Ford’s performance is massive, and it skyrocketed the moment the Seahawks released Jarran Reed. Ford has to hold it down in the interior. I’m sorry – Bryan Mone and Al Woods might be good at what they do in terms of a 1-technique plugger that’s just going to 2-gap and hold their spot. But in terms of the playmaker that needs to happen on the interior of that line, Poona Ford has to step up in a big way, and so much so that it has to be more drastic than anything he’s ever done in his career up to this point.

“He’s got this incredible leverage and has been getting better and better at using that over the course of his three seasons, so much so that in 2020 he had his best season yet with two sacks and 40 combined total tackles, including eight tackles for loss. So he was a disruptive force on the interior. Now what he’s going to be asked to do is up his game as an interior pass rusher, and we’ll see if Poona Ford can answer the call. They don’t have anybody (else) on this roster, unless you slide down L.J. Collier or Kerry Hyder Jr. to that 3-technique. He’s going to be the main guy playing not just first and second down but all three downs.”

No. 10: S Quandre Diggs

The first defensive back cracks this list at No. 10.

The Seahawks have plenty of promising, if untested, talent in their secondary, which is why Quandre Diggs will be one half of a safety tandem with Jamal Adams that will need to bring veteran presence and consistency. Diggs was selected to his first Pro Bowl after a 2020 season that saw him lead the team in interceptions (five) and finish with 10 passes defended over 16 starts.

What Jake said (audio): “He’s the quarterback of the secondary. When you talk about Quandre Diggs, he’s the guy that gets everything set back there. And when you’re looking at that particular area of the team and of the defense to get better, you need Diggs; you need your established veteran, Pro Bowl-level player to lead the charge and get everybody set.

“He’s got a tremendous playmaking ability. People overlook that he’s been able to get his hands on the football. He’s a smaller safety at 5 foot 9, 197 pounds, but he’s not afraid to come in, run in the alley and go put a hit on somebody. Go back to that Vikings game in Week 5. You see Irv Smith Jr. catch the ball kind of in the flat and here comes Quandre Diggs and just meets him and lays a huge lick on him.

“The other aspect about Diggs is that he’s playing some of his best football, and I think he’s going to continue to keep getting better as this group builds off the chemistry of having Jamal Adams in his second year and everything being a bit more stable.”

Follow Stacy Rost on Twitter.

More on Seahawks training camp

• What Pete Carroll said that caught Jake Heaps off-guard
• Salk: New OC Waldron has “one of the hardest jobs in Seattle”
• Seahawks DE Aldon Smith on field for now, but uncertainty awaits
• Rost on Seahawks camp: Penny entering make-or-break season
• Clayton’s Observations: Wilson looks comfortable

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