Heaps: Who the Seahawks are counting on after Aldon Smith’s release

Aug 11, 2021, 3:00 PM | Updated: 3:00 pm
Seahawks DE Alton Robinson...
Seahawks DE Alton Robinson tallied four sacks in limited action as a rookie in 2020. (Getty)

In a bit of a surprise move, the Seahawks parted ways with veteran defensive end Aldon Smith on Wednesday, causing Seattle’s pass rush depth to take a hit.

Related: Seahawks release defensive end Aldon Smith

Smith, who has had a number of legal and off-field issues since entering the NFL in 2012, had a warrant issued for his arrest in Louisiana earlier this offseason for an alleged second-degree battery. Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune reported that an NFL source told him that Smith’s release came for violating conditions that the defender agreed to when he signed a one-year deal with Seattle this offseason.

Now Smith finds himself without a job, and the Seahawks find themselves down a pass rusher, namely one who was drawing rave reviews at camp and figured to play a prominent role this season.

So with Smith out of the picture, which Seahawks players must step up on defense in 2021? Former NFL quarterback Jake Heaps of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy said there are two players who “clear as day” will be counted on more going forward.

“Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor,” Heaps said.

Robinson and Taylor were two of the Seahawks’ eight 2020 draft picks, and they had wildly different rookie campaigns a year ago after being drafted to boost what was a very poor pass rush and defensive end group in 2019.

Taylor, the team’s second-round pick last year, didn’t play at all as a rookie due to a shin injury. Initially drafted as a defensive end, Taylor is trying his hand at strongside linebacker in training camp in addition to pass-rushing duties.

Fifth-round pick Robinson, meanwhile, had one of the better seasons of any rookie defender in 2020. He finished second in the NFL in sacks by a rookie with four, and added five tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble in 14 games. He played on 29% of Seattle’s defensive snaps last season.

“Both of these guys are heading into their second year, and Darrell Taylor in my mind is still considered a rookie because he didn’t play last year whatsoever,” Heaps said. “But Alton Robinson, he had a very good rookie year for himself. In a limited role, he had four sacks and was a very good pass rusher. Also, he was battling weight.”

What Heaps means is that while Robinson played between 250 and 260 pounds in college at Syracuse, he showed up to camp much bigger, weighing closer to 280 pounds. It wasn’t what you’d call “bad weight” as it was muscle mass, but it was certainly not what the Seahawks were expecting of Robinson as he was seen as a twitchy/speedy edge rusher.

“This year, he’s back down to 260 where he was (in college) and he feels great, he looks great out on the field in terms of what he’s done thus far,” Heaps said. “They need him to continue to keep building and improving on what he did a year ago.”

As for Taylor, while he may not be a full-time pass rusher like Robinson, Heaps said the Seahawks have “high hopes” and “high promise” for the young defender as he finally prepares to make his NFL debut.

“He is an exceptional athlete on the field and you can see his speed, his athleticism. Now he’s got to put it all together,” Heaps said.

Where Taylor needs to put it together, especially with Smith’s departure, is when he rushes the quarterback.

“I’ll tell you this, he looks like a rookie out there when it comes to his consistent pass rush,” Heaps said. “There are times where he flashes, there are times where you can tell that the offensive line and the tackles just got the better of him because they’re more experienced and they’re more savvy in terms of how they’re going about their business. This is still going to be a learning process for Darrell Taylor, but you need those guys in particular to step up and fill the void of what Aldon Smith was going to bring to this team.”

Listen to the full second hour of Wednesday’s Jake and Stacy at this link or in the player below.

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

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