State of Seahawks’ defense: LB legend Lofa Tatupu shares what he sees

Feb 7, 2022, 11:00 AM

Seahawks Bobby Wagner...

CB Ugo Amadi, MLB Bobby Wagner and DT Al Woods react to a missed Titans field goal on Sept. 19. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

There are a lot of questions regarding the Seahawks’ defense after an up-and-down 2021 season, especially since they’ll have a new defensive coordinator in 2022.

Bumpus: How the Seahawks’ D can look different with Hurtt as DC

Who better to help break down Seattle’s defense than one of the best defenders in franchise history?

Former Seahawks Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Wyman and Bob on Friday just in time to discuss Seattle reportedly promoting defensive line coach Clint Hurtt to defensive coordinator, news of which broke earlier that day.

Tatupu admitted that he thought the Seahawks could have used a fresh set of eyes for their defense, but he thinks Hurtt has the ability to be a very good leader for the defense.

“I love Clint. He’s a phenomenal coach and he’s done a great job with that D-line and I think he’ll be an excellent D-coordinator, too,” Tatupu said.

What else should help the Seahawks’ defense and the team as a whole, Tatupu said, is bringing in longtime NFL defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, which was also reported Friday. Donatell has 11 years of NFL defensive coordinator experience, most recently with Denver over the past three seasons, and has worked with both head coach Pete Carroll and Hurtt in the past.

“I know Donatell’s going to be here and he led a strong defense over in Denver, and having worked with Pete before, I think they have a rapport where they can go back and forth and there’s some trust there and he can tell him the truth,” Tatupu said. “I think that can be huge and beneficial to the defense and the team.”

In terms of what the Seahawks did defensively in 2021, let’s just say Tatupu wasn’t a big fan of what he saw.

“Just like we didn’t have an identity on offense, we didn’t really have one on defense,” he said. “We were solid against the run but I think with how generous we were in the middle of the hooks in terms of whether it was a linebacker or a safety, the only one that really had success back there was (Quandre) Diggs in the middle.”

Tatupu thinks the loss of one of the team’s longtime defensive stars was a bigger issue than some may think.

“The defense didn’t change too much, but I will point to one omission that we had this year, and that was not having (linebacker) K.J. Wright,” he said.

The Seahawks didn’t re-sign Wright last offseason despite him having spent 10 years with the franchise. He instead joined the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Seahawks relied mostly on Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks at linebacker while using more defensive backs instead of a third linebacker.

Losing Wright, Tatupu said, made the Seahawks especially vulnerable against a play that never used to be an issue.

“You saw how the screen game attacked us. Screens never attacked us (when Wright was in Seattle),” he said. “They never got after us before and he was always the one either alerting it if it was (on the opposite side) of him or making the play in the backfield with a big hit. So that was alarming.”

Like hosts Bob Stelton and Dave Wyman, Tatupu also said he is over seeing the Seahawks drop their best pass rushers into coverage.

“I don’t ever want to see (defensive ends Carlos) Dunlap or Darrell Taylor in coverage again,”  he said. “It’s not because they can’t do it, it’s because they’re so good at rushing the passer … It’s tough when you see them in the flats and it’s like, man, we should be sending him forward.”

He also would like to see safety Jamal Adams and another big-name defender rush the passer more.

“I wish we blitzed Bobby (Wagner) more,” he said. “Big things happen when 54 gets to go downhill and get a 1-on-1 with a lineman or especially a running back.”

Speaking of Wagner, he earned his eighth Pro Bowl nod in a row as well as his eighth All-Pro honor in 2021, but his future with the team is uncertain. He has just one year left on his deal and the Seahawks could save over $16 million by releasing or cutting him this offseason, though Wagner and Carroll both said they hope No. 54 is with the team in 2022.

Tatupu said Wagner “still looks great to me” and had some big games in 2021, including a Week 2 performance against the Tennessee Titans where he made 20 combined tackles, two QB hits and a sack, but also had “a couple tough games,” such as a quiet Week 3 against the Minnesota Vikings.

“Obviously there’s a conversation to be had because of the cap number, but Bobby’s not afraid to have it,” Tatupu said. “He’s his own agent so he’s not afraid to have that conversation. I think he’s got a few great ones left in him.”

If the Seahawks were to move on from Wagner, that would open the door for Cody Barton to start at middle linebacker. Barton, who is set to enter his fourth NFL season, played well in Wagner’s place in the final two games of the season after Wagner suffered a knee injury.

Is Barton a viable starting linebacker for the Seahawks?

“Cody’s absolutely a starter in this league,” Tatupu said. ” … I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s calling (general manager) John Schneider about this kid if we’re not going to use him.”

Related: Did Cody Barton show he can be the Seahawks’ middle LB?

With Wright not returning in 2021, Tatupu thought Barton would play more as a result, but that really didn’t happen until Wagner wasn’t available.

“It didn’t happen, but I think that’s more of the scheme, not because of the player,” Tatupu said. “… He goes downhill, he gets it, sets the terms and he’s equally adept to play the pass, too.”

Listen to the full interview with the legendary Seahawks linebacker at this link or in the player below.

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