STACY ROST

DC Clint Hurtt: Seahawks’ defense will be ‘significantly better’ in ’23

May 13, 2023, 10:06 AM

Seattle Seahawks DC Clint Hurtt...

Defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt of the Seattle Seahawks looks on against the Las Vegas Raiders on Nov. 27, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Seahawks’ defense needs to be better in 2023.

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They will be better, Clint Hurtt clarifies.

The Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator has a host of weapons to work with, including one of the more talented secondaries they’ve had in years, Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s highest draft pick ever (No. 5 overall pick Devon Witherspoon), their most expensive free agent addition (defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones), and a future Hall of Famer making his return (linebacker Bobby Wagner).

Having weapons doesn’t provide an immediate solution to a very big problem, though, which is why Carroll, Hurtt and this defense is facing a tough offseason of work ahead.

Seattle allowed the third-most rushing yards last season, including season-high performances for a host of starting halfbacks. The Seahawks were 25th in scoring. There were more explosive plays allowed — an ongoing issue, first against the pass in 2020 and 2021 and then more often in the front seven in 2022. Missed tackles on an 81-yard completion from Jarred Goff to tight end T.J. Hockenson in a Week 4 win against the Lions. Three hundred yards of total offense allowed to Raiders running back Josh Jacobs in Week 12.

It’s true that an ever-growing burden has been placed on the shoulders of quarterback Geno Smith, now under a new contract and granted even more offensive weapons, including a first-round wide receiver. The offense will need to sharpen up as well to avoid the second-half issues they had last season. But if defense wins championships, this team isn’t going anywhere until they pull themselves out of the bottom half of the league.

That started with offseason changes — lots of them. The team parted ways with much of the existing defensive line, whether through release or free agents moving on. All linemen in Hurtt’s 3-4 base defense will be new faces, as will both starting linebackers (“new” being used loosely here with Bobby Wagner, who made his return to Seattle after a one-year stint with the Rams).

While depth remains a concern up front, the additions that have been made to the entirety of the defense aren’t lateral, but an improvement. Jones totaled 6.5 sacks, 16 pressures and a 14.6 pass rush win rate in 13 games with a good Broncos defense last season. Wagner played on a struggling Rams squad but saw a career high in sacks, was stellar against the run, and was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded linebacker. Also thrown into the mix is the still unproven but highly-touted Devon Witherspoon, who packs a punch and elite athleticism on the back end.

It’s the boost to talent in the secondary in particular that has Hurtt excited. Seattle adds Witherspoon to a group that already includes Tariq Woolen, Jamal Adams (currently rehabbing a torn quad), Quandre Diggs and Julian Love.

“I’ve always been a big believer that rush and coverage complement each other,” Hurtt told Bump and Stacy Friday.

“That was kind of rooted in me from the very beginning of when I got into football. In my Miami Hurricane days, we’d play Ed Reed and Phillip Buchanan. We had so many guys in the secondary. It helped us as pass-rushers because quarterbacks had to hold the ball because coverage was tight. And there are times where maybe there could be some challenging routes, but rush got there, so (the two phases) complimented one another. To the people who think rush makes everything so much better, there’s a lot of different ways you can neutralize pass rush. Whether it’s moving the pocket, cadence, chipping guys to knock a guy off, (but) you can’t eliminate a great cover guy.”

Of course, improvement won’t only need to come from the secondary. But it may start with changing coaching and execution rather than scheme.

“We will be significantly better,” Hurtt said when asked how much better the defense could be with stopping the run. “It has to. And that’s obviously two big points coming in (to the offseason): stopping the run game and eliminating the explosives that obviously we gave up last year. You do those things and then you continue to take significant jumps with what you want to accomplish defensively.

“A lot of people talk about how there was more two-gapping (in the 3-4 look). We actually did more two-gapping the previous two years. But because of the change the assumption is ‘well, they’re doing this more because of this change to a 3-4’. I’ve stated numerous times I think that’s really overstated and overblown. Fact of the matter is we needed to coach that better and we could’ve played that better than what we did, but it starts with us as coaches to get that stuff rectified and corrected. So in terms of the schematics (of the defense), it’s not that. It’s just playing blocks the right way and cleaning up our fits.”

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DC Clint Hurtt: Seahawks’ defense will be ‘significantly better’ in ’23