Addressing the Seahawks defense
By Brock Huard
What a wild Thursday in the NFL with more fireworks to follow today and over the weekend. Were the players bamboozled? Are the owners trying to shift the public relations meter? How in the world do 31 owners fall into complete agreement? There are many questions still to be answered, which mirrors my feeling exactly of the Seahawks defense.
What follows are the five steps I would take to reload a Hawks defense that flashed potential in 2010 before fading in the second half of the season.
1. If Brian Dawkins is willing to restructure his contract
in Denver, then Lofa Tatupu and Marcus Trufant must do the same for the Seahawks. In order to replenish a defense that yearns for more playmakers, salary cap room must be created, and Tatupu and Trufant are the prime candidates. Since signing monster contract extensions in 2008, both have under-performed and are set to make much more than they are worth in 2011.
Trufant is due $5.9 million in 2011 and has earned over $20 million in guaranteed bonuses over the last three years, or roughly $5 million per interception since ’08. Lofa has made over $18 million in guaranteed dollars and is set to make $4.35 million in 2011. I don’t think either player, with their drop in production and significant injuries over the last two years, have a lot of market value and thus a restructuring of their contracts seems reasonable.
2. I think it is important to understand Pete Carroll’s philosophy of playing young players when it comes to building the Hawks defense. Over the last two years the Hawks have used nearly two thirds of their drafts picks on defensive players (11/18 picks under the Carroll/Schneider regime).
Expect rookies like cornerback Richard Sherman to see significant playing time this season. (AP)
I don’t think that is coincidence, and as we saw last season with Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond, Dexter Davis and Kam Chancellor, the young guys will not only play, they will have significant roles. It is exactly what Carroll believes in, and what he did so well while building his dynasty at USC. He is willing to sacrifice youthful mistakes in the short term knowing it will pay dividends in the long term.
Thus, in 2011 you can expect to see draftees Richard Sherman, Mark Legree, K.J. Wright and Byron Maxwell involved early and often. Even the seventh round picks, Malcolm Smith and Pep Livingston, will be given opportunity.
This is a draft class that fits exactly what Carroll and Schneider want in their talent: above average size, physicality, and plus-strength for their positions. In many ways, it is the polar opposite of the Tim Ruskell draft picks of Kelly Jennings, Darryl Tapp, Lawrence Jackson, etc. Seahawks fans can only hope the production of these picks will also differentiate themselves from many of the Ruskell selections.
3. The Seahawks must capitalize on signing undrafted rookie free agents that can be difference makers. Take a look at Green Bay’s world champion defense last season. Yes, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews were the headliners and difference makers, but defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, cornerback Tramon Williams and safety Atari Bigby all played roles in the run to the Super Bowl, and all three Packers went undrafted.
John Schneider has made a point a number of times this offseason to media members that the Seahawks’ draft class is unfinished and he feels there are talented rookies still to be signed. Let’s hope he can find the diamonds in the rough that he and his boss, Ted Thompson, uncovered with the Green and Gold. If so, it will not only expedite the rebuilding process, but will do so in an incredibly cost effective manner.
4. The health of Red Bryant and Colin Cole will play a role in the amount of dollars allocated to the defensive line and I will be very anxious to see the kind of shape both Bryant and Cole are in. It is unfortunate the lockout kept these two Seahawks, in particular, out of the practice facility.
When the two were healthy, the Hawks were the No. 2 rush defense in the NFL through the first seven weeks of the season. Bryant condensed the edge, and Cole plugged the middle; however, Cole’s ankle and Bryant’s knee changed all that when they went out. If they cannot be at full strength then the re-signing or franchising of Brandon Mebane becomes a priority, and a costly one at that.
5. Lastly, the two names I have heard throughout the lockout most closely associated with the Seahawks via free agency are Manny Lawson and Johnathan Joseph. Both were former first round picks, Lawson with the 49ers and Joseph with the Bengals. Both fit the scouting eye of what Carroll and Schneider are looking for when it comes to pass rushing ends and cover corners.
Lawson is long, angular and has the kind of explosion Carroll wants out of his pass rushers and could combine with Chris Clemons off the edge to disrupt in passing situations. Joseph is a physically talented corner on the edge willing to support the run and has nine interceptions over the last two seasons, including two he returned for touchdowns. Both are in their mid-20s with conceivably four more years of their prime football ahead of them; however, there is a salary cap and many other needs to address on the roster. Those two factors will determine whether or not one or both will be future Seahawks.
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