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Seahawks’ Pete Carroll dives deep into team’s defense ahead of 2020

Seahawks HC Pete Carroll has made it clear that the pass rush needs to improve for 2020. (AP)

The Seahawks’ defense was disappointing in 2019, especially to head coach Pete Carroll, who comes from a defensive background.

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If not for ranking third in the NFL in both turnovers forced as well as turnover differential, the Seattle defense may have sunk the Seahawks even more so than it may have already.

The Seahawks ranked near the bottom in most defensive categories, such as total yards allowed, passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed and sacks. The low sack number (28) was just one example of the lack of a pass rush the team had all season long.

That pass rush will need to be the biggest area of improvement on defense, perhaps on the whole team, for 2020. Making it harder is five of Seattle’s defensive linemen are free agents, including dfeensive end Jadeveon Clowney and defensive tackle Jarran Reed.

Carroll, who is in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, sat down with 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton and offered his thoughts on the team’s defense. Unsurprisingly, Carroll led off talking about the team’s pass rush woes

“That’s definitely the focal point and it has to be,” Carroll told Clayton. “That’s why the work being done now early is crucial and (Seahawks general manager John Schneider) is on it and is going to take us as far as he can. We’re very open to the other opportunities that are out there and we’re on everything … it’s a really grueling, busy time for (the front office). They are busting (their tails) to get started just to get the combine underway.”

Along with bringing players back for 2020 and beyond, there are also some intriguing veteran pass rushers on the open market, such as Everson Griffen, who played for Carroll collegiately at USC, as well as Super Bowl standout Chris Jones. Carroll said the Seahawks have their eyes on some of those veterans.

“There’s a pretty good group of guys and it’s going to be pretty interesting to see how that all comes down,” he said. “There’s a half-dozen guys that we’re looking at for sure that have been effective and put up some numbers and could add to our club and could help us, so we just have to see how it sorts out.”

Not all pass rush options are guys needing to be re-signed or who are free agents from other teams. The team has two young defensive ends who are recent draft picks that could be a big help going forward.

One of those is Rasheem Green, a 2018 third-round pick who just finished his second year. Green led the Seahawks in sacks with four after struggling his rookie season to get on the field and make an impact.

“Rasheem had a fantastic season in his second year,” Carroll said. “He really helped us in a number of different ways, made a lot of big plays, really showed tremendous growth, which really leads us to talking about L.J.”

L.J., of course, would be 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier. Collier was the 29th overall pick and injured his ankle in training camp. After missing essentially all offseason work and preseason games, he struggled to get up to speed. He made three tackles in just over 150 snaps and was a healthy scratch at times.

“L.J. got off to a nasty start with the ankle injury that he had,” Carroll said. “It took him a while to get going. He was behind throughout most of camp and a hard part of camp when he could have shown his development and given everybody the confidence in himself and (show) he was ready.”

If Green can bounce back from a rough rookie season, Carroll thinks Collier can as well.

“If he comes roaring back like Rasheem did, then we get another really good ballplayer to add to the mix,” he said.

Base vs. Nickel

Something the Seahawks did more than any team in the NFL in 2019 was play base defense with three linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties. In today’s “pass happy” league, many teams play nickel defense with five defensive backs to combat three-receiver sets. Even though the Seahawks struggled mightily against the pass overall, Carroll said playing base defense was effective.

“The numbers worked out pretty well, John,” Carroll told Clayton. “The numbers worked out well versus the three-wide receivers stuff. It was the best we’ve had in a number of years. But it forced our opponents out of that and away from it some and you saw we didn’t play as well against the other stuff. We’re disappointed we weren’t able to hold up as well as we would like to.”

The Seahawks likely have their two starting outside cornerbacks back in Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers, but the nickel corner spot, as well as if the team will lean towards playing more nickel in 2020, is more of a question mark for a few reasons.

“Remember that (linebacker) Mychal Kendricks was really an extraordinary player (when we ran base defense),” Carroll said. “If Mychal comes back (both in free agency and from an ACL tear), he’s rearing to go and puts himself back in that spot, then he gives us that flexibility. We will certainly use that some, as it was effective for us, but it depends on the guys.”

The leader in the clubhouse for that role is 2019 rookie Ugo Amadi. He played mostly special teams his rookie campaign, but ended up playing more defense out of the nickel as the season went on. That doesn’t mean the job will just be handed to him, however.

“Ugo Amadi played well at the nickel spot last year,” Carroll said. “He did a good job late in the year. We need to see him in camp and in all aspects of it. He did not have to play a lot of early down stuff in nickel because we played base, so that’s yet to be determined. As we go, there will be a couple other guys we have in mind at this point from our roster who will compete there, too, yo give us different style of players there.”

Carroll also spoke to Clayton about defending mobile quarterbacks, signing veteran tight end Greg Olsen and more. Listen to the full interview air at 11 a.m. on 710 ESPN Seattle with John Clayton.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Twitter.

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