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Bumpus: Why I trust Ken Norton to get the Seahawks’ defense right

Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton's 2019 defense was one of the NFL's worst. (Getty)

The Seahawks’ defense in 2019 was one of the worst in the league in basically every facet aside from getting takeaways. They struggled to stop the run, stop the pass and get after the quarterback. Whether that can change for 2020 or not is arguably the biggest question Seattle faces.

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Seattle’s defense has been on the decline the last few years, and it culminated in a poor showing in 2019. With those struggles on everyone’s minds, a question to be asked is whether or not defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will be able to help that unit improve for 2020, especially as the Seahawks’ offense looks primed for another big year.

Former NFL receiver Michael Bumpus on Friday’s edition of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant was asked whether he thought Norton is capable of improving the defense.

“I am confident,” Bumpus said of Norton’s ability to lead the defense in 2020. “I always think guys are going to correct themselves, right? Because football is based off of correcting and Ken Norton has been around for a long time. He’s seen a lot of football games.”

After a 13-year NFL career where he was a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time First Team All-Pro, Norton got into coaching. He was on Pete Carroll’s staff at USC as linebackers coach and later as assistant head coach and made the jump to the NFL when Carroll took over the Seahawks in 2010. He stayed on as linebackers coach through 2014, when he was named defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders. He was fired after 2017 and became Seattle’s defensive play caller starting in 2018.

Norton’s defenses in Oakland weren’t very good, and after fielding a solid defense in 2018, the Seahawks struggled mightily in 2019. One issue was against the pass. Despite being lit up repeatedly in the passing game, the Seahawks used a base defense with three linebackers nearly 70% of the time rather than implementing more nickel packages with a fifth defensive back. Bumpus thinks that should change for next year.

“I know he’s looking at this defense, they had to stay in base a lot, I believe it’s because they didn’t believe in their personnel,” he said.
I think he is going to do his research, he’s going to get that nickel package out there a lot more, he’s going to dial up some blitzes and change the game plan. I believe in Ken Norton. I believe in the full Seahawks staff at this point. It’s all about correcting, making adjustments, and I believe Ken Norton is going to get it done.”

And while Bumpus expects more nickel in 2020, he does think that Seattle will use more base defense than usual in 2020, especially after the most recent draft, when the Seahawks selected linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the first round. Brooks now joins a linebacker group of All-Pro Bobby Wagner, former Pro Bowler K.J. Wright and talented young player Cody Barton.

“If you look at what they’ve done and the linebacker core that they do have, it suggests that base defense is what they want to do,” Bumpus said. “When you’re in base defense (nearly 70%) of the time, it makes you believe that they feel like their personnel fits that, and then you go and get a linebacker (in the first round), so it makes you think OK, they’re loading up for this base defense.”

But even with a talented linebacker group, Bumpus doesn’t think Seattle will be “stubborn enough to not adjust,” which some thought they were last season. He also doesn’t think the defense is that far off from helping the team get more wins.

“If that defense gets one or two more stops in each and every game, they win one or two more games,” Bumpus said. “And when (Falcons backup quarterback) Matt Schaub is tearing you up for 400-plus yards because you’re staying in the base, when (ex-Buccaneers quarterback) Jameis Winston almost beats you, I look at these games and I’m like ‘OK, they’re going to do something different, right?'”

But if we do indeed see another season with around 70% of plays coming from base defense, Bumpus said it simply needs to be better.

“At the end of the day, though, you have to stick with what you believe in. If they believe in that base defense, they better coach that base defense up to where it can handle any situation,” he said.

If there is more nickel packages, Bumpus is confident in players in the secondary.

“Me, I’m throwing in the nickel, I’m letting (2019 rookie defensive back) Ugo (Amadi) cook a little bit, I’m getting (2019 rookie safety Marquise) Blair in the situation, if (offseason trade acquisition Quinton) Dunbar is healthy, we’re doing that,” Bumpus said. “I mean, have guys in the secondary you can put in spots to play in that nickel defense.”

Listen to the third hour of Friday’s Danny and Gallant at this link or in the player below.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Michael Bumpus on Twitter.

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