Some talents are undeniable, while others need the right fit to fulfill their potential.
I just scrapped a lengthy counterpoint to my Marshawn Lynch post because I recognized the argument was becoming strained and illogical.
I just scrapped a look at the 49ers and their future, because who the hell cares.
So I'm starting over with something I meant to do this week, but I guess needed to take a wandering path to reach: progress reports on players, coaches and off-season moves. These should be comparatively easy to write, so let's dive right in.
It was not a sure thing that Bryant would excel as a run defender. He still isn't a great leverage player, and though we can look at his skills and talent profile and understand why he would work as a 3-4 end type, that does not mean he would.
Well he has. Bryant has probably been the MVP of the front four. He is playing with better quickness off the snap, a natural development given his increase in playing time. Concerns about leverage have proven unfounded, as he has held ground or created push against tackle and guard, and guard-tackle and tackle-tight end double teams. Bryant has made some plays in run D, set the edge for Curry and Milloy on blitzes, and even, and definitely most surprisingly, proven to be a solid pass rusher himself. That final part was the big wager. It's not surprising that a defensive tackle can stuff the run playing a pass rush position, but Bryant's quickness and agility in the open field have made him more than just a run stuffer and a component to blitzes. Bryant is a weapon in his own right as a pass rusher.
Cole is stuffing the run, controlling either side of center, and though he doesn't pass rush pretty much at all, and though he needs another defensive lineman to keep double teams from pushing him into next week, in the modest role he's been assigned, Cole is stuffing the run, controlling either side of center, and doing so effectively.
Mebane has good technique, but his tools are at best so-so for an interior lineman. You want a bigger frame, taller, or quicker and more agile, and though Mebane is a little big, a little agile and a little quick, he is not someone you expect to break out. Under tackle is a little more friendly to his talent than three tech. He's playing on Seattle's speed side and he helps the Leo and the Leo helps him, and Seattle's been pretty disruptive overall. I actually think that Seattle is executing the defense it wants, but the offense has not stepped up and proven able to exert much pressure on the scoreboard.
However, though Mebane is playing pretty well, and though Mebane is playing in a capacity that better fits his ability than the one he was assigned last season, Mebane still isn't playing at the level he established from 2007 to 2008. He is attacking at angles more and he's stumbling, being tripped, being pancaked and losing ball carriers in space more because of it. Mebane isn't Kevin Williams. He isn't Ndamukong Suh, and he therefore isn't a "playmaker" in the traditional sense. He's best working through blockers and closing from a straight line, and this year, he's stunting, edge rushing when the Leo drops out, and angling from the blindside, and it's exposed some of his limitations.
Mebane is still the only interior lineman Seattle has that can consistently withstand a double team.
Clemons has not only posted some gaudy counting stats, he has four sacks through four games, he has stayed healthy. The latter is remarkable. The former, less so. On virtually every down, Clemons is pinning his ears back and attacking, and so, through sheer force of attempts, he will get sacks. He will get pressure. Which is fine, because that's his job.
Clemons has not helped Seattle much between the pressure. He doesn't hold ground against the run. He doesn't defend against screen passes. He contributes some tackling against the run, but not a ton.
Right now, I look at Clemons as someone still very much defining himself. He's playing very well, especially for a trade throw in, and against weaker competition like the Bears, he could feast, but is Clemons someone that will explode against bad offensive tackles and harebrained schemes and disappear against better offensive tackles and smarter coordinators? Is there value in that? Certainly some, but I still find myself uneasy about the situation.
That said, through four games, Clemons has been a very good pass rusher and a very important part of the Seahawks defense.
Balmer is a funny profile. He moves pretty well, has pretty good closing burst, can edge rush when a blitz demands, can move around in traffic okay, but the meat and potatoes stuff you need from a defensive tackle, Balmer doesn't have. He doesn't stuff the pile. He doesn't plug the run. He isn't very disruptive, which is a shame considering all that I just wrote about his agility and burst. I can not think of a time he's really shown up, fought through a blocker and influenced a play, except on long plays when blocking begins to break down. Balmer tends to run himself out of plays getting cute and that can be deadly when done by an interior defensive lineman.
His potential is interesting and I almost expect Carroll and Quinn to eventually challenge Balmer to push Mebane for playing time, but I think it would be a fatal mistake right now. Mebane may be off his game but someone has to be able to stop the weak side from splintering open every other down, and I don't think Balmer is that player yet.
Siavii hasn't played end like I anticipated. He has played tackle and been, well, good enough to not be noticed and bad enough to not stand out. He seems lost in the pile a lot. Not a real leverage player, though he holds ground about as well as anyone besides Bryant and Bane. Certainly not a play maker; Siavii doesn't shoot gaps, doesn't move well in space and isn't proficient as a hand fighter. He's fodder, more or less. Someone that keeps Seattle's depth and rotational depth a bit above replacement level, but someone not too markedly different from Howard Green or his ilk.
Brock has been a pleasant surprise. He looks leaner than I remember, and he has, on a snap by snap basis, been about as successful as Clemons. He's quick, aware, fights hard, isn't much of a run defender but a designated pass rusher, which is what the Leo is anyway, and he's done pretty well in that capacity. Perhaps the best thing I can say about Brock, about almost any backup, is that I do not think Seattle would suffer too much if Brock had to start instead of Clemons.
Maybe that's the genius of the Leo position.
Davis has played some nickel end, some end, and has played pretty well in limited capacity. He's a nice mix of quick and stocky, and that seems to confound some offensive tackles, but he hasn't shown much as a pure edge rusher and I'm not sure if that's something he'll ever be. He influences the tackle, but he doesn't separate and make plays like a good pass rusher must. Like a lot of Seattle's end, Davis is probably best utilized as a component to a blitz, instead of as someone that can generate pressure on his own.
Overall, the line has played pretty well. Bryant and the strong side are impossible to run against, as envisioned, and Bryant, Aaron Curry and especially Lawyer Milloy have created pressure individually and in tandem. The weak side is disruptive and only the Broncos have exploited the built in liabilities.
There are some unresolved questions. Can Cole succeed without Mebane forcing doubles teams? Will exposure lead to vanishing returns from the Seahawks Leo ends? Does the Leo concept and the stifling strong side run defense each, individually, work against certain weaker teams or less adaptive coaches, but fail to give Seattle a weapon against better teams? What is the future of Mebane and the Seahawks under tackle, and is Balmer a legitimate replacement?
But there's also some stuff we can be pretty sure of. Bryant has taken to end, and as long as Seattle values a massive run stuffing strong side end, it has a heck of a talent to fill that need. Mebane is still among the best players on this team, and if he's traded some sacks and stuffs for disruption and influence, he still makes those around him better. Clemons is nothing if not a talented pass rusher, and right now, teams have not figured out a counter. Cole can disengage from a single block and tackle runners in space, and as long as he's facing single blocks, teams will struggle to run up the middle.
Perfunctory grade: B
Which starting defensive lineman has been best in 2010?
Red Bryant (463 votes)
Colin Cole (74 votes)
Brandon Mebane (113 votes)
Chris Clemons (214 votes)
864 total votes