Even the most blitz-heavy schemes in the NFL rely on their front four to generate pressure on nearly half of all snaps. Most teams are above or well above 50%. In 2008 the Jets rushed four on fewer snaps than any other team, but still rushed four on 44.8% of all snaps*. The Jets ranked first in rushing three, rushing three on 24.1% of all snaps. When a team does blitz, the blitzing players supplement part or all of the front four. No matter the scheme, no matter if a team has a designated pass-rushing linebacker, a stand up end or a typical right defensive end, all teams are reliant on roughly a third of their starting defense to provide most of their pass rush.
Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley pattern their defense after Monte Kiffin. Kiffin-inspired defenses typically range towards the extreme, rushing four on 70%+ of snaps. In his last season in the league, Kiffin's Bucs rushed three or four pass rushers on 79% of all snaps. When they blitzed, they mostly rushed five, and plays with three, four or five pass rushers accounted for 94.5% of all snaps.
So it's obvious how a Kiffin-inspired defense fails. Rod Marinelli can attest, without the horses on the line to generate pass rush, the pass defense crumbles, and with it, the entire defense.
Seattle's attempt to reinvent the wheel, fuse disparate styles and seemingly contradictory concepts created the curious mishmash known as the "West Coast Defense." It was a total failure. Seattle started a situational run stopper at defensive tackle and a defensive tackle at starting defensive end. Was there any doubt that Patrick Kerney-Colin Cole-Brandon Mebane-Cory Redding would struggle to generate pressure?
Is there any doubt that Chris Clemons-Colin Cole-Brandon Mebane-Lawrence Jackson will likewise struggle?
Last Season: N/A
Competing for a roster spot: Chris Clemons, Ricky Foley, Dexter Davis, Nick Reed
The stand up end is the major difference between the 2009 Seahawks defense and the 2010 Seahawks defense. With line coach Dan Quinn again flirting with playing a tackle at end, it's a vital position and one that must shoulder much of the Seahawks pass rush. On the plus side, Clemons, Foley and Davis are all probably faster and more agile than Darryl Tapp. On the negative side, good grief. It would seemingly take an accident of fortune for this to not be a total mess. Rome wasn't built in a day, and I am happy the Seahawks offense finally received a boost of young talent, but I still can't wrap my head around how this defense will work or even how it is supposed to work.
Clemons is the starter, but otherwise, I see no clear favorite.
Last season: 5
Possible starters: Brandon Mebane, Colin Cole, Kevin Vickerson
Vickerson is listed at 321 on the official site and when Seattle hosted Tennessee last season, Vickerson started alongside committed under tackle Jovan Haye. That's a long form way of writing, I think he might challenge Cole for snaps. It's not hard to improve on Cole, but don't count on Vickerson. There's nothing in his profile to suggest he will be any better than the pass rushing black hole named Colin Cole. A long time ago, Granger was a prospect. Sad as it is, he is Seattle's best hope to improve significantly upon Cole. He's worth watching in the preseason, but I wouldn't get my hopes up. Among the above, Mebane is a starter in the NFL. Bryant is a starter-level talent. And that's it. This unit sucks.
Last season: 2
Competing for a roster spot: E.J. Wilson, Robert Henderson, Rob Rose
Jackson is not a great pass rusher, and by the sounds of it, Carroll wants him to add weight and become more of a run stopper. That frustrates me. He's not an edge rusher really, and it's unlikely he explodes for double digit sacks, but at his best, he can rush, hold the point and disrupt. Jackson's problem is not how he's been played but how he himself has played. He quit snaps as a rookie. He faded after a hot start in 2009. But he's 24. Jackson has the talent to be a capable starting left defensive end, if he wants it and if he's allowed.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, that doesn't seem to be the plan. If Jackson starts, it will be a bulked up and slower Jackson. If not, he will cede snaps to one of Wilson, Henderson, Rose or Bryant. Among those, Wilson probably has the best pass rush potential. He could maybe duplicate Redding's impact.