The Leo Experiment

I am still not convinced that Seattle ever intended for Chris Clemons to be a starter. And, in a way, it's sad that Clemons has become the test of whether the Leo concept can work. It's not that Clemons is bad, necessarily, though we shall see how he reacts to being a starter; it's that Clemons has a lengthy history of injuries and backing up Clemons, Dexter Davis, is a very different type of player. There really is not another Chris Clemons on this roster.

Fundamentally, there is something very cool about moving a balanced end like Darryl Tapp for a pass rush specialist. It's an unspoken acknowledgment that passing rules the modern NFL. On the whole, Clemons does not have to be better than Tapp to be more valuable than Tapp. If he is a better pass rusher, and Seattle is able to scheme around some of his weaknesses as a run stopper, the trade off could be more than worth it.

Building a team better able to stop the pass is something I have advocated for years. Last season, I stumped for a Darryl Tapp - Brandon Mebane - Cory Redding - Lawrence Jackson front four. It wasn't the most massive line possible, and maybe that would cost Seattle against the run, but it would have been disruptive.

Clemons is supposed to be disruptive. Without the aid of a blitz, he is among the only Seahawks that can or will be. If he falters or is injured, Seattle does not have another true Leo to replace him with. That puts Seattle's pass defense in peril of total collapse. Mebane isn't enough, and Colin Cole and Red Bryant are both well below average pass rushers for their positions. Davis is a great get for a seventh round pick, but his week four preseason showing against the Raiders starting offensive line, in which he had 4.5 tackles, but no sacks, quarterback hits and no hurries that I can recall, is par for the course for the rookie.

The best pass rushes in the league generate rush from multiple positions. The Vikings accomplished it through exceptional talent in their front seven. The Steelers, Dolphins, 49ers, Eagles, Cardinals, Cowboys and Browns accomplished it through blitzing. There was no standout pass rusher on the Dolphins, 49ers, Cardinals or Browns, but there were Cameron Wakes, Parys Haralsons and Chike Okeafors. There was pass rush potential from almost anywhere.The only team in the top ten that was dependent on one player to provide most of their rush was the Broncos.

Maybe Seattle thinks it's found its Elvis Dumervil in Clemons. Dumervil started his career as a pass rush specialist, but proved so good at it, he became a starter. He had been healthy before a pectoral tear landed him on IR. He had been healthy, and now the Broncos are royally screwed without him. Clemons is like a lesser Dumervil, with a lengthier and more persistent injury history, that is older and less accomplished. The Leo experiment is good insomuch that it aims to defend the pass, but it's bad insomuch that it depends so much on one player to make it work. It's a justifiable concept executed in a terrifically precarious manner. I respect that Seattle is attempting to build a better pass rush and willing to sacrifice some run stopping in the endeavor, but a Leo isn't enough, and relying on Clemons, well, I guess there's a reason they call him Big Balls Pete.

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