Assessing the Seahawks' Roster: Linebackers

I've brought you a series of posts where I break down each positional group on the Seattle Seahawks and try to give you an idea of some possible moves that could be made there. The linebacking corps is one that has been very strong historically for the Seahawks, or at least in the last 5-10 years anyway, and barring any injuries in 2011, should remain relatively strong. That said, the depth there is tenuous at best and will need to be addressed through free agency or trades. 

The Seahawks drafted two linebackers in this year's Draft in K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith. They'll likely join Aaron Curry, David Hawthorne, and Lofa Tatupu on the 53-man roster (though Malcolm Smith is probably a bubble player). Matt McCoy, Will Herring, and Leroy Hill are all free agents and their future with the team is up in the air. The Seahawks also have Anthony Heygood and Joe Pawelek on their roster at the moment. 

Let's run through it.

On the Roster:
Lofa Tatupu
David Hawthorne
Aaron Curry
KJ Wright
Malcolm Smith
Joe Pawelek
Anthony Heygood

Possible Free Agent Targets:
Paul Posluzny
James Anderson
Stephen Tulloch
Rocky McIntosh

UDFA Targets:
Jeff Tarpinian
Mario Harvey
Michael Morgan
Alex Wujciak
Adrian Moten

The Lowdown:

Tatupu, Curry, and Hawthorne are basically the locks to start at MLB, SLB, and WLB, respectively. KJ Wright will probably get some snaps at SLB and WLB in certain sets. Malcolm Smith, if he makes the roster, projects as a WLB and could see some snaps in the Seahawks anti-pass Bandit package. Anthony Heygood and Joe Pawelek are virtual unknowns and frankly I don't know what odds they have of making the team. 

There is an interesting, albeit small group of linebackers that will be available once free agency hits. Steven Tulloch and Paul Posluzny are the two most intriguing to me as I believe we could use some help at the middle linebacker position in case Lofa Tatupu gets hurt this season. We've seen David Hawthorne take over for Lofa at that spot in the past but it seems that he's best suited to the weakside role so I'd like to see him stay there. Tulloch is an ILB with a nose for the football. He is still young and was quite effective for the Titans in 2010 but they drafted two linebackers this year so his return is up in the air. Might be worth a look. Posluzny is a very solid, instinctual inside linebacker. He is currently a restricted free agent but if new rules are in place with the new CBA, he could become unrestricted. In that case, he might be worth a look as well. 

I think in general, the linebacking spot is thin for the Seahawks so I wouldn't be surprised at all to see several UDFAs invited to camp. Among those, I think that Jeff Tarpinian, Michael Morgan, and Mario Harvey might be the best candidates for the Seahawks' roster. 

I wrote this earlier, but to recap, Tarpinian is a slightly undersized yet athletic inside linebacker. He fits into the Carroll defensive mold because of his speed and agility though, so could be an option. At 6'2, 235, he ran the forty in the 4.5 range but his most impressive numbers would be on his 4.10 short shuttle and 10-5 broad jump. The 4.10 short shuttle is pretty impressive and would have come in as the 5th best at the Combine had he been invited. This type of agility and change of direction speed, combined with the fact he's an explosive hitter that's effective in run defense makes him an attractive target. He's good enough to hang with tight ends in coverage and may be a good fit in the Hawks' defense that requires the Mike linebacker to cover the middle third of the field in some situations (Tampa-2). He's a former QB that was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Nebraska in high school, so taking his signal calling and playmaking abilities to the defensive side was a natural process.

Mario Harvey, nicknamed "Thumper" due to his big hits, was a Butkus Award semi-finalist and the only non BCS linebacker to be represented there. He averaged 11.9 tackles per game and had 143 total tackles (65 solo), 17.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in his senior season. At his pro day, he ran a ridiculous 4.42 forty and had a 32" vert, a 9'5" broad jump and put up 27 reps on the bench. The Hawks want to get younger, faster and more physical and Harvey fits that bill with his athleticism and tenacity.

At 6'3, 225, USC's Michael Morgan is a speed linebacker, that, according to Sideline Scouting, "Is a very quick defender, uses small frame to outmaneuver blockers and sneak through small gaps to get to the ball carrier. Fairly versatile coming off the end of the line, can speed rush off the edge, and takes good, flat angles to cut off ball carriers at the line of scrimmage. Excellent change-of-direction ability, breaks down well and can make quick cuts to mirror offensive players. Surprisingly good at shooting gaps in pass-rushing situations, is not limited to blitzing outside. Displays good speed, plays faster than timed speed. Could make an immediate impact as a special teams performer at the next level, displays quickness to block punts and speed to get down field in kick coverage."

I write that verbatim because that sounds so much like a Pete Carroll/John Schneider type of guy. Rangy, versatile guy that can use his athleticism to do whatever's asked of him. When it refers to his ability to play faster than his timed speed, that's pretty damn impressive considering he was timed at 4.46 in the forty at his Pro Day. He's very strong as well, as he put up 225 27 times. His main knock is that he's undersized for the position and lacks the frame to be an every down player in the NFL. He also has lower production from his career at USC but all in all I wouldn't be surprised to see this guy's name come up down the road. Tampa-2 players tend to be smaller and quicker and we've all seen what JS/PC are doing with the Bandit package so Morgan could be in play. 

Conclusion:

The Hawks simply have to get some depth behind Tatupu. His age and injury history don't indicate he'll be able to play 16 games this season, though that's not out of the question. If he does get hurt, they'll need Heater to move to MLB, and then someone will have to take over at the WLB spot. Will it be Malcolm Smith? KJ Wright? Both? If I'm the Hawks I'd think about signing a free agent for depth but the problem there is that of the quality FAs I just listed, they'll all be likely looking for a starting position on a new team and the Hawks already appear to be set with starters. If a quality free agent is not an option, I'd sign one or all of the UDFAs I described above. All are versatile and athletic - and with some coaching could play a part in Pete Carroll's defensive scheme. Finally, I'd re-sign Leroy Hill. He'd be a more than capable weakside linebacker that could fill in for Heater or be ready if Lofa goes down (he'd come in at WLB and bump Hawthorne over to MLB). Hill has been working out with the team this summer and would be a solid veteran backup at worse. At best, he could even win back his starting role and revive a career that's been derailed due to injury and trouble with the law. 

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