Because I did do a little lobbying for Alan Branch I thought I'd talk about it a little bit now that he's been signed by the Seahawks (agreement in principle anyway). As I said before, I think Branch provides good, competent depth on the defensive line and he can do so at several spots. He was drafted 33rd overall in 2007 out of MIchigan to play the nose tackle position for Arizona but didn't live up to expectations there. He was moved to defensive end last season and had some success but ultimately only started three games. He logged 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, and incidentally those two sacks came against the Seahawks.
I admit I haven't done extensive scouting of Branch but what I have watched in several games I've liked. He's not going to be a guy that gets to the quarterback a lot but he's a huge, hulking beast of a man at 6'6, 338 that has a lot of experience in two-gap schemes. He's athletic enough, at his size, to play on the outside, and that is what initially made him look like a great 5-tech candidate for the Seahawks.
As I pointed out in earlier posts, the Seahawks run a two-gapping 4-3 Under - a defense that has a lot of similarities to a 3-4. This is something that Carroll avoided mostly at USC but has now put in place with the Seahawks and is something he picked up from his days in San Francisco. We saw it achieve a level of success through the first month or two last season but then injuries in key positions began to pile up.
When Red Bryant and Colin Cole went down in 2010, Pete tried to stick with the 2-gap principles he had been using with this starting players. Unfortunately the replacement players in Kentwan Balmer, Junior Siavii, and a few others weren't as effective in that system. Later in the season the Hawks switched to a more traditional 4-3 system with Raheem Brock manning the strongside defensive end position where Red Bryant started the year. Brock was more effective there with pass-rushing responsibility and the Hawks had a little better time with it. Stopping the run became less of a goal for that position though and the Hawks defense wasn't as dominant in that arena.
I don't think, and this signing seems to indicate, that the Seahawks want to go back to the more traditional 4-3. I think they liked what they saw from Red Bryant at the strongside defensive end position, and aim to continue using an unorthodox tackle-sized large man on the strongside to two-gap and stop the run. Alan Branch is one huge insurance policy for Red Bryant's knee and in all honesty will probably end up playing in a rotation on the line with Siavii, Bryant, and Colin Cole (if Cole gets healthy).
Carroll likes to use a rotation on the defensive line and I see no problem with it. It keeps legs fresh and players healthy, in theory. It gives the offense different looks and it gives you options in personnel. Overall I'm pretty excited with the signing, though it shouldn't be mistaken with a blockbuster deal. Rather, it's a good, solid depth addition and if we're lucky Branch's potential will blossom into results that you'd expect from the (essentially) first round pick that he was.
Yahoo Sports and SportsPressNW's Doug Farrar seemed to be pleased with the signing as well, noting on his twitter account, "Alan Branch - good fit in Seattle's fronts. They want bigger bodies and he was effective in rotation. 30 Stops/10 Defeats. Hits & hurries (quoting Football Outsiders' statistics)." He continued, "Branch can spot for Colin Cole if need be, play Red Bryant's 5-tech role."
Branch's physical similarities to Red Bryant are what initially had me on his bandwagon. Branch is 6'6, 338 to Bryant's 6'4, 323. Both are surprisingly agile for their size and both are two-gap specialists coming from playing on the interior line. We saw the struggles that Seattle's line had when Red Bryant got injured last year -- and I'm not one to put all the blame on that isolated incident, I think it had a lot to do with Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane getting hurt at basically the same time as well -- but with this signing, Seattle may be looking to avoid putting all their eggs in the Red Bryant basket. Either way, I like the move.
I don't want to overstate or oversell this signing though. It's like I said - good, solid depth on the line. A guy that can be plugged in at multiple positions. He's on a two-year deal so will have to find some sort of motivation to up his game and earn a long-term deal. If Pete Carroll can get through to him and he plays like I saw him play against the Seahawks last year with any consistency, then this is a great, great signing. He was an All-American in college at Michigan playing the tackle and defensive end position and if he can get a fire lit under his ass good things could happen. If not, - well, it's still a decent pickup, and won't hurt the depth we so badly need on the line. So that's how I see it.
Welcome to Seattle, Alan. You're going to love the Twelves.