This is the fourth in a series of posts designed to build on Davis' theory of the Green Bay Roster Model and its concepts therein. In this theory, there will be a roster churn every year, averaging about 13 players a year. This series expands on those hypothetical concepts and asks, where will the churn hit?
In my first three installments one , two and three, I talked about the wide receivers, the offensive line and defensive line, respectively. I want to talk about linebackers in this edition. In my previous article (three), I talked about the Seahawks 4-3 Over defense from this season, and here is a nice 4-3 Tech chart for those who still don't have it memorized. The main point about the Over from this season is that the linebackers often shift to the strong side. This means that the Sam is usually on the line of scrimmage, the Mike and Will at traditional depth, often gives a look of a 5-2. Its a very subtle, but very important, difference from a 3-4 with both outside linebackers playing up.
I say all of this because the play of the linebackers in our defense can easily be understated. The defensive line often receives the lions' share of praise for run stopping abilities, because in essence the defense is set up to deny the run, but that does not mean linebackers are throwaway positions here.
The line is indeed key in stopping the inside run, and forcing runners to attempt to bounce the ball outside, but this is one aspect where our linebackers were inadequate, especially against shiftier and faster backs. Our linebackers simply did not have the speed needed to contain the shiftier backs on the edges.
Another flaw was that as often as our linebackers were called on to blitz as a whole we did not get enough pressure on the QB through sacks and QB hits. Though this is often attributed to scheme or lack of a quality 3-tech, I believe that it is actually inefficient linebacker blitzes.
I came to this conclusion because our secondary blitzes used so heavily in 2010 were nullified by keeping Earl Thomas in center field most of the year and rarely calling on Kam Chancellor, Atari Bigby, Roy Lewis and Kennard Cox. This meant that the majority of the blitzes were called for linebackers. The Seahawks got nine sacks from the linebackers out of approximately 364 (league average) blitzes. That means linebackers got a sack once every 40.4 blitzes, QB hits from the linebacker position were equally dismal.
Linebackers were also an Achilles' heal in 3rd down coverage, having mediocre success against tight ends and being completely destroyed by running backs, and often those completions to tight ends and running backs were on third down, extending drives.
All of that being said, its easier to hide mediocre linebackers on this team, so losing anyone besides Wright wouldn't hurt too much. With several free agents this year we have expect the possibility of a big shake up in the linebacker corps. Lets look at who is staying who is likely gone and who is on the bubble.
K.J. Wright- I have been KJ wrights biggest detractor this year, but don't let that fool you, he has top level talent, and with a few more pounds could ease into the Brian Urlacher prototypical MLB type role. He gained valuable insights while playing outside linebacker this year, but he studied both inside and outside all year. As an outside linebacker he is a tad slow (4.75), and had his issues in coverage, especially play action, he was a weak point on the defense, something not too uncommon for a rookie.
His coaches praised him on how quickly he learns and how he rarely makes the same mistake twice. That is what you want out of a top talent and something that was missing from Aaron Curry. As an inside linebacker his speed is above average and only slightly slower than Tatupu (4.65) He is strong and a heavy hitter, he would bring a quick mind and good range at a level not seen since Tats legs started going. Barring injury, K.J. is looking at at least three more years as a starting linebacker for the Hawks.
David Hawthorne – Has played well in replacing Tatupu in the middle, but he was slowed with a leg injury, it showed. Hawthorne was slow all year and though he played about average for the position, he is slightly undersized at 6" and 248. Being a couple inches short and a few pounds light hasn't stopped Hawthorne from seizing every second of playing time, that might come to a close in 2012 - free agency and injuries could usher him out the door, and with KJ wright being flexible and talented, the Hawks can draft any LB position and know they have a spot for him.
Pete saying he wants to get faster at linebacker could surely spell doom for Hawthorne since his replacement is either already on the team, or just a draft pick away. I believe he will get an offer from the Hawks, but one he doesn't like and will hit the market. At only 26 years old he should get a few suitors for his talents though.
Leroy Hill- Leroy was part of a very talented trio, often considered the most talented by fellow players, that is until drug-related and domestic abuse cases started deteriorating his focus. He was completely out of football in 2010 (on I.R), and having played most of his pro career at Sam, was moved to Will in 2011. In my opinion, he could be considered our best linebacker, though all three are very close talent-wise at the moment. Hill was our top linebacker in both sacks and QB hits and racked up 89 tackles, showing his versatility.
Hill looked focused and almost relieved to be back on the football field this year. As a free agent he could be back next year, or hit the market. Hill is in the same boat as Heater and will probably get a low-ball offer. At 29 though, the days of him getting franchise money are gone, but he should have several suitors for this versatile sledgehammer. He showed this year he could be willing to take small money to stay with Seattle though.
David Vobora- Vobora had a promising start to his NFL career earning a starting spot in 2009 for the Rams, but by late September he was sitting at home due to NFL's substance abuse violation. Vobora then sued and won a settlement of $5.4 million, bounced around and landed here, where I think he has a promising future both as a special teams ace but possibly working his way up to challenge for a starting spot. At 25 he, should just about be hitting his peak, and considering how cheap we signed him for, we could lock him up into a couple of year deal. He is cheap and effective, the kinda guys JSPC love.
Heath Farwell- Was brought in mostly for his special teams talent, he plays at 235, very light for a linebacker, and being 30 doesn't help his cause. If anything, he might get a nod as a special teamer - that is his role - and thinking about him on the defensive side of the ball is probably a fantasy. Considering his age and how well Vobora played, expect Farwell to be cut, and kept on speed dial.
Malcolm Smith- is another smaller linebacker used mostly on special teams. He does pop in the game every now and then, but mostly received playing time more because of lack of depth than for actual talent. That being said, he should have one final chance next year, make it or break it time. Signed through 2015, but non-guaranteed money and cheap at that.
Mike Morgan- made the team as an emergency stopgap at only 226 pounds he doesn't have the meat to take an every down beating and was most likely brought up by former USC coach Carroll as nothing but a stop-gap.
Adrian Moten- made a few special teams plays for the Colts then was cut for disciplinary reasons, picked up as emergency stop-gap when injuries occurred, would be surprised if he is even invited to camp.
Jameson Konz - there is something about Jemeson Konz that makes Pete drool, and as a result he has the kid playing TE, DE and OLB just to keep him around. Unfortunately, Konz is all raw athleticism (6-4 235, 46 inch vert, 4.38 40). Konz will be in camp, and could be the genetic freak we need at Will. Did I mention this guy has almost 4 feet of vertical? He has something to prove when he gets there, though its hard to say how much leash he has.(contract details unknown)
Matt McCoy was a big part of our 3rd down packages and when he went down it hurt us. At almost 30 though, McCoy could be looking at a churn, as fresh faces come in. He is smaller and lighter 6', 230 more like a linebacker/safety hybrid, so special teams and third downs seem to be his calling. He might make it another year or two before the churn catches up.
Will make the team: Wright, Konz, Smith, Vabora
Free agency bubble: Hill, Hawthorne, McCoy
Performance/Age bubble: Farwell
Will be gone: Morgan, Moten
So far it looks like PCJS have a preference for smaller faster linebackers, Wright being the exception, because almost every LB pick up is smaller and faster. The Hawks would love to pick up a proto-typical OLB though with size, speed, power and a good grasp of the game. If there is one available come draft time, I dont think they would hesitate to pull the trigger.
Having three average to above average linebackers doesnt exactly handicap the Seahawks, and with other glaring weaknesses the Seahawks are not forced to draft a linebacker, the free agent market is another option, though one probably one with less talent than the draft. Outside of Mario Williams (really more of a DE than a OLB) the free agent list is topped by solid reliable guys but not a lot of flash. This almost assure the Seahawks either grab talent in the draft, or make due with what they have.