Seahawks Roster Analysis: Defensive Bubble Players

Aug 11, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane (1) warms up prior to the game against the Tennessee Titans at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

As a follow up to part one of the Seahawks Roster analysis of fringe veterans and UDFAs where we focused on the offense, we now look at the defensive side of the football, dissected by position:

DEs

Dexter Davis - Davis possesses speed and get-off to be an effective pass-rusher off the edge. The only problem is, he doesn't appear to always know what to do once he gets there. On Saturday, he took several passing-down snaps, and displayed that strong burst off the line, but resorted far too often to a bull rush, or simply couldn't disengage once he got to the edge.

Size and speed-wise, he fits the mold of what Seattle is looking for at the LEO (hybrid LB/DE weak side rush end), but with Bruce Irvin coming into the picture, as well as there now being more pass-rush versatility and speed from the linebacker spot (Wright, Wagner in particular), Davis needs to excel both on special teams and in providing constant pressure on opposing QBs if he's going to take a roster spot. The upside with these smaller ends is the speed. But there's a reason that a lot of these guys don't make it in the NFL as pure pass rushers - they struggle to disengage and they're too easy for NFL tackles to over-power.

This is why a repertoire of moves and an ability to use leverage or suddenness to evade laterally are so important. What he may have going for him though, is a group of linebackers who look to be pretty thin past the first 4 guys, and if he can fill three depth spots on the roster (LB, DE, and ST), he could stick around. He was initially converted to OLB after Seattle took him in the 7th round, back in 2010, so he has some experience there.

Cordarro Law - Law is a guy I watched quite a bit of in college. He racked up high sack numbers at Southern Miss, and also fits the size/speed model for the LEO spot. What he lacks, though, and I've been saying this since his college days, is the flexibility to consistently turn the corner at the NFL level. His straight-line speed is impressive, but he struggles to break down and redirect in space, and he can be inconsistent off the snap. He's more of a late burst guy than an initial burst guy, and in this league, you can't make a living as rush DE with that formula.

That said, he plays physical, has a great motor, and possesses good arm length to keep himself clean of blockers both when rushing the passer and when pursuing a ball-carrier. At this point, I don't think he's explosive enough to win a roster spot as a pure DE, so he'll need to really excel on Special Teams and display some versatility to perhaps line up over the tight end at the SAM spot and play a variety of roles (rusher, TE coverage, zone drops) to put him on the roster. I'm still looking for something more from a pass-rush standpoint in terms of explosion and/or lateral agility, so I'm not completely ruling him out just yet. He has three games to show more, but with a recently diagnosed grade two high ankle sprain, he may not get that chance.

Greg Scruggs - (here's my excerpt from the "Seahawks' Rookie Report" article I posted on Tuesday) - "Outside of Russell Wilson, Saturday's opening preseason contest was about the 7th rounders for me. Scruggs had a great game, with a half sack and another couple of big plays in the backfield. If you read me frequently then you probably know I'm not a huge "stats" guy in terms of traditional stats. I'm more of a "watch the tape" guy and I'm focused more on instincts, fundamentals and overall football savvy.

"Scruggs flashed quite a bit of all of it against Tennessee. As I watched, the first thing I noticed about Scruggs was his arm length. At 6'3, watching him engage with a blocker, he looks more like 6'6 when he gets his arms extended. He has great length, and is learning how to use it. He was extremely active with his hands and displayed some impressive quickness to club and rip his opponent out of the way. He consistently got penetration from the interior, and made the majority of his plays from the inside, despite lining up at the 5-technique at times, on 1st and 2nd down.

"From that end spot, Scruggs made one impressive play to set the edge in the backfield, and force Chris Johnson to cutback and counter to the weak side where he was hit by Chris Maragos and then dropped by Bobby Wagner for a loss. He has a low center of gravity to go with the length and impressive natural power that enable him to anchor against the run. That low center also enables him to get a strong push on the bull rush. Watch for him to start getting some first team rotational reps."

At this point, he has shined over both Lazarius Levingston and rookie 4th round pick Jaye Howard, but keeping up the performance throughout the preseason will be key for Scruggs to make the final roster.

Pierre Allen - Allen played some decent football in PS week one, holding his ground at the point of attack, firing off the line with good levels, and keeping busy with his hands. He struggles to disengage once locked on though, and is best suited off the strong-side in a contain/edge-setting role. He lacks the raw power or get-off to get consistent push there though, so despite being a hard worker with a high motor, he doesn't tend to accomplish a lot in terms of making impact plays.

Even if he was able to get some consistent push enough to redirect run plays, that would constitute as "impact", and I'd have him in the running here for a potential back-end roster spot. However, the speed, length and overall depth are so much better this season than last, along the front line, I just don't see it happening for Allen this year. He's pretty much playing exactly how he was projected to play by a lot of scouts (myself included) coming out of college. Could definitely catch on with a team light on DE depth.

Off The Bubble This Week: Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, Jason Jones (Jones has been playing at DT, but I'm going off the official roster classification on these)

DTs

Jaye Howard - (here's my excerpt from the "Seahawks' Rookie Report" article I posted on Tuesday) - "Howard got a lot of work in on Saturday as well. He spent all of his time at the 3-tech tackle spot, and gave us plenty of footage to evaluate. He didn't really show anything spectacular, although he does possess a pretty quick get-off and consistently low pad levels off the ball. He gets his arms extended and into the chest of the blocker, and keeps his feet moving. But where Howard will have to excel if he's to develop into a consistent pass-rushing threat from the inside, is in using his hands and natural foot quickness to knife gaps and evade blockers. In other words, we saw too much bull-rush and not enough pass-rush technique (i.e. rips, swims, clubs, etc.). His long arms and natural quickness make for a set of tools that could yeild some pretty special stuff, if he's to maintain consistent effort and continue working to develop a repertoire of moves. But he's not going to make it on a pure power game at this level."

Howard flashes the quickness and length to be an effective pass-rusher from the interior. Seattle needs as much of that as they can get, and thus, I don't think there's any doubt he makes the final roster. At Florida, he didn't use his hands enough, and would fire off the line with inconsistent level and timing. If he can continue to improve in these three areas, he could be a 5-8 sack guy at the NFL level, and that's solely in a nickel/passing-down role.

Pep Levingston - Like Pierre Allen, Levingston is a high-effort guy with some natural power to his game. He's too easy to control off the line though, as he struggles to consistently get his arms extended and keep himself clean. Thus, he ends up, more often than not, with his shoulder in a blocker's chest, and no way to disengage. He's quick off the snap from the interior and possesses the athletic frame to suggest he could be effective on passing downs, rushing from the inside, but there isn't currently a roster spot for him, considering the significantly bolstered D-line unit. Scruggs and Howard both have a leg-up on Levingston.

Off The Bubble This Week: Alan Branch, Brandon Mebane, Clinton McDonald

LBs

Mike Morgan - Morgan stood out on a couple of plays Saturday night, particularly one against the run where he mirrored the runner to the sidelines and made a nice one-on-one open field tackle for a significant loss (Danny broke that down here). Morgan is a bit of a one-trick pony though. He's solid against the run in that he's quick to diagnose, and then has impressive closing speed to finish plays in front of him. He's not nearly as effective when asked to take angles on runs to the outside, or drop into coverage. He's not fluid in space, and doesn't exhibit the ability to break down and redirect quickly.

As a gunner on special teams, he could really excel and considering lack of LB depth past the first four, he stands a chance to make the squad with the current group of options. He's physical and aggressive enough to disrupt TE routes off the line and isn't as weak when matching up one-on-one and using contact to set his coverage course. If he keeps making big plays, and can be a consistent impact player on Special Teams, he has a shot to make the squad, but don't expect him to be a regular, long-term contributor on defense if he does. He suffered a concussion last week though, and won't play on Saturday.

Korey Toomer (here's my excerpt from the "Seahawks' Rookie Report" article I posted on Tuesday) - "Toomer was this year's "Mark LeGree" in that he was a bit of a gamble in the 5th round coming out of Idaho, and coming off injury. Nobody really knew what they were getting with this guy. The question now is - "is Korey Toomer this year's Mark LeGree?", like, in a bad way. While he's struggled to really stand out in practices, and has been repeatedly poo-poo'ed by folks who haven't the convenience of a rewind button as they make their judgments from the berm of the VMAC, he had some good moments on Saturday.

"Like Wagner, he froze in space a couple of times and was late to break on routes underneath, as he locked onto the QB and seemed to lose himself a bit. And like Wagner again, Toomer overran an opportunity for a backfield stop on a running play that would've been a key TFL, had he finished. Against the run in general, he diagnosed well and took good angles, but didn't necessarily explode to the hole, and tried to meander his way through blockers rather than swat or rip through them in pursuit. He did make a good special teams tackle, and displayed good drops and zone discipline while in coverage. Toomer is raw and still learning to play linebacker.

"He needs to dial up the physicality of his game, fly to the football faster, and trust his athleticism more. He has some nice natural explosiveness and fluidity, and I see a guy who could still beat out a Mike Morgan for a backup SAM and special teams role, with upside to develop into a potential big-play threat at the position. But he'll need to show that he's growing each week."

Heath Farwell - Everyone knows Farwell is a great Special Teams player. He's the epitome of what all young players should aspire to be in terms of his effort and passion for the game. What he lacks in athleticism and pure linebacker instinct, he makes up for in his effort and leadership on Special Teams, and considering that other key Special Teams contributors at other positions are on the bubble (Maxwell, Lewis, Obomanu), his fate may be determined by the outcome of some of those battles. For instance, if Obomanu gets beat out by someone like Deon Butler, the demand for a guy like Farwell may be greater as Butler isn't going to be a strong Special Teams contributor, so the loss of Obomanu would have to be made up in some other way.

Matt McCoy - McCoy has actually hung around for a couple of years longer than I ever thought he would, but if you watch tape on him over the last couple of years, he's been a key contributor when he's been healthy - both on Special Teams and as a rotational middle man. But getting healthy has been hard to do, and his status remains up in the air. I don't see him making the final cut at this point.

Allen Bradford - Bradford is coming off a minor injury and word out of Seahawks HQ is that coaches are excited to see what the converted RB can do in preseason week two. We haven't really seen him at linebacker, although that's what he was initially recruited to USC to be, before he converted and was subsequently drafted in the 6th round by Tampa as a running back. The late position switch could make for some tough odds for Bradford, but I'm hearing that linebacker may actually be suiting him better and might be the more natural fit. We'll get our first glimpse this weekend.

Malcolm Smith - Smith is the 3rd former USC player in the mix for a LB spot, and he certainly brings the more speed to the group than any of the others. Cue the broken record on the whole "needs to stand out on Special Teams" bit, as that could be the key element to one of these guys running away with a 5th or 6th linebacker spot.

Others To Consider:

Kyle Knox - Knox was active and energetic in PS week 1 and made a nice Special Teams tackle on a kick return. He has a steep uphill battle at this point, though, and would probably be the first LB to go, among the current group.

Not Competing:

Jameson Konz - Should have "Honorary Trainer" status by now with how much he's in the infirmary. Konz is a freak athlete who showed some promising natural pass-rush ability last preseason before another injury ended another season. Frustrating. I like this guy.

Off The Bubble This Week: K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, Leroy Hill, Barrett Ruud
DBs

Phillip Adams - Adams had a solid performance on Saturday, both in coverage and against the run. He's an active tackler who flies to the football, and he possesses the short-area quickness to be effective covering the slot. He's not as dynamic in press coverage on the outside, and when he is outside, appears better suited to play off-man rather than up on the line, as he lacks the pop to routinely redirect his man off the line.

He gets turned around in man coverage, committing and flipping his hips up field too early on routes up the sideline, leaving him susceptible to option routes inside (digs), hitches or comebacks to the outside. The hustle, solid tackling and quickness could keep him in competition for a rotational nickel or dime ‘back spot, but he needs to show up on Special Teams as well.

Coye Francies - Francies flashes moderately well in press/bump, and exhibits an ability to mirror and keep with his man stride-for-stride down the sideline. He possesses quick hips to flip up-field, or mirror receiver breaks from a backpedal without giving up too much cushion. He appears to be a technically-sound, fluid cover guy, and at this point I have him in direct competition with Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell, with a legit shot at making the final 53. Might the most polished cover guy outside of Sherman, Browner or Trufant on the roster, but we need more than one game, and a step-up in competition to confirm that assessment.

He doesn't fly to the football like Lane or Adams (or at least, he didn't on Saturday night), and is a bit too block-able down field, but cover guys are hard to come by, so he may have a leg up.

Jeremy Lane - I love the intensity and physicality of Lane's game. He isn't afraid to crowd a guy at the line, and he possesses some really solid pop in press. He gets his arms extended and redirects pretty well, but on Saturday night there were a couple of occasions where he clearly was caught off guard by the power of his receiver. He was knocked back and completely off balance on more than one occasion, right off the snap. What impressed me though, was how he responded. He didn't turn down his physicality, but he did set up better with his feet and absorb contact with better anticipation. The forced fumble in the 4th quarter was just another indication of the level of intensity that this guy plays with, and the capability that he has to make impact plays.

Here's my excerpt from the "Seahawks' Rookie Report" article I posted on Tuesday - "Lane possesses the best press technique of any of the 2nd or 3rd team CBs. He makes immediate contact, extends his arms to redirect the receiver, isn't afraid to crowd his man downfield, and can come back to the ball. He was called for pass interference on a play where he could've knocked the pass down without grabbing the receiver, so that was a bit of a wasted opportunity. He needs to learn to harness his physicality. He's a solid tackler in the open field, and overall, possesses better man coverage skills than either Francies or Adams.

"The latter two, however, have displayed more discipline, and thus are getting more of the 2nd team reps, while Lane has been sitting with the 3rd team. Probably didn't help that he got "gansta" in practice a few weeks back, either. He made a couple of nice open-field tackles in run support as well. All-around, he's the ideal fit for this scheme - physical, long, tough and plays with a chip. At this point, though, he's going to have to learn to control himself better if he wants to be anything other than a special teams contributor. Let's see if he moves up the depth chart and ends up getting time with the 2nd unit this week. His play on the field says that he should. It would be interesting to see him take some nickel snaps at some point, to see how he does in the slot."

DeShawn Shead - Shead rotated with Winston Guy between deep safety and in-the-box safety, and even came up and played the slot in off-man on a couple of occasions. Shead possesses a thick, powerful looking frame and exhibits some versatility in terms of being able to cover substantial ground sideline-to-sideline, as well as close on the line of scrimmage rapidly against the run. He's not a fluid back-peddler in man-coverage and doesn't flash the quickest hips, but he appears to recognize the run early (3rd team competition, mind you). He appeared decisive and took some good angles in anticipating runs to the outside. I'd like to see coaches bump him up and rotate him in with Maragos and/or Johnson on the second team this week.

Chris Maragos - Maragos looked good playing with the 2nd team on Saturday, primarily at deep safety with Johnson up in the box. He wasn't able to close on the 39-yard completion (Tenn's biggest offensive play of the game) quick enough to break it up, but other than that, he read and reacted well from the deep middle versus the run and the pass. Even on that play, he was in the right vicinity and took the right angle, just a step late.

There's no doubting this guy's athleticism and explosive first step, but he is still developing in the instincts and awareness department. I do feel a little bit better about him being able to cover for Earl Thomas in the case of an injury than I did a few weeks ago, but I need to see more consistency and continued improvement with each week before I'm convinced that Seattle doesn't need to bring in another veteran safety for a look.

Jeron Johnson - Johnson didn't jump off the screen on Saturday, but that's not always entirely bad for a safety. I noticed that he doesn't always fly to the football, and takes some questionable angles from the box when closing on a sideline, but he maintains good balance through 2nd-level blocking contact, and showed us last year that he can play the ball in the air.

I'd like to see him play more deep safety, as he'll need to show some versatility if he's going to make the squad. Last year, he made it, but rarely saw the field and was inactive for a number of games. He won't be kept around to repeat that. He'll need to show that he has value as a rotational asset in the defensive backfield.

Winston Guy - (here's my excerpt from the "Seahawks' Rookie Report" article I posted on Tuesday) - "Guy played a decent amount in the 2nd half on Saturday with the 3rd team defense, and appeared to be in the right spot most of the time. His forte in college was playing the run. Often times, he'd come up on the line and play as an outside ‘backer at Kentucky and the tape showed a guy who reacted quickly to plays in front of him, and wrap-tackled extremely well, even from unconventional angles.

"We saw a little bit of the read-and-react on Saturday night, despite the fact that he wasn't ever in as the primary tackler on any one play. He was diagnosing quickly though, and flying to the football. What I'm going to be looking for in the coming weeks, is how well he plays the pass when asked to cover down field. He can't be a strict run-support safety in the NFL, and the staff are looking for a viable 3rd safety to emerge out of camp."

Upon further review, Guy actually played deep safety for several plays on Saturday, and it's clear that coaches want him to be more than just a run support "guy" (sorry, it's 2 in the a.m.). I still think he's primarily a box safety, but in this system, all of these safeties need to be versatile and should be able to play a bit of both if they want to be regular contributors. He didn't make any noticeable mistakes in coverage, but he'll need to get some reps with the 2nd team, and against 1st team offenses, to really put up a grade-able showing. He's ultimately competing directly with Johnson and Maragos, so the three will need to be viewed on the same level soon.

Off the Bubble This Week: Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Marcus Trufant, Roy Lewis

Not Competing: Ron Parker (injury)

These are just some general notes that I took away from the first game. They provide a reference point to gauge and track progress with the individual players, as well as with the competitions at each spot, so we'll be revisiting these players and competitions each week leading up to the regular season.

DK Note -- Derek has transitioned from doing league-wide NFL Draft analysis at his blog to a more focused and specific, Seahawks-centric draft - free agency - pro player personnel site called "ScoutTheSeahawks." It's now up - and it's definitely a site you must bookmark. Derek also maintains a really great free agent tracker that is much more in-depth than most places because of his background doing deep scouting of NFL Draft prospects. It's updated daily.

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