The topic of conversation started with the departure of Red Bryant and Chris Clemons and thus the importance of retaining Mike Bennett. Specifically, the fact that Bennett can play multiple spots along the line is a huge bonus after losing two key "starters".
"One of the things that Mike provides for us is real versatility," said Quinn. "As you know, we play him at defensive end, defensive tackle, and one of the things about his game that makes him so unique is that he's one of the smartest players I've had a chance to coach. He just gets the game - he sees it, he's got great instincts. So, we'll line him up in a variety of places and just try to utilize his skill in the best way that we can. We're glad he's back, I can tell you that."
So, what's the plan to replace Red and Clemons?
Quinn: "For us, it's next man up. Mike's role in our base package will increase some, and there are some other guys that have to pick up the slack where Clem and Red's snaps were."
I read this to mean that Bennett will be featured a little bit more on the end this year, possibly even at the weakside RDE (LEO) spot where Clemons rushed from last year. The other option would be to flip Cliff Avril to the right side (weakside) and have him rush there, with Bennett aligned on the left five-technique position. The only problem I see with this is that Avril has played almost exclusively on the left side during his career, and there's a "if it ain't broke" thought there.
"Some of the guys that will be in the competition," at the defensive end spots, said Quinn, "will be Greg Scruggs, Benson Mayowa, and O'Brien Schofield, so those guys will be in the mix, but Mike's role will certainly still be playing a lot in nickel, both at end and tackle, but he'll definitely be at our defensive end spot."
So, this assuages my fears a little bit for where the pass rush will come from on early downs with the loss of Clemons, as I wouldn't want it all to fall onto Cliff Avril's shoulders. It sounds to me, again, like they'll mix Bennett and one of Scruggs/Mayowa/Schofield in at each defensive end spot in base to provide some pass rush, then move Bruce Irvin to the weakside LEO spot on nickel downs as Bennett goes inside. More on that later, but first, Quinn was asked about Cassius Marsh.
"When we watched the tape on (Marsh)," he said, "Number one, we just thought he had great effort in the way that he played. We really liked that style. The thing that we saw about him as an inside rusher is that he had really quick feet and hands. We thought: 'Can we help him develop in that role?' Over the three days in the mini-camp, he certainly didn't disappoint in that way. We're going to use him at both defensive end and defensive tackle, and try to use that versatility that he has."
So, as we thought: like Mike Bennett.
When Quinn ws asked to 'pigeonhole' him as inside or outside guy, he reluctantly replied: "It looks like right now he could really use his quickness inside. Those guys are so hard to find (inside rushers), so you know when you get the chance to develop one, we're going to take that as far as we can."
Speaking of interior linemen, Mitch next asked Quinn about the health and prognosis for Jesse Williams and Jordan HIll.
Quinn: "Both of them are healthy, and they've had a good offseason, so we're looking forward to seeing what they can do. Both guys are extremely driven, and both are ready to show how they can make their mark. That's always a good spot for a coach, having guys that are hungry to show what they can do and to prove that they can help the team. Those are two in specific that have had a good offseason up to this point."
Are they strictly interior guys? Quinn: "Yep, that's where we use those guys the most."
Now, back to Irvin.
"The first year he played and backed up at our LEO spot, then the second year we moved him to linebacker," said Quinn. "So, in our base defense, he doesn't rush quite as much, but we still used him as a nickel defensive end. He was one of the three or four ends we tried to feature - with Mike Bennett, Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril - and as we go into this year, he's another one of those guys that we talk about who has had a great offseason with much to prove. He's come back in terrific shape, so we'd expect him to be a big part of our base package at SAM linebacker, and then in our nickel package, likely at the right defensive end."
So, a base SAM and nickel LEO. That sounds right. It's been talked about a lot over the past year that the move to linebacker is more or less an admission that he didn't work out as a pass rusher. From what Quinn says, it doesn't sound like that as much as the move was simply meant to get him more snaps on a deep defense.
"It's a little bit of an over analysis (saying the move represents an admission of failure). The spot that we play him, he's on the end of the line, so we thought that we'd get more reps from him playing at our SAM spot. Our SAM and our LEO are similar in that way, in terms of the size and the body type, so with Mike and Cliff, and Bruce and Clem, we felt like we couldn't get all four guys playing at the same spot, so Bruce was certainly someone that could handle all the requirements for the SAM, so that's really where the decision came from."
Importantly: "We certainly want to feature him more as a rusher, and hopefully that will be the case for this year."
Finally, another spot that has a vacancy in Seattle's defense is the nickel cornerback position. With the departure of Walter Thurmond, there are three or four players in the mix, said Quinn.
"As you know, our mantra is "next man up", and fortunately for us, Jeremy Lane is a guy that totally came through when his opportunity came about (last year). So, he's the one that's starting off. He's one guy that, when you go through the offseason, was always here early, just trying to dig into that position as hard as he can. He's one that's completely impressed me so far this offseason."
This is expected, more or less. As for other contenders?
"Phillip Adams will be one guy that will compete for that spot; he's had some experience playing inside in nickel. A guy that was on the practice squad last year, Akeem Auguste, he's another guy who also has some experience that we're going to try inside. This is the time to do that, to find out who we have that can kick inside and play in nickel, and so the following week, when we begin OTAs, those are the guys that we'll feature and play in different roles.
Cant wait to see.