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Jermaine Phillips Can Be the Strong Safety that Transforms Seattle's Defense

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It's fitting that shortly after signing another high-character liability, Seattle is attempting to replace its last high character liability. Jermaine Phillips would go a long way to erasing some of the stain of signing Colin Cole. Seattle has needed a safety that throttles long runs and provides steady backside containment since Tim Ruskell began constructing his light, fast and aggressive defense. Light means gang tackles and the occasional free rusher into the second level. Fast and aggressive means attacking the ball carrier and exposing the cutback lane. At its best, Seattle has balanced the occasional long run with enough tackles for a loss to be a good run defense. To be anything more, it must reduce those long runs.

Phillips can do that, and so doing allow Seattle to move Deon Grant to free safety. We've talked moving Grant to free safety to death, but it's less said that Grant himself has been a bit of a disappointment. His talent is real. He's not a strong safety. Seattle kept Grant in the box way too much. He wasn't strong against the run: often picking the wrong lane to defend, taking the wrong angle to the ball carrier, or losing the tackle. The position subtracted from his cover ability, too. Grant was never a natural at retreating into deep cover, and he's not skilled in man coverage. He should be kept back, allowed to see routes develop and trusted to make the right read and cover the right receiver. As a free safety, Grant is a decent run defender. He breaks on the ball carrier well and tackles well moving downhill, but isn't strong in space or traffic or tackling lateral moving players.

Cole creates two problems. The first, and hopefully the smaller problem is that Seattle will become more susceptible to "successful" runs. These are the meat and potato runs that move a team into better down and distance, and help sustain drives. Seattle's been pretty good at preventing successful runs, and, purely from a run stopping perspective, Cole should be stouter than Bernard. The second, and likely larger problem is that Seattle will become more susceptible to long runs. The type were the blockers move free into the second level and Seattle's light and fast defense suddenly looks light and fast disintegrating. Think Divisional Round in Lambeau or Frank Gore circa 2006. This is where Seattle needs Phillips. Phillips can get a body on a body, minimum, and let Seattle's remaining defenders swarm and minimize the damage. At his best, Phillips can explode cutbacks and become a rusher antipode. The bullet entering the barrel. The bullet blowing the marksman's hand off. Phillips is a start. Patrick Chung is a solution.