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If Aaron Curry is Not Seattle's Starting Elephant, Why Trade Darryl Tapp?

Seattle drafted Aaron Curry fourth overall in 2009. He is, in all likelihood, still Seattle's best overall talent. In a mid-January interview shortly after his hire, Pete Carroll suggested Seattle may play Curry as an elephant or standup defensive end. To paraphrase, instead of rushing 20% and dropping 80%, Curry would rush 80% and drop 20%. I have reservations. I have concerns Curry will never fully develop as a pass rusher, but nevertheless, I was thrilled. Re-purposing Seattle's best talent to play its most important position on defense seemed a worthy try. At worst, he wouldn't develop. At best, Seattle could have an elite young pass rusher.

Seattle then traded its best pass rusher and replaced him with Chris Clemons and a gaggle of camp bodies. If Curry replaced Darryl Tapp, it wouldn't matter, but if Tapp was replaced by Clemons, we would have a problem. Clemons-Cole-Mebane-Jackson is perhaps the worst starting defensive line in the NFL. Substituting Tapp for Clemons does not make it good, but it does replace a situational pass rusher with a legitimate defensive end. Tapp can hold the edge. Tapp can close the hole. Tapp was a defensive end, complete, tested, not a journeyman situational pass rusher with three career starts. Plainly put, if a team starts a 240 pound right defensive end, its opponent will run at him and will not stop until it fails. That is why it doesn't happen. That is why, in part, Clemons has only started three games in his six-year NFL career.

If Seattle is forced out of starting one of its standup ends, it doesn't have a traditional right defensive end to replace him with. It doesn't have the two-gap guys to run a traditional 3-4. It doesn't have ends with length to control the edge. As of today, it doesn't have the personnel to fill out its starting seven.

The obvious, even hinted at, solution would be starting Curry at elephant. However, I'm not counting on it. This happens every season, it seems. Seattle signs Deon Grant and then plays him in the box. Seattle signs Brian Russell and starts him. Seattle signs Colin Cole, trades for Cory Redding, starts Cole and starts Redding at end. I think I follow the moves, follow the logic, but I'm wrong. And I anticipate I'm wrong about Curry. I anticipate Curry will start at outside linebacker, Clemons will start at end, and I will have no idea why.

It's not that I think Curry is a lock to develop as a pass rusher. It's only that I want a clear direction for him, a chance to commit to a position, and a chance to maximize his talent. I thought Curry showed growth as a pass rusher in his first season. Curry, like everyone on the Seahawks, didn't record many sacks. He did time his blitzes well, turn the corner well and contribute if not consistent sacks, consistent pressure and stuffs. He had five tackles for a loss and nine quarterback hits. He, along with Geno Hayes, led the NFL among 4-3 linebackers in quarterback hits. It was a start. For a young player with immense talent, it was a satisfactory start.

Blind side pass rusher, be it an outside linebacker or defensive end, is the most important position on a defense. It's so important, it has spawned an equally highly paid foil: the left tackle. I wasn't happy that Seattle traded Tapp but I assumed it was a part of a bigger plan. Curry is more talented than Tapp. Curry is more expensive than Tapp. If maximizing Curry cost Seattle Tapp, it would be a debatable but justifiable move. Now I am perplexed. Seattle never had to play a standup end. Carroll runs a 4-3 and starting a standup end in a 4-3 is a variation designed to accommodate mismatched talent. It's atypical. Carroll found a position for Clay Matthews because Matthews was too good to sit, but when Matthews left, Carroll reverted to a base 4-3.

Curry is that kind of talent. Clemons, Foley, Reed and Davis are not. Put it another way, that's a non-drafted free agent, CFL standout and two seventh-round picks. Is Carroll altering his scheme to get Clemons on the field? That doesn't sound right, does it? Did Carroll and Schneider sell low on Tapp to acquire and start Clemons? I want to say no. I balked at Seattle moving Julian Peterson but thought adding a capable and unheralded three tech would help soften the loss. Instead, Seattle made Redding an end. It didn't work.

So I don't know. I'm confused. This looks like a bad situation unfolding. Who starts? Who starts if Clemons is injured? What is the future of Aaron Curry? Where will Seattle generate its pass rush? On paper, it looks worse today than it did last season. On paper, I'm very hard pressed to find a worse starting defensive line in the NFL. I'm interested to see how this all shakes out, but if history tells me anything, I won't like it, I won't understand it, and it will happen exactly as reported.