The defensive end position for the Seahawks is actually one spot that I'm relatively confident in. The way the Seahawks' 4-3 Under defense works is rather unique in the NFL and requires 'specialized' type players. As Pete Carroll put it, "The defensive end to the tight end side needs to be a defensive player that can play the run. He does not have to be a big time pass rusher." He also, at times, needs to 2-gap. This is where Red Bryant made his money in 2010, pre-injury, and where he'll hopefully bounce back at and dominate. If Red is unable to recover enough to play at the level he did in 2010, all hope is not lost. Kentwan Balmer and Pep Levingston are possible replacements and give you a little breathing room in the case of an injury (though not ideal).
The LEO defensive end is a specialized player position as well. Pete Carroll describes the LEO position as thus:
"The best pass rusher on the team is usually the defensive end to the open side of the field. That puts him on the quarterback's blind side and makes him a C gap player in this defense. We often align him wider than this in order to give him a better angle of attack and allow him to play in space. We align him a yard outside of the offensive tackle most of the time. He has to play C gap run support but at the same time he is rushing the passer like it is third and ten. He has to be able to close down however if the tackle blocks down on him."
"(He) has to be one of your best football players. Size does not matter as much. We want an athletic player who can move around."
In other words, he has to rush the passer like a banshee but also maintain his gap against the run. In my opinion, Chris Clemons did his job there masterfully in 2010. I doubt he's in much danger of losing his starting position but even in the case of an injury, I believe that young Dexter Davis has a lot of potential in that spot as well. Both players are fast, good tacklers, explosive off the edge, and hungry. Color me satisfied with our LEOs at this point (even KJ Wright presents some skills that could be applicable at the spot in a pinch.)
So, in my view, the LEO position has, at worst, an acceptable starter and depth. The 5-tech defensive end position has a presumptive starter in Red Bryant but depth will need to be added. Let's take a look at what could happen.
On the Roster:
Kentwan Balmer (tweener)
AJ Schable (??? - also listed as TE and FB on some sites... so I don't know WTF the Hawks plan with him)
KJ Wright (possible)
Free Agent Possibilities (that I like):
I don't know much about Amon Gordon or AJ Schable so I can't speak with any confidence one way or another on them. They are most likely camp bodies or practice squad guys but could surprise. Pep Levingston will probably be a bubble player in training camp but could ultimately make the 53-man roster, depending on moves made by the Hawks.
If they sign a guy like Alan Branch (or even Junior Siavii or Jay Richardson) Levingston could see himself moving down the depth charts from his presumptive no.2 or no.3 spot behind Red Bryant and Kentwan Balmer at the moment (Kentwan Balmer is, in reality, more likely to back up Bryant this season) and would be in danger of getting cut (to the practice squad if he clears waivers). I would welcome an Alan Branch addition, based mostly on his play against the Seahawks in 2010 (where he tore our o-line a new a-hole), and the fact he's still young, and relatively versatile. Apart from that, I really don't see a big-splash move in free agency happening at either end of the defensive line.
Raheem Brock played a more traditional 4-3 end role last year after Red Bryant went down and got 9 sacks in the process. It's unclear if they'll want him back, but assuming both Bryant and Clemons are healthy, he may not see many snaps. I suppose it's up to the Hawks front office to decide whether they want the insurance he provides them in the event of an injury.
In terms of the LEO end spot: Ray Edwards and Charles Johnson will cost a lot, and don't really fit the profile of a LEO end in the first place so I'll assume they're out. Mathias Kiwanuka is a real option, but again, will cost a lot and I'm not sure the Seahawks are looking to add payroll to a 'deepish' position. On the other hand, I can see them bringing in other teams' castoffs, notably Vernon Gholston, to give it a shot at the position, much like they did last season with Ricky Foley. Gholston was a LEO end in Ohio State's defense and did so well there that he was drafted 6th overall. Too bad the Jets run a 3-4 defense and Gholston sucks as playing in a 3-4. He does have freakish athletic ability though, was most successful in a position similar to the one he'd be asked to play here, and would be very cheap. Why the hell not?
There are a batch of UDFAs that could be intriguing as well.
Brandon Bair, Oregon
Brandon Bair is a high energy defensive end that could be a low cost option as depth at the LEO spot and he could play the 5-tech as well. He's 6'6 275 and uses his long arms to use for leverage and to disengage blocks. He uses a variety of moves well to get to the QB and is a high-effort, high motor player. He has good instincts and bats down a lot of balls at the line of scrimmage. Could even play a little DT in passing situations so his versatility could prove helpful to him landing a job. He'd be a 26 year old rookie if signed as he spend 2 years on a LDS mission.
Ugo Chinasa, Oklahoma State
Chinasa is a guy that I could see the Hawks looking at as a possible LEO end. He's very fast off the edge and gets good leverage on his way to the QB. He's played DE from a standup position at Oklahoma State so he knows that role well. In his final two seasons there he registered 10.5 sacks and when he's playing at full speed he's got all the weapons you'd want from that position. His main knock is his effort though, so a team that believes they can light a fire under his ass will pick him up. The Hawks could work with their "always compete" mantra.
John Graves, Virginia Tech
Graves is another guy that I could see as depth at the 5-tech position and reminds me a bit of Pep Levingston in that a lot of scouting reports on him point out that he'd need to be used in a specific scheme (3-4 DE or Pete Carroll's 5-tech Red Bryant spot) but could be effective if so. He's a good athlete that can get off blocks well, is a hard worker and team leader.
I think the Hawks will go into the season with, as locks, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Kentwan Balmer and Dexter Davis. Past that, they could pick up a free agent possibly, perhaps Alan Branch or bring back Jay Richardson/Junior Siavii/Raheem Brock. I'm sure they'll sign a UDFA or two to come in and compete at both spots as well. All in all, it's hard to predict. The depth is more of an issue here than the starting players, but who knows how well Big Red will recover from his injury. It could complicate things if he's not ready.