The Front Seven:
One of the most anticipated developments to watch for during this Seahawks offseason is how Pete Carroll and new Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn plan to use personnel in the front seven - with injuries and suspensions and new additions, it appears to remain a very fluid situation. Chris Clemons is likely to miss the first six games of the season on the PUP list (at least), Bruce Irvin will be gone for the first month, and we Seattle fans are still somewhat in the dark about what newcomers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril will bring to the unit.
With OTAs starting in earnest, a picture of the plan is starting to come into focus. Cliff Avril addressed speculation that he'll be playing a more traditional SAM linebacker role for the Seahawks come September on 710ESPN yesterday afternoon, and he said:
We talked about [where I'd play] during the process while I was signing. It's possible where there may be times where they need me to drop into coverage from time to time, and I do feel like I can do it, you know, but come passing downs, I truly believe I'll be one of the guys getting after the quarterback.
In other words, his main role is still going to be as a pass rusher - a duty that has netted him 29 sacks in three seasons with Detroit - almost exclusively from the strong-side defensive end position (ie, the left side). That's why Seattle signed him. However, never slaves to convention, Carroll and Quinn's plan to use him could be interesting, and putting him on the line of scrimmage outside of another strongside defensive end is one way the Seahawks could possibly generate more pass rush on early downs. He noted:
If I was going to play linebacker (i.e., if I do play linebacker for Seattle) it'd be on the line of scrimmage, so it'd be the nine-technique in the under front or something. I'd still be on the line of scrimmage, setting the edge, and if it's a pass, just dropping back into whatever coverage we're playing, but I don't really think it'll be too hard, because I'm used to playing on the line of scrimmage.
This makes tons of sense, and essentially he'd be playing a spot that K.J. Wright manned last season and Aaron Curry manned before him. Davis has been saying that he believes this is a way to get a little more pass rush on early downs - you can send Avril as a blizter from the edge, and his blistering get-off and experience from that side of the field will aid him in that. The thought that he'll be playing off the line though, as a traditional linebacker, is a bit unclear still - perhaps unlikely. In fact, with Clemons and Irvin likely out for at least Seattle's first four games, Avril's services are likely needed elsewhere.
From Bob Condotta, here's what Pete Carroll had to say about it:
The month that [Irvin] misses is going to be a month of opportunity for somebody else. So we'll see. We expect our guys will step in to play well. We are fortunate to have Cliff Avril here, we are fortunate to have Clem (Chris Clemons) coming back, we are fortunate to have (linebacker) Malcolm (Smith) get his chance to step up, as well. We'll figure that out when the time comes, but it will be like he's injured and he's not there and what are you going to do about it.''
Depth depth depth. Seattle's depth will be tested heavily early on.
More from Condotta:
Asked if he's worried about the depth at the spot, Carroll said: "Well, we will always be concerned, sure, and I don't mind telling you that. But we are fortunate in that we also are working our roster in that regard, too. We have some young guys that we are excited about. But it's going to call on Cliff Avril, first and Cliff will be back in a couple of weeks and he is in good shape to make it back. Clem's going to make it back, we won't know about him for a while, we will have to figure that out when the time comes. I liked the fact that Cliff was here because it gave us a cushion for Clem. That changed a little bit for the first month of the season, for sure.''
So, it sounds a little bit like Avril is slated in as a LEO to replace Clemons and Irvin early on, despite my thought that Avril would be playing mostly on the strong-side as he did in Detroit (LEO is a weak-side position). It would appear, though, that the team is still experimenting with different units, and as Eric Williams points out...
Seattle's front seven [on Monday] with the starters included [Red] Bryant at base end [5-tech], Brandon Mebane at one-tech, Tony McDaniel at 3-tech, Michael Bennett at Leo, Malcolm Smith at SAM, Bobby Wagner at middle linebacker and K.J. Wright at Will.
Interesting. In base, Seattle had McDaniel, all 6'7, 310 pounds of him, playing at the 3-tech position recently vacated by Alan Branch. This makes sense. Michael Bennett as the base-defense LEO also makes a lot of sense because the term 'base' connotes 'run-focused' for Seattle, and Bennett would be a strong player against the run on the weak side, while still providing some pass rush ability. He's not exactly a prototypical LEO type, but you have to make due when you're faced with injuries, and once Avril gets back they might shake things up again in the 'starting' unit.
One interesting wrinkle is that Seattle had Malcolm Smith at the SAM and K.J. Wright at WILL, a flip-flopping of sorts, though it's possible Seattle was playing in over fronts, which would mean Smith and Wright just pick a side and stay there, (LOLB & ROLB) instead of switching based on the strength of the offensive formation.
Again, it's still early on in the process, but these are interesting tidbits to chew on while there's no football.
On third-down situations, Mebane and Bryant played defensive tackle, Irvin and Bennett played defensive end, and Antoine Winfield came in for Smith at nickel.
No surprise there, other than the idea that Bryant might be getting more snaps this year on the inside. He did play some 3-tech later in the year in nickel downs, so it might be something Seattle liked seeing him do. Irvin, not listed in the 'starting' unit, was predictably the nickel defensive end. So what was he doing in the 2nd unit?
We had a chance to see the experimentation with Irvin moving to outside linebacker today. Irvin worked at SAM outside linebacker with the second unit. Irvin appeared comfortable dropping in coverage defensively during passing drills.
The conversion of Irvin to strong-side linebacker appears fully underway as well. He lined up at "SAM" linebacker throughout practice as well as putting his hand on the ground in his traditional pass-rushing role.
It will be interesting to see if Irvin takes on a more traditional role of a SAM linebacker as opposed to what Cliff Avril was saying in regards to only playing on the line. If Irvin has the athleticism to play in over fronts as a SAM 'backer - dropping in coverage, running with tight ends, backs, or receivers - while still playing the run and blitzing from time to time, that's a pretty versatile weapon for Quinn to use on defense.
Williams added an interesting note - something that Carroll has hinted at in the past:
Mike Morgan looks like he's added a few pounds, and worked as a Leo defensive end with the second unit defense.
Morgan had been playing mostly as a SAM linebacker and even got a start this past year against the Jets. However, if you listen to the way that Carroll and Quinn have been describing the LEO and SAM during this offseason, it's almost like they're expecting all their SAM linebackers to be able to pay LEO and visa versa - just another way to build in depth and versatility.
Morgan certainly is the LEO type except for his weight - at 6'3, 225 - he ran a 4.45 coming out of USC witha sub-7.0 3-cone drill and a 4.26 short shuttle - all very fast times for a player his size. If he has indeed put on a few pounds, he could provide depth as a LEO/LB hybrid in the case that Ty Powell, Kenneth Boatright, or any of the other defensive end prospects don't light things up in training camp.
Lynch was the only Seahawk to miss the OTA, apart from Chris Clemons, who is rehabbing his ACL down in his home-state of Georgia. While this is certainly annoying on the surface, from what word is going around, it's because Lynch is in a very intensive training program down in California that he wants to adhere to strictly. I seem to remember Lynch missing OTAs here and there last season as well so ultimately it's not that big of a deal.
These tweets eased my apprehension a bit too.
Asked a source what Marshawn Lynch is doing instead of OTAs in Seattle: "Working his (butt) off like he always does." All right, then.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 21, 2013
Marshawn Lynch doesn't have any issues with Seahawks. He's working out in the Bay Area, as has been his m.o. Missing a few OTAs nothing new.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) May 21, 2013
In his place, Robert Turbin got reps with the ones at practice, per reports, and Spencer Ware got time at both fullback and halfback. Christine Michael sat out with a hamstring issue. Hopefully that's not a recurring injury.
Right tackle Breno Giacomini participated fully, after being limited in Phase 2 of the offseason program following elbow surgery. His returned allowed the No. 1 offense to field the same line that closed last season - Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung, left guard Paul McQuistan, All-Pro center Max Unger, right guard J.R. Sweezy and Giacomini.
Comprising the second unit, from left tackle to right: Mike Person, who had been working for Giacomini with the No. 1 line; Rishaw Johnson, Lemuel Jeanpierre, John Moffitt and Michael Bowie. In the third unit: Alvin Bailey, Johnson, Jared Smith, Ryan Seymour and Jordon Roussos.
With James Carpenter still being eased back into things, Paul McQuistan sticks as the starter at left guard and perhaps unsurprisingly, it would appear J.R. Sweezy still may have a leg up on the competition at right guard (though, let's be honest, the depth charts at these things mean almost nothing. It's something to talk about anyway).
Of more interest to me, though, is where the Seahawks are playing some of their young guys. Tidbits I found interesting were the fact that as of right now, the totally unknown quantity that is Michael Person would be your backup left tackle if the season began tomorrow. Person was a draft pick by the Niners, spent his rookie season on their 53-man roster, and was cut at the end of training camp last season. He was then picked up on waivers by the Colts who cut him after one week. He signed to be on the Hawks practice squad the week of the Packers game and was added to the active roster after the Lions game (h/t to smokeydesperado91 for the background on that). Person was on the Seahawks' active roster for a large portion of last season, but yet I seriously can't remember ever even seeing him. I'm assuming the team is high on him though, and this serves as pretty strong evidence. Perhaps Person is slated to replace Frank Omiyale as a swing tackle this year.
Looks like Rishaw Johnson got time mostly at left guard in both the 2nd and 3rd units - insurance/backup for McQuistan and Carpenter I would guess, and interestingly enough, Alvin Bailey, a college guard, is indeed slated as a tackle - seeing time as the third unit's blindside protector. Seattle really needs an additional swing tackle or two so Michael Bowie, Mike Person, and Alvin Bailey can follow in McQuistan's excellent footsteps, either this year or next.
Several beat reporters - Dave Boling, Curtis Crabtree, & Eric Williams all remarked in their practice reports that Josh Portis looked like the best of the backups. But, then he was promptly cut this morning, likely due to his recent DUI arrest (despite what his agent will tell you, he was indeed arrested and charged). I would assume he was brought back to the team on a probationary style contract - one-strike-you're-out - and well, this arrest looks to have ended his time with the team.
From reports, Anthony McCoy sprained his ankle and was carted off the field. On the other hand, there was no word that Zach Miller was limited in any way out there, so maybe there's hope that his torn plantar fascia, suffered in the loss to Atlanta in the Playoffs, may have healed up a bit (no news is good news?). If so, that could be a big deal.
Similarly, there was no report of injury for Red Bryant, who also suffered from plantar fasciitis last year and that injury really affected his game. Hopefully things are back to normal for him with that.
Tharold Simon was limited with a foot injury, and apparently Sidney Rice watched a lot of the practice from the sideline. K.J. Wright appeared to have a cast on his left hand, but took part in practice nonetheless.
Definitely worth watching this video: Seahawks Daily - OTAs Begin