While most of the early preseason critiques have focused on the development of offensive line talent, competition in the running back shuffle, which receiver can outjump the others for the last wideout spot, and how the new crop of defensive rookies are doing, I wanted to take a look at the Seattle Seahawks’ free agent addition at safety: Bradley McDougald.
McDougald’s stat line against the Los Angeles Chargers doesn’t say much, two tackles and that’s it, but for a defensive back having a quiet game is generally a good sign: I saw somebody on Twitter declare L.A.’s early touchdown to Antonio Gates means the McDougald signing is already a bust, but that’s ridiculous because McDougald wasn’t even on the field for the play (“That’s the joke”). Still, McDougald saw 21 snaps versus the Chargers, second most beside Tedric Thompson among Seattle safeties, accounting for 37 percent of the defensive plays.
More interesting than how often McDougald played was where: in virtually every conceivable spot for a safety to line up. Pete Carroll spoke earlier in training camp about McDougald’s experience playing both as a single-high safety and in a “follow” role, covering tight ends wherever they motion across formations, as the main reason for the Seahawks interest in the fifth-year player who started 31 games since 2015. However, the play that stood out to me on first viewing was McDougald blowing through the block of a left tackle to force a 10-yard holding penalty.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Los Angeles comes out with a heavily overloaded bunch on the left end of the line, with tight ends Sean Culkin and Matt Weiser stacked up very close to the same hash. Indeed, Culkin is probably McDougald’s first responsibility here (with Terence Garvin guarding Weiser) but when receiver Isaiah Burse motions into the same tight bunch, it actually puts Shaquill Griffin a shade inside of McDougald in the defense and gives McDougald first contain over the whole wide side.
McDougald plays it perfectly, maintains his shoulders square to Burse and when he sees the three “ends” all blocking down he rushes to the line of scrimmage to set a firm edge—collapsing the C gap while keeping his outside shoulder free to keep running back Andre Williams from bouncing out. Burse flails at McDougald—which should be okay for the Chargers because Russell Okung’s backup Tyreek Burwell is pulling to try to kick out McDougald to create a free running lane. Instead, McDougald powers through Burwell and would have had Williams for a six-yard loss except Burwell panics and hooks McDougald to the turf. Even so, McDougald’s charge from the edge forces Williams to hesitate and try to scoop even wider, letting Griffin contain the play as Garvin and the interior line catch up to make the tackle for no gain, and the resulting penalty basically ends Los Angeles’s drive.
As someone who played a version of hybrid safety-outside linebacker in high school (we were a 4-4 based on the old Don James-Jim Lambright system at University of Washington), I love love love this specific form of edge control, and seeing the 6-foot-1 209-pound McDougald smash through the 6-foot-6 310-pound Burwell makes it even more special.
We’ve gotten used to Bruce Irvin or Kam Chancellor doing this sort of thing, but both those guys are a fair bit bigger than McDougald. Like Chancellor frequently does, Sunday we also saw McDougald line up in the box to the weak side like a lurking linebacker:
On this play McDougald stands to the left of Dewey McDonald and Garvin, looking like three ’backers in an “over” front even though Michael Wilhoite as SAM is up at the line like a traditional “under”. McDougald is probably covering whichever running back breaks to his side of the field if the play is a pass, but he ends up making the tackle for a two-yard gain by filling the gap inside when it turns out to be a handoff.
The next play is the interception Wilhoite tipped that Garvin ran back for a touchdown. McDougald didn’t have anything to do with the pick, but you can see in the clip how McDougald’s duty has switched to playing deep safety over the top:
McDougald was also on the field for the disastrous long touchdown to Travis Benjamin a few plays later, but as you can see in this still he’s covering Culkin over the left seam with Thompson in responsibility over the top once Garvin can’t stick with Benjamin so far downfield.
At the end of the second quarter, there was one deep completion allowed while McDougald had the centerfield role but it was Delano Hill in coverage and McDougald arrived a split second later for the Earl Thomas style tackle. Maybe Thomas might have knocked the ball loose or arrived sooner, but it was a prevent situation with 11 seconds left in the half so the catch didn’t really do any damage.
McDougald played all over the field in L.A., and it will be fun to see next if the Seahawks try to hone his responsibilities to find where he serves best or of he continues to be such a versatile chesspiece. Even according to Danny Kelly’s clever glossary for these broader, positionless positions, you still can’t yet define McDougald without hybridizing the terms. Was he a Robber-Badger or a Ranger-Enforcer? For Seattle’s sake while the young guys Thompson and Hill find their way, and Kris Richard juggles linebacker injuries and figures out the nickel cornerback situation, it may be best that McDougald remain available to plug in anywhere.