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3 reasons for optimism about the new-look Seahawks pass rush

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest question marks surrounding the Seattle Seahawks entering the 2018 season is “What will become of the pass rush?” With the Legion of Boom getting an overhaul at cornerback and strong safety, many are left wondering how this less-experienced Seattle defense will perform. What pieces are left to work with Earl Thomas? Is this a Seahawks defense that can become dominant once again after the losses of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman, and potentially Kam Chancellor?

This defensive rebuild isn’t something that’s going to have instant overnight success, but there is certainly plenty to look forward to next season with a few key pieces already in place. still ranked them as having the third-best pass rush unit just behind the Eagles and the Redskins as of February, but there was much change ahead with the trade of Bennett to Philadelphia and the loss of Sheldon Richardson in free agency.

Yet key players still remain on the unit, including some who may be just on the edge of their breakout campaign.

Reason 1: Dion Jordan, DE

It’s amazing how much can change in a year: it’s 2018 and Pete Carroll has a lot of confidence in what Jordan can bring to the table.

After being the third overall pick in 2013, Jordan recorded 46 tackles and three sacks for the Miami Dolphins in 26 games over two seasons. Four if you include him missing all of 2015 and 2016.

The Dolphins finally waived him in early 2017 when he failed a physical and Seattle scooped him up less than two weeks later. And despite only playing five games last season due to a knee injury (the failed physical may have been quite legitimate) things looked as though they were trending in the right direction: 18 tackles and four sacks.

Here’s what PFF said about him following a season finale loss to the Cardinals where Jordan still shined:

Fans were overjoyed when Jordan signed his free agent tender this offseason and the expectation is that with a full 16-game season, he can continue to tap into the potential he showed as a draft prospect five years ago and become a vital defensive line component. That person — that prospect — had all the ability to one day be an even better all-around defensive end than Bennett or Avril, but even a high fraction of that potential being realized would be welcome.

Reason 2: Frank Clark, DE

Bennett lead the way with 59 pressures last season, plus 40 tackles and 8.5 sacks, but Clark wasn’t too far behind him with 42/32/9. It’s important to note as well that Clark does some of his best work against the NFC West: against the Rams and 49ers, the expected competition in the division next season, Clark recorded eight tackles and 3.5 sacks in four games.

On the other hand, Clark has yet to appear at OTA’s:

Clark and Jordan are both facing unrestricted free agency in 2019, possibly leaving the Seahawks out in the cold if they both have good seasons without extensions prior to the end of the year. Clark could be looking at a franchise tag (Ezekiel Ansah and DeMarcus Lawrence both got tagged at $17.1 million this year) while Jordan’s unique history puts a lot of variables on the table that will shy teams away from just giving him a long contract full of guarantees.

Clark remains the most Seattle-experienced player on the defensive line though and Carroll will need him back and ready to lead the rest of the unit, but we also have yet to see if he can step up to that challenge. He has the potential to be a better pass rusher than both Bennett and Avril.

Reason 3: Rasheem Green, DE/DT

The Seahawks 3rd round pick in the draft this year is already being touted as Bennett’s future replacement. Green was just 20 years old at the time of the draft and according to ESPN, Seattle plans to use him as a five-technique end and then use him on the inside as well for passing situations.

General manager John Schneider identified Green as the player the Seahawks felt most fortunate to see still on the board when they chose him. In other words, they thought there was a good chance he’d be drafted before they took him midway through the third round. Seattle plans to use him as a five-technique end and move him inside in passing situations, similar to what Michael Bennett did and similar to the role they had in mind for Malik McDowell before he suffered a head injury that still has him sidelined. Green could conceivably beat out Dion Jordan to start opposite Frank Clark, but either way he figures to see a good amount of playing time as an interior pass-rusher.

It’s something that shouldn’t be too foreign to Green, as he’s played five-tech for USC as well:

Which makes sense when you see his junior year numbers at USC: 10 sacks and 41 tackles in 11 games. By comparison, Bennett only recorded 6.5 sacks total over his entire career at Texas A&M and 43 tackles overall his junior year.

And while Green could afford to add a few more counter moves to his utility belt, Carroll seems to think he’ll be just fine:

“He’s going to improve his pass rush for sure,” Carroll said. “Just all of the finesse part of it, he’s just new at it. And he’ll grow more, he’ll get stronger the next couple of years. I bet he’ll play 15 pounds heavier in the next two years, which will help him in the run game. But he’s quick now, he’s a quick slasher type of guy, he’s not a load-up, heavy-duty type of run defender. We’ll play him in positions where he can utilize that. He’s just going to fill out more and just learn all the nuances that can make him a special player.”

Green turned 21 last week and since 2000, there have been 14 players to record at least five sacks at age 21 or younger. That includes a player like Robert Quinn, who seven years ago had 23 tackles and five sacks for the Rams as a 21-year-old, then improved to 10.5 sacks in year two and 19 sacks in year three. That leads all the way up to last season, when Derek Barnett had 21 tackles and five sacks for the Super Bowl champion Eagles at age 21.

Others include Danielle Hunter (six sacks), Yannick Ngakoue (eight), Carlos Dunlap (9.5), Joey Bosa (10.5), and Terrell Suggs (12.5). It’s becoming more and more commonplace for players to have an impact prior to their 22nd birthday, including at defensive end where you may be going up against 320 lb veterans on the offensive line. Even for players who went in the third round like Hunter, Ngakoue, and now potentially Green.

It’s soon, but is it too soon?

The bottom line

The defense and the pass rush are going to still be a concern going into the preseason because there are a lot of unknowns as to how these three people will respond to their 2018 roles. Until we can see what these new defensive ends can really do in a game situation, we can’t evaluate how good the Seahawks edge unit is really going to be. It could be a strength or a weakness. And while some of these newer pieces may need a bit of time to develop, it’s not as though Seattle is completely starting from zero; There’s plenty of potential there, and over the course of the next few months, it’s going to be perhaps the most exciting unit to watch come together.