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Checking in on the Seahawks’ defense and potential camp battles

Philadelphia Eagles v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images

After taking a look at the offense and potential camp battles on Tuesday, it’s time to look at the Seattle Seahawks’ defense today. While there’s quality competition at every level of the defense, the biggest variable is, of course Earl Thomas, who is currently holding out until his contract situation is resolved.

Position-by-position, let’s take a look at the state of the defense during the last phase of offseason workouts, before training camp gets underway in late July.

Defensive Tackle (4)

Locks: Jarran Reed, Tom Johnson, Nazair Jones

On the bubble: Shamar Stephen, Poona Ford

Long shots: Quinton Jefferson, Eddy Wilson, Malik McDowell*

Free agent addition Tom Johnson will most likely join Jarran Reed as a starter inside, replacing the departed Sheldon Richardson. While neither player will be regular three-down defenders, both are capable of rushing the passer and stopping the run, giving Seattle flexibility inside. Nazair Jones was one of the surprises of the 2017 season for the Seahawks and should become a legitimate nickel rusher in year two, provided he can stay healthy.

Along with Johnson, Shamar Stephen was brought over from the Minnesota Vikings and is close to being a roster lock, but not quite. It would only cost the team $1M in dead money to move on and there is a lot of competition at defensive tackle. A big part of that competition is Poona Ford, who surprisingly went undrafted and could provide Seattle with a great amount of value. Ford will push Stephen throughout July and August, and brings with him a higher upside.

Quinton Jefferson played well in his second go-round with the Seahawks at the end of 2017 and his ability to play inside and out will only help him as he makes a roster push. He finds himself towards the bottom of a deep position group, however. Only one of Wilson or Ford will be able to make a long run at the 53-man roster and Ford has a considerable leg up.

*Malik McDowell is a long shot only in that he’s a long shot to be on the 53-man roster. Whether he’s released with a failed physical designation or spends another year on the NFI list, he won’t be on Seattle’s 53-man roster in 2018.

Defensive End (5)

Locks: Frank Clark, Dion Jordan, Rasheem Green, Jacob Martin

On the bubble: Branden Jackson, Marcus Smith

Long shots:

Frank Clark, the longest tenured Seahawk on the defensive line (!) will be expected to carry the pass rushing load for the first time in his career. Across from him, Dion Jordan should start and, if he’s able to maintain the level he played at in 2017, could put himself in line for a tidy payday next offseason. Rasheem Green will get the majority of his reps at 5-tech, but can and will slide inside in certain pass rushing situations. His fellow rookie, Jacob Martin, will get immediate snaps in a shallow position group, as long as he can create pressure on passing downs.

An unexpected contributor last season, Branden Jackson was promoted to the active roster in Week 6 and became a useful part of the rotation, however was inexplicably underused as Michael Bennett nursed a foot injury over the season’s second half. Marcus Smith revitalized his career in his first season in Seattle, coming up with multiple timely big plays. Smith has been working with both the defensive line and linebackers, but with Jacob Pugh and Barkevious Mingo both expected to play the SAM/OTTO role, Smith has to be a pass rusher first to make the 53. Not helping Jackson or Smith’s cause is the deep defensive tackle group; there’s a strong chance the team goes with five DTs and 4 EDGEs, especially with projected EDGE snaps from Mingo and Pugh, as well.

Linebacker (6)

Locks: Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Shaquem Griffin, Barkevious Mingo

On the bubble: D.J. Alexander, Jacob Pugh

Long shots: Emmanuel Beal, Warren Long, Austin Calitro, Joshua Perry

Shaquem Griffin will backup K.J. Wright on the weakside, as well as being a terror on special teams, as Wright enters the final year of his contract. After going to a more traditional off-ball linebacker skill set on the strongside following Bruce Irvin’s departure, the Seahawks are closer to replicating his versatile game with the signing of Barkevious Mingo.

Undrafted rookie Jacob Pugh will push for the backup SAM role, bringing the ability to rush off the edge and play off ball, just like Mingo. D.J. Alexander’s value is almost exclusively as a special teamer and it’s unlikely he would step into a starting job even if Wright or Wagner were to go down. As Seattle gets younger at every level of the defense, it’s fair to wonder if a rookie will usurp Alexander’s roster spot.

Both Warren Long and Emmanuel Beal will be pushing for the backup SAM spot along with Pugh — however, neither offer the type of pass rushing upside that Pugh does. Joshua Perry and Austin Calitro, both signed by the team this week, are more traditional off-ball linebackers and will be competing with Alexander for the sixth and final linebacker spot.

Cornerback (5)

Locks: Shaquill Griffin, Justin Coleman, Byron Maxwell, Tre Flowers

On the bubble: Neiko Thorpe, Mike Tyson, DeAndre Elliott

Long shots: Akeem King, Dontae Johnson

Following the departure of Richard Sherman, Shaquill Griffin has switched sides to Sherman’s famous left side, while Byron Maxwell has returned to his more comfortable right. Justin Coleman has solidified the slot corner position and could be one of the team’s best defenders in his second year with the Seahawks. Tre Flowers is a project as he converts to cornerback from safety, but unless he is an utter disaster in preseason, it’s tough to imagine Seattle risking losing him with a year on the practice squad.

Thorpe may never play meaningful snaps at cornerback, but as evidenced in this year’s draft, Pete Carroll wants to get the special teams back up into the upper echelon — Thorpe is a huge part of that. One of Thorpe, Elliott or Tyson will make it as a key special teamer and reserve cornerback. Thorpe did nothing last season to make the coaching staff he isn’t perfectly capable of filling that role with ease.

Veteran Dontae Johnson’s already long odds of making the 53-man roster got even longer when, on Tuesday, Carroll told media he had undergone surgery to repair a broken foot. Akeem King, like Tyson, Thorpe and Elliott, would have to carve out a role as a reserve CB and core special teamer; he’s simply behind the other three at this point.

Safety (4)

Locks: Earl Thomas*, Kam Chancellor*, Bradley McDougald, Delano Hill, Tedric Thompson

On the bubble: Maurice Alexander

Long shots: Alex Carter, Tevon Mutcherson

Bradley McDougald was brought back in free agency and will start at either strong or free safety (more on that shortly). Out of the sophomore safeties, Delano Hill looked much better in limited snaps last preseason and should start alongside McDougald if the Seahawks enter the season with two new starting safeties. Thompson, like McDougald, offers positional flexibility and John Schneider praised his play on special teams earlier this offseason.

Veteran Maurice Alexander offers the team a reliable depth piece should both Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas be out of the equation for 2018. If even one of the two stalwarts are on the active roster come Week 1, it’s very difficult to imagine Alexander on the roster.

Alex Carter spent a short time on the team’s practice squad last season prior to being signed to a future contract at the conclusion of the season, and can play both cornerback and safety. Tevon Mutcherson was signed following the team’s rookie minicamp, but both players would have to be extremely impressive over the course of August to even get close to the 53-man roster.

*As of now, neither Thomas or Chancellor are partaking in offseason activities, as Chancellor isn’t cleared and Thomas holds out. There’s a chance both players end up starting Week 1 for Seattle, however there’s a stronger chance neither does. With both stars’ status unclear, it’s difficult to project the team’s safety situation, especially with Carroll experimenting to see what works throughout OTAs and minicamp.

More roster moves are to come as the team gears up for the 2018 season and the opening of training camp next month, but as of now, the defense will have quality competition at every position.