Exactly four weeks from Thursday the Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs will kick off the 2023 season on Sunday Night Football that is played on Thursday night, but in the meantime there is a whole lot of preseason to be played. For the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings preseason starts Thursday at Lumen Field, when the two teams kick off Week 1 of the preseason at 7:00 PM Pacific Time.
Here are a trio of things to watch for on defense when the Hawks take the field for the first time since the 41-23 loss to the division rival San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Revamped and Retooled Defensive Front Personnel
It’s likely more accurate to refer to the defensive front six than the front seven, given how much time the defense is expected to be in nickel and dime packages in the second year of deploying the Fangio defense. Regardless of how who is on the field or how many defensive players line up in the box, there will be some basic keys that are worth keeping an eye on.
First and foremost, what kind of personnel groupings does the team use? With six defensive players in the front expected for the majority of plays, how many defensive linemen will the team use as opposed to linebackers. Will there be four players on the line of scrimmage, including two defensive lineman and two outside linebackers, with a pair of off ball linebackers behind them? Or will they more often line up with three defensive linemen and a pair of outside linebackers, giving them five on the line of scrimmage and just a single off-ball linebacker in the second level?
Many fans seem to expect the team to opt for three defensive linemen, but if the Hawks coaching staff plans on utilizing just a pair of defensive linemen on many plays, it would go a long way towards explaining the fact that the only defensive lineman on the roster listed at 310 or more is Bryan Mone, who is not eligible to play since he is on the physically unable to perform list. So, for those who have spent the summer longing for an Al Woods type big body in the middle, it appears as though the Hawks are ready to roll without such a type on the roster.
Revamped and Retooled Play Style of the Defensive Front
The expected changes to the defensive front go beyond just the personnel, though, as many expect the Seahawks to play an entirely different style up front in 2023. Specifically, with the roster void of big bodies like Woods or even Poona Ford, the type of linebackers the team has rostered in 2023 are different as well.
In 2022 the Hawks had the likes of Cody Barton and Tanner Muse seeing the field for nearly a thousand snaps. Barton and Muse are both smaller, speedier linebackers who also made significant contributions on special teams, but both are the type of linebacker that needs to be kept clean in order to be effective. In contrast, this season the top two linebacker spots are currently filled with future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner and 2019 first round pick Devin Bush, while 2020 first round pick Jordyn Brooks continues to recover from offseason knee reconstruction.
Wagner’s abilities when it comes to tossing offensive linemen aside and making the necessary plays are no secret, and after the Seahawks signed Bush in free agency, Seattle general manager John Schneider specifically referenced Bush’s willingness and ability to take on guards. The physicality and not needing to be kept clean by the defensive line will be key as the revamped defensive line of the Hawks moves to a more aggressive, disruptive style that relies less on eating space and more on wreaking havoc.
The Back End of the Defense
Injuries will have many of the bigger names and projected starters in the secondary on the sideline during this matchup, including Riq Woolen, Devon Witherspoon and Jamal Adams, but as with the defensive front, the names are less important at this point than the groupings. What kind of personnel packages will the defense utilize, particularly early in the game when working to get live reps for those closer to the top of the depth chart.
How much will the Hawks utilize nickel packages? How much will they play nickel with three cornerbacks as opposed to three safeties? When they go to the dime package, with it be comprised of three corners and three safeties, or four corners and two safeties? They obviously will be playing a largely vanilla defense, but they’ll likely be playing vanilla while using the personnel groupings that they plan to deploy during the season and that is worth paying attention to, particularly in the early part of the game.
Now it’s just a matter of those fans on the East Coast getting in a nap Thursday afternoon in order to be able to stay awake for the game Thursday night.