It's the deadest of the dead-season right now in the NFL calendar, so as we all wait for football later this month, let's look forward to what the Seahawks' starting lineups -- and the depth charts behind that -- might look like come September. I broke down the defensive backs position groups two weeks ago, and for today, let's look at the linebackers.
Right now, the Seahawks are rolling with 11 linebackers on their 90-man roster (counting Bruce Irvin in this group), and you could make the argument they have up to 14 in a pinch when you include Frank Clark, Cassius Marsh, and Obum Gwacham in there as well. Seattle will run with anywhere from probably six to eight at the linebacker spot during the regular season, depending on the injury situation and special teams needs. Obviously, having guys like Clark, Marsh, and Gwacham that can swing between DE and SAM, helps with some flexibility there. Regardless, there should be some good battles going on when it comes to the depth spots.
The "starters" are pretty obvious in my mind.
OLB1 K.J.Wright 6'4, 246
MLB1 Bobby Wagner 6'0, 241
SLB1 Bruce Irvin 6'3, 255
I see no reason that Wright, Wagner, and Irvin won't be the starters at linebacker on base downs. This group played very well last year, are still on the upward swing in terms of development, and familiarity in the system should be at an all time high, particularly for Irvin.
After making the switch to outside linebacker in 2013, Irvin's 2014 season was much more 'natural' at that spot, and 2015 we should see him doing less thinking and more reacting. The aggressiveness factor should be up, and we may see an uptick in tackles and big hits from the excellent athlete. I'm pretty excited to see what Irvin brings this year, and try to imagine the Seahawks' defense with another big-time playmaker. I wouldn't say that was really what Irvin has been yet -- he's been very solid, don't twist what I am saying here, but those two pick-sixes he produced last year just gave me a small look at what kind of player he could be consistently on base downs. Now, obviously, the hope is that he can be a big-time passrusher on 3rd downs as well, but this is the linebackers section so we'll leave that for the defensive line writeup.
Otherwise, Wright remains underratedly solid (actually, he made both Pete Prisco's and NFL.com's underrated lists this summer so maybe he's not underrated?). Wright's length is his defining characteristic, and he remains a great play at weakside linebacker in part because he's probably one of the best in the NFL at sniffing out screen plays. He's also solid in coverage, hits his zone drops with precision, and because of his length, can disrupt passing lanes and/or even prevent throws from going into his direction. He's also a great tackler.
Bobby Wagner? I don't even have to tell you about Wagner. He's probably one of the top three inside linebackers in the NFL and he's only getting better. Hopefully Seattle locks him up long-term sometime soon.
Now, on to the depth.
OLB2 Kevin Pierre-Louis 6'0, 232
MLB2 Brock Coyle 6'1, 235
SLB Mike Morgan 6'3, 226
OLB Eric Pinkins 6'3, 230
I'm most excited to see what Kevin Pierre-Louis brings to the fore and for how the Seahawks utilize him in their rotation. My guess is that he'll play in spots for Irvin and Wright in order to spell the two of them, and may sub in for Wright on some nickel downs. Essentially the same sort of role that Malcolm Smith played last year before he got benched. I would guess Seattle will try KPL out some at the SAM spot in the case that they can't get a long-term deal done with Bruce for 2016. Pierre-Louis is fast, and I don't think his field-speed is really that well-known quite yet, but I've heard from several beat reporters that he might be one of the fastest defenders on the field, which is crazy to imagine.
Curtis Crabtree shared an anecdote on our podcast about Kevin Pierre-Louis, and noted that there were times where KPL was beating Ricardo Lockette down to the end-line on touchbacks (on kickoff teams).... now that is speed. Of course, Pierre-Louis is 232 pounds and made a few very nice plays in 2014 where he demonstrated play-recognition and excellent tackling form. He is the wild-card of this group.
Past KPL, I would wager that Brock Coyle will again be the main backup in the middle and a core special teamer. Mike Morgan will be a primary backup at the SAM spot, and will be a core special teamer. Eric Pinkins has a real shot at the roster if he can show some things in the preseason at SAM, but will primarily be leaned on as a special teams guy this early in his career as well.
Carroll talked about how Pinkins during minicamp.
"Pink has given us an extraordinary athlete at the spot and he's learned a ton, probably the most improved guy on the football field would be Pink from where he started. So we'll see what happens when we got to camp and line them up and give them a chance to go at it. You can't find a guy much faster playing outside 'backer in the League, so we'll see how he does."
With KPL and Pinkins joining Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin, this linebacker group is absurdly fast.
On to the "camp bodies." Now, I'm not writing any of these guys off immediately, but having exactly zero exposure to them lumps them into the same category.
LB Alex Singleton 6'2, 242
LB Quayshawn Nealy 6'0, 236
LB Tyrell Adams, 6'2, 228
Singleton, Nealy, and Adams will get a look in training camp and the preseason and there have been a few undrafted linebackers break onto the Seahawks 53-man roster as rookies in the past. So, these are names to keep an eye on.
That brings us to the "swing" linebackers. I think that Marsh, Clark, and Gwacham will primarily play end in Seattle's system (or even some three-technique for Marsh and Clark), but all three have the potential to play a little SAM as well.
LEO Cassius Marsh 6'4, 260
LEO Frank Clark 6'3, 271
LEO Obum Gwacham 6'5, 245
"If you looked today real carefully you could see that Cassius is playing some outside ‘backer spot for us," Pete Carroll mentioned during minicamps. "He's in that same makeup - 250 pounds, he runs well, he's got good length to him and all, that he can be a SAM ‘backer, as well as a LEO."
What these guys provide, as I mentioned above, is flexibility. Seattle can depend on one or all of them to fill in at SAM in a pinch, and can adjust and construct their roster accordingly. This will be key during the season as injuries happen and depth needs to be filled.