Are the Seahawks looking for a linebacker in draft?

RENTON — When head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider prepared for their first draft with the Seattle Seahawks, it was obvious what they had to do with the No. 6 pick. There was no pretense about drafting the best player available, regardless of position.

“You guys hear that every year,” said Schneider, who is preparing for his third draft as the Seahawks general manager. “You hear people talk about, ‘You don’t draft for need.’ The left tackle thing was clearly, ‘We need a left tackle.’ We were looking at that like, we’re either taking the Oklahoma guy (Trent Williams) or the Oklahoma State guy (Russell Okung), whichever one comes to us, and we may not get either one.”

Well thanks to the thorough rebuilding project that has taken place over the past two years, the Seahawks head into this year’s draft with a different perspective. Sure there are positions on Seattle’s roster that are deeper than others, but for the most part Schneider and Carroll think they are in a much better place heading into this week’s draft.

“We’re definitely at a different place,” Schneider said. “When you look at the draft in particular and some of the areas in free agency that we’ve addressed, I think it’s put us in a position to just let the draft kind of come to us and not feel like we need to move around or not do anything that would put the organization in jeopardy in any one position.”

If, however, there is one obvious need the Seahawks could be looking to address when the draft begins Thursday night, it is at middle linebacker. David Hawthorne, the team’s leading tackler over the past three seasons, signed with New Orleans last month, leaving the Seahawks with a significant hole in the middle of their defense. Seattle did sign veteran linebacker Barrett Ruud, but he is likely a short-term fix more than he is a permanent solution. K.J. Wright can also play middle linebacker, but the Seahawks would rather keep him at strongside linebacker, where he started as a rookie last season.

So does that mean the Seahawks have to use their first pick on a middle linebacker? Not at all, but if Boston College’s Luke Kuechly is available, Seattle would certainly have to take a long look. Kuechly, who won the Butkus Award in his final season at BC, is considered one of closest things to a sure thing as there is in the first round. Then again, the same was once said about Aaron Curry, and that obviously didn’t work out too well for the Seahawks.

The moves Carroll and Schneider have made at linebacker since taking over would seem to indicate that they prefer to find value at the position rather than devote big money or high draft picks to linebackers. When Carroll and Schneider were hired, Seattle had Curry, the No. 4 pick in 2009, as well as Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill, who were both playing under big contracts given out by the previous regime. Hill was restructured, taking a big pay-cut, in 2010. Tatupu was released before the 2011 season when he wouldn’t agree to re-structure his deal. Curry, meanwhile, was traded to the Raiders during the 2011 season for a pair of conditional draft picks, when Wright, a fourth-round pick, emerged as a viable starter. And with those moves, linebacker had gone from being one of Seattle’s most expensive position groups to one of its cheapest in less than two years.

Despite their history of finding value at linebacker — the Seahawks also landed Malcolm Smith late in the seventh round last year, and he could factor into the battle for the starting job at weakside linebacker — Schneider and Carroll aren’t necessarily against taking a linebacker in the first round.

“No, that’s not our philosophy,” Schneider said. “We value that position as highly as all the other positions.”

Middle linebacker is one of the team’s biggest needs, but even if the Seahawks are willing to address it in first round, they may decide they are better off waiting. One of the reasons Seattle didn’t get in a bidding war with the Saints to keep Hawthorne, and one of the reasons it was a slow free agent market for linebackers in general, is that this year’s crop of linebackers is considered strong and deep.

“This is a year where, for us, there is a number of attractive linebackers,” Schneider said.

“… There’s good numbers up there at the linebacker position.”

Maybe the Seahawks like Kuechly enough to draft him if he’s still available — which is far from guaranteed — but they could also try to trade back and draft Alabama’s Don’ta Hightower late in the first round, or cross their fingers and hope that he lasts until their second-round pick. Or maybe Carroll and his defensive staff, having seen what they were able to do with a fourth-round pick in Wright, feel confident that they can land a future star on the third day of the draft.

Whatever the Seahawks do, they’ll almost certainly end the draft with a linebacker or two. For a team that doesn’t feel like it has a ton of obvious holes to fill, that is perhaps the biggest need. The big question heading into Thursday is if linebacker is such a big need that the Seahawks will address it in the first round.

Herald Writer John Boyle:

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