By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
RENTON — Only two players did not return from the Seattle Seahawks’ top-rated defense from last season.
And the Seahawks still have not found a replacement for one of them — defensive tackle Alan Branch — who signed with Buffalo in free agency.
Third-year linebacker Malcolm Smith, who started three games in 2012, is penciled in to start for Leroy Hill, who remains on the free agent market.
But the competition at defensive tackle still is undecided. Complicating matters is the fact that rookie draft picks Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill did not practice on Wednesday because of injuries, which means their availability for Friday’s game in Green Bay is in question.
But one player who will have an open audition for the job is Tony McDaniel. At 6-7 and 305 pounds, the former Miami Dolphin was penciled in as the team’s starter to replace Branch at the beginning of training camp.
However, McDaniel suffered a groin injury leading up to the team’s exhibition opener at San Diego, and just returned to practice this week.
“The day I got hurt, the pain started kicking in as far as me sitting and watching,” McDaniel said. “I’m the type of guy who hates to be on the sideline watching. It was tough. These few days felt like months.”
McDaniel expects to get a lot of playing time on Friday, and a chance to prove himself.
“It’s very important,” McDaniel said. “I missed the first two games. I’m a new player. The coaches here have only seen me for things I’ve done in practice. So I can’t wait to get out there and show them what I can do in a game.”
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn also would like to get a close look at McDaniel with the first-unit defense.
“It’s an important time just to see what he does best,” Quinn said. “We’ve seen it in practice, and we have a good sense of what he does best and now, we are anxious to see it in a game setting.”
What Quinn and the rest of the coaching staff have seen in practice is a big body that can push the pocket in passing situations, and has a great sense of timing to knock down balls at the line of scrimmage in McDaniel.
But McDaniel won’t be the only one getting a chance to earn playing time at defensive tackle. Second-year pro Jaye Howard, who returned from a shoulder issue this week, also will get a look.
And someone else to look for is undrafted rookie free agent Michael Brooks. The East Carolina product originally signed with Detroit in May, but was released by the Lions later that month and claimed off of waivers by the Seahawks.
At 6-3 and 276 pounds, Brooks was in the backfield a handful of times against the Broncos last week, flashing an ability to rush the passer from the middle of the defense.
“I think Brooks, of all the rookies outside of Benson (Mayowa), has had a great camp,” said Seahawks defensive tackle Red Bryant. “He keeps performing. He keeps showing up. He shows a lot of potential. He’s got a great get off, and he uses his hands. Those are the biggest things you like to look for in young players.
“He’s a little bit more advanced at this stage than I know I was. And so, like I told him, just continue to push, and push hard, and he’s got a great opportunity in front of him — whether it be here or anywhere else. And hopefully it’s here.”
DL Jesse Williams (knee), FB Mike Robinson (sickness), WR Stephen Williams (undisclosed), WR Bryan Walters (hamstring) and Jordan Hill (arm) did not practice on Wednesday.
DB Antoine Winfield appeared to suffer a knee injury midway through practice, and watched the rest of practice from the sideline. CB Richard Sherman also appeared to suffer what looked like a heel injury battling with WR Golden Tate for the ball on a fade route in the end zone.
DE Chris Clemons (knee), DL Greg Scruggs (knee), CB Tharold Simon (foot) and WR Percy Harvin (hip) remain on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. LB Korey Toomer (hip) remains on the non-football injury list.
Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn discussed new addition defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, who Seattle received from Denver in the trade for offensive lineman John Moffitt. At 6-2 and 325 pounds, Siliga got a good push as an interior rusher during one-on-one pass rush drills. “I liked the way he came out to work,” Quinn said. “You could see is strength, and it transferred right down to the grass. … (He was) a true pro in the way he worked and started. So we’re of to good start.” Quinn said that Siliga is working at 3-tech and nose in the team’s base defense.