By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
The most glaring weakness for the Seattle Seahawks when they faltered against Atlanta in the final seconds of the 2012 NFC divisional playoffs was a lack of a consistent pass rush.
But the Seahawks believe they’ve significantly bolstered that weakness by signing pass rushers Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel in free agency, along with selecting defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams in this year’s draft.
With those players joining an already-talented group that includes defensive ends Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, along with defensive tackles Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Clinton McDonald, Seattle’s pass rush should be much improved in 2013.
However, with Seattle’s top two pass rushers either rehabbing from a serious injury (Clemons) or unavailable for the first four games due to a PED suspension (Irvin), Avril will be counted on to carry the load as the team’s top pass rusher.
Whether or not Avril can flourish in that role remains to be seen. The former Detroit Lion was slowed by a nagging plantar fascia foot injury during offseason workouts, but should be healthy once training camp begins in two weeks.
And Seattle needs Avril to turn up the heat on opposing quarterbacks.
The Seahawks have one of the best defensive backfields in the league, finishing in the top 10 in passing yards allowed a game (203.1, No. 6), interceptions (18, tied-8th) and passing touchdowns allowed (15, t-2nd) last season. Yet, Seattle’s defensive line failed to take advantage of that blanket coverage, totaling just 36 sacks in 2012, tied for No. 18 in the league.
Avril’s posted 20 sacks over the past two seasons. And he also gets after the football, with 16 career forced fumbles.
“He has a good scope of play,” Carroll said after the acquisition of Avril. “He can do a ton of things, but what he really does is comes off that edge roaring after you.”
Is Clemons a fast healer?
Seattle’s sack leader the past three seasons, Clemons believes that he will be ready to play once the regular season begins at Carolina on Sept. 8.
Clemons suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee against Washington during Seattle’s playoff run, and had surgery to repair the issue in January.
While Clemons anticipates he will make it back for the start of the season, the odds are stacked against him. Most ACL knee injuries take nine-to-12 months to fully recover from. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson proved the exception to that rule, returning less than nine months after surgery ACL and MCL surgery to rush for 2,097 yards, 13 shy of the single-season record.
However, Peterson is 28; Clemons is 31. Further, Clemons will be just past six months out from his surgery when training camp starts on July 25.
Clemons is one of the vocal leaders of the defense. And along with being the team’s best pass rusher, he’s also one of Seattle’s better run defenders. However, with Seattle’s improved depth at defensive end, Carroll is not in a hurry for Clemons to get back on the field. Seattle needs a healthy Clemons in December, not September.
“Like I said the whole time, we’ll not rush that,” Carroll said. “We’ll take our time the whole time on that and make sure he’s right. The doctors are greatly confident and he is also, and we’ll start playing him whenever that happens.”
Irvin changing positions
Second-year pro Bruce Irvin’s development hit a snag when the NFL suspended him four games for violating the league’s policy for performance enhancing drugs, reportedly testing positive for Adderall.
So far, Irvin has handled the situation well, apologizing to fans and his teammates for his transgression.
Along with dealing with the suspension, Irvin is learning a new position. The West Virginia product led all rookies in sacks last year with eight as a part-time player coming in at defensive end in passing situations. But Carroll plans on moving the 6-3, 245-pound product to outside linebacker this year, where he’ll compete for a starting job with Malcolm Smith.
Irvin will remain one of Seattle’s main pass rushers on third down. Carroll believes the transition for Irvin will be an easy one.
“He’s extremely versatile, and that’s why we’ve loved him from the start,” Carroll said. “He’s really fast. He’s 250 pounds, and he’s exactly fitting the right kind of body type to play outside backer in the 3-4 system. We’re a 4-3 personnel system that plays 3-4 looks. He’s extremely valuable for us.”
Competition at DT
The Seahawks lost their starting defensive tackle combination next to nose guard Brandon Mebane when they let Alan Branch (Buffalo) and Jason Jones (Detroit) sign with other teams in free agency.
But Seattle has some talented options to try and fill the void.
Eight-year veteran Tony McDaniel likely will get the first opportunity. At 6-7 and 305 pounds, McDaniel has the length Carroll likes for an inside pass rusher. The former Miami Dolphin also can play stout against the run, and shows an innate ability to bat balls down.
But McDaniel will get competition from Hill and Williams.
A third round selection out of Penn State, Hill has been used as a backup nose guard behind Mebane, and as a inside pass rusher on passing downs.
Williams, a fifth round selection out of Alabama, also offers versatility, with an ability to play three different positions along the defensive line.
“The techniques and stuff are a lot different from what I played at Alabama,” Williams said. “It’s more North-South (getting up the field) than when I was at Alabama. But I’m looking forward to changing it up, and being able to hone my skills on what they need me to do, and try and contribute as much as I can.”