By John Boyle
As you’ve no doubt read or heard by now, the Seahawks have in these offseason workouts been tinkering with swapping K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith between strongside and weadside linebacker. Wright has been a two-year starter at strongside linebacker (SAM), and he also has saw time at middle linebacker two years ago when David Hawthorne was injured. Smith, meanwhile, started three games at weakside (WILL) in place of an injured Leroy Hill.
So with Hill gone, when the Seahawks didn’t draft an outside linebacker, the likely starting linebackers looked like Bobby Wagner in the middle, Wright at SAM and Smith at WILL, and while things could certainly still end up that way, we’ve seen a lot of the opposite so far. Now at first glance, switching the two seems odd, because traditionally the WILL linebacker is the faster of the two while the SAM has to be a bit more physical because he’s dealing with a tight end, but since when do the Seahawks worry about doing the conventional thing?
The way linebacker coach Ken Norton sees it, his linebackers are versatile enough to play all over the field.
“We have the versatility,” Norton said. “Players are now getting older, they’re in year two, year three, and they’re all starting to mature at the same time, that’s when you’ve got a really good team, when the young guys are maturing at the same time. They have a great understanding of the defense, what we’re asking of them, and now they’re able to do veteran things. They can make up for each other, they can do things you can’t coach. You expect their athletic ability and their smarts to really show up in year two, year three, year four.”
As for the notion that the 226-pound Smith can’t hold up as an every-down player, Norton isn’t buying that.
“You’ve got to stand next to him,” he said. “From afar, he might look like a regular size guy. You stand next to him, you see he has size, strength, he has big calves, a big chest, big arms. Stand next to him and you’ll see that he’s the prototype size linebacker.”
Smith thinks his speed can be a weapon regardless of which spot he is playing.
“I think I run pretty well, so I’m going to try to use my strengths, which are speed and aggressiveness as far as decision making and trying to find the ball. I think that’s a good spot for me being able to just kind of unleash myself.”
Of course being a SAM linebacker means lining up at the line of scrimmage and rushing the passer more, something Smith admits he hasn’t done a ton of, but is more than willing to work on.
“We’ll definitely find out,” Smith said when asked about his pass-rushing abilities. “We’re working on it, so we’ll see.”
And here’s the thing about all of this. It is May, and teams like to try stuff out now that may not work out in Sept. Does Smith as an every-down SAM make a lot of sense? No, but do the Seahawks want to see what he might be able to do with his speed as a pass rusher? Perhaps. Or do they want to get Wright time at WILL because, as Pete Carroll has said, they’re going to use Bruce Irvin and Cliff Avril at SAM, particularly in passing situations? Most likely. The truth of the matter is, Seattle’s front seven is very much a work in progress, and will be changing constantly depending on game situations, so it’s far too early to read too much into anything we’re seeing during a May OTA.
A few other notes from Monday’s workout…
Marshawn Lynch was not on hand for Monday’s workout, which like the ones he missed a couple weeks ago, was voluntary (Lynch was here last week for OTAs). Rookie Christine Michael, who has been limited in recent workouts with a hamstring injury, looked good getting extra reps in Lynch’s absence.
Right tackle Breno Giacomini and cornerback Antoine Winfield were also absent. Giacomini’s absence gave Michael Bowie a chance to work with the first team, and with Winfield out, Walter Thurmond was the nickel corner with the No. 1 defense and had a solid day.
In the case of Lynch, Winfield and Giacomini, no explanation was given because Pete Carroll was not available to the media Monday.
Guard John Moffit, who was not present last week for the practice that was open to the media because of a court date, was back in action Monday.
Cornerback Richard Sherman turned in the play of the day, making an impressive over-the-shoulder catch on a deep ball intended for Golden Tate.