Seahawks are looking for a pass rusher in the draft

RENTON — The Seahawks did a lot of things well on defense in 2011 as, over the course of the season, they went from being a young, promising defense to one that was just plain good.

But for everything that the Seahawks did do well defensively — finishing seventh in scoring defense and ninth in total defense — there is one area in particular that needs to get better, coach Pete Carroll said.

“You never have enough pass rush, so it’s always important,” Carroll said. “… We’re always looking. Certainly in this draft it’s one of the issues that we’d like to attend to.”

The Seahawks have a promising young secondary that already is one of the best in the league, but for that unit to be even better, opposing quarterbacks need to be under duress more often than they were last season when Seattle had just 33 sacks. That sack total ranked in the bottom third of the league.

Defensive end Chris Clemons had 11 sacks for the second straight season, which is a very solid total, but he had little help. Leroy Hill was second on the team with four sacks, and no defensive lineman other than Clemons had more than three.

So when the Seahawks make their first-round selection on Thursday, don’t be surprised if the team’s newest edition is a player who specializes in terrorizing quarterbacks.

“We need to find a pass rush combination with our guys that gets us more push and is a bigger factor,” said Carroll. “… We think Clem is a premiere pass rusher. He’s shown (22) sacks in the last two years. He’s a factor. We need to add to that.”

The Seahawks could certainly look for pass rushers in the later rounds of the draft, but like quarterbacks, cornerbacks and left tackles, elite pass rushers are highly-coveted commodities, so the top guys will go early.

“It’s the most difficult talent to find … pass rushers,” Carroll said. “It’s why people try so hard and so often with guys early in the draft trying to nail a pass rusher because they’re just so special. It’s the big, fast guys. That’s the hardest … to find.”

Two pass rushers expected to go early are South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram and North Carolina’s Quinton Coples. Coples is the more traditional tall, long-limbed end while Ingram is a more compact and versatile player. It’s hard to say which one, if available, would fit the Seahawks better given the coaching staff’s ability to adjust the defense to the personnel. Both, however, certainly could make an impact on Seattle’s defense.

“There’s a guy that’s 6-foot-5-plus that runs 4.6’s (in the 40-yard dash) in Coples. He has prototypical numbers and he’s a classic in the profile of the big pass rusher,” Carroll said.

“Ingram is … an inside pass rusher primarily that plays outside linebacker at times, that plays ‘Mike’ linebacker at times. He’s all over the place and he’s utilized totally differently. He’s a shorter guy with shorter leverage and all of that and has effectiveness and a total different style.

“They’re just widely different. Both very effective and great prospects that will go high in the draft.”

Of course there are ways to improve a pass rush besides just looking for ends in the draft. The Seahawks hope they found an interior pass-rushing threat in free-agent Jason Jones, and linebacker K.J. Wright’s pass-rushing skills improved over the season. For a defense that frequently employs a run-stopping end in Red Bryant, getting pass pressure from varying areas is important.

All of that being said, however, the single best way for Seattle to pile up more sacks will be to add an elite pass rusher sometime this week, and possibly in Thursday’s first round.

As general manager John Schneider points out, the two stats that most accurately predict the winner of an NFL game are explosive plays on offense and turnovers caused by the defense. The easiest way to create turnovers is to get to the player who makes decisions with the ball on every down. If the Seahawks can find a player capable of doing that, a very good defense should get even better 2012.

“There’s a number of ways we’re looking,” Carroll said. “We just hope that we’ll hit it at the right time and have an opportunity for a guy somewhere in the draft. There are guys throughout the rounds that look really cool to us when the time comes. We’re very much in tune to that.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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