By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Free safety Earl Thomas crashed the line of scrimmage, running back Marshawn Lynch took the handoff, and when the two Pro Bowlers met in the backfield, it was another victory for the Seattle Seahawks defense.
It’s pretty much impossible for an NFL team to make a meaningful statement in early August, but when the Seahawks held a “mock game” on Friday, Seattle’s defense came close to making one.
In dominating the No. 1 offense for much of the day, the Seahawks’ defense screamed out, with its play, “Hey! Don’t forget about us.” The first week-plus of Seahawks training camp has been dominated by Percy Harvin talk. First, the discussion was, will he need surgery? Then when news came out that Seattle’s newly acquired receiver would indeed be out for a significant amount of time, the question shifted to, how will Seattle’s offense handle such a significant loss?
And sure, we can point out that the Seahawks offense was just fine without Harvin in the second half of last season averaging 32.4 points per game over Seattle’s final 10 games, including the postseason. But Friday’s scrimmage reminded us — and we’d be foolish to forget it — that the Seahawks can be pretty damn good without scoring anything close to 30 points a game this season.
In forcing three consecutive three-and-outs then a fumble in the first four possessions against the No. 1 offense, Seattle’s defense essentially said with its play, “Hey everybody freaking out about Percy Harvin, chill out a second. We’ve got this.”
“A lot of people talk about Percy Harvin, but the guy never played with us, and we got far last year,” Thomas said. “So we’re just going to build on that and take it day by day, trying to get better and correct what we messed up on the previous day.”
Yes Seattle’s passing game can still be very good without Harvin, but let’s not forget that the Seahawks’ identity is in its defense and running game. And that defense, as good as it was last year, plans on only getting better.
“I think it’s going to be a lot better,” said second-year middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. “We’ve got a lot of players coming back, so we’ve got that chemistry going and we’re just picking up where we left off last year. So I feel like it could be a little scary for everybody else.”
Any improvement by Seattle’s defense would indeed be scary for the rest of the league. Last season the Seahawks ranked first in scoring defense (15.3), fourth in yards allowed (306.2) and tied for fifth in takeaways (31). The Seahawks, along with the Bears, were one of only two teams in the league to rank in the top five in those three categories.
And if there were weaknesses on that stingy defense, it was the Seahawks’ inconsistent pass rush and their failure to protect leads late in games. The offseason additions of defensive end Cliff Avril and defensive end/tackle Michael Bennett, as well as the recent signing of defensive end/linebacker O’Brien Schofield should all help the pass rush improve over the course of the season. Even if there could be depth issues in the short-term with defensive end Bruce Irvin’s suspension and the uncertainty about defensive end Chris Clemons’ status coming off of knee surgery. And not only will a better pass rush help in those late-game situations, so too will an improved secondary that adds 2013 Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield and a fully-healthy for the first time in a long time (knock on wood) cornerback Walter Thurmond.
“If we just pay attention to the little details, situational ball — if it’s two minutes, how many timeouts they have, the indicators that the offense shows us — if we pay attention to those, we can be one of the best in Seahawks history,” Thomas said.
Oh, and defensive end Red Bryant, one of the team’s best players in 2011, but someone whose play fell off a bit last season, said, “I feel strong right now. I know it’s early on, but this is the best I’ve felt in a long time.”
Big Red feels stronger than ever? Good luck with that, opposing tackles.
So yeah, it’s not ideal that the Seahawks lost Harvin for much of the season before he could ever play with his new team, but hold off freaking out for now, because this Seahawks defense plans on being even better in 2013. If that happens, the Seahawks should survive without Harvin just fine.
“We plan on just being better than the past years,” said safety Kam Chancellor, “Getting better in our craft, better in our chemistry, making that bond stronger. Getting better at our weaknesses. Whatever we need to get better on, focus on that in practice and get better at it. … I think it can be a great defense, but it starts now.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.