Can pass rush become a Seahawks strength?

RENTON — Last season, quite often the Seattle Seahawks’ pass rush was Chris Clemons or bust.

Either the Seahawks’ defensive end provided quarterback pressure, or no one did. Clemons led the Seahawks last season with his second straight 11-sack season, but no else had more sacks than linebacker Leroy Hill’s four.

This season, thanks to the addition of first-round pick Bruce Irvin and the free-agent signing of Jason Jones, the Seahawks are hoping that will change. As the 2011 season progressed, it became clear Seattle had most of the pieces in place to build a young, elite defense. Despite starting several young and inexperienced players, Seattle ranked seventh in points allowed last season, and ninth in total defense. But as good as the Seahawks were defensively, their pass rush was often the one weak spot. Seattle had 33 sacks last season, which was tied for 19th in the league, and on days when teams figured out how to neutralize Clemons, the pass rush was often close to nonexistent.

With the addition of Irvin, a lighting-quick end, and Jones, a versatile interior pass rusher, the Seahawks plan on turning their pass rush from a question mark to a team strength.

“That could be deadly right there,” Jones said of Seattle’s pass-rushing options. “… If all the attention is on Clem, because he got 11 sacks last year, that will open things up for Bruce and me. … There are endless possibilities, that’s why I’m so excited.”

Jones, who spent the past four seasons in Tennessee, played mostly as a defensive end last year, and felt out of position after playing more tackle earlier in his career. This season, he will be used as an interior rusher on passing downs, but can also play end in other packages, or serve as a backup to defensive end Red Bryant. And even if playing tackle can at times mean less glory, Jones is thrilled to be back where he feels more comfortable, and knows that even if he isn’t putting up big numbers, he can make an impact.

“And the end of the day, I do want sacks, but if I’m causing havoc and somebody else is eating, then that means we’re doing our jobs,” he said. “Sacks will come, but overall we just want other teams to be scared of us and be intimidated by our pass rush.”

This is why the Seahawks took what is a perceived gamble on Irvin with the 15th overall pick in the draft when they already had a pass rusher in Clemons. And why they signed Jones, one of the top defensive tackles on the market even though they had a pair of starting tackles they still like in Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch. It is hard to understate the value of a strong pass rush in the NFL, particularly when you can create one without blitzing.

“It can help us on third down, and that’s so big in the NFL to get off (the field) on third down,” said defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. “So if you get those three guys on the field. … It can just change our mentality a little bit. We’re going to bring pressure, but if you can play coverage and rush four and get pressure on, it opens up a lot of things for you.”

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is counting on the addition of Jones and Irvin to pay dividends, and believes their presence, as much as anything, could be a difference maker in 2012.

“Out of all of the aspects of our football team I’m most excited about our potential to improve there,” Carroll said. “We know that Bruce is an obvious opportunity guy that can really add to it with the great speed that he has. … But I think the really exiting element is to see what Jason Jones can bring for us. To have a guy that not only can he rush outside, but can be a very effective guy we hope on the inside will accent having terrific speed on both edges and a real elusive guy inside and with great length and reach, the combination really elevates our potential for our pass rush.”

A year ago, the big story on Seattle’s defense was the surprising secondary that, by the end of the year, was made of three first-year starters in safety Kam Chancellor and cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Browner, Chancellor and free safety Earl Thomas all played in the Pro Bowl last year. But the scary thing for the rest of the NFC is that the secondary could be much better if the pass rush makes the leap forward that the Seahawks hope it can.

“We like the guys covering in the back end, they need more help with the rush up front, and it’ll all work together,” Carroll said. “That’s the area that I hope will be a visible improvement from game one. We’re going to really lean on that and we’re really excited about that change.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Sports

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen of Everett poses with a soccer ball in front of the state capitol building in Olympia. (Provided photo)
How Rep. Rick Larsen helped Seattle secure its 2026 World Cup bid

The longtime congressman isn’t solely responsible, but he played a small role in bringing the event to the Pacific Northwest.

Seattle Mariners' Julio Rodriguez is greeted in the dugout after he hit a solo home run against the Oakland Athletics during the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, July 3, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Rodriguez, Ray lead Mariners by lowly A’s

Seattle’s star rookie drive in both runs and Robbie Ray fans a season-high 12 batters.

AquaSox's manager, Louis Boyd, Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett on July 28, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
AquaSox rally from early hole to beat Emeralds

Victor Labrada hits the go-ahead home run in the seventh inning as Everett wins 6-4.

Storm
Dream pull away in 3rd to beat Storm

Seattle never leads in a 90-76 loss to Atlanta.

Kevin Clark / The Herald

***Silvertips Special Sections*****
Yan Khomenko signals for substitution Sunday night at Xfinity Arena in Everett, Wa on September 6th, 2015

Sports:  Silvertips Special Section
Shot on: 09/06/15
Silvertips add pair in CHL import draft

Everett selects Czechian forward Dominik Rymon with pick 57 and Swiss goalie Tim Metzger 117th overall.

Silvertips’ Niko Huuhtanen and Giants’ Jaden Lipinski fight for the puck during the playoff match up against the Vancouver Giants on Saturday, April 23, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Silvertips will look to replace Huuhtanen in CHL import draft

The standout forward who scored 37 goals this past season recently signed a professional contract to play in Finland.

FILE - UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., right, tries to get by Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on March 5, 2022, in Los Angeles. UCLA and Southern California are planning to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten Conference in a seismic change that could lead to another major realignment of college sports. A person who spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday, June 30, 2022, on condition of anonymity because the schools' talks with the Big Ten have not been made public said the schools have taken steps to request an invitation to join the conference. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
UCLA, USC leaving Pac-12 for Big Ten

The two schools announce they will be exiting the Pac-12 in 2024 in a major blow to the viability of the conference.

Seattle Mariners' Abraham Toro, center, is greeted by Julio Rodriguez, right, and Cal Raleigh, left, after Toro hit a single to score Marcus Wilson with the winning run during the ninth inning of the team's baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Saturday, July 2, 2022, in Seattle. The Mariners won 2-1. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Late fireworks lead Mariners over Athetics

Justin Upton homers in the eighth and Abraham Toro hits walk-off single to give Seattle a 2-1 victory.

AquaSox's manager, Louis Boyd, Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett on July 28, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
AquaSox can’t hold early lead, fall to Emeralds

Andy Thomas hits two home runs in Everett’s 6-3 defeat.

Most Read