Not only did the Seahawks’ quarterback position undergo one of the most significant changes in franchise history in 2022, but so did the linebacking corps. For the first time since 2012, it was not headed up by Bobby Wagner.
But that wasn’t all. The defensive coordinators changed from Ken Norton Jr. to Clint Hurtt and that meant a shift in schemes to the 3-4 from the long-held 4-3.
Some of that change was more subtle than dramatic. The responsibilities for the middle and weakside linebackers were still similar to what they’d been in the past.
Gone was the LEO rush end position, that had been made famous by the likes of Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril, in favor of what the team defined as linebackers on each side flanking a three-man defensive line.
The results were spotty.
The Seahawks had their share of sacks with 45. That tied for the seventh-most in the NFL and was on par with the 2013 Super Bowl team, which had 44 in one fewer game.
The Seahawks struggled to stop the run and allowed far too many big plays en route to giving up 23.6 points per game, 25th in the NFL, indictments of the inconsistency of the inside and outside linebackers.
As we continue our overviews of the Seahawks’ position groups heading into the offseason, let’s take a closer look at the linebackers. We’re classifying players here by the positions at which they are listed by the Seahawks.
Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu
Snaps played in regular season: 904.
Contract situation in 2023: Entering second season of two-year deal, due to make a non-guaranteed $7.5 million.
Outside linebacker Bruce Irvin
Snaps played in regular season: 400.
Contract situation in 2023: An unrestricted free agent after playing last year for the veteran minimum of $1.2 million.
Middle linebacker Jordyn Brooks
Snaps played in regular season: 1,025.
Contract situation in 2023: Entering final season of four-year rookie deal, due to make $2.278 million.
Weakside linebacker Cody Barton
Snaps played in regular season: 895.
Contract situation in 2023: An unrestricted free agent after his four-year rookie deal ran out.
Outside linebacker Boye Mafe
Snaps played in regular season: 424.
Contract situation in 2023: Entering second season of four-year rookie deal, due to make $1.094 million.
Outside linebacker Darrell Taylor
Snaps played in regular season: 485.
Contract situation in 2023: Entering final season of four-year rookie deal, due to make $1.532 million.
Inside linebacker Tanner Muse
Snaps played in regular season: 80.
Contract situation in 2023: Restricted free agent.
Others on roster: OLBs Alton Robinson, Tyreke Smith, Darryl Johnson, Vi Jones, Joshua Onujiogu, Aaron Donkor and Chris Garrett; ILBs Nick Bellore, Jon Rhattigan, Alexander Johnson, Cullen Gillaspia, Ben Burr-Kirven (Darryl Johnson, Alexander Johnson, Donkor and Gillaspia are now free agents, while Rhattigan is an exclusive rights free agent).
The Seahawks cut Wagner to save $16.6 million against the salary cap, and to move 2021 first-round pick Brooks from weakside linebacker into what they felt would be his best role at middle linebacker.
They planned to replace Brooks with a mix of Cody Barton and Jamal Adams, officially a strong safety but for whom the Seahawks had devised a package in which he would see significant time playing effectively weakside linebacker, with another safety filling out the back end.
That went out the window when Adams was lost for the season in the first half of the first game on a play in which he’d lined up at weakside linebacker. The Seahawks did use three-safety sets substantially as the year wore on, but the plan had been devised with Adams in mind.
“We had a real plan in how we wanted to utilize him,” coach Pete Carroll said after the season. “… That’s the design of the scheme, it was all set up with that in mind. I’m not blaming anything on that. We will take advantage of that when we have him again. He will make the most of it.”
Brooks piled up a ton of tackles — 161 — before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the second-to-last game of the season. Barton, who started just five games in his three previous seasons, seemed to get the hang of things as the year wore on. But, as noted, there were too many big plays allowed and not as many of the impact plays made when Wagner teamed with K.J. Wright, who departed the year before.
As for the OLBs, Nwosu was a revelation as a free-agent signee, tying for the team lead with 9.5 sacks, and leading the team with 12 tackles-for-a-loss. The rest of the OLB/edge rush position was spotty.
Mafe had some expected rookie adjustments and saw more snaps against the run (191, according to Pro Football Focus) than the pass (188).
That was in part because Taylor struggled early against the run and as was used predominantly in passing situations. He began to thrive in that role late in the season, tying Nwosu with 9.5 sacks.
Darryl Johnson, a waiver-wire pickup before the season, emerged as the starter alongside Nwosu five games into the season before suffering a season-ending injury.
That helped to bring back Irvin, who turned 35 in November. Even Irvin said that he was surprised to almost immediately be thrust into a starting role. He played 63% or more of snaps in five of his first six games.
The Seahawks enter the offseason with a lot of uncertainty. Brooks had surgery Jan. 19, meaning it’ll be a race to be ready for the start of the 2023 season, and Barton is an unrestricted free agent.
That means they could use one of the five picks in the top 84 of the NFL draft to fill out the ILB spot.
The Seahawks are hoping Adams makes a full recovery in time for a camp and can take on the linebacker role the team had pegged for him.
As for OLBs/rush ends, the Seahawks will return Nwosu, Taylor and Mafe of those who contributed significantly this year, but they will undoubtedly look to add to this spot through free agency and the draft. Many mocks have the Seahawks taking rush end Tyree Wilson of Texas Tech at No. 5 with the biggest wish that somehow Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson will fall there.
Wild cards are whether the Seahawks can get anything in 2023 out of the likes of Robinson and Smith, who missed all season because of injury. Smith, a fifth-round pick in 2022, is expected to be ready for camp after sitting out with a hip issue, but it’s unclear of the status of Robinson, who was out all year with a knee injury suffered in the preseason.
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