Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Case for Malcolm Jenkins

by: William P. Tomisser

Last season, the Seahawks were dead last in pass defense. How bad was it? Clare Farnsworth laid it out in his article today in the Seattle P-I.

The Seahawks were the only team in the league to allow 4,000-plus passing yards (4,149; or 563 more than the runner-up Jaguars).

They allowed a league-high 59 pass plays of 20-plus yards, one of only four teams to yield more than 50.

They also allowed 11 pass plays of 40-plus yards, one of nine teams to surrender double digits in that category.

They were one of only three teams to allow at least 200 passing first downs (207).

Opposing quarterbacks compiled a 96.0 passer rating against the Seahawks, fourth highest in the league.

They yielded a league-worst 10 100-yard receiving games, and the next highest was six by the New Orleans Saints

There is some debate on whether the defensive line is to blame due to a lack of a pass rush or the defensive backs were to blame for a lack of ability to make plays on the ball even when in position. Some blamed John Marshall's scheme. The truth probably lies in between somewhere.

To Continue . . .

Some people have pointed out that the defensive backs were coached last season by our new head coach and asked point blank how well that bodes for the future of the franchise. Here's Mora's answer from Farnsworth's article:

Defense is a function of all 11 (players)," Mora said. "It's a function of team. If you're not hitting on all cylinders, it's tough."

"When people evaluate defenses, it's typical that they attribute success or failure (against) the run game to the front seven, and success or failure (against) the pass game to the back four."

"It's not quite that simple."

After Patrick Kerney was injured last season, Seattle's pass rush was not nearly as dominant as it had been the previous season and it left our defensive backs out on a limb trying to cover NFL receivers for five or six seconds. The best in the business can't do that.

When we resorted to the blitz, whether it was because of our scheme or the fact that it was telegraphed somehow, the opponents seemed ready and made several big plays throughout the season, finding the holes we left in our defense while committing our linebackers and defensive backs to help mount an effective pass rush.

There is no secret that we are in dire need of a big defensive tackle who can collapse the pocket and create pressure up the middle. Mora mentioned the need for the front four to generate much of the pass rush in his inaugural press conference.

However, the other problem that surfaced last season is a direct reflection on the defensive backfield. Both Jennings and his replacement Wilson got burned several times by bigger, taller receivers.

Although they were able to work themselves into position to make the play when the ball was in the air, Jennings fell down a couple of times and was guilty of not turning his head around and looking for the ball and Wilson just got outmuscled at times.

Wilson has problems making plays on receivers six inches taller than he is. Although he came in and showed better ball hawking skills than Jennings, he still tends to be outmatched against bigger receivers.

Grant and Russell didn't play as well as they did the previous season and Mora said that he was disappointed that the Seahawk's best players didn't have their best year. In part, he was talking about Russell and Grant's play where the previous season they were part of the same Seahawk defensive unit that allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the league.

Mora defended the defensive backfield's consistency and has said that he feels that Grant and Russell can still be effective for the Seahawks. To be fair, Marshall's scheme had a lot to do with them not being in position to make plays too, and there wasn't anything Mora could do about it last season since he worked for Marshall.

As Farnsworth wrote about the situation,

The most glaring shortcoming was the lack of a playmaker -- and size -- at the cornerback spot opposite Marcus Trufant. Kelly Jennings, a 180-pounder who is called "Slim" by his teammates, started the season, but was not the answer. The coaches then turned to Josh Wilson, a more aggressive player, but one who is 5 feet 9.

Bigger receivers gave these two even bigger problems all season.

One big help would be to get a more physical cornerback with better size to play opposite Trufant. Right now Trufant doesn't get many opportunities to make a play on the ball because opposing teams mostly throw away from him to the opposite side of the field.

With a bigger, more physical presence there, teams would have to spread the ball around more and we would get our best cornerback back into the game as well as having a much stronger backfield overall.

Although we've mainly argued that, with the fourth overall pick, the team should take an offensive tackle or wide receiver with some speculation about taking a linebacker lately, the fact is that besides the three left tackles, wide receiver, and top-rated linebacker who are considered top 10 pick material, there is also a blue chip cornerback who most draft gurus have deemed worthy of a top 5 pick this year.

Malcolm Jenkins is 6' tall and 200 lbs. Bigger than Trufant, he passed up a chance to be a top pick last year in the draft to go after a national title at Ohio State. Winner of the Jim Thorpe award, which is given to the best defensive backfield player in the country, he has all the tools to be a complete shutdown cornerback at the NFL level. According to Draft Dog,

[Jenkins] really is a complete package at corner. At 6’ 0" 200 lbs, he the size teams want and he knows how to use it. He gets physical with receivers and uses that size as weapon in all facets of the game. Much like Woodson in his prime, Jenkins has a great vertical and will muscle a receiver off the ball to make a play. Jenkins also has more than enough speed to keep up downfield and possess tremendous burst to the ball. He has all of the tools needed to be an elite shutdown corner at the next level.

Let's all forget about left tackles, wide receivers, or replacing linebackers for a moment. Last season, teams threw away from Trufant because we have a real weakness on the other side of the field, but also because Tru could hurt them. Put a guy like Jenkins on the other corner and all of a sudden, you have a "pick your poison" situation. Neither side would be safe, and assuming that we get better play out of our two safeties next season (as Mora thinks is possible), our defensive backfield could all of a sudden become one of the top secondaries in the league.

Add to that having one of the best linebacker corps in the league if we retain Hill and Peterson, and that puts us basically a defensive tackle away from possibly having a premier defense next season for Mora to take over and direct.

It's another direction that Mora and Ruskell could take with our number 4 pick, and with all the struggles we've been through since Lucas left in free agency trying to get back our rock-solid defensive backfield, it makes enough sense that we should take a hard and long look.

We were down towards the bottom of the league in passing offense last season, and with the injuries we had there's justification for that occurrence but our injured players will return and with them our passing game. We didn't suffer any massive injuries to our pass defense, yet it finished dead last in the league.

That's D. E. A. D. L. A. S. T!!!!!!!!

I think there's some justification in claiming that the Seahawk's pass defense is one of the most critical areas of need on our team, if not the most. Drafting Jenkins could go a long way towards fixing that problem. I think you have to consider him in the same way you would consider Crabtree or Monroe or whomever else is your favorite left tackle prospect.

Jenkins is going to be a great lockdown corner for some team, and with his going back to Ohio State last season instead of coming out he's NFL ready and one of the absolute safest picks in the top 5 for this draft. Cornerback is another elite position that has been a traditional top 5 or 10 pick, and along with your quarterbacks and left tackles is one of the most highly paid positions because of its value to the team. Jenkins should get serious consideration from the Seahawks on draft day.

I now turn it over to the Seahawk Addicts to thoroughly ponder whether a cornerback might be our best option.


Bill T