Thursday, April 2, 2009

Position By Position: The Defense (part 1)

by: Michael Steffes

The Hawks have made a bunch of moves on the defensive side of the ball already this year, and it would appear that they still have a few more to make. At least, the fans would like them to address another position or two. By looking at the roster numbers, we can get a closer look at what positions the Hawks will likely continue adding talent to.

The two positions on the defense that are most in doubt are the outside linebacker spot vacated when Julian Peterson was traded and the safety spot currently manned by the much-maligned Brian Russell. A secondary concern, if you'll pardon the pun, is the cornerback position. It has been noted this week in several places that the Hawks are looking at bringing in another player to compete against Jennings and Wilson.

This morning I will take a look at the front seven. I will cover the secondary later in the day.

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Current Number: (5.5) Mebane, Bryant, Cole, Terrill, Kevin Brown, Cory Redding

Number taken to camp: 6 or 7

Last year in Camp: (7.5) Mebane, Bernard, Terrill, Tubbs, Tripplett, Brown, Howard Green, Chris Cooper

The Hawks have made some decisive moves in an attempt to upgrade their defensive line this year by signing Colin Cole and trading for Cory Redding. This is a different approach to last year when they waited until the 4th to take Red Bryant and then signed Larry Tripplett and Chris Cooper after the draft. Neither of them made the team. The word from Renton, which is supported by their actions, is that the team is looking for more versatility in their defensive linemen. Redding and Jackson are both capable of moving from end to tackle on passing downs. The team is also talking about Brandon Mebane getting his shot as the 3-tech pass rusher in certain sets. This has made it harder to distinguish which position on the defensive line the Hawks would prefer to address. However, it is clear by looking at the roster that they do need to add some bodies.

VERDICT: The Hawks have made enough moves to add big bodies that I don't believe that they will be addressing DT early in the draft. They have five guys who are all fairly young and fairly capable. The team is going to wait and see what new d-line coach Dan Quinn can get out of guys like Red Bryant and Kevin Brown. Cory Redding is the only guy whose contract will expire at the end of next year, and it is expected that he will only be playing at tackle on passing downs. My guess is that the team hopes Lawrence Jackson can be effective in that role staring in 2010. If they do take a defensive tackle, it will likely be on the second day, and even then they will only take a guy if he slips to a point where they see the player as a great value. Taking a defensive linemen in every draft is a smart tactic, but because of the resources that have already been poured into this position this year any guy they take in '09 won't be guaranteed to make the team.


Current Number: (5.5) Kerney, Tapp, Jackson, Atkins, Cory Redding, Brandon Miller

Taken to camp: 6 or 7

Last year: (6.5) Kerney, Tapp, Jackson, Atkins, Jason Babin, Nu'u Tafasi, Chris Cooper

The defensive end position is an interesting one for the Seahawks heading into the '09 draft. The Hawks used their top pick on a defensive end last year. Jackson supposedly played hurt most of the year, and whether or not he will be a full time starter in the NFL remains to be seen. Also, Patrick Kerney ended the year on IR for the second time in three years and is getting long in the tooth. After '09, assuming a new collective bargaining agreement is agreed upon, Darryl Tapp will be an unrestricted free agent. Cory Redding, who the team says will drop weight and make end his primary position is also on a one year deal. What does all of this mean? It means that the Seahawks could see a massive revamping of the defensive end position after this season. It will be even more dramatic if Kerney fails to come back from injury to his previous form.

VERDICT: The Hawks will look to find a defensive end early in this draft. Probably more so than any other defensive position the Hawks are going look at the pass rushers -- they can't afford not to. When the Hawks' pass rush is solid their defense plays well; when it disappears, they get abused. At this point, Lawerence Jackson is really the only player they can count on having around after this year. Tapp will need to show more consistency for the team to offer him a long term deal, and the same goes for Cory Redding, who might be looking to move on anyway. His agreeing to redo his contract into a one year deal suggests that. Hopefully Kerney is still Kerney, but either way his contract gets a bit cumbersome starting next year. Add all of this to Ruskell's affinity for drafting defensive linemen high in the draft and it is fair to assume the Hawks will look to find another end, but where they take one is harder to project. It is possible the Hawks will take one at pick four. They could also trade down a few spots and take one, or they could use their second or third rounder on a pass rusher. My projection is that the Hawks will draft an end within the first 100 picks. It would add insurance to the most important element of the Hawks defense.


Current Group: (6) Tatupu, Hill, DD Lewis, Hawthorne, Laury, Herring

Taken to Camp: 9

Last year in Camp: (9) Tatupu, Hill, Peterson, Lewis, Laury, Herring, Hawthorne, Mallard, Matt Castelo

The linebacking core had its first major shakeup since 2006 when the Hawks agreed to send Julian Peterson to Detroit. Now, for the first time in recent years, the Hawks have a starting spot up for grabs. It is suspected that Leroy Hill will become more of the pass rushing linebacker that he was during his rookie year, which leaves the open OLB spot as more of a coverage-oriented position. DD Lewis will be projected as the starter, but projecting what the Hawks will do at this position is difficult. After adding Lofa and Leroy in '05, the team has mostly addressed this position with later round picks and undrafted free agents and they have done a good job in those evaluations. Now, with a starting spot open, and a long term deal with Hill still up in the air, it makes sense the Hawks will look at linebacker during the draft again.

VERDICT: The Hawks are going to take a linebacker, but I am not sure they are going to put a huge priority on it. Not just with the Hawks, but in general, over recent years successful linebackers have been found later in the draft. If Aaron Curry is available at 4, the team could pull the trigger, as he would represent good value there, but Curry being available could also allow them to trade down. It will be interesting to see what they choose to do.

Because of the growth of the 3-4, a defense that has very specialized roles for linebackers, 4-3 outside linebackers haven't been in high demand. Also, the Seahawks have some players who may be able to fill the void until a later round pick develops. Regardless, it is clear that the Seahawks need to add some depth at this position. On top of drafting a linebacker or two, the Hawks will likely fill out their camp numbers with a couple undrafted free agents as well. In total, there is room to add 3 or 4. It is also possible that if a player or two they like escapes them, they could still address the position through free agency. There are several quality players without a team right now, some of whom have experience with our new defensive coordinator.

Overall, the front seven has some space to be added too. The defensive tackle position is the most stable of the three. Mainly because the Hawks put so much effort into addressing it this offseason. Defensive end is definitely a position to watch, both on draft day and throughout the year. There could be big changes there next year if the pass rush falters again. Linebacker will be a much discussed position too, especially if the Hawks have a chance at Aaron Curry. Taking a linebacker in the top 5 would be new for Ruskell and the Hawks. They have had success finding contributors later on in the draft, and sometimes even in the undrafted free agent pool. So far, he offseason strategy has been to build up the front seven. Expect that to continue on draft day.