Forcing the issue?
Pete Carroll and John Schneider really keyed in on the offensive line last April, spending their first pick on right tackle James Carpenter and then drafting John Moffitt. Coupled with the 2010 addition of Russell Okung and the free agent signing of Robert Gallery, this was some makeover. As it happens, all suffered injuries last season but the line coped thanks to improved depth and the coaching influence of Tom Cable.
A good running game was listed among Carroll’s main aim’s when appointed as Head Coach and I suspect the 2010 ‘performance’ was quite embarrassing given the emphasis it received. He’d witnessed the slightly farcical arrival and departure of Alex Gibbs, the consequent changes to the offensive staff at the end of the season and now the appointment of another big name with Cable. This justifiably needed to be put right and the 2011 results were in fairness a complete improvement. By the end of the season, the Seahawks were fielding one of the more effective run games in the NFL.
Having gone some way to righting that ship, I suspect Carroll and John Schneider are going to similarly turn their attentions to the defense in a similar aggressive manner. The pass rush isn’t good enough at the moment and there’s way too much reliance on Chris Clemons for production. I have reservations about the scheme Seattle uses (more on that in a moment), but the simple fact is there’s not enough threat up-front to create consistent pressure.
I can see a situating where the Seahawks jump into the draft really determined to go defense, maybe at the risk of forcing things a little. For all the coach talk that goes on at every franchise, Carroll has always been fairly honest with his assessments on improving the team. He clearly defined the offensive line as a target area twelve months before drafting Carpenter and Moffitt ago. This year he discussed the need for speed within the front seven and more sustained pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Aside from the gaping hole at quarterback (will this issue ever be solved properly?) improving the pass rush is easily Seattle’s #2 need.
The problem is as I see it, this is NOTa strong draft for front seven pass rushers. It’s the weakest class of defensive lineman in years – Michael Brockers may be the best of the bunch, but further tape study has shown he may be better suited to the orthodox five-technique position – one not used in Seattle. Devon Still had a good 2011 season, but is he in a similar situation, facing a switch to the 5-tech? There’s no truly excellent defensive end who warrants a high pick and a pretty strong linebacker group has been decimated by underclassmen choosing to return to college. Zach Brown may be the only legitimate option at #11 or #12, but he only had 5.5 sacks as a senior and isn’t renowned for being a great pass rusher. Besides – how much of an impact can a WILL linebacker truly have for a teams lacking a consistent pass rush? Isn’t it more of a compliment than a solution?
If the Seahawks are intending to use this draft to makeover the front seven, it just seems like a bad year to do it. Although I understand why they drafted Carpenter and Moffitt last April, they also passed on the following at #25: Jabaal Sheard, Muhammed Wilkerson, Brooks Reed, Da’Quan Bowers, Marvin Austin and Stephen Paea. All of those players could be better than the defensive options facing the Seahawks at #11 or #12 this year. Meanwhile, as we approach the 2012 draft, Seattle might actually be in pole position to look at offensive lineman like Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, while there could be some potential round two depth with Peter Konz, Jonathan Cooper, Cody Glenn and Kelechi Osemele. This is actually quite a decent year for interior line talent.
I’m not trying to second-guess how the Seahawks are approaching things, I just hope the plan isn’t to fight the board for need. Clearly they had no idea what range they’d be picking in 12 months after the 2011 draft, or who would be available. The team had committed to a good running game and went out to get the pieces they need to install that. Now they’ve seemingly decided the pass rush needs the same treatment but in such a weak year for front-seven prospects, it’s difficult to get too excited about attacking that area of the team this off-season.
Switching to the 3-4 an option?
As I touched on earlier, I also have some concerns about Seattle’s defensive scheme and the way it appears to be heavily stacked in favor of run-defense. The scheme predominantly consists of three big defensive tackles who offer very little pass rush and one specialist DE who plays in space off the edge. In the current guise, I’m not sure how exactly the Seahawks intend to improve the pass rush. Are they looking to draft a truly exceptional WILL linebacker to balance things out across from Clemons? Zach Brown does a great job sideline-to-sideline and he’s a big time athlete, but he’s not a player built to be a consistent pass-rush threat off the edge. Trying to fit a guy like Melvin Ingram or Courtney Upshaw at the WILL doesn’t make much sense, given the position requires more than a passing degree of coverage skill, awareness, instinct and mobility. You really want those two guys getting after the quarterback, not dropping back to cover a tight end. They are two players that stood up at the LOS in college with great success, so asking them to play as deep as Leroy Hill did in 2011 would make little sense.
I’m trying to work out just how committed the Seahawks are to the current incarnation of their defense. I sensed in 2010 they set the defense up mainly to max out what little talent they had and try to get at least some semblance of a competitive defense on the field. Without major investment during the last off-season, nothing much changed in terms of scheme or personnel, although they managed to uncover some young talent along the way. Do they move now to a pure 3-4? It would seem to make the most sense to me, especially considering what’s available in this draft. It would allow them to keep the big three along the interior, Clemons as a specialist rusher off the edge but provide another attacking threat on the opposite side. It’d take away some of the more extreme coverage issues in trying to fit college DE’s into the WILL.
KJ Wright can play inside and a player like Dont’a Hightower could be had beyond round one to beef things up at ILB. That gives you the opportunity to target the players available in this class and use them in a more obvious way. Devon Still, Michael Brockers or Quinton Coples could play the orthodox five-tech, or you could look to draft Whitney Mercilus, Andre Branch or Courtney Upshaw (etc, etc) to feature at OLB. That to me would make a little more sense if you’re trying to improve the pass rush using this draft class, while maintaining most of the current starters on the roster.
During the Jim Mora days (blergh) I used to argue against calls for a switch to the 3-4 because Seattle just didn’t have the size to make it work. That’s no longer so much of a problem and it’s something we have to consider if the Seahawks truly want to get this defense rolling. Yet this would be something of a departure for Pete Carroll, who’s pretty much incorporating the defense he used in Southern California. It was easier to recruit explosive, insanely talented linebackers than it is to draft them in the NFL. Without being able to go out and get the NFL version of the Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga triumvirate, can the Seahawks find enough speed and talent in this draft class to make it work? I’m not totally convinced.
Senior Bowl underway
The Senior Bowl is underway and I’d recommend following SI.com’s Tony Pauline’s updates as the week unfolds. So far it sounds like Ohio State lineman Mike Adams has impressed competing with Vinny Curry, but apparently it’s not been a good start for Boise State’s Kellen Moore: “Though its still early, Moore does not look good. He shows no ability to put speed on his passes and his throws have consistently been behind receivers.” Keep an eye out for the aforementioned Zach Brown of North Carolina, who has already been lining up in multiple positions including middle linebacker. If the Seahawks are really serious about spending a first round pick on the position, Brown has to be in with a shout.
Mike Mayock is also at the Senior Bowl and has today been listing his positional rankings. Interestingly enough he doesn’t seem to be as high on Dre Kirkpatrick as most other people, placing him at #5 among corner’s. We’ve discussed a lot on this blog the overrated nature of Kirkpatrick’s game – he’s superb in run support and has the size to play a great physical game at the next level. Yet when it comes to coverage – the thing he’s going to need to do the most – Kirkpatrick just isn’t that good.
Pauline also has the Senior Bowl measurement from today, but I thought I’d highlight and discuss some of the more interesting numbers:
Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina) – 6-1, 236lbs
Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina – 6-5, 281lbs
Juron Criner (WR, Arizona) – 6-2, 220lbs
Nick Foles (QB, Arizona) – 6-5, 244lbs
Jeff Fuller (WR, Texas A&M) – 6-4, 217lbs
Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina) – 6-2, 276lbs
Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama) – 5-9, 191lbs
Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina) – 6-3, 226lbs
Ryan Lindley (QB, San Diego State) – 6-4, 229lbs
Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson) – 6-2, 311lbs
Courtney Upshaw (OLB, Alabama) – 6-1, 273lbs
Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State) - 6-3, 219lbs
Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State) – 6-7, 323lbs
Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State) – 6-2, 209lbs
Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall) - 6-3, 265lbs
Lavonte David (OLB, Nebraska) – 6-0, 225lbs
Alfonzo Dennard (CB, Nebraska) – 5-10, 203lbs
Michael Egnew (TE, Missouri) – 6-5, 251lbs
Kellen Moore (QB, Boise State) – 5-11, 191lbs
Kelechi Osemele (OT/G, Iowa State) – 6-5, 333lbs
Chris Polk (RB, Washington) – 5-10, 224lbs
Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington) – 6-2, 341lbs
Russell Wilson (QB, Wisconsin) – 5-10, 203lbs
Here are what some people have been saying about today’s weigh-ins on Twitter:
Dan Kadar (Mocking the Draft): “Looks like Kelechi Osemele stole weigh-ins with his 35.25-inch arms.”
Matthew Elder (Buffalo Bills Draft): ”Not a good weigh-in today for Courtney Upshaw, 6014, 273, 31.5 arms, 8 5/8 hands, 75.25 Wingspan. Things weren’t much better for Melvin Ingram 6017, 276, 9.25 hands, 30.5 arms, 77 1/8 wingspan.”
Russ Lande (Sporting News): “Boise St QB K. Moore looked bad today. His delivery is elongated & slow, the ball lacked zip out of his hand and his accuracy was really bad.”
Shane Hallam (Draft Countdown): ”Kirk Cousins was pretty ripped, while Kellen Moore had a bit of a gut. Most impressive WR physically was Dwight Jones. Nice upper body, long arms. Looked very strong.”
Hallam also pointed out that Seahawks scouts spoke to Cousins and Moore after practise. It’s no real surprise, given that the Seahawks will surely draft a quarterback at some stage if they don’t address the position in round one. Cousins is one to watch and a player we’ll focus on later this week. He made significant strides in 2011 and has maybe flown a little under the radar. He could easily be the fourth best quarterback in this class after Luck, Griffin III and Osweiler.
We’ll have more from the Senior Bowl later in the week and of course an updated mock on Wednesday as usual. Considering the defensive theme of today’s post, I’ve added a video of Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois) vs UCLA at the top courtesy of JMPasq.