Seahawks Preview 2015: Defensive Line

The best single side in the National Football League the last two years has been the Seattle Seahawks defense. This is a unit that has gotten more dominant the deeper a season goes. The Seahawks have ranked first in defense the last two years, and plays nearly equally as well against the run as they do against the pass. There is not a single position group that is not among the best in the league. However, the defense the Seahawks fielded late in the playoffs last year was not ideal. Injuries to multiple players had several pieces either completely out of games (Jordan Hill, Cassius Marsh and Brandon Mebane) or severely limited while playing (Kam Chancellor had a torn MCL; Earl Thomas had a torn labrum; Jeremy Lane missed most of the Super Bowl when after intercepting a pass from Tom Brady broke his arm and tore his ACL; Cliff Avril left the Super Bowl with a concussion; Richard Sherman had an injury that kept him from raising his arm). Injuries happen every year to every team, of course, but the timing of these for the Seahawks was debilitating. The good news is that all of the above players will be returning this coming season, and when healthy they supply Seattle with championship quality play. How they return from injury and blend with new players in the Seahawks defensive scheme will determine how far the Seahawks go this season.

As far as the defensive end position is concerned in 2015, there will be new faces to go with the established top level talent. Perhaps the most intriguing newcomer is the most controversial: Frank Clark. Clark was drafted in the third round by the Seahawks this year, but was not on several teams’ draft boards due to the fact that Clark was arrested for domestic assault. Those charges also might have kept Clark from being drafted higher as well. Clark’s story on the arrest in Ohio was that “the altercation turned physical when his then-girlfriend threw something at him. And though he restrained her — leading her to bite his nose — he never hit her, despite the ugly details of the aftermath contained in the police report.” His girlfriend did not want to press charges. This happens often in these cases, but the fact that he was able to remain a student at the University of Michigan and that the coaches and administration maintain this situation seemed unlike Clark, while also speaking to Lynne Gast-King, municipal prosecutor for Sandusky, Ohio, led the Seahawks to believe they were making a good choice in taking Clark. Clark was dismissed from the Michigan football team after his arrest, but it is unclear whether soon-to-be-fired Coach Brady Hoke made this decision under pressure or not. Gast-King interviewed Clark’s girlfriend, the girlfriend’s family, Clark’s attorney and his counselor and said, “It was not what I refer to as a battering or domestic violence situation. It was a verbal argument that went into a physical argument that spiraled out of control, and both parties had their part in this.” Clark has the skills on the football field to make an immediate impact in a backup role, however. He plays defensive end but can play inside at tackle and out at end, and while no one will be taking the starting roles from Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, he has the size and quickness to help the team pressure the quarterback as they did in the 2013 season.

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Second-year player, Cassius Marsh, showed flashes last season that he could contribute to the rush as well until a broken foot sidelined him beginning in October. The Seahawks are expecting Marsh to continue to grow and possibly take Bruce Irvin’s role next season. Marsh is stronger against the pass than the run currently, and will need to improve in both areas to consistently get more reps.

Sixth round draft pick Obum Gwacham is a freak athlete, but the Seahawks are not expecting him to play a role this season. He only has one year of college experience at the position. Gwacham could become a game-changer in a few years if he increases upper body strength and learns technique. However, he will play special teams this season and fans will see his athletic ability there.

More depth is supplied by Demarcus Dobbs and David King, but their plays will be limited due to the talent above them on the depth chart.

The two stalwarts at defensive end are Bennett and Avril. Avril is ranked a top seven 4-3 end by Pro Football Focus. He is in the second year of a four year deal, so he is under contract through 2018. Bennett, brother of Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, is also under contract through 2018, but is unhappy with his contract. He wants to paid like a top 8 4-3 end, but his current average yearly salary ranks 14th. He led the Seahawks with seven sacks last year. Bennett can also play end or tackle, but is at his best when can use his speed to rush from outside. Bennett and Avril make up the best pair of ends on any one team in the NFL, when healthy. To have them under contract for the next several years is a good thing for the team and Seahawks fans. If nothing else, Bennett has proven to be an entertaining player both on the field and off (see: riding bicycle on the field after last season’s NFC Championship game victory) and has been an asset in the Seattle community. He is worthy keeping happy.

The tackle position will see the return of Brandon Mebane. Mebane was missed last season after he was injured in Week 10. Having possibly his best season, he at times was capable of controlling the opponents rushing game in a way no other Seahawk could. Having him back healthy and, hopefully, productive, is immensely important to what the Seahawks want to do on defense.

Next to Mebane to start games will be Tony McDaniel. McDaniel went undrafted out of the University of Tennessee in 2006, but has become a solid pro through work ethic. While not an All-Pro type player, McDaniel knows how to do his job well, and that job is to be a run-stopper. Tall for a defensive tackle at 6’7”, he has found a way to get lower and use his height as leverage.

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Depth at tackle comes from players who do not play the run as well. If McDaniel begins to falter, though, Ahtyba Rubin will be there to take his place. He was signed this offseason from the Cleveland Browns. Rubin might be used more in passing situations, at least to begin with. Jordan Hill is entering his third year and has improved every season. Last year, Hill had five and a half sacks but was injured late in the season. Hill might have had an impact against the Packers and Patriots if he had been healthy. Look for him to play more in obvious passing situations, however if he shows as much improvement against the run this season as he did against the pass last season he could end up being the starter next to Mebane by the end of the year.

It should be noted that one player the coaches had hopes to make an impact this year was DT Jesse Williams. Williams, unfortunately, was diagnosed with cancer this offseason and will have surgery on his kidneys. He will miss the season. With improved health, we hope that Williams will make that expected impact in 2016.

After the injuries to multiple players at the end of last season affected the team’s performance, the Seahawks must think they are due for a healthy end to this year. With the returning players on the defensive line combined with the new acquisitions, the line should return to being the forefront of a once again dominating defense. Seattle is a defense-led team, and if healthy should lead the Seahawks to another deep run in the playoffs.