Seattle Seahawks Prepare for NASCAR Season with O’Brien Schofield

Brett Swain, O'Brien SchofieldThe Seattle Seahawks have made yet another move to further bolster their pass-rush in anticipation of the 2013 season by acquiring former division rival O’Brien Schofield. The Seahawks were awarded Schofield after he was waived by the Arizona Cardinals last week. Schofield is a pass-rush specialist familiar with both the defensive end and rush-linebacker positions. Early reports from Seattle are that Schofield is playing a similar role to Bruce Irvin, meaning he is spending time at both the “Leo” defensive end position and at strong-side linebacker.

Like Irvin, the Seahawks are expected to move Schofield around in an effort to create the best possible pass-rushing matchups for the former Wisconsin Badger. With incumbent starter Chris Clemons still recovering from a torn ACL and Bruce Irvin suspended for the first four games of the season, Schofield’s presence early in the year could become invaluable to the Seahawks.

At 6’3” and 242 pounds, Schofield is considered too small to be a traditional defensive end. However, what he lacks in bulk he makes up for with speed and a quick-twitch first step. Schofield’s ability to crash the edge is impressive for an undersized player and he seems more comfortable standing up than having his hand in the dirt. This makes him a prime candidate to spend time at strong-side linebacker, primarily in third-down situations and nickel packages. In obvious pass-rushing situations, he will probably line up across from another Seattle offseason acquisition; the projected starter at Pete Carroll’s Leo defensive end position, Cliff Avril.

Avril signed as a free agent from Detroit where he posted 29 sacks over the past three seasons. His size and skillset is a perfect fit for Pete Carroll’s defensive system and he is expected to make a huge impact as a pass rusher off the edge. In addition to Avril, Seattle also signed free agent Michael Bennett from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bennett posted nine sacks last season for the Bucs playing both defensive end and defensive tackle. In Seattle, he will likely kick inside on passing downs becoming the final piece to the Seahawks new arsenal.

It may seem like an embarrassment of riches having so many quality pass-rushers, but Seattle has a plan in mind. It isn’t that uncommon for a team to field four defensive ends in obvious passing situations. After all, the New York Giants won two Super Bowl’s with this philosophy and the NFL is a copycat league. So, with a rough blueprint in mind, Seattle has created their own version of the Giants’ defensive line and appropriately named it their “NASCAR” package after the speed of the personnel on the field.

The NASCAR package—as it was originally intended—was projected to be made up of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons (once healthy), and Bruce Irvin. With Clemons’ Week 1 status currently up in the air and Bruce Irvin suspended for the first four games of the season, the Seahawks have been forced to improvise. Lucky for them, fate has intervened on their behalf in the form of a rival roster move. The Cardinals apparently released 2010 fourth round draft pick O’Brien Schofield due to the fact that the he had been plagued with injuries in 2012. Regardless of their reasoning, Pete Carroll and John Schneider seemed eager to jump at the opportunity to sign the man they had targeted in the 2010 NFL Draft before being beaten to the punch by their division rival.

Now, the Seahawks finally have their man and a chance to salvage their exotic sub-package. They now have the ability to continue playing Michael Bennett inside while also allowing Cliff Avril to play the traditional Leo position they had intended for him. Similar to Irvin last year, Schofield will likely come in on third downs and obvious passing situations to provide a capable edge-rusher opposite Avril.

It’s possible that Schofield could even play his way into a long-term role in Seattle. Head coach Pete Carroll has preached competition from the beginning of his tenure and he has assured his players that the best man will win every job. His philosophy is evidenced by the fact that he started rookie quarterback Russell Wilson last year over Seattle’s high-priced free agent acquisition Matt Flynn; a move which many coaches would consider unheard-of. This merit-based system, coupled with the fact that he gets to play his former team twice a year, is likely what made Seattle such an enticing destination for Schofield.

It’s still relatively unknown exactly how much playing time Schofield will see early in the season but with Seattle’s current situation, he should have every opportunity to make an early impact. Though Schofield will technically be making the transition from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense, he may not have as difficult a time as one might think given the way Seattle utilizes its personnel. Schofield would essentially have the same responsibilities in Seattle that he did for the majority of his time in Arizona should he win the starting strong-side linebacker job. That means he will occasionally have to drop into coverage but the majority of his time will be spent attacking the ball. This is a role that certainly plays to Schofield’s strengths which means that with any luck, Seahawk fans won’t have to wait long for the beginning of NASCAR season.