Defensive Depth Part 2

(Link to Part 1)

Strongside Linebacker

The starter at this position, Aaron Curry, restructured his deal this year so that he’ll be a free agent in two years instead of four in exchange for less guaranteed money.  The new deal works for both sides: Curry gets to test free agency sooner, and the Hawks get to pay less for his services.    He hasn’t played up to the level of the money he’s been paid, but now that he’ll be a free agent sooner he’ll have incentive to play harder in order to showcase his wares to the rest of the league.  I think Curry will make a huge improvement this year, but if not he’ll likely be leaving the team at the end of his contract.

Last year, Carroll and co. had visions of turning Curry into a quarterback killing machine, which put him on the weakside on a regular basis to give him better angles at the QB on blitzes.  But they’ve since given up on that idea, and this year Curry can just focus on being a solid strongside linebacker, stuffing the run and using his athletic ability to cover tight ends on his side of the field.  He’s a natural fit as a SLB; big and strong enough to shed blockers, but also fast enough to drop back into coverage when needed.

Matt McCoy has never been a starting-caliber linebacker in the NFL, but during his time with the Buccaneers he turned into a special teams ace, which was the primary role he played for us last year (he led the team in special teams tackles).  I don’t see him going anywhere soon, especially since he’s also has value as a backup SLB.

My prediction?  Aaron Curry and Matt McCoy for 2 strongside linebackers on the roster.

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Left Cornerback

Marcus, Marcus, Marcus, if only you would break out of this funk you’re in and return to your old form.  It really wasn’t surprising to see Trufant get asked to restructure his deal.  Restructuring seems to be the flavor of the month – just ask Lofa and Curry.  Tru was getting paid far more than he’s bringing to the table, but regardless he still has game and he’s played decently so far this preseason.  I just don’t expect his play to improve significantly this season, given his age and the wear and tear he’s suffered over the years.

The good news is that the youngsters behind Trufant have great potential.  I have no idea of they’re going to be able to deliver on that potential, but I’m really excited to see what they can do when given a chance.  Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell have been talked up a lot by Carroll in his last few press conferences.  We’ve got a lot of talent at the CB position right now, but it’s very young and inexperienced talent.

My prediction?  Marcus Trufant, Richard Sherman, and Byron Maxwell for a total of 3 left coernerbacks.

Right Cornerback

I think I speak for the entire 12th Man when I say that I’m looking forward to someone other than Kelly Jennings starting at right cornerback.  Walter Thurmond looks to be the new starter here.  He’s been nursing an ankle injury the last few weeks, but he’s supposed to be good to go in practices now. 

Now, I will say that I don’t disagree with the move the team made to sign Jennings.  He provided some decent depth, and he’s plenty big enough to cover the average NFL slot receiver.  I just didn’t want him to start or take a roster spot away from a better CB like Brandon Browner, who’s tall enough to line up against guys like Larry Fitzgerald.  Kennard Cox has shown some promise, but I’m not sure that he’s shown enough to stay on the team after cuts.

My prediction?  Walter Thurmond and Kelly Jennings for a total of 2 right cornerbacks on the roster.

Free Safety

Earl Thomas is probably the best guaranteed player on the roster.  The way he’s been playing, there’s no way the Seahawks are going to let him go, and he should be manning the free safety position for the next ten years.

That said, I’ve got a bit of a mancrush brewing for Mark LeGree, especially if he really does have a 31 foot vertical jump like this article says he does (I know it’s supposed to be 31 inches, but 31 feet would be pretty awesome).  LeGree always seems to be around the ball, judging by the way-too-many picks he got in college (22).   The sad part of this whole thing is that we can only start one free safety in the base defense, but we should be seeing them both on the field in certain coverage packages.

My prediction?  Earl Thomas and Mark LeGree for a total of 2 free safeties on the roster.

Strong Safety

There were a lot of questions about this position going into training camp.  With Lawyer Milloy leaving in the offseason, many people assumed that there would be a big hole to fill at strong safety.  Thankfully, the coaches didn’t see it that way, and quickly named Chancellor the starter.  It looks like a good move, as Kam appears to have all the skills a player needs to man the position well. 

However, I think a lot of people are going to be upset with my take on the depth behind Chancellor.  I believe both Josh Pinkard and Jeron Johnson are going to be roster cuts.  That’s the downside of having a lot of talent on your team, you end up having to lose great players during roster cuts, but it’s nice when your coaches have the luxury of getting to choose between keeping a great player or a greater one.  Johnson has been playing his heart out this preseason, and if he makes it through waivers I firmly believe that he’ll be signed to the practice squad.  As for Pinkard, he does play some corner and there’s a chance he could stay on in the role that Jordan Babineaux had as a jack-of-all-trades for the secondary.

Atari Bigby was brought in as a free agent for a reason, and unless his attitude is in question I don’t think the Hawks are going to cut him.  And since we haven’t heard anything in that regard, there’s no reason to assume that’s the case.  He has a role as the wily veteran for our very young group of safeties, and even as a backup he can do a lot to show the younger guys the ropes.

My prediction?  Kam Chancellor and Atari Bigby for a total of 2 strong safeties (3 if Pinkard sticks as the new Babs).

Special Teams

There really isn’t much competition going on with regards to the specialists.  The team did bring in Brandon Coutu to compete, but he didn’t last long.  So, we’re left with party boy extraordinaire Jeff Reed as our kicker (Coming to a bar near you!  No paper towel dispenser in the greater Seattle area will be safe!).  I’m starting to miss Olindo Mare even more now.  But in all sincerity, Reed should be able to handle the kicking job fine this season.  I’m a little surprised Coutu didn’t put up more of a fight for the job, but at least this time he wasn’t kept on the roster for a full season (you heard me, Ruskell).

We also had a weak competition at punter between John “I look like that pirate from the movie Dodge Ball” Ryan and undrafted free agent John Gold.  I do like the fact that Carroll made Ryan work a little for the job, though.  The punters on my high school team would sit on the sideline and joke around through entire practices, so it’s nice to see one having to prove himself, even if he didn’t have to break a sweat to do it.

As for everyone’s favorite long snapper Clint Gresham, I haven’t heard anything about him having to compete this offseason.  I have to admit, being an NFL long snapper has to be one of the best gigs in all of professional sports.  All you have to do to pick up your veteran minimum paycheck ($450k) is rocket a football backwards about eight times a game.  You don’t even have to be in great shape to do that, and some of these guys end up playing for 15 years.  Not too shabby.

My prediction?  Jeff Reed, John Ryan, and Clint Gresham for a total of 3 specialists.  Now that was easy!

Conclusion

If my math is correct, that makes for 24 players on the defensive side of the ball, plus Colin Cole on PUP.  Add that to the 26 I predicted for the offense and the 3 specialists and we end up with 53 on the nose.  However, that doesn’t factor in the three maybes (TE Dominique Byrd, DB Josh Pinkard, and WLB Malcolm Smith), but I’m at a loss as to who they would replace on the roster.  I have a feeling that one of our 2011 draft picks is headed to the practice squad, which isn’t a bad thing provided he makes it through waivers.

Then again, with this front office we could see a flurry of trades and end up with a whole new starting defense before the regular season even begins.  So, what do you guys think?  Any major disagreements or agreements?  Who would you cut and/or keep on the roster instead?

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