Now that John Schneider has repeated his 2013 defensive line coup, the question becomes: How long will it take Pete Carroll, Ken Norton and company to get this collection of linemen playing to its best capabilities?
Schneider told 710 ESPN that Seattle’s front seven, including a trio of “phenomenal blitzers” at linebacker, is “a really cool group. (Coaches are) putting it together right now: How do we work these guys together?”
For a sampling, we merely need go back to 2013, the last time Schneider brought in two impact pass rushers at the same time.
That summer, Carroll cautioned everyone that it would take half the season to figure out the best rotation for what looked like a very deep line: Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Tony McDaniel, Clinton McDonald, Bruce Irvin and O’Brien Schofield.
But that didn’t stop new guys Avril and Bennett from making big impacts right away. In their first game together, a 29-3 win over San Francisco in Week 2, they combined for two sacks, two tackles for loss, three QB hits and a forced fumble.
The next week, in a blowout win over Jacksonville, Bennett and McDonald combined for three sacks and six QB hits as Clemons (coming off an ACL injury) joined the rotation, which sometimes included the Alpha Line of Avril, Bennett, Clemons and Schofield.
“That’s what we’re shooting for is to get those guys out there,” Carroll said after that game. “We want to see all of the fast guys out there and see where we could best situate them.”
Schofield said, “We have so much talent on this team, so many versatile guys that can play so many different positions, our defensive coaches have to have fun with it as far as putting together packages.
“When you can rush as a group, that’s when it gets vicious. … Playing us, you don’t know who’s going to hit you. You don’t know who’s going to win. That’s how we rush.”
With Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah added this year, it certainly looks like it could be that way again — especially as coaches plan to use more blitzes including Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks.
So, how does this line stack up to that deep 2013 unit?
In 2013, Bennett led the way with 8.5 sacks and 26 QB hits (with four forced fumbles); Avril tallied eight sacks, 14 QB hits and a team-high six forced fumbles; McDonald had 5.5 sacks and 14 QB hits; Wagner added five sacks, and Clemons had 4.5 sacks, 10 QB hits and three forced fumbles. The D-tackles combined for 19 tackles for loss.
This 2019 unit is more talented at the top. Clowney and Ansah (if healthy) both could hit double-figure sacks, and Jarran Reed should add a great inside rush once he returns in Week 7. Meanwhile, first-round pick L.J. Collier takes the No. 3 role of Clemons, Poona Ford will emulate Mebane, Quinton Jefferson will play Big Red, Branden Jackson will be the fourth outside rusher, and Al Woods and Bryan Mone (if he sticks) will help Ford against the run.
But, as Carroll will tell you, it will take a while for them to figure out how all of the pieces fit.
Even after a seven-sack performance against Arizona in Week 7, that 2013 crew still wasn’t where Carroll wanted it to be.
“It’s great to see the production of the pass rush; that’s getting better,” Carroll said then. “We said earlier it’s going to take us awhile before we figure out how to mix our guys in the pass rush, because we have a number of different kinds of athletes to mix in there. So we’re still finding that out.
“Seven sacks is a pretty good showing, but we’re going to get better there. We’re going to improve mixing our guys properly and using them to the best things that they can do.”
Now Carroll gets to mix a new batch and figure out the best things Clowney, Ansah and company can do. One thing we do know: Clowney will not be playing linebacker, like he did in Houston; he will be playing pure defensive end, stopping the run and rushing inside and out.
Clowney and Ansah will figure out how to work with each other and their new teammates as the season goes on.
As Carroll said this week, “Those guys are like bookends. They’re just exactly what you’re looking for on the edge, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to see these guys come together and really be a factor and play off one another …”
If they do, they could help key a championship run, just like Avril and Bennett did in 2013.