Posted March 20, 2013

Seahawks can, and will, be creative with new pass rush riches

NFL Free Agency, Seattle Seahawks
Cliff Avril was considered one of the top free agents available, but the Seahawks got him at a bargain. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Cliff Avril was considered one of the top free agents available, but the Seahawks got him at a bargain. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

In the span of about 24 hours last week, the Seattle Seahawks took advantage of a slow-moving defensive end market to land both ex-Lion Cliff Avril and ex-Buc Michael Bennett.

Those additions leave Seattle with arguably the deepest group of DEs in the NFL, with Avril and Bennett joining the currently injured Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, Red Bryant and Gregg Scruggs on the edges. Even with DT Alan Branch and DE/DT Jason Jones departing via free agency, the Seahawks have a seemingly endless array of possible lineups in their front four.

How might Pete Carroll utilize all his end talent? A player-by-play look at the options …

Cliff Avril: Off a 9.5-sack 2012 season (and an 11.0-sack 2011), Avril walked away from the Lions, to Seattle’s benefit. The arrival of Avril is of particular importance for the Seahawks because Clemons’ health status remains up in the air — Clemons tore his ACL in the wild-card round at Washington, and he may not be back in time for Week 1.

If Clemons is unable to suit up, Avril should drop right in to Seattle’s “Leo” spot. That position in the Seahawks’ 4-3/3-4 hybrid more or less combines the roles of defensive end and outside linebacker, lining up an aggressive, pass-rushing player wide. That’s not a whole lot different from what Avril did as an end in Detroit’s wide-nine look.

Michael Bennett: A little bit of a wild card here, Bennett is coming off a 9.0-sack season and signed a stunningly low $5 million deal for the 2013 season. If nothing else, he should be a rotational pass rusher with Avril, Clemons and Irvin when everyone’s healthy.

But Seattle also might utilize him as it did Jones — sliding Bennett inside as a defensive tackle, where he could add yet another pass-rushing element to this unit.

Red Bryant: His role figures to remain unchanged. Bryant is a run-stuffing end, who plays on the opposite side of the line from Seattle’s “Leo” spot. Bryant is a two-down weapon and cedes his position to a pass rusher when the situation calls for it.

Chris Clemons: Clemons’ health will dictate a lot of what Seattle does. As mentioned above, should Clemons have to sit out a couple weeks or start the season on the PUP list, Avril and/or Irvin would be on the field for almost every down.

Once Clemons gets back into the mix, the Seahawks might try to utilize a Clemons-heavy rotation at the “Leo” spot, with Avril and Irvin swapping in for Bryant at end on passing downs.

Bruce Irvin: This might be the toughest call, because Irvin delivered 8 sacks and 24 QB hurries without making a single start last year. The Seahawks were ridiculed widely for nabbing Irvin in Round 1 of the 2012 draft, then made all the pundits look foolish by using him as a disruptive force throughout the season.

But if Clemons is back to take over his starting role and Avril has the inside track as the second pass rusher, where does that leave Irvin?

More than likely, it leaves him trying to fight his way into a three-man rotation with Clemons and Avril — and using all three certainly would help keep everyone fresh over a 16-game season. None of those three is adept at stopping the run (and Seattle’s defense will not ask any of them to be), but if Irvin can make strides there, he might be able to push for more time at “Leo,” especially while Clemons is sidelined.

Greg Scruggs: Yet another player, like Bennett, who could undertake a variety of roles. Scruggs had two sacks last season and showed potential in very limited snaps. At least at the end spots, he almost certainly will slot in behind Avril, Bryant, Clemons and Irvin.

However, he also may have the chance to slide to a tackle spot. The odds are on Mebane and Clinton McDonald starting inside, but both Bennett and Scruggs bring the athleticism to the table that Seattle likes at tackle.

No matter how you slice it, this is an enviable problem that the Seahawks find themselves up against. You’ll never hear an NFL team complain about having too much talent and too few spots to play people. Seattle will come at opposing quarterbacks in waves.

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