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Examining Seattle Seahawks' Offseason and Key Preseason Positional Battles

Justin OnslowContributor IIJuly 10, 2013

Examining Seattle Seahawks' Offseason and Key Preseason Positional Battles

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    I wouldn’t want to be an NFC West quarterback this season.

    The Seattle Seahawks—despite a tremendous 2012 campaign—are in position to make massive waves this season, starting with an offseason that probably made more than a few in the NFL jealous.

    Much of that offseason was geared toward building a defense that has the potential to absolutely dominate in 2013.

    General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll went to work this offseason, leaving no stone unturned throughout the process.

    Beginning with the signings of defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and ending with the additions of defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams in the NFL draft, Seattle added to an already impressive defensive line that should make the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams at least a little worried.

    But the Seahawks' biggest offseason move came in the form of a versatile wide receiver who has the potential to terrorize the NFC West with Russell Wilson at the helm.

    On March 12, Schneider finalized a deal to send multiple draft picks to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for explosive wide receiver Percy Harvin. Paired with the likes of Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, Seattle’s passing attack won’t skip a beat in 2013.

    And the Seahawks won’t be adept in just the passing game this season.

    Led by cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, the Seahawks fielded the league’s No. 6 passing defense, tied for eighth in interceptions with 18. Considering the talent they added to their secondary this offseason, the NFC West has yet another reason to take cover.

    Schneider and Carroll locked up veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield  to free-agent deal this offseason, adding some experience to a talented young defensive backfield. If there were any concerns regarding Seattle’s passing defense last season, there aren’t any now.

    By all indications, Seattle got substantially better at nearly every position heading into the 2013 season. The 49ers may have notched a Super Bowl berth in 2012-13, but they’ll have their work cut out for them this season.

    We’ll explore many of those offseason moves in following slideshow, as well as the Seahawks’ 2013 NFL draft class and positions to keep an eye on as the season draws near.

2013 NFL Draft

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    Round 2 (Pick 62): RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M

    Round 3 (Pick 87): DT Jordan Hill, Penn State

    Round 4 (Pick 123): WR Chris Harper, Kansas State

    Round 5 (Pick 137): DT Jesse Williams, Alabama

    Round 5 (Pick 138): CB Tharold Simon, LSU

    Round 5 (Pick 158): TE Luke Wilson, Rice

    Round 6 (Pick 194): RB Spencer Ware, LSU

    Round 7 (Pick 220): OG Ryan Seymour, Vanderbilt

    Round 7 (Pick 231): DE Ty Powell, Harding

    Round 7 (Pick 241): DT Jared Smith, New Hampshire

    Round 7 (Pick 242): OT Michael Bowie, NE Oklahoma State

     

    Grade: B

     

    The term “embarrassment of riches” comes to mind when looking at the Seahawks’ offseason, and the draft lent no exceptions.

    After having traded his first-round selection in the Percy Harvin deal, John Schneider was left without a top selection, though he wasn’t without a bevy of picks in later rounds. What he did with those picks, however, was extremely impressive.

    Given Marshawn Lynch’s bruising running style, Seattle saw fit to add two additional running backs to lighten the load, the first of which came in the second round in Texas A&M running back Christine Michael.

    Michael is an exceptionally talented runner who fell in a draft class devoid of elite talent, but the Seahawks will likely put him to good use behind Lynch and Robert Turbin. Spencer Ware also gives Seattle some added depth, but he isn’t likely to have a major impact on the offense any time in the near future.

    Perhaps the best aspect of this draft class is the presence of two very talented defensive tackles in Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams, each of whom could see time in rotational roles throughout the season—though the fact that each will be fighting for a backup role speaks to the depth Seattle already possesses at the position.

    At 6’3” and 323 pounds, Williams is a wide-bodied tackle with the ability to play either under tackle or nose tackle in Seattle’s 4-3 scheme. Given his predraft standing as a potential late-first- or early-second-round pick, Schneider did well to exploit the value in the fifth round.

    Hill is more of a penetrating one-gap tackle who fits perfectly with what Carroll loves to do with his defensive linemen. The Seahawks already boast an impressive pass rush from their front four, and Hill only adds to the lethality at the position.

    Wide receiver Chris Harper and tight end Luke Wilson could see some sparse playing time this year, but as a whole, the rest of the group will do little more than add some depth to the roster in its formative years.

    Still, it’s hard to not like a draft class with so many picks. Sometimes “winning” in the draft is a numbers games—and it’s not as if Seattle didn’t find some great value as well.

A 3-Headed Rushing Attack?

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    There’s no question who Seattle’s No. 1 running back will be entering the 2013 season.

    After a 1,590-yard, 11-touchdown campaign in 2012, Marshawn Lynch proved he can shoulder a heavy workload without much resistance. Pete Carroll has always been a proponent of multiple-back sets, but Lynch isn’t likely to lose too many carry in 2013.

    Still, Lynch can’t continue mowing down defenses forever, and at some point, that strain may catch up to him. With two very capable backs behind him, Lynch may see a small decline in usage in favor of Robert Turbin and Christine Michael.

    How much remains to be seen, however. Turbin, a fourth-round pick in 2012, averaged 4.4 yards per carry in limited time last season, and has the size, speed and vision to continue improving as his workload increases.

    But Seattle didn’t take Michael in the second round to have him stand on the sidelines his entire rookie campaign. Given his size and versatility, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the rookie see at least a little action as a goal-line back in Seattle’s offense.

    Beyond that trio, the running back depth chart is littered with runners who will likely be vying for time at the fullback position as well. Michael Robinson, Spencer Ware and Derrick Coleman headline that list, but none of the three are in line for too many touches this season.

    On a roster loaded with talent and depth from top to bottom, it’s hard to find many positions with a discernible position battle to watch. In this case, running back will be an area of interest as both Michael and Turbin will be working toward stealing some carries from Lynch.

Harvin and Co.

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    Just like at the running back position, the Seahawks have tons of depth to go around at wide receiver, especially with the addition of Percy Harvin.

    Harvin will be the unquestioned No. 1 option this season, but he won’t be used in a similar way as most No.1 targets—at least he shouldn’t be.

    The Florida product is a nightmare in open space, and as a result, the Vikings used him a bevy of roles. If Pete Carroll hopes to get the most out of his new weapon, he’ll replicate that strategy by using Harvin in the slot, split out wide and in the backfield in various situations.

    Harvin’s presence adds a new element to a receiving corps that was otherwise a little bland last season. Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin possess a lot of talent, but none are as explosive or versatile as Harvin.

    With the speedster in the fold, the Seahawks have to decide what to do with their incumbent receivers. Depth isn’t a bad thing, but there’s only one football. Someone is going to lose out on some touches.

    That someone isn’t likely to be Rice, however.

    The team’s leading receiver in 2012, Rice tallied 50 catches for 748 yards and seven touchdowns last season. While Tate also hauled in seven touchdowns, he wasn’t exactly a consistent red-zone target.

    Still, Tate wasn’t far behind Rice in any category, catching 45 passes for 688 yards to go with those touchdowns. As it stands, the duo should be back at it in 2013 as the No. 2 and No. 3 targets on the roster.

    That leaves Baldwin as the potential odd man out.

    There will certainly be room for Baldwin on the roster, but the 2011 undrafted free agent and recipient of 29 passes and three scoring strikes last season will probably find himself buried on the depth chart barring major injuries ahead of him.

    Along with Justin Veltung, Greg Herd and rookie Chris Harper—to name just a few on a ridiculously crowded roster—Baldwin shouldn’t expect to see an increased role in the offense in 2013.

    Look for Rice and Tate to see most of their reps on the outside in favor of Harvin in the slot and backfield, allowing Wilson to get a lot more creative with what he can do with the football this season.

Irvin's Transition

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    In keeping with the theme of minor competition, let’s take a look at Seattle’s linebacker situation.

    There’s really only one spot up for grabs this season, and even that’s debatable. With Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up Bobby Wagner back at middle linebacker and a talented K.J Wright on the weak side, the strong-side linebacker position will essentially be a competition between 2012 standout defensive end Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith.

    Irvin entered the league as a hybrid pass-rusher, who excelled at defensive end in Seattle’s 4-3 scheme. Defensive end is especially crowded this season, though, and in true Pete Carroll fashion, he wants to get his best players on the field any way he can.

    Even if Irvin doesn’t excel as a three-down linebacker, he may find his best fit in the Jack role as the team’s primary edge-rusher from a stand-up position. Seattle loves to use its interior linemen to get upfield with additional rushers setting the edge, and Irvin would be the perfect fit in that role.

    Even Carroll noted that Irvin is a versatile defender who can fit at linebacker in a 4-3 just as easily as he could in a 3-4, as quoted by Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:

    He's extremely versatile, and that's why we've loved him from the start. He's really fast. He's 250 pounds, and he's exactly fitting the right kind of body type to play outside backer in the 3-4 system. We're a 4-3 personnel system that plays 3-4 looks. He's extremely valuable for us.

    That last bit was especially important when understanding what the Seahawks can do with Irvin at outside linebacker.

    In a two-gap three-man front, outside linebackers are expected to set the edge and get upfield and after opposing passers. Seattle does run a lot of hybrid looks with three down linemen, and Irvin’s versatility will allow him to blend seamlessly into that role.

    Still, Seattle will need Smith to play a more versatile role in both run and pass coverage, and with plenty of experience last season at both linebacker and on special teams, he shouldn’t struggle too much to fill in those gaps.

    Ty Powell and Michael Morgan could see some rotational and sub-package time at any of the three linebacker spots, but as it looks now, the aforementioned four will likely see most of the action at linebacker in 2013.

D-Line Depth

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    This is where things get a little interesting.

    With Bruce Irvin transitioning to linebacker (on top of his four-game suspension) and Chris Clemons recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the playoffs against the Washington Redskins last season, both starting defensive end positions of a year ago will be up for grabs.

    By adding Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril—two of the best pass-rushers on the market this offseason—Seattle shored up those positions, but it also faces a situation in which getting its best players on the field at once won’t be an easy task.

    Assuming Clemons makes it back to the field this year, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will have to find time for the team’s leading pass-rusher of a year ago, while also mixing in a tremendous group of defensive tackles who can also slide to the outside in various pass-rushing situations.

    Quinn has to find a way to mix in Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant free-agent signee Tony McDaniel and potentially Clinton McDonald and Jaye Howard—not to mention his pair of rookie defensive tackles in Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams.

    Again, as is the case at nearly every other position, the Seahawks have immense depth. On one hand, coaches can’t complain about what they have to work with. On the other, it will be on Quinn, Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell if that depth and talent doesn’t translate to wins.

2013 Schedule

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    2013 Seattle Seahawks Schedule
    WeekDateOpponentTimeTV
    1Sept. 8 @ Carolina Panthers1 p.m. ETFOX
    2Sept. 15 vs. San Francisco 49ers8:30 p.m. ETNBC
    3Sept. 22 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars4:25 p.m. ETCBS
    4Sept. 29 @ Houston Texans1 p.m. ETFOX
    5Oct. 6 @ Indianapolis Colts1 p.m. ETFOX
    6Oct. 13 vs. Tennessee Titans4:05 p.m. ETCBS
    7Oct. 17 @ Arizona Cardinals8:25 p.m. ETNFLN
    8Oct. 28 @ St. Louis Rams8:40 p.m. ETESPN
    9Nov. 3 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers4:05 p.m. ETFOX
    10No. 10 @ Atlanta Falcons1 p.m. ETFOX
    11Nov. 17 vs. Minnesota Vikings4:25 p.m. ETFOX
    12Nov. 24BYE WEEK N/AN/A
    13Dec. 2 vs. New Orleans Saints8:40 p.m. ETESPN
    14Dec. 8 @ San Francisco 49ers4:25 p.m. ETFOX
    15Dec. 15 @ New York Giants1 p.m. ETFOX
    16Dec. 22 vs. Arizona Cardinals4:05 p.m. ETFOX
    17Dec. 29 vs. St. Louis Rams4:25 p.m. ETFOX

     

    *For a complete look at Seattle's 2013 schedule, check out NFL.com.

Season Outlook

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    Along with the 49ers, there may not be a deeper, more talented team in the entire NFL. John Schneider and Pete Carroll took a tremendous roster and made it even better this offseason, sending a message to not just the NFC West, but every team in the league.

    Seattle has a franchise signal-caller in Russell Wilson, who, despite his small sample size, has the makings of an elite NFL quarterback. Many overlooked him entering last season due to his stature, but there’s no denying his potential going forward.

    The Seahawks boast talent at every offensive skill position, possess a suitable offensive line with some terrific young pieces and a dominating defense at every level. Simply put, Seattle should be on a short list of legitimate title contenders entering the 2013 season.

     

    Prediction: 12-4, Second in NFC West

    Honestly, I’m really not sure how the NFC West is going to play out. One way or another, the Seahawks and 49ers are going to be the two teams left standing.

    St. Louis and Arizona both made some improvement this offseason, but neither team has the talent to compete with either favorite in a 16-game schedule.

    In addition, there are very few tricky matchups on Seattle’s 2013 slate. Apart from non-divisional contests with the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and New York Giants, the schedule is wide open.

    Realistically, Seattle could win anywhere from 10 to 14 games this season, but I’ll split the difference for the sake of brevity. There’s absolutely no reason to expect Seattle to not make a playoff appearance this season.

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