Aaron Curry will have an early chance to get acquainted with the 12th man in Seattle, whilst Jason Smith will be manning the ever important left tackle position for the visitors.
Curry's role in Seattle
The Seahawks selected 2008 Butkus Award winner Curry with the fourth overall pick as a direct replacement for the traded Julian Peterson.
The former Wake Forest linebacker will line up as part of an exciting trio alongside Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill.
Last season, former defensive coordinator John Marshall used his linebackers heavily in blitz, often relying on Peterson's outside speed-rush threat, especially when the Seahawks lost Patrick Kerney to IR after week seven.
With Jim Mora taking the reins in 2009, a greater focus will be placed on the defensive line to create pressure and take up blocks—freeing the linebackers to make plays.
Curry in particular will be used as a disruptive force in the running game, with greater coverage responsibility in the featured Cover 2.
His pass rush duties are likely to be more limited than Peterson's previously, but he's still expected to put his hand to the ground on third down.
Smith's role in St. Louis
Jason Smith was drafted second overall by St. Louis to be the focal point of a rebuilt offensive line. The Rams also added center Jason Brown during free agency as Steve Spagnuolo's new regime looks for an immediate improvement in the trenches.
The rookie head coach is likely to shape his offense in a similar form to his previous employers.
The New York Giants enjoyed success the past two years (including victory in Super Bowl XLII) with a dominant ground game and a quarterback who can keep things ticking over.
In Steven Jackson, the Rams have the kind of back they can lean on. Like Eli Manning, Marc Bulger is capable of managing things behind center.
Smith's objective as a starting rookie will be to create plenty of holes for Jackson while keeping Bulger upright in the passing game.
Curry on tape
Curry has an excellent build at 6'2", 252 lbs., bringing the kind of size and athleticism not previously seen in Seattle at the linebacker position.
He is a capable blitzer who looks like a heat-seeking missile when running through inside traffic, while showing the necessary balance to get to the ball carrier.
He has the speed (ran a 4.56 at the combine) and sudden burst to get upfield and shoot gaps.
Curry is very good at beating the tight end in the running game, using his hands and strength to push his man backwards. This helps him stack and control at the line of scrimmage, and again, his balance is at the required level so he doesn't get knocked off his blocks.
He was often used by Wake Forest deep behind the line of scrimmage, but arguably, he was at his best when closer to the line in order to use his burst to get into the backfield quickly.
His coverage skills are debatable; on tape this looks like his greatest need for improvement. However, as a junior he registered four interceptions (three returned for touchdowns, which tied a NCAA record).
His 226 return yards were a Wake Forest school record in 2007.
He is a good tackler but sometimes goes high when he should go low. However, he is strong enough to usually get the job done.
Smith on tape
Smith is a tall, lean offensive lineman (6'5", 309 lbs.) who comes across as a very intelligent young man—he graduated prior to his senior year. This will no doubt aid his ability to pick up the playbook quickly as an immediate starter.
He is an athletic specimen without really owning the kind of eye-catching qualities seen in other 2009 first round offensive tackles (for example, Eugene Monroe).
He shows solid balance, which is crucial, but also has the kind of required fluidity and quickness. Smith is explosive from the snap and shows above average strength, but he lacks a powerful hand punch.
His technique is very raw and in need of polish, and he is susceptible to making poor cut blocks and liable to get in front of a defensive end without latching on.
Smith has shown a nasty attitude, which is perfect for the running game. Physically dominant, he shows the instincts to immediately get to the second level and look for a linebacker to punish.
At this early stage in his development, his run blocking is marginally stronger than his pass protection.
With Smith on the line, Baylor averaged 195.8 rushing yards per game in 2008, including 29 touchdowns—the school's highest statistics since 1994.
As part of the Bears' spread offense, he has never played in a three-point stance.
Seahawks vs. Rams recent history
The Seahawks have previously been able to smother the Rams at Qwest Field using great defense.
By creating sufficient pressure up front, Seattle's linebackers have been able to flourish.
In last season's 37-13 hammering, Julian Peterson recorded a sack and a forced fumble as the defense in general won the battle up front.
In 2007, the Seahawks won 33-6 with the defense totaling seven sacks, including one apiece for Peterson and Leroy Hill.
On opening weekend this year, Seattle will be hoping to extend an eight-game winning streak against St. Louis, stretching back to January 2005.
Head-to-head: Curry vs. Smith
Smith gets a baptism of fire during his first game in the NFL—he'll have to deal with the noisy 12th man in his debut.
The Rams will look to establish the run early—the Seahawks defense allowed 110.5 rushing yards per game last year.
Having released Torry Holt in the offseason, the Rams will be relying on younger receivers like Donnie Avery. Running the ball effectively early offers the best opportunity to open up the passing game.
Aaron Curry will likely be Smith's main opponent at Sam linebacker. His ability to run through traffic and get to the ball carrier will make Steven Jackson an easy target, and it's up to Smith to pick up the linebacker in the second level.
The Seahawks may put Cory Redding at right defensive end in order to create further problems for Smith—the former Lion's bulk taking up blocks to allow Curry extra running room.
In 2008's encounter, Jackson was shut down after a bright start, totaling 66 yards on 23 carries. He did however, play a key role in St. Louis' passing game—adding 62 yards on five receptions.
Curry is very good at reading the screen pass, using his vision and instinct to run through traffic to locate the ball carrier.
In this situation, it will again be up to Smith to explode off the line, push his first man back, and then find Curry quickly.
Smith was credited with 96 knockdown blocks during his college career, a Baylor record.
In passing situations, the main pass rushing responsibility will rest with Seattle's defensive line. Smith is more likely to face up to Darryl Tapp (four sacks vs. St. Louis, 2007) or Patrick Kerney, depending on which side either starts.
On third down passing situations, Redding is likely to move inside with Curry pushing up to the line creating a Smith vs. Curry face-off.
When the two engage on the field, Smith's best bet is to attack Curry from the side, where he is susceptible to being blocked out of the play.
If Curry can get good hand placement (and with Smith lacking a real power punch), he can use an arm swipe to break off and get around the lineman.
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