The Seahawks are relying upon the trio of Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch to anchor the run defense in front of a remade linebacking corps led by David Hawthorne.
Pete Carroll moved Red Bryant from defensive tackle to 5-technique end before the 2010 season; the Seahawks' run defense was ranked second through six games, before Bryant was lost for the year and other crucial injuries piled up. What many saw as a crazy-Carroll move, moving Bryant outside, ended up working very well. However, the team was unable to adapt when Bryant went down.
Bryant is now back healthy and has looked like an enforcer along the defensive line, welcome news for the organization.
However, 2011 brings more changes to juggle as well. Colin Cole has been replaced by Brandon Mebane – Mebane having his best year at nose tackle in 2008 – and Alan Branch now assumes Mebane's 3-technique spot. Branch has similar mobility to Bryant and great balance for a 6'6", 330 pound tackle; he can backup Red Bryant if need be. This is perhaps my favorite offseason acquisition, as they failed to find this type of player in the draft.
This trio is a solid foundation for stopping the run, as long as they can stay healthy and get the time needed to gel. With the Seahawks' big three, the defensive line can use a variety of alignments, both one and two gapping, as they scheme the rest of the defense
The question is do they have the depth, especially if injuries again become a concern. They released veteran Junior Siavii in favor of little known Al Woods, who worked with Todd Wash in Tampa.
The question marks don't stop there Yes, I was one to advocate for David Hawthorne to get a chance play in the middle. Hawthorne is a true middle linebacker and his nickname, "the heater", accurately describes his mentality on the field. But, that's not to say the move will be made without growing pains.
He's missed two preseason games and the defense is more used to playing with K.J. Wright in the middle--both rookies, Wright and Malcolm Smith need to be reliable depth. Veteran Leroy Hill is back from injury and could be a vital piece of the defense, but whether or not he can remain healthy is a question; everyone knows the ups and downs of Aaron Curry, but there is no doubt the defense will be better if he can have his most disciplined year yet.
It's no secret Pete Carroll's defense starts with stopping the run. The optimism garnered by the fast start in 2010 has raised expectations that the run defense can perform similarly over a full season.
The addition of Branch and the position switch for Mebane were moves to enhance the scheme, and Hawthorne brings youth to the middle. Much of the outside focus has been on the changes on the offensive side of the ball; one of the main keys for success is making sure this re-tooled defensive line can control the line of scrimmage and the linebackers can make plays when the ball comes through the hole.