Monday, August 1, 2011
Grading Seattle's Free Agency: Defense and Special Teams
In an stunning turn of events, I actually managed to be right about something. Not only did Seattle re-sign DT Brandon Mebane, they announced today that he'd be moving back to his natural 1-tech position, something I'd guessed at yesterday. A stud run-stuffer from any position, Mebane has a record of success at collapsing the pocket, that greatest single unsung component of all strong D-lines. The entire line could reap good results from this.
So I have these voices in my head (which shouldn't surprise anyone) and decided to just mic them today to show you my internal debate on DT Alan Branch, recently released by the Cardinals and signed by the Seahawks.
Optimistic: Awesome! Branch was just starting to turn it on before Arizona dumped him!
Pessimistic: Of course he was. It was a contract year. Doesn't mean anything. Everyone's dismissing Chris Spencer's improvements for the same reason.
O: He's torn it up against us before.
P: That's what they said about Julius Jones. Defeating Seattle's 2010 O-line is not exactly cause for celebration. Branch was mostly quiet the rest of the year.
O: How do you know the cause for sure, though?
P: Branch has a long-established history of being unmotivated, from back before he was drafted.
O: Arizona's coaching staff doesn't know how to motivate people. Maybe Pete Carroll can get something out of him.
P: Weak argument. Carroll isn't a magic wand. There's plenty of players he wasn't able to motivate. Lendale White and Kentwan Balmer spring to mind.
O: Well, it's not as if we could just ignore the position. At least we got a 3-tech.
P: I'm not sure Branch is a 3-tech. His only success in Arizona came as a 3-4 end.
O: He's never played in a 4-3, so we can't dismiss his potential in Seattle.
P: True, but Branch is also about three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than what you want from an agile 3-tech. He's very similar to the dimensions of Red Bryant, who lacked leverage when playing on the inside. Both guys tend to play too high.
O: So he's a defensive end.
P: Probably. Rotational/depth guy.
O: Well, that's okay, isn't it? Our problem last year was lack of depth on the D-line.
P: Our problem last year was no interior pass rush even from our starters. Branch doesn't necessarily fix that. He's probably better depth than Balmer, but a bit expensive for that role, don't you think? Sorry, I guess I'm still mad about missing out on Drake Nevis and Jurell Casey in the draft.
O: Maybe he'll get more opportunities if Mebane keeps him clean.
P: Very possible. Maybe I'm just scared of the name.
Leroy Hill is, ironically, the best linebacker left on the Seahawks after Lofa Tatupu's release. If he's retained his pre-2010 form, and that's a glaring if. Additionally, the Seahawks' linebacker corps isn't that good, so Hill isn't a world-beater by comparison. He was a solid tackler and run defender in days past, but the team already has plenty of that. What they don't have is pass rush and coverage, crucial skills in this pass-driven league. Hill shares these deficiencies; he hasn't rushed QB's effectively since his rookie season and is lost in zone coverage. Much like Curry, only cheaper. Still, he was available and Carroll kept him around for what he was worth.
Junior Siavii (#94): B
Siavii's return could be yet another piece in Seattle's 5-tech rotation, or it could be a comment on Colin Cole. Siavii is a decent backup built like a 3-4 end whose experience has come at nose tackle and will probably keep him there. Bringing him back could be another in the stream of subtle hints that Seattle is dissatisfied with Cole's play and/or doesn't expect him back from injury any time soon. At the very least, between Siavii and Branch, the Seahawks have upgraded their D-line depth quite a bit.
Matt McCoy (#52): C+
Again, decent backup material and special teamer with knowledge of scheme and personnel. McCoy made a little noise last preseason, but so did a lot of former Seahawks. Interesting to see where his competition against Wright and Smith, and Carroll's emphasis on good special-teams play, will leave him.
Lofa Tatupu (released): C+
Carroll doesn't play favorites, either with his own guys or the fans'. The surprising release of the Seahawks' defensive leader, expensive and shackled by injury over the last three years, reinforces the "moving forward" theme of this offseason and the front office's ability to make difficult decisions for the sake of financial prudence.
However, I have reservations. Tatupu's replacement doesn't appear to be on the roster. David Hawthorne is an adequate holdover at MLB, not a great one. He lacks Tatupu's coverage instincts, awareness, and consistency. Tatupu has lost the physical ability to cash in on those gifts, so I suppose it's a cost-benefit question, but Hawthorne isn't a long-term answer. Neither are Leroy Hill and Aaron Curry, who fit far better outside. Behind Hawthorne is the unremarkable Matt McCoy, rookies K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, and a gaggle of UDFA's. Yeesh.
I know everyone's excited about the Seahawks Youth Movement, but is there such a thing as too much youth? The flipside of youth is rawness and inexperience. The flipside of development time is poor performance. Too much of that might be too much of a tradeoff. Mike Sando pointed out that while Tatupu's 2011 price tag was expensive, it wasn't Aaron Curry expensive and could have been swallowed. If settle we must at middle linebacker, perhaps this is a case (and I don't usually make these) where veteran leadership could have made up for declining physicality? I don't know. Then again, it was Tatupu who initiated the divorce out of his own seemingly injured pride, so I guess I really don't know.
Lawyer Milloy (not pursued): B+
The departure of Lawyer Milloy feels better because Milloy has an heir at the strong safety position. SS Kam Chancellor looks ready to start and there's been a deliberate public passing of the torch between the two via Twitter. Some worry about Chancellor's speed, but a Cover 2 SS doesn't need speed as much as awareness, instincts, and strong tackling. Chancellor looks to have those, and now he has his chance to shine. Meanwhile, we thank Milloy for the sometimes underappreciated skill he brought to the defense. He was actually quite valuable while Chancellor learned the ropes.
Will Herring (to New Orleans): C
Seattle could have used Herring. He was a fast, intense, determined player and valuable special-teamer for the Seahawks. I suppose he's another Bentley or Koutovides, jumping at a chance for better money and playing time. Good for him.
Olindo Mare (to Carolina): C
Like Herring, we're not sure if Seattle offered anything to Mare, but this is an example of not knowing what you've got until it's gone. Regardless of what Jim Mora said, Mare was clutch and impressively reliable. I'll never forget his faithfulness in that field goal against Arizona after someone (Cameron Morrah, I want to say?) committed the same penalty twice in a row and forced Mare into two retries. Nailed it all three times. Thanks for everything, Olindo.
Anthony Heygood, Joe Pawelek (cut): C
They seemed a slight cut above your average camp fodder, but last year's preseason hopefuls always wind up being this year's afterthoughts. Heygood especially seemed promising as a backup before he got hurt.