As we hit the halfway point of the Countdown, it’s time to take a look at what I thought was one of the most underrated aspects of Seattle’s success in 2013 — the depth it had on the defensive line.
It became well-chronicled as the season wore on the manner in which the Seahawks were able to rotate their players on the line, both to keep them fresh for the long haul of the season as well as being able to mix and match personnel based on that week’s opponent.
When the smoke cleared on the regular season, here were the total snaps and percentage of snaps played for the top seven players on the defensive line in 2013:
Michael Bennett, 600, 57.5
Chris Clemons, 570, 54.7
Cliff Avril, 551, 52.8
Brandon Mebane, 531, 50.9
Clint McDonald, 530, 50.8
Tony McDaniel, 528, 50.6
Red Bryant, 481, 46.1
Clemons, McDonald and Bryant, though, are now gone, taking with them 1,581 snaps that now have to be played by someone else.
What will account for some of those snaps is guys like Avril and Bennett, and maybe even McDaniel, playing more this season. Avril, who figures to take over as the starter for Clemons, would have no issue being asked to do more. Bennett began last year essentially as Bryant’s backup, used primarily on passing downs. His role expanded as the team found he could defend the run more than well enough, and that expansion of his role may increase this season. Same, too, with McDaniel, who could be used more at end, as well, especially now that the Seahawks have signed veteran tackle Kevin Williams.
Speaking of Williams, he’s the one new, veteran piece who is almost certain to step in to playing a significant role, and likely playing at least as many snaps last year as did McDonald — the player whose role he seems to replicate the most.
From there, though, the Seahawks will have to rely on some younger players to either take on bigger roles than they did last season. Or, in the case of rookie Cassius Marsh (above in an Otto Greule Jr. pic from rookie mini-camp) progress quickly to get on the field regularly.
There is no shortage of candidates — rush end Benson Mayowa, end Greg Scruggs, tackles Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill. End/LB Bruce Irvin once he gets healthy. And Marsh.
The Seahawks, as do most teams, crave versatility in their linemen, and most of the above will be groomed to play a couple of different spots. The players who can best handle that — or else prove to be so proficient at one thing that they have to get on the field — will get more of the snaps.
Knowing what we know right now, the best guess is that 5-6 players take the bulk of the snaps this year, with a few of them taking more than they did last year, and a couple of the younger players filling in the gaps. Camp and the pre-season, though, will obviously provide a lot more clarity.
One way or the other, the Seahawks will need to replicate as best they can the play and versatility of the line of a year ago to repeat.