|Tony McDaniel may be fighting for a roster spot this week|
Pete Carroll and John Schneider have managed, in three short years, to place a difference-making player at every position on the defense. Every position, that is, except the defensive tackle that plays between Brandon Mebane and the LEO defensive end (Chris Clemons until now). Colin Cole played reasonably well in 2010, but was unable to stay healthy. Alan Branch played very well in 2011 and not-so-well in 2012. Seattle is hurtling toward the start of the 2013 season, and who will man this important position remains one of the biggest question marks.
There are no shortage of candidates. Schneider drafted Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams. He signed Tony McDaniel (or McFarlane, if you ask Carroll) as a free agent. Jaye Howard has taken snaps there, as does Michael Bennett. Michael Brooks and newly signed Dewayne Cherrington play there, and Seattle added another 3-tech yesterday when acquiring Sealver Siliga from the Broncos. That is eight players with varying styles, for what appears to be one role. So what makes a good 3-tech in this defense?
First, like many of the positions in Carroll's defense, the responsibilities of the 3-tech change depending on the situation. Early downs and run downs ask this player to be someone stout against the run that can take on and demand double-teams. Branch was great at this in 2011, when ProFootballFocus.com had him rated as one of the best run-defending defensive tackles in football. But while Red Bryant's health got a lot of blame for the trail off in Seahawks run defense last year, Branch's sub-par performance was at least as responsible. Passing situations ask the 3-tech to charge up-field and be disruptive. The ideal player is someone equipped to get to the quarterback from the inside with quickness and strength. Jason Jones was great at this when healthy last season.
Bennett and Hill are better suited for the passing situation responsibilities. This is the primary reason Bennett was signed. Many of his 9 sacks last season came from the inside. It is a rare talent, far more rare than edge rushing, and the Seahawks are lucky to have him. Hill has shown promise in this role, and can be a rotational option with Bennett to keep both fresh. Howard has also looked good at times getting up field. All this indicates that the pass rush 3-tech is in pretty good hands. That leaves the early down run defense role.
Williams was the great hope here. He was widely considered a steal in the fifth round, and has the pedigree of a disruptive run defender. The reality so far has been a very large player who is playing like a much smaller man. It may be due to health. It may be due to ability. In any case, he has done very little to indicate he is ready to be the starting 3-tech versus the run. Brooks is an undrafted free agent that had a great game against the Broncos, and has looked like a solid developmental prospect through camp. He is fighting more for the practice squad, though, than the roster at this point. Cherrington and Siliga have a golden opportunity to show up late and grab the attention of the front office. They are serious long shots. McDaniel was a stealth free-agent signing, and the one guy of the bunch that looks capable of disrupting versus the run and pass with frequency.
He is a 6'7" monster of a man that plays with a nasty edge. Nobody could block him during the scrimmage in camp. He is powerful enough to hold the point against the run, skilled enough to occasionally pressure the pass, and tall enough to bat down a number of passes. The quality of his play has been higher and more well-rounded than any other 3-tech on the roster. His problem is health.
Carroll has alluded to the fact that McDaniel needs to play if he wants to make the team. That is understandable. He is on a one-year contract that costs more than anyone other than Bennett at the 3-tech spot. He has to be the clear choice to justify the team jettisoning a younger, cheaper player that would be under club control for years to come. Think of Howard, for example. He is a player that has flashed some promise, even if he has not been the consistent performer that McDaniel has been when healthy. Howard has had his own injury challenges as well.
The team has been trying Hill at the spot on early downs, and is said to be pleased, but a closer parsing of their words completes the picture. Carroll has said Hill, "held up better than expected [versus the run]." That is a guy who can help if needed, but not necessarily the guy you want to be counting on to hold the point on a Super Bowl run. Hill is among the most likely of the bunch to be over-powered and taken out of a play. He gets out over his feet so much that he commonly gets pushed to the ground head-first. It happened at least a couple of times in every 1v1 drill during camp that I saw.
There is no battle more important on the roster right now heading into this third pre-season game. The Packers will provide a good test with bruising runner Eddie Lacy. McDaniel has run with the starters when healthy, and it stands to reason he would get the start this week if he can play. He would be wise to get on the field for this game if he hopes to stick with the team during the season. Seahawks fans would be wise to cheer for him to play as well. Should he be let go, this position will be manned by players who would need to grow into it instead of a player that can already play it. Potential for guys like Williams, Hill, and Howard can be intriguing, but a team with designs on a Super Bowl needs performance over potential.