The Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks boasted the best defense in the NFL last season, and one of the best in NFL history. They reached that peak by throwing wave after wave of top-shelf talent at opponents. Some of that depth was lost this off-season, opening opportunities for younger players to emerge, but John Schneider and Pete Carroll never turn down a chance to strengthen their roster. They buoyed one of the most important and most uncertain areas of the team when free agent DT Kevin Williams agreed to a deal.
Stopping the run
So much attention is paid to the pass rush. Everyone loves to talk about the relentless Seahawks pass rush that comes from every angle. Questions come up about how the team will replace Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald's combined 10.0 sacks from last season. What many fail to realize is just how good the Seahawks were at stopping the run, and just how integral that is to creating an effective pass rush.
Seattle was the 5th-ranked run defense by the ProFootballFocus last year. San Francisco running backs combined for 31 yards in the NFC Championship game. Broncos runners combined for 27 yards. That great ability to stuff the run allowed Seattle to get opponents into more obvious passing situations which, in turn, brought the lethal nickel package on the field from the Seahawks that featured pass rushers at every defensive line position.
Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett were the best run defenders on the line, and all return. McDonald, though, was a key rotational player that gave depth at both tackle spots. Part of how Mebane and McDaniel were able to play so well so late in the season was the heavy rotation that limited their snaps.
Players like Jesse Williams, Jordan Hill, Dewayne Cherrington, D'Anthony Smith, and Jimmy Staten are in line to compete for snaps when the Seahawks go to a big line. Bennett figures to be the starting 5-tech defensive end, but the team could move McDaniel to that role and slide in one of these young players at 3-technique defensive tackle when they want to go big. Kevin Williams completely changes the equation.
He is 33-years-old, but has been one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL for years, and has hung his hat on being a dominant run defender. He was a 3-technique tackle (like McDaniel), but played nose tackle (like Mebane) last season to great effect. Adding a proven player who can step into a rotation gives the Seahawks three starting caliber defensive tackles who excel at defending the run. Mike Iupati may not want to rush back from the injury he suffered versus Seattle last year. The pain looks like it is going to continue either way.
Williams, just like his Vikings teammate Antoine Winfield learned last year, is not guaranteed a roster spot. Carroll and Schneider have just created a pile at a position where the options they had were far less proven. If Jesse Williams or Smith or Staten or whoever else steps forward and looks more promising than the new veteran addition, the team could choose to go young. But now, it is a choice, not a requirement.
I don't foresee another Winfield situation here. There really is not a great option at backup nose tackle on the roster, and keeping Mebane fresh is crucial to the success of the defense. Williams does not like playing nose tackle, but did so last year, and was very good at it.
Multiple analysts, including this one at PFF, have noted that Williams moving to NT could be a natural fit and prolong his career. The reason a player like Williams may initially resist that role is that the focus is more on occupying blockers than getting upfield and penetrating. That didn't stop Williams from registering 2.5 sacks in his first game at NT last year.
Williams is all sorts of nasty. The thought of him lining up next to either Mebane or McDaniel should put a smile on the face of every Hawks fan. Getting all three of them on the line at once? That's just not fair.
One intriguing question is whether this at all threatens McDaniel's starting spot. Carroll made a point to challenge McDaniel last year in training camp after he missed a lot of time due to injury. Having a player like Williams around, who has accomplished more at the 3T DT role than McDaniel ever will, is sure to keep McDaniel motivated. Always compete.
The chances of guys like Smith, Staten, Michael Brooks, and Cherrington to make the roster just got a lot tougher.
Expect Williams to be there when the season opens, playing behind Mebane and McDaniel, and sometimes with them. Expect him to play well enough that you turn to the person next to you and ask how in the world the Seahawks got him this late for this cheap. Expect to see those pass rushers on the field a lot when the stadium announcer calls out "2nd and 10" or "2nd and 12." Expect Seahawks football.