The key to Seattle’s pass rush this year will be seeing just how close they can come to recreating the heavy rotation from 2013 that saw players like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril playing primarily in nickel situations.
Do not expect either player to return to that role, but if players like Cassius Marsh, Frank Clark, Jordan Hill, and Bruce Irvin can be strong contributors to the pass rush, it will allow the team to be more inventive in how Bennett and Avril are utilized.
Avril appeared to be the one who benefitted most from more rest in 2013, as he totalled just 5.0 sacks last season. He was still a very effective pass rusher in terms of QB hits and pressures, but the team needs him to get home more often this season. Bennett is a Swiss Army Knife who can be used all over the line and is equally effective against the run and the pass. Do not expect his snaps to be cut down much, but his position on the line could vary more.
Clark is a key one to watch. If he proves he can be of close to starting talent at the defensive end opposite Avril (the position Bennett currently starts at), it would allow Bennett to spell Avril at LEO and move more freely around the line. Marsh showing he can play LEO would be huge as well.
Hill looks like a guy who can contribute 5 plus sacks each year, but could supercharge the pass rush if he is capable of 8 plus sacks. Do not be surprised to Ahtyba Rubin deployed more in pass-rushing situations than run-stuffing ones as he is more of a natural pocket collapser than a space eater.
Other players like Greg Scruggs, David King, Demarcus Dobbs, Obum Gwacham, and Julius Warmsely have an uphill climb.
Mebane is supposed to be back. Let’s see if he is on day one, and how often he practices. Injury was an issue, but his contract is just as likely to keep him away. Should Bobby Wagner or Russell Wilson sign, the team may need to either cut or restructure the big defensive tackles contract. I would guess he will be here, possibly on a restructured deal.
There is no other proven nose tackle on the roster. Rubin can play the role, but he is nowhere near the run defender Mebane is. That’s where a guy like Jimmy Staten becomes interesting. I will be watching to see how he looks and whether he can stay on the field.
Tony McDaniel had a lesser year last season, and is a prime candidate to be a cap cut if any of the big contracts get signed. Rubin could step into his role. Hill might as well, but I’m not at all convinced Hill is stout enough to play in the base defense. D’Anthony Smith has gotten spot duty there is a decent run defender. Jesse Williams is more an inspirational story than a guy with a legitimate chance to make the team. T.Y. McGill joins the group and is probably hoping to make the practice squad.