It was the talk of the NFL after Super Bowl XLVIII. Seahawks pass rushers appeared to be coming from every crack and crevice of MetLife Stadium to harass Peyton Manning into a pedestrian performance. They came in waves. Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril, and then Bruce Irvin and O’Brien Schofield would attack the edges. Michael Bennett and Clinton McDonald would collapse the middle. It was a human trash compactor that left many quarterbacks feeling like garbage that season. After a step back in 2014, the pass rush tidal wave appears to be gaining strength thanks to an infusion of youth, and is estimated to decimate NFL cities far and wide starting this September.
DE Cassius Marsh
Marsh was drafted last season to be a Michael Bennett protege. He had played at weights ranging from 250-300 lbs at UCLA, and had experience both as an inside rusher and on the outside. The coaching staff had him come to camp last year around 270 lbs, and started him working inside.
It became apparent early on that his burst off the line was better suited for rushing on the edge. He had a promising preseason that included a couple of sacks, but was injured early in the regular season and never established himself.
He now returns at what appears to be a far more natural weight of 254 lbs, and is screaming off the edge in practice. Cliff Avril recently joked that he would never tell Marsh that he might be quicker off the line than he is.
Marsh is working exclusively as Avril’s backup at the LEO defensive end.
DT Jordan Hill
Hill is entering his third season and appeared to be coming into his own last year before getting hurt. He finished with 5.5 sacks, all of which came in the final six games of the regular season. Hill is still just 24 years old.
His ability to rush from the inside is crucial to Seattle’s ability to recreate the same type of formula that worked so well in 2013. He is a pass rush specialist who will almost exclusively see time in nickel defenses, which the Seahawks play quite a bit in the pass-happy NFL.
DE/DT Frank Clark
Clark is the newest addition to the group. He was exclusively an outside rusher at University of Michigan, but has spent most of his time working on interior rushing in camp for Seattle. He looks far more natural inside that Marsh did, and his weight (274 lbs) fits his frame well. Second time appears to have been a charm for Seattle when looking for a Bennett-in-training.
Clark will spell Bennett at the 5-technique defensive end opposite Avril, and also rotate in the interior line. His emergence gives Seattle more flexibility in mixing-and-matching their line than they had even in 2013. Having a legitimate option to rest Bennett, who led the line in snaps last year, can only help increase Bennett’s effectiveness.
LB/DE Bruce Irvin
Irvin came in with enough hype that expectations got out of whack. Doug Farrar, of Sports Illustrated, recently described Irvin as a player who is still finding his way questioned his effectiveness. That might be the perception. The reality is only two Seahawks in history have had more sacks in their first three seasons than Irvin’s 16.5 (Cortez Kennedy, Jeff Bryant).
FACT: Only Cortez Kennedy and Jeff Bryant have had more sacks than Bruce Irvin through their first three seasons
Irvin will continue to rush the passer in nickel situations, and occasionally blitz from his SAM linebacker spot. He is in the final year of his rookie deal, should be primed for his best season. It looks like he came in stronger this year, with noticeably larger arms.
DE/DT Michel Bennett
The single most feared pass rusher on the Seahawks line, Bennett once again led the team in sacks. More impressive than his sack totals is his pass rush productivity that includes hurries and QB hits. He was tied with Charles Johnson of Carolina for most total QB pressures (72) among 4-3 defensive ends, and was fourth in the NFL in that category, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Bennett has made no attempt to hide his displeasure with the contract he signed just one year ago. He is in camp, though, and showing no signs of being anything but the consummate pro and team leader he has been since coming to Seattle.
DE Cliff Avril (pictured at the top of the article)
Avril is still the clear starter at the LEO rush defensive end position, and has more juice off the edge than anyone on the roster. The combination of Avril and Bennett together has been devastating. They are friends and heady veterans equipped with rare physical gifts. Their ability to play off of one another is a go-to for the Seahawks when they need to create the most pressure.
Swiss army knife
Pressure comes from more than just the defensive line. Seattle’s linebackers can also add to the total, but the line is the constant. They struggled to create consistent pressure last season and lacked options beyond Irvin, Avril and Bennett.
A healthy Hill would have already made the pass rush more promising this season. Throwing Marsh and Clark onto that pile should allow the Seahawks to create combinations that few in the NFL can. It should also allow players to stay fresher, which was a big factor in fourth quarters back in 2013.
Consider that the Seahawks finished tops in the NFL last season in points allowed and yards allowed while being toward the middle of the pack in sacks and turnovers. One of history’s best defenses has the makings of adding its most ferocious pass rush ever. This should be fun.