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Sports >  Seattle Seahawks

Commentary: Will wholesale changes revive the Seahawks’ defense?

UPDATED: Thu., June 2, 2022

Seattle Seahawks cornerbacks Elijah Jones (37), Coby Bryant (8) and Tariq Woolen (39) talk during NFL football practice, Tuesday, May 31, 2022, in Renton, Wash.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Seahawks cornerbacks Elijah Jones (37), Coby Bryant (8) and Tariq Woolen (39) talk during NFL football practice, Tuesday, May 31, 2022, in Renton, Wash. (Associated Press)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

Darrell Taylor has logged exactly one NFL season. He was born in March 1997, meaning he’s been 25 for just over two months. But when he looks around the linebacker room, he can’t help but notice one thing — he’s one of the old guys.

“It’s been funny just to see,” Taylor said. “Looking around and seeing all the young guys around, being that I was in that same position last year.”

This isn’t about Darrell Taylor — it’s about a new-look Seahawks defense hoping to carve out its own legacy. Bobby Wagner isn’t here anymore. Neither is K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor or any of the legends who once made the Seahawks the most-feared defense in football.

A lot of these current players — maybe most of them — wouldn’t be recognized shopping at their nearest Safeway. Can we expect them to revive the Seahawks’ “D”?

Last season wasn’t the most inspirational one for the players on that side of the ball. Seattle finished 27th in total defense and 31st in pass defense. Yes, Jordyn Brooks and Wagner ranked second and third in the NFL in tackles, respectively, but much of that was because they couldn’t get off the field.

The consolation was that the Seahawks finished tied for ninth in points allowed — namely because of their red-zone defense and ability to force turnovers. Still, coach Pete Carroll felt he had to move on from defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and promote Clint Hurtt as his replacement. And this is where we stand — a lot of fresh, but unproven, faces.

So should fans be excited?

Might depend on what part of the field they’re watching. The safeties are where you’re going to find the accolades, but not so much the health. Quandre Diggs has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two years but suffered a gruesome injury during the final quarter of the 17th game last season — a dislocated ankle and broken fibula. The Seahawks were optimistic enough about him returning to form that they gave him a three-year, $40 million extension, but you never know how he’ll play until he gets back on the field.

Jamal Adams has made three Pro Bowls but missed the final five games of last season due to a torn labrum. The shoulder shouldn’t be the concern for the 12s, though — it’s that analytics site Pro Football Focus has ranked him as a slightly below-average safety the past two years despite gaudy sack numbers in 2020.

As far as cornerback? Sidney Jones returns after a serviceable season in which he started 11 games, but then there’s a drop-off. Tre Brown? Justin Coleman? Rookie Coby Bryant? Who gets the starting nod remains to be seen, but there are questions.

That said, there might be even more questions surrounding the guys up front, because that’s where most of the turnover is.

“The biggest difference is the front seven, and that’s what I’m most excited about,” safety Ryan Neal said. “Because we got some hungry young dogs down there, and I think what the defense is going to do for them is put them in better positions to play the game that they know how to play.”

Neal was essentially saying that some players weren’t playing the positions that best suited their skill set. And it was clear that the Seahawks were having trouble getting to the quarterback. They finished 21st in the NFL in sacks per game, which contributed heavily to the pass yards they were giving up.

So does second-round draft pick Boye Mafe help shore this up with his edge rushing? Will Taylor build on the 6.5 sacks he produced last season? How about Uchenna Nwosu, who tallied five sacks and two forced fumbles for the Chargers last season in the best year of his career?

These players will be vital — as will defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson, who rejoins the Seahawks after two seasons away, and linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe, who comes to Seattle after four years in Chicago.

But perhaps most vital is the new DC.

One is never quite sure how much autonomy a defensive coordinator coaching under Carroll has. Pete is a defensive-oriented coach, and is considered by many to be the brains behind those historic Legion of Boom days.

But Hurtt has already made an imprint by changing the Seahawks’ base defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

What’s the biggest difference you see with the defense now vs. last year? Hurtt was asked Tuesday.

“The biggest thing right now is there’s a lot of communication,” he said. “Guys being on the same page — the communication at all three levels of the defense is crucial. If not, bad things can happen, so guys got to constantly talk.”

So the Seahawks are going to make sure to talk to each other. Now we wait to see if their defense can give fans something to talk about.

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