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Commentary: Clint Hurtt and the Seahawks hope new parts will lead to a better season

Defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt of the Seattle Seahawks looks on during the first half of the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on October 23, 2022 in Inglewood, California.  (Getty Images)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – Clint Hurtt has a good reason to be glowing during the Seahawks’ OTAs this year – offseason knee replacement has given him a new level of personal comfort.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to go out on the practice field without limping and all that stuff,” said Hurtt, who was a 290-pound defensive tackle during his playing days at the University of Miami and remains substantial in stature.

The question for Hurtt is whether the Seahawks’ offseason of defensive personnel replacement will provide a new level of comfort with their results.

It’s not a stretch to say that no one in the organization may be facing more pressure than Hurtt, the Seahawks’ second-year defensive coordinator. His inaugural season after taking over for the fired Ken Norton Jr. was rocky, to say the least. The team’s adjustment to Hurtt’s 3-4 base scheme was hardly seamless; every time it appeared they were taking a step forward, they’d be hit with a game like the one against the Raiders, who rushed for 283 yards in an overtime win, or the Bucs, who rushed for 161 yards in a victory in Germany despite entering the game as the worst rushing team in the NFL.

The Seahawks finished 26th in overall defense, 25th in points allowed and 30th in rushing yards allowed. Explosive plays by opponents were a constant issue, exemplified by the 303 yards of total offense from the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs (including a game-ending, 86-yard run in overtime). Other examples abound.

Their offseason was clearly aimed at bolstering the defense in general and the run defense in particular. They made their largest outside free-agent allocation from this regime (three years, $51 million; $23 million fully guaranteed) to land defensive end Dre’Mont Jones. They brought back franchise icon Bobby Wagner to augment the linebacker position. Most of their free-agent money was spent on defense. And in the draft, three of their top five picks (two in the top 37) were used on defensive players, including cornerback Devon Witherspoon with the No. 5 overall pick.

The implication was not complicated: The Seahawks’ ability to advance beyond a wild-card playoff berth and a quick ouster – their frustrating pattern in recent years – will be predicated on how much better the defense gets. They were willing to throw the bulk of their resources at that task.

And now that’s where Hurtt comes in. His job is to mold that unit into a much more consistent one. Indeed, that word “consistent” is one Hurtt keeps invoking, as he did Thursday after the Seahawks’ OTA practice at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

“That’s really been my name of the game for this whole offseason, the consistency with fitting the run game the right way,” he said. “If I have to turn the football back, turn it back. If I’m fast flow spill, be fast flow spill. If I’m a cutback defender, let’s do that.

“But it has to be down after down. There’s a discipline to that. And that doesn’t all fall on players. As coaches, we’ve got to make sure we hold them accountable to that too. … Don’t let people run the football on you, and cut back on explosives, because explosives lead to points. You fix those two issues, you’re going to have a dramatic improvement right there.”

Easier said than done, of course. In pursuit of that result, the Seahawks reworked nearly the entirety of their interior line, augmented the linebacker position with Wagner and free agent Devin Bush, and added Witherspoon and free agent safety Julian Love to the secondary – among copious other moves.

It’s still unknown whether linebacker Jordyn Brooks (knee) and safety Jamal Adams (quad) will be recovered from their injuries by the start of the season, but it would be a huge boost if they were – at least theoretically. There is considerable debate about how impactful Adams has been when healthy, but Hurtt was unequivocal in his belief that Adams’ return would be a major benefit.

“We’ve seen that when he’s been healthy,” he said. “What he brings to us from a playmaking standpoint, his explosiveness, the attention that he creates that the offense has to give him; it helps the others around him. Our No. 1 concern is to make sure he’s healthy and ready to go.”

It’s impossible to glean much from pad-free practices in May. Hurtt is happy with the communication among defenders, and he believes that the learning curve from Year 1 to Year 2 of his tenure will be much more quickly navigated.

And if Hurtt is the man on the spot, it would be hard to detect any apprehension or lack of conviction coming from him. The Seahawks have banked on defensive improvement, and Hurtt believes it will be delivered.

“I’m very confident,” he declared. “Like I’ve said maybe a couple of weeks ago, we are going to be better, and we are going to improve. I’m not going to get into all of the stuff and say, ‘We are going to do this, and we are going to do that.’ I don’t get into all of those things. The proof is in the pudding and we will show that during the course of the year as we continue to progress.

“I’m excited and appreciative about what John (Schneider) and Pete (Carroll) have put out here with us, the defensive guys to work with and the developmental staff. We have to get these guys up to speed. Everything is going in the right direction right now, so we will keep on trooping forward.”

Hurtt is pleased that after being surgically gifted with a new knee, he’s no longer, uh, hurting. By September, he hopes to unveil a Seahawks defense that will be much more functional than it was a year ago.