Injuries will test Seahawks’ defensive depth, perhaps uncover a new star

Injuries will test Seahawks’ defensive depth, perhaps uncover a new star

Now multiple defensive backs, defensive linemen missing in action

There is no bright side to seeing Richard Sherman confess to a season-ending injury on the sideline, to seeing Earl Thomas in street clothes, to seeing Kam Chancellor and Shaquill Griffin leave the same game.

There is no bright side to having linemen Sheldon Richardson, Michael Bennett, Quinton Jefferson, Jarran Reed all dinged up and/or missing time — not with Cliff Avril already on IR with a neck injury of unspecified severity.

The relative best that can come from so many defensive injuries, which have snowballed into a disheartening avalanche that threatens to sabotage another promising season, is that the depth will be tested. The hidden benefit, that fails by all accounts to measure up to the joy of watching the LOB do its thing, is that all the background roster moves and draft choices made earlier this season will matter.

The new guys will get their chance, the ones who lost starting competitions, the ones stashed on the practice squad. Some of them, at least.

So who are the names that could step in and help save* the Seattle Seahawks’ 2017 season? There are a few.

(*The Seahawks are 6-3 overall, 3-0 in the division with their two hardest road games behind them and the tie-breaker over the division leader. Quite possibly they will still take the NFC West, despite the injury toll. Don’t talk to me about “saving” the season.)

Defensive Backs

Seattle caught some heat for adding not one, not two, not three, but four defensive backs in the draft, then another safety in free agency — despite Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor customarily playing close to 100 percent of defensive snaps. Of the three, now only Chancellor has a chance to be active 16 times. And he was carted off the field in the fourth quarter of the last game. Who’s faulting John Schneider today for his over-stocking ways? Didn’t think so.

Bradley McDougald

McDougald has already filled in for Thomas in two games, in which the defense has allowed a total of 534 yards. The team went 1-1, as you noticed, which isn’t optimal. With McDougald on the field, Seattle is giving up just 16.5 points per game and 4.0 yards per play, as opposed to 17.4 ppg and 4.9 ypp with ET present. Sample size: admittedly small. But sample quality: pretty good.

Kirk Cousins at home and Drew Stanton on the road isn’t the toughest schedule imaginable, but it’s not the easiest either. McDougald isn’t costing the team wins in Thomas’ absence, and that’s a lot already.

Tedric Thompson

Thompson, a rookie out of Colorado, has spent a total of 16 plays on the field, all on special teams. The 6-0, 204-pound fourth-rounder is listed as a strong safety. If Kam can’t go it wouldn’t be surprising to see Thompson get some snaps, since he’s been on the 53-man all year.

Delano Hill

Hill has gotten his feet wet with six defensive snaps and 111 on special teams. Also a strong safety. Does the third-round draft pick prevail in the theoretical competition to succeed Chancellor, or is it Thompson?

Jeremy Lane

When Lane failed his physical during the trade to the Houston Texans, it caused him to return to Seattle, and cost the team an extra draft pick to consummate the trade. He immediately looked like a man without a job — Griffin had displaced him as the starter opposite Sherman. Now, with a vacancy at left cornerback, a veteran who knows the system becomes much more valuable.

Atlanta also had a quarterback enjoying a historically great season. Too bad Russell Wilson can’t — you’re gonna stop me right there. He totally whatever-the-end-of-that-sentence-is can.

DeShawn Shead

Shead spent the first part of the season on the PUP list. He’s been cleared to practice and must either join the team by Week 13 or go back on IR for the rest of the year. Before the Arizona game, observers might have (rightfully) wondered where he fits on the defense, with all the starting gigs locked up.

Shead came into his own in 2016 with an interception, a forced fumble, 14 passes defensed and 80 tackles as the main left cornerback. The drop-off from Sherman to Shead is noticeable. Nobody is Richard Sherman. But Shead is above competent, and comes with experience.

Neiko Thorpe

Thorpe has seen more action at gunner and around special teams — he blocked a punt in Week 9 and made a key special teams tackle that prevented a return. He was on the field to replace Shead in the 2016 playoff loss at Atlanta. The Seahawks have historically used special teams to cultivate young players for larger roles. Think Jermaine Kearse, Lane, or even Ricardo Lockette. Thorpe could easily follow in their footsteps and become a defensive contributor instead of “just” a special teams ace. Or both!

The wild card: Byron Maxwell

Maxwell was released by the Miami Dolphins on October 24. You’ll recall that the Seahawks’ erstwhile starting right cornerback packs a punch.


Defensive Linemen

Bennett’s heel, Clark’s hip, Richardson’s oblique — the Seahawks’ D-line is far from healthy overall. But an infusion of young and mysterious talent is ready in the wings.

Dion Jordan

Jordan last played in the NFL in 2014. Well, until this happened Thursday night:

It’s been a long (understatement alert!) road back to real football for Jordan, the third pick overall in the 2013 draft. But he’s just 27, with little tread on the tires (only 26 games) after injuries and suspensions, and would hardly be the first successful Pete Carroll reclamation project.

You guys, you know who else is good? Nazair Jones.

If he gets more snaps because people are out, maybe more things like this will happen:

And maybe the Seahawks’ depth can overcome the epidemic of injuries. Maybe a new star seizes the opportunity to come into his own.

Read the full story at Field Gulls

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