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Seahawks 2022 Training Camp Preview: Will Newcomers Take Interior Defensive Line to Next Level? – Sports Illustrated

When the Seahawks take the field for the first time in training camp later this week, they will be doing so with a number of new faces at key positions. Most notably, they will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, at least one new starter at cornerback, and up to three new starters along the offensive line.
However, while Seattle endured a monumental roster makeover this offseason, the interior defensive line was kept intact and for good reason. Despite not having any Pro Bowlers in the trenches, the team finished in the top three for yards allowed per carry defending the run, a testament to the dominance of a group headlined by defensive tackles Poona Ford and Al Woods.
Rather than enact substantial changes to one of the few bright spots off of last year's 7-10 squad, even with defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt set to implement a 3-4 defensive scheme, the Seahawks prioritized continuity by keeping the band together around Ford and Woods and further solidifying the defensive line with additional reinforcements.
Before free agency even started in March, Seattle acquired underrated veteran Shelby Harris from Denver as part of the blockbuster Russell Wilson trade. While his arrival came at the cost of the best quarterback in franchise history, few players have quietly been more productive over the past five years, as he's eclipsed 5.0 sacks three times. A force stopping the run as well, Pro Football Focus gave him at least a 76.0 grade as a run defender three times during that span.
"Shelby is a pass rushing three technique, hustle guy, gets his hands in the passing lane, and is going to be a fun guy to have in our locker room," general manager John Schneider said of Harris when the trade became official on March 16.
With the new league year underway, Schneider wasted little time re-signing Woods, who enjoyed the finest year of his career in 2021. Along with consistently eating up double teams and freeing up linebackers behind him to make plays, the veteran nose tackle registered career-highs in several key statistical categories that do show up in the box score, including tackles (50), pass deflections (3), and quarterback pressures (18). A leader by example, he emerged as a locker room glue guy.
Seeking more help harassing opposing quarterbacks, Schneider then brought back veteran Quinton Jefferson, who played his first four NFL seasons in Seattle after being selected in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Rebounding from a slow start to his career, the 295-pound defender has produced at least 30 quarterback pressures in four consecutive seasons, including a career-high 50 for Las Vegas in 2021.
Formerly Jefferson's defensive line coach for three seasons, Hurtt cited the veteran's communication skills as his best asset, referencing his contributions when the team finished with 46 sacks in 2018. Joining a front line featuring several young edge rushers, including Darrell Taylor and second-round pick Boye Mafe, communication will be critical for the group to get up to speed quickly.
"When Q was here with us in 2018, it was a really good year for us rushing the passer." Hurtt commented. "You hear me talk about communication. Just the rush games, the protections, who's rushing where, being able to cover guys when they're going to rush their one-on-ones is a high level of unselfishness that has to come with rushing the passer so you can take care of the guy next to you knowing he's going to do the same for you when that opportunity arises for him."
Adding Harris and Jefferson to a nucleus already featuring Ford, Woods, and fourth-year defensive tackle Bryan Mone, who recently signed a two-year extension, the Seahawks have built an impressive foundation along the defensive line. With all five players capable of defending the run at a high level, Hurtt should be able to mix and match groups without seeing a drop off in play, keeping everyone fresh while creating great flexibility in the process.
During Seattle's minicamp, Hurtt wasn't ready to name starters and won't need to until September. But most likely, Ford and Harris will be slotted into the 3-tech roles sandwiched around the 340-pound Woods in the middle. Behind them, Mone and Jefferson will see extensive snaps at nose and defensive tackle, while the organization remains hopeful L.J. Collier will be able to bounce back from a difficult 2021 season to contribute as a situational interior rusher.
Back up to around 290 pounds, coach Pete Carroll confirmed Collier will be playing defensive tackle exclusively after seeing action at defensive end in his first three seasons. After being a healthy scratch seven games a year ago and failing to produce a single sack for the second time in three years, Hurtt was encouraged by what he saw from the former first-round pick during the offseason program and he still could be an important part of the Seahawks defensive line rotation.
"Out of the entire group of guys on defense, he's had one of the better springs out of everyone, so really excited for him and where he is going," Hurtt said of Collier's progress during OTAs. "Continue to be strong in the run game. He's came in bigger, and stronger, and faster than what he has been in previous years. Been rushing the passer really well so just want to see him continue to stack days.”
Disappointing to this point, Collier won't have a roster spot handed to him and will have to earn it in August, as the Seahawks will welcome back young defensive tackles Myles Adams and Jarrod Hewitt to compete against him for a roster spot. Undrafted rookie Matt Gotel out of West Florida will also be in the mix as a developmental nose tackle project.
There's nothing flashy about Seattle's defensive line group. Not one defensive tackle on the roster has earned a Pro Bowl nod or All-Pro vote in their respective careers. Outside of the Pacific Northwest, few football fans can probably name a single player along the defensive line.
But while the group may lack star power, they offer great depth and versatility at the position with several quality all-around players serving as the backbone of an unheralded defensive line and collectively, they get the job done. It's a clear example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
That statement couldn't be more true with Harris and Jefferson being added to the equation for extra pass rushing punch and no notable personnel losses in the trenches. Top to bottom, the unit should be significantly better than last year. As has been the case for the past couple of years, the Seahawks will have one of the best defensive lines in the NFC – even if few take notice – and be a critical ingredient for Hurtt to be successful in his new role rebuilding a once-dominant defense.


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