Secondary? Not from where I’m standing.
The Seahawks, thanks to smart drafting and savvy free-agent signings, were the envy of the league when it came to overall roster depth in 2013.
Most would point to the secondary, known as the Legion of Boom, as the deepest squad on the team. You could make a strong argument for offensive line or even running back as well, but you still wouldn’t have my vote.
The emergence of linebacker Malcolm Smith as a playoff star and Superbowl MVP gives the Seahawks linebacker corps the title of deepest squad on the roster headed into 2014.
Could it be too deep? Who do you choose as your starting three as we look forward to the 2014 season? Here are the candidates.
MLB Bobby Wagner is the leader of this linebacker unit. He’s the perfect combination of height, speed and size that can hold up well against either the pass or the run. I would also consider him the enforcer of the guys in the linebacker corp. He will lay you out if you dare cross the middle in front of him.
Seattle managed to pick up Wagner in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. He’s yet another guy who was selected in the middle-to-late rounds who’s developed into a dominant starter on the NFL’s No. 1 defense.
A rarity: someone I can identify as a former first-round pick on the defense, but that’s what Bruce Irvin is. Thought of as more of a pass-rushing specialist by many analysts, Irvin showed more versatility and played the entire year at OLB.
The position change affected his sack count a bit — as did all the pass rushers Seattle signed in free agency — but you had to expect that given the situation. Regardless, Irvin silenced most of his critics and proven he can play linebacker in the NFL against both the run and the pass.
Playing opposite of Irvin is fellow OLB K.J. Wright. Wright had one of his best years defending the pass where he repeatedly helped stifle some of the best tight ends in the NFL. A late-season injury to his foot slowed him down a bit, but he was able to return and have a solid performance in the Superbowl.
Like Wagner, Wright is a former fourth-round draft pick, yet another example of a middle-rounder turned starter on the star-studded Seattle defense. Also like Wagner, he has the speed and height to play both pass and run effectively.
If you Google Malcolm Smith now, you’ll find his new set of initials: MVP, as in Superbowl MVP. Smith joined the Seahawks as a seventh-round pick from USC in 2011. This time it’s a guy who was nearly not drafted at all who winds up a star for Seattle.
Smith saw a bit more playing time in 2013 thanks to injuries from Wagner and Wright at various times throughout the season. Whenever he was asked to play, Wagner was always ready and played well.
Smith’s season highlight is of course the pick-six he came up with in the Superbowl against Peyton Manning. It was that special kind of amazing play that can define a player’s career for the rest of their playing days. Smith will now always be remembered for that play — not that most analysts thought that he was too short and too slow to play the position.
2014 Linebacker Predictions
I see this shaking out through smart situational play. While Irvin proved to be more versatile than most thought he could be, he’s still clearly a better pass-rusher. The Seahawks will take advantage of that a bit more in 2014 due to upcoming salary cap-related departures.
It remains to be seen if Michael Bennett will re-sign. Red Bryant has already been cut and the speculation is that Chris Clemons will be cut as a cap casualty as well. This opens up a natural defensive end position opposite Cliff Avril for Irvin on obvious passing downs.
On third-and-longs — or other obvious situations — or against heavy passing teams, Dan Quinn will likely have all four of these guys on the field at the same time. Irvin is the natural choice to switch to the end position in those situations, freeing up a spot for Smith to receive much-deserved regular playing time.