Last season, the Seattle Seahawks defense was one of the best kept secrets in the NFL. In 2012, the Seahawks defense might rise to the national spotlight much like the rival San Francisco 49ers did in 2011. If the Seahawks can improve upon last years 7th ranked scoring defense, then they will most likely be serious players in the fight for a playoff berth.
The Seahawks secondary is gaining momentum as one of the best position units in the NFL. Keeping Red Bryant in Seahawk Blue along with the addition of the former Tennessee Titan, Jason Jones, will keep the defensive line strong. Question marks linger at the linebacker position, will the Seahawks resign Leroy Hill or David Hawthorne? Regardless of whether or not the Seahawks resign Hill or Hawthorne, they must upgrade the linebacker position with more speed and pass-rushing ability.
Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are an elite secondary. After just two seasons in the NFL, the ball-hawking speed and playmaking ability of free safety Earl Thomas has started to draw comparisons to future Hall of Fame safeties Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. Strong safety Kam Chancellor, the former 5th round pick, has proven to bring a physical dimension to the secondary and has developed into someone who puts fear into opposing receivers.
While cornerback Brandon Browner ended up playing in the Pro Bowl, his counterpart on the other side of the field, Richard Sherman, might end up being the better player. Sherman did not take a backseat to any receiver he tangled with, and his confidence served him well this past season. With both Sherman and Browner standing over 6'3", they present a unique and challenging element to the opposing offense. Rarely is a cornerback duo gifted with so much length and the Seahawks CB's do an impeccable job of using their size to their advantage. The defensive backs are undoubtedly the strength of this Seahawks defense.
Currently, the biggest question marks on defense regard the linebacking corps. The only returning starter that remains on the Seahawks roster is K.J. Wright. Both Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne are free agents and its unclear where they will end up playing next year. Leroy Hill has received virtually no interest from other teams via free agency, most likely because of his off the field problems. Hawthorne, on the other hand, has visited the Lions and the Saints, but it seems as if he is likely to re-sign with the Seahawks.
Last years' trio of LB's played the run well, but you have to wonder if that was because of the solid DL play the Seahawks received. It's also reasonable to believe that the talented Seattle secondary helped hide the LB's in coverage skills. Bottom line: the LB's need an infusion of speed and have to improve in pass coverage before the Seahawks can truly become an upper-tier defense.
The re-signing of defensive leader Red Bryant was a crucial offseason development for the Seahawks. The unquestioned inspirational leader of the defense returns to bolster the the line of scrimmage alongside the newly acquired DE/DT Jason Jones from Tennessee. The Pete Carroll and John Schneider era has seen the rise of some diamonds in the rough and Jason Jones could ignite the Seahawks pass rush from both the interior and on the outside.
Jason Jones could have an experience in Seattle similar to that of Chris Clemons. Pete Carroll specifically wanted Clemons from the Eagles in 2010 even though Clemons only garnered three sacks with Philadelphia in 2009. Whatever the Hawks saw in Clemons, they were rewarded when he exploded for 11 sacks each season in 2010 and 2011.
Like Clemons, Jones had only three sacks with Tennessee last season, but will look to have a breakout first year with Seattle similar to that of Clemons. Jones is a young player - at only 25 years old - and has intriguing size at 6'5" and 276 lbs - long arms and quick feet. Jones is quick off of the ball and possesses ample strength at the point of attack. Be on the lookout for Jones and be ready to watch how the Seahawks use him in 2012. He's more comfortable on the interior so they'll rotate him in there, but he also has the ability to play the end spot and possibly even drop back into zone coverage now and again.
The Seattle defensive line was sturdy last season with Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch and Chris Clemons but with the addition of Jones and possibly a 2012 high draft pick or two, the Hawks defensive line should be better than ever and use a rotation of some talented players.
Despite question marks at linebacker, the elite secondary and strong defensive line should give Seattle a formidable defense capable in 2012 and Draft, and subsequent roster cutdowns and cap casualty pickups could further boost the depth at each position.