By Danny O'Neil
What are the Seahawks going to do at Leo?
That question was asked out of excitement a month ago, everyone wondering what kind of cocktail Seattle could shake up at the pass-rushing defensive end with Cliff Avril signed in free agency, Bruce Irvin coming back for his second season and Chris Clemons recovering from offseason knee surgery.
The question of what Seattle will do has a decidedly different feel today with Irvin suspended for the first four games of the season, Avril unable to practice the past couple of weeks because of plantar fasciitis and no guarantee Clemons will be ready for the start of the regular season.
When last season ended, there was no bigger priority than improving the pass rush, which is why free agency was seen as such an incredible coup for the Seahawks. They signed Avril – considered by most to be one of the top defensive players available on the market – and they followed it up by adding Michael Bennett. Both received significant salaries, each signed a short-term deal and in a two-day period the Seahawks added a pair of players who combined for 18.5 sacks a year ago.
With training camp less than two months away, how certain do you feel about the improvement of that pass rush?
Now, that's not to say it's a crisis. Not yet anyway. Seattle is in the unusual situation of being able to anticipate getting deeper as the season goes along. Irvin will return after he sits out the first four games and Clemons figures to improve physically as the season progresses.
That doesn't change the fact Seattle has suffered the first challenge to its depth, though, and it comes along the defensive front as lineman Greg Scruggs already suffered a serious knee injury.
It's impossible to overstate the significance of the Leo position to Seattle's pass rush. Last year, Clemons and Irvin combined to account for more than half of the team's 36 sacks as Clemons had 11.5 and Irvin totaled eight.
Clemons suffered a serious knee injury in Seattle's playoff victory in Washington, keeping him out of the divisional playoff loss in Atlanta, which was notable for the Seahawks' overall inability to invade the personal space of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
That led coach Pete Carroll to declare that Seattle needed pass rushers – plural – after the loss in Atlanta. And the Seahawks signed pass rushers – plural – back in March.
Now the question is what the Seahawks will do if they're missing pass rushers – plural – when the season begins, which makes these next few weeks of offseason training a little more important as Seattle looks for its options.