So what happens if Russell Wilson actually becomes afflicted with the dreaded “Sophomore Slump?’’ If it turns out that the Seahawk offense really does need the currently injured Percy Harvin to take the next step to become truly elite?
Wilson himself delivered what he feels is the answer one day late in the preseason.
“Think about the defense,” Wilson said. “This is the best defense in the National Football League, I believe. And to have those guys to have our back and to make plays for us to get us the ball.”
That, indeed, is a rather common expectation of the Seattle defense heading into the 2013 season — that it can be the best in the NFL, good enough to cover for any potential pitfalls faced by other areas of the team and help lead Seattle to the promised land.
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It’s also an expectation the Seahawks’ defense embraces.
“We’d rather it be that way,” said Dan Quinn, in his first year as a defensive coordinator but who helped build the defense when he was line coach in 2009 and 2010. “That means you are playing well as opposed to ‘let’s give it a shot and hope for the best.’
“For our players, they are fully accustomed to just seeing how good they can get.”
The question during much of the exhibition season wasn’t so much if the Seahawks could again be the type of defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL in 2012 when it gave up just 15.3 points per game, but if it might be even better.
That was the goal when the Seahawks were generally judged as one of the winners of the offseason when they signed two of the best free-agent pass rushers — Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett — in an attempt to shore up what was one of the few real blots on the defense’s resume a year ago. (Seattle’s 36 sacks last year ranked 18th in the NFL).
As the exhibition season ended, though, some unexpected health issues meant the defensive front was a little more uncertain than anyone planned.
Among the most significant of the aches and pains: Avril had yet to play because of nagging injuries; the team’s leader in sacks last year, Chris Clemons, was recovering from an ACL injury suffered in the playoffs last season; Bennett was dealing with a toe issue; and rookie tackle Jesse Williams had been placed on injured reserve with knee problems.
The linebacking corps, while much more settled, enters the season with two positions featuring new starters flanking second-year player Bobby Wagner in the middle — K.J. Wright moving from strongside linebacker to weakside to replace the departed Leroy Hill, and Malcolm Smith filling in at Wright’s old spot. The team was also experimenting with 2012 first-round draft pick Bruce Irvin at strongside linebacker, though that will be on hold until Irvin returns from a four-game suspension.
Where there’s no uncertainty is the secondary, the self-named Legion of Boom featuring four players who have all made the Pro Bowl at least once, and all started for the Seahawks for the last two years — cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, free safety Earl Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor.
And it is that secondary the Seahawks will lean on this season as Quinn is expected to install more packages that will ask the defensive backs to play man-to-man coverage, thus freeing up a defender up front to attack the run or rush the quarterback.
“Our motto back there is ‘When We Man Up, We Stand Up,’ “ Chancellor said. “DQ (Quinn), he loves our motto and he likes the way play back there. Any time we can get in man coverage, we use that to our advantage.
“It just puts it on our shoulder, on our back, and that’s the pressure we want. That’s what we signed up for from day one. We want to be a dominating secondary, a secondary that can take care of business on the field and get the ball. So any time we can get in man coverage and challenge ourselves, we are all for it.”
Quinn, who returned as defensive coordinator when Gus Bradley left to become the head coach at Jacksonville, also plans to make some tweaks on the front of the defense, notably having end Red Bryant line up almost exclusively over the tackle — where he can concentrate on rushing up field and stopping the run — rather than moving him around.
The hope is that a return to health by Bryant will improve a run defense that while mostly stout, was gashed hard a few times and ended up allowing 4.5 yards per carry.
“I think this team is young enough, they are confident enough, and we are pretty good,’’ said linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., who won three Super Bowl rings as a player. “So as long as we understand that, and understand it starts and ends with us, then it can go as far as we want it to go.’’
|On the defensive|
|Where Seattle ranked in key defensive categories during the 2012 regular season.|
|Points per game||15.3||First|
|Total yards per game||306.2||Fourth|
|Passing yards per game||203.1||Sixth|
|Rushing yards per game||103.1||10th|