“Piece by piece, week by week.”
That’s Travis Jones, the Seahawks’ defensive-line coach, describing the slow, steady stream of his charges returning to the field.
Cliff Avril back from a hamstring injury. Clint McDonald re-signed two weeks after being cut. Chris Clemons recovering from a torn ACL. And now rookie Jordan Hill back practicing on Wednesday following a biceps injury, and Bruce Irvin finally liberated from his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.
If you’re a Seahawks fan already giddy over their 4-0 start, thinking it can’t get much better, consider this: They’ve only just begun to rush.
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The defensive front, when it finally gets to full strength — and Pete Carroll believes it will still be a couple of weeks before they figure out how to best utilize their disparate personnel — could (and should) be a devastating weapon.
Certainly, the Seahawks threw considerable resources in the offseason at upgrading what had been a pedestrian D-line in 2012. They acquired Avril, Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel in free agency, and drafted Hill in the third round.
Now that they’re on the verge of finally unleashing all those pieces, well, the giddiness is extending to their Renton facility.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about all spring and all summer,’’ said Jones. “I was on vacation and I was thinking about, ‘When we get this group together, we can do this, we can do that.’ We have some crazy ideas out there ready for the different pieces to come together.”
One effective scheme this season has been a third-down package with Clemons and Avril at ends, and Bennett and O’Brien Schofield inside — essentially four pass-rushing specialists en masse. McDonald already is tied (with Bennett) for the team lead with 2½ sacks, and coach Pete Carroll raved Wednesday about tackle Brandon Mebane.
Now they get to tinker with Irvin, who led all NFL rookies last year with eight sacks and will dabble as an outside linebacker in early downs.
“It’s like having a new toy,’’ beamed linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. “We have a plan for him, and he’s going to shine.”
Irvin watched the first quarter of the Seahawks’ season on television in West Virginia, where he was working out at his alma mater while riding out his suspension. He said that especially during the Houston game, when the Seahawks had four sacks in the second half, he was struck by the potential of the pass rush.
“Scary. It is scary,’’ he said. “I was talking to Bobby Wagner, saying, ‘Y’all don’t even need me in.’ Every time I looked up Matt Schaub was on the ground.”
Funny he should use the word “scary.” In a conference call Wednesday, Colts coach Chuck Pagano described the Seahawks’ defense as “Scary Movie 3.”
Irvin noted, “They say it’s hard to make plays on this defense.”
It was a reference not to their reluctance to do so, but rather all the candidates wanting to be the one to finish.
“It’s kind of like we’re racing to see who can get to the quarterback first,’’ said Avril, who then added with a laugh: “I think Bruce has the upper hand because he’s faster than all of us.”
Said Jones: “Each guy understands we can only have so many on the field at one time. When those opportunities come up, you’ve got to be hungry and go get it.”
Perhaps the ultimate compliment to the defensive line came from safety Earl Thomas, who is part of a secondary that is fiercely proud of its own status as one of the best in the game. They’d prefer you take out the qualifier “one of,” in fact.
When Thomas looks at the swirl of bodies in front of him, augmented seemingly each week by a new addition, he sees a heftier equivalent of the Legion of Boom. The Legion of Beef, if you will. “This D-Line is scary, man,’’ Thomas said, using that word again. “I think they’re right up there with us in the back end. They’re just as good as we are.”
It’s not a distinction he bestows lightly. Thomas added, “I think it just creates more trust. Last year, we had to depend on Clem (Clemons) so much. Clem even said it the other day that all that weight is off his shoulders. Now he can just go out and play.’’
Bryant, the spiritual leader of the group, believes the Seahawks’ defensive line can be “one of the best units in the game. But it’s not by saying. It’s by doing.”
The talk is tantalizing. Now the time has come for the Seahawks’ defensive front, reunited at last, to do it.
Piece by piece. Week by week.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org