Seahawks general manager John Schneider on Tuesday talked about the possible roles for the three new linebackers the team has signed in free agency.
Linebacker might not have seemed like the Seahawks’ most pressing need entering the off-season.
But Seattle has been as active at the linebacker spot as any other the past month, letting three-year veteran Brock Coyle leave via free agency, letting six-year veteran Mike Morgan test free agency and signing three outside free agents to add depth and competition, and maybe a new starter at the strongside position.
And during the NFL league meetings in Phoenix Tuesday, Seahawks general manager John Schneider added some clarity to the roles that the newcomers — Michael Wilhoite, Terence Garvin and Arthur Brown — will play.
Specifically, Schneider said Wilhoite and Garvin could each contend for the strongside linebacker spot. Morgan was the primary starter there last season (he missed eight games in the middle of the year due to sports hernia surgery) but as noted, remains unsigned.
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Schneider, though, indicated that Morgan could still remain with the Seahawks.
“Mike’s still out there, seeing what his market looks like,’’ Schneider said.
But Wilhoite, a 30-year-old veteran of five seasons with the 49ers, also figures to be a viable option at that position, though Schneider said he will also be looked at as depth at the middle linebacker and weakside linebacker spots behind Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
“Wilhoite can play all three,’’ Schneider said. “In our defense he can play all three. … Wilhoite played very well last year.’’
Schneider also said Garvin, who spent last season primarily as a special teamer with Washington, could also factor in.
“Just really, really tough,’’ Schneider said of Garvin. “Short-area quickness is really good. Good instincts.’’
Brown, Schneider indicated, will be looked at primarily as a backup at middle linebacker and weakside linebacker and on special teams. Brown has played for the Ravens, Jaguars and Jets in a four-year NFL career but does not have any starts.
“We have to see him run around and be with us in our system, too, so it’s kind of hard to project,’’ Schneider said of Brown, the brother of one-time Seahawks running back Bryce Brown who was drafted in the second round out of Kansas State by the Ravens in 2013. “But it’s really hard to project. We really liked him coming out (of college) but we didn’t see him as a SAM linebacker.”
As Schneider also noted, though, the strongside linebacking spot is diminishing a little in importance each season as teams continue to emphasize the pass on offense. In Seattle’s defense, it’s the strongside linebacker who comes off the field when the Seahawks bring on an extra defensive back and go into a nickel defense in passing situations (Bruce Irvin often stayed on the field when he was the SLB because he would move to the line to pass rush but Seattle does not require that of its SLB.)
Morgan, for instance, played more than 31 percent of the snaps in a game only once last season — 51.7 percent against the run-heavy Rams in the second game of the year.
Schneider said that realization was evident in Seattle devoting relatively limited resources to filling the strongside linebacker spot this off-season.
“When you look at the SAM linebacker position, it’s really hard to say you’re going to take a huge risk on somebody or step out on a limb for somebody because the reps are — it’s 15 to 17 (per game) or something like that is the average,’’ Schneider said. “So that’s why you see that position in our defense — it’s just a nickel league now.”
Seattle coach Pete Carroll had foreshadowed the addition of the three linebackers when he said after the season the team wanted to improve its linebacker depth and find some players who could theoretically help spell Wagner and Wright occasionally.
One of Brown or Wilhoite figures to contend to replace Coyle as the MLB, and if Morgan is not re-signed then someone will fill in at SLB.
And Kevin Pierre-Louis, who has been a backup at both WLB and SLB since being drafted in 2014, is entering the final year of his initial rookie contract and is obviously being put in a position to battle for his roster spot.
It all adds up to a spot that figures to look a little bit different in 2017. Exactly how, though, remains to be determined.