Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says the battle for the strongside linebacking position is wide open.
The uncertainty on the offensive line may get the most notice among the Seahawks’ positions to watch entering the 2016 season.
But for sheer numbers of players competing for one job at one position, nothing may beat the battle for the strongside linebacking spot, an opening created when Bruce Irvin signed as a free agent with the Raiders.
Irvin held a dual role with the Seahawks as a strongside linebacker in run downs (strongside meaning on the side where the tight end lines up for the offense) and then a rush end in passing downs.
Those jobs now figure to be split into two, with the likes of Frank Clark and Chris Clemons taking over some of Irvin’s pass rush duties and the Seahawks deciding on someone else to be the strongside linebacker.
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Just don’t look for any insight right this minute on who that will be from coach Pete Carroll.
“It is wide open,’’ Carroll said after Tuesday’s mini-camp practice. “It really is wide open. We won’t call that until after we are playing games (in the pre-season). We have good competition.’’
What had been three contenders — Mike Morgan, Cassius Marsh and Eric Pinkins — is now four with the Seahawks having decided to give Kevin Pierre-Louis some snaps there in recent weeks.
Morgan is the veteran of the group, having been with the Seahawks since 2011 (after having played for Carroll at USC), and the presumptive leader due to having started two games last season when Irvin was injured. The team also made a quick move to re-sign Morgan during free agency after he had visited with the Steelers, indicating a pretty strong desire to keep him around.
Marsh, in his third year, is another being tried in a new role, having been a defensive linemen his first two seasons but now getting a look to see if he can handle a role as a standup linebacker (and also now listed at 245 pounds to better fit the position, down from the listed 254 of last year). Marsh also figures to factor into the rush end equation.
Pinkins is yet another who has made something of a conversion the last year, initially drafted in 2014 as a cornerback, then tried at safety and now at SLB.
Pierre-Louis, also in his third year, has been a weakside linebacker his first two seasons, getting a start last year against Carolina.
Carroll assessed the battle this way:
“Mike Morgan gives us the stability, he has been in the position for eighteen years now. Really Cassius has done a really nice job picking up the position now. Pinkins has done a really good job, gives us the superior athlete because he is so fast coming from the DB spot. We have a really nice variety. We also played Kevin Pierre-Louis there through the second half of the OTAs to see what he would do so we know where we can plug him in if we need to, he looked very good there also. It is a really good spot, it will be fun to watch in camp and really the preseason games will be enormous for that.”
Some may have wondered why the Seahawks didn’t make more of an effort to bring in someone from the outside to compete for the job. One reason is that the snaps for the SLB this season could be fewer than in the past, especially if Brandon Browner’s role as a potential third safety turns out to be significant. When playing as a third safety, Browner would likely take the place of the strongside linebacker. So in some ways, Browner and Clemons could be considered as the veteran additions made to help replace Irvin, even if neither is a linebacker in name.
And the Seahawks could still maybe add a veteran, though undoubtedly one who wouldn’t cost much. One rumored possibility has been former Seahawk O’Brien Schofield, who played some SLB for Seattle in 2013 and 2014 and is now a free agent after having played last season in Atlanta (Schofield is a workout partner of Michael Bennett’s in the off-season in Hawaii).
All we really know for now is that we won’t really know anything about how this position will unfold until well into the pre-season.