2006 Draft Preview: Defense and Special Teams

After four preseason games, 16 regular season games and the best postseason in franchise history, it's time to reflect on the 2005 season and where the team stands depth-wise at each position on the team. Today, .NET's Scott Eklund kicks off our Draft Coverage by reviewing the defense and special teams.

The Seahawks outperformed the expectations of the so-called "experts" (including yours truly) and came together as the year progressed. Rookies, free agents and stars melded together into the most cohesive team Seattle football fans have seen and now that the offseason is upon us, they will have some work to do to keep the team together for another run at a Super Bowl ring.

The following is a position-by-position look at who performed well, who needs to pick things up and who may not be wearing a Seahawks jersey come August.

Defensive Line: DE Bryce Fisher rivaled Joe Jurevicius as the best free agent signing of last year's offseason. He was explosive off the edge and led the team with nine sacks. He was also good at keeping his outside contain on plays to the other side of the field, not allowing ball-carriers to cut-back on the Seahawks defense.

The unsung hero of the Seahawks pass-rush was DE Grant Wistrom. Even though he only racked up four sacks from his weakside spot. What went unseen was that his pressure from the backside of the quarterback allowed Fisher and DT Rocky Bernard to cleanup and get sacks as the quarterback did his best to avoid Wistrom's pressure. Wistrom was also very effective against the run and his non-stop hustle and leadership were infectious.

Bernard finished second amongst defensive tackles with 8.5 sacks in 2005 and will get a pretty sizeable payday this offseason. Whether or not he stays in Seattle is a different story. He isn't great against the run, but he's gotten better and he is excellent at rushing the passer. He is exactly what teams are looking for in an interior pass-rusher.

DT Chartric Darby was an unheralded free agent signing last season, but he was the anchor of the defense against the run. He and second-year DT Marcus Tubbs clogged the middle and allowed the Seahawks to rank fifth against the run allowing 94.4 yards per game. Darby's job was to hold strong at the point allowing the linebackers to flow and make plays. He did just that.

Tubbs was excellent in his second season. After a tumultuous rookie season, one that saw the death of his mother and several nagging injuries, Tubbs came back with a vengeance in 2005. Tubbs, along with Darby, occupied blockers in the middle on running plays and combined with Bernard and Craig Terrill to be formidable on passing plays.

Terrill was a huge surprise this season. His relentless pass-rush and good motor allowed him to clean up a lot in the middle. He posted two sacks but always seemed to be around the ball. He also created a lot of hurries.

Linebackers: When the Seahawks traded up in round two last year to draft USC's Lofa Tatupu, many scoffed at the move as a "reach". The young linebacker proved everyone wrong in his rookie season leading the Seahawks with 105 tackles while also posting four sacks and three interceptions – one for a touchdown. His instincts are second-to-none and he made all of the defensive calls. He also was responsible for getting his teammates lined up correctly and he was durable, not missing a snap during the season.

Leroy Hill was a third-round selection last year and didn't see a lot of time until veteran LB Jamie Sharper went down with a staph infection in his knee. Hill is very good at getting to the quarterback and defensive coordinator John Marshall liked using him on delayed blitzes. He finished with 7.5 sacks and 68 tackles in only nine starts and showed why the Seahawks coveted him as a playmaker late on day one of the 2005 Draft.

Sharper was a tackling machine for the Houston Texans in his three seasons there, but he played a little out of position as a strongside linebacker in the Seahawks' scheme. He struggled in coverage at times and it remains to be seen how he will recover from his ailing knee. He's a good leader and a positive influence in the locker room, so his ability to make the team shouldn't be in question.

D.D. Lewis and Kevin Bentley are versatile players who can play any both outside spots for the Hawks. Lewis is quick and has good instincts. He finished the season with 64 tackles and two forced fumbles. Bentley was a special teams demon and played well in space when asked to cover backs and tight ends. He was especially tough on Carolina WR Steve Smith, being used as the initial "jammer" off the line for the playmaking wideout.

Isaiah Kacyvenski, Niko Koutouvides and Cornelius Wortham add depth to the linebacking unit. Kacyvenski and Koutouvides both played on special teams and Wortham spent most of the season on the practice squad. All three will be battling for spots on next year's team.

Defensive Backs: Marcus Trufant, Kelly Herndon and Andre Dyson form a solid trio at corner. Trufant is the most consistent of the bunch, but he still has trouble when the ball is in the air. Many times Trufant is in perfect position, but is unable to make a play on the ball. His 14 passes defensed led the team and he supported the run well posting 64 tackles.

Herndon was inconsistent, but showed good coverage skills at times. He is a solid third corner, but should not be on the outside. Dyson was very consistent and shut down several bigger receivers, but his problems stemmed from his inability to stay on the field. Nagging ankle and back injuries robbed him and the team of six games in his initial season with the team.

A nice surprise in the secondary was the playmaking skills of Jordan Babineaux. The second-year player from Southern Arkansas was solid in coverage and had a knack for causing turnovers. His forced fumble on St. Louis' Shaun McDonald secured a hard-fought victory over the Rams on the road and his interception against Drew Bledsoe on the second-to-last play of the game allowed the Hawks to convert a field goal to beat Dallas 13-10 at home as time expired. He was solid in stints at both corner and safety, but it would be better if he could be a valued substitute instead of a starter.

The loss of FS Ken Hamlin to a brutal attack in October was off-set by the solid play of Marquand Manuel. Manuel was a hard-hitting enforcer in the deep third of the field and impressed coaches with his ability to get the secondary lined up correctly and his 67 tackles were fourth on the team. Hamlin's status remains up in the air until he is fully cleared to play again and even when he does return, he may not be the same as when he left.

Second-year safety Michael Boulware really started to come into his own in coverage toward the end of the season. He finished second on the team with 73 tackles and posted four interceptions and nine passes defensed. He's a very controlled player who uses his big body and good speed to defend tight ends and backs in the passing game. He is also a sure tackler taking good angles on ball-carriers. He's still learning his position, as 2005 was only his second season at safety, but he's progressing nicely and the Hawks see a good future for the former Seminole.

Special Teams: The Seahawks boasted two solid specialists this past season in Josh Brown and P Tom Rouen. Brown hit 72% of his kicks this season, but struggled some under pressure. He hit game winners against Dallas and New York, but missed a game-winner against Washington and missed two long ones in the Super Bowl. He has a very strong leg and hit 9 of 15 beyond 40 yards. If you ask him if he had a successful season, he would probably say he needs to hit a better percentage of the longer kicks. Brown also improved his kickoffs this season and it showed by how many times teams started on or inside their own 20.

Rouen was re-signed after Leo Araguz struggled and had a decent season averaging 41.6 per punt and dowing 20 of his 67 punts inside the 20. At times he struggled with his directional punting and that was very obvious in the Super Bowl. Look for the Hawks to bring in a young kicker to challenge for the punting duties.

Possible defensive losses: Hamlin (fractured skull); Manuel (UFA); Bernard (UFA); Bentley (UFA); CB Jimmy Williams (UFA); S John Howell (UFA); Rouen (UFA).

Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Dawgman.com. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.


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