Seahawks training camp battles: linebacker
By Keith Myers
The Seattle Seahawks appear set in terms of which players will make the roster at linebacker, but it is still anyone’s guess who will become the starter on the strong side.
The Seattle Seahawks raised quite a few eyebrows around the nation when they decided to let Bruce Irvin leave for the Raiders and then chose not to draft or sign a replacement. That was both a vote of confidence for the other players on the roster and a sign of shifting priorities around the league.
The strong side linebacker is only on the field in the base defense. That’s the position is that replaced by a defensive back when the team goes into the nickel. For Irvin, he only stayed on the field because he’d move up to defensive end in those situations.
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The DE snaps vacated by Irvin are going to be taken by a combination of Frank Clark and Cassius Marsh. Only the base-defense snaps are up for grabs here, and that isn’t a huge part of the defense anymore. Across the league, teams are in the nickel well over 50 percent of their defensive plays. Seattle is no exception.
So keep all of that in mind when watching the linebackers compete for roster spots. There’s a good chance there will one less LB spot to be claimed this year than in previous seasons.
Seattle’s All-Pro middle linebacker is undeniably one of the top linebackers in the NFL. He’s got amazing speed and instincts, and is a sure tackler at the line of scrimmage. There isn’t much else to say other than that Wagner is a very good football player.
Seattle’s weak side linebacker is in the conversation for the NFL’s most underrated player. K.J. Wright is an amazing tackler, and is tremendous at covering backs coming out of the backfield.
Wright is also one of the primary reasons why screen passes simply don’t work against the Seahawks. Wright can sniff out a screen as well as any player in franchise history.
Kevin Pierre-Louis was the team’s 4th LB the last two seasons. Now he’s the favorite to win the job as the starter on the strong side. KPL is undersized for that job, but the Seahawks love his speed and really want to get him on the field more.
One of the big challenges for him will be to stay healthy this season. KPL have struggled to stay in uniform in each year he’s been in the league.
Seattle’s backup middle linebacker is often the forgotten man in the position group, but he’s been an essential cog on the roster the last two seasons. Coyle has also been a major asset on special teams. There’s a good reason why the Seahawks used their one IR-DFR slot last season on a backup linebacker.
When Wagner had to miss time, the coaches tried to move Wright inside and let KPL play on the weak side. It didn’t work. The defense proved to be much better with Wright in his natural spot and Coyle at MLB.
The Seahawks desperately want one of the younger options to step up and absolutely take control of the strongside linebacker job, but they’re reasonably content knowing that Mike Morgan is here if that doesn’t happen.
Morgan was Bruce Irvin’s direct backup the past two seasons. When Bruce was unavailable, be it for suspension or injury, Morgan stepped in and played well.
The dark horse candidate to win the strong side linebacker job would be Eric Pinkins. He was a college safety, and the Seahawks tried him at CB before moving him to LB. Pinkins has the size and speed that the Seahawks covet, and has the coverage skills to help fix Seattle’s TE problem.
What we don’t know at this point is if Pinkins can be disciplined in his gap assignments against the run. There is a certain amount of instinct required to be a good NFL LB, and we won’t know if Pinkins has those instincts until we can see them on the field in training camp and the preseason.
Kyle Coleman, Steve Longa, Pete Robertston
If you’ve been reading this series, you know that I don’t like to comment on players I haven’t scouted, so don’t expect much insight here. Not all that much is known at this time about the trio of undrafted free agents that are on the roster right now.
Longa is a MLB candidate that will hope to push Coyle. Coleman and Robertson are both OLBs that’ll hope to push Morgan and Pinkins. All of them are solid athletes that fit the mold for what the Seahawks like physically at the position.
Next: Seahawks training camp battles: Fullback
Don’t just automatically count this group out just because the position is stacked with talent and this trio weren’t drafted. Plenty of UDFA LBs have come in and impressed since Pete Carroll took over the team. Brock Coyle took that exact path to his roster spot.