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  1. I'm pretty sure I've posted this around here last offseason, but with the questions I keep seeing about Deion Jones and why he's at MLB, or how does he fit, I thought I'd repost most of this information from the Seattle site in 2012 right after they drafted Bobby Wagner that offseason. This will be a compilation of two different articles, one from the offseason, and one during the middle of the season after they started seeing Wagner on the field. For those whose initial reaction is to say something along the lines of "we aren't Seattle" or "Jones isn't our Wagner," the first thing to do - slap yourself. Second, nobody is saying we are or he is. What we can glean from articles like this are what skills and traits are Quinn looking for at MLB. Why he is looking for them in the first place. And how have they already fit in this scheme and benefited the defense. http://www.fieldgulls.com/2012/7/19/3167710/on-sideline-to-sideline-speed-at-linebacker http://www.fieldgulls.com/2012/10/10/3484508/seahawks-defense-bobby-wagner-pete-carroll-gus-bradley/in/4102067 On Sideline-to-Sideline Speed at Linebacker By Danny Kelly @FieldGulls on Jul 19, 2012, 3:11p One of the main things that the Seahawks' front office talked about upgrading over this offseason was 'team speed,' particularly at the linebacker position. David Hawthorne, for all his savvy and leadership and veteranosity and all that, wasn't offered a big contract and ultimately left to take a better deal with the Saints. Before him, Lofa Tatupu was allowed to leave after he declined a large pay cut. The one main thing these two former Seahawk linebackers had in common was a lack of top-end speed (to put it kindly). The Seahawks made good on their word and selected two of the fastest linebackers in the draft this year - Utah State's Bobby Wagner in the 2nd and Idaho's Korey Toomer in the 5th. With the way the Seahawks' defensive line is set up in base personnel, using three 310+ pounders in Red Bryant (Tyson Jackson), Alan Branch (Rashede Hageman), and Brandon Mebane (Grady Jarrett) to plug up the middle and strongside of the field, soak up blocks, and stop the run, teams are going to try and bounce things out to the perimeter or utilize their speed to otherwise counter the Seahawks' advantage in the middle. Also, very generally speaking, because of the size the Seahawks have up front, their linebackers should have to take on fewer blocks and instead flow to the ball and make plays in space. This is where speed is so important. Seahawks Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley recently described their evaluation process when it comes to the linebacker position. "I think it's a unique combination that we're looking for," he said. "In the 3-4, the linebackers are big, physical type guys; the guards are going to come right at them and they have got to be stout enough to take on the guard. Then, the 4-3, you want speed. The Lance Briggses, the Derrick Brookses, the guys that can really move well, lateral movement, and those guys are always protected. Well, we do both. Instead of maybe the 260 pound linebackers, or the 225 pound guys, we like that guy that's 240 and can run a high 4.4. So, we're getting that hybrid that can do both. That's what we're really trying to be looking for. But, we try not to put them in too many positions where they're taking on the guard, so we're probably leaning more towards the 4-3 principles." Now, the most obvious need for speed at the linebacker position comes down, simply, to matchups. In base personnel, you're going to have linebackers matched up against running backs and/or tight ends and in particular, tight ends are becoming more and more athletic and rangy. Teams are employing tight ends in non-traditional fashion (i.e., not just on the line, blocking) and linebackers these days must be able to follow a Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski or Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez down the seam in pass coverage. As for running backs, even that position has become more dynamic -- facing backs like Arian Foster, Lesean McCoy, Ray Rice or especially Darren Sproles is no easy thing. According to Football Outsiders' metrics, the Seahawks, over the past three years (2009, 2010, and 2011), have ranked 30th, 29th, and 32nd, respectively, verses running backs. (Does that look familiar to Falcons fans? It should, because it's where we struggle on defense as well. Hint, hint.) They ranked 10th and 11th the past two years against TEs (much better than us in 2015), so again, this is one of the reasons that the Seahawks felt the need to upgrade their speed at the linebacker position. They loved Bobby Wagner in coverage and that's a big reason he should see plenty of snaps early on. But, this article is not about linebackers running in pass coverage. I wanted to talk about sideline-to-sideline run defense from the middle linebacker position because when we talk about speed at the position, it's more than just pass coverage. One of the things that happened in 2011 as the season wore on is that teams recognized it was going to be very, very tough to run up the middle of the field agains the Seahawks. So, because offensive coordinators at the NFL level, generally, aren't stupid, opposing teams started utilizing their speedier running backs and went about moving down the field by working and stretching the field laterally. Red Bryant (Tyson Jackson) isn't going to catch many 210-pound running backs from behind or break down and tackle them in space, and David Hawthorne (MLB) is just not a sideline-to-sideline guy. Now, K.J. Wright did a pretty great job on the strongside next to Bryant for the most part (Wright played SLB during his 2011 rookie season before moving to WLB in 2012) and his versatility and athleticism is a big part of the reason the Seahawks still did have a run defense that gave up a mere 3.8 yards per carry on the year, good for 4th best in the NFL. That said, the Seahawks' final six opponents eclipsed the 100 yard mark in rushing and you know that Pete Carroll wasn't loving the fact Seattle gave up 178 yards on the ground to Jim Harbaugh's 49ers in Week 16. The speedy Kendall Hunter picked up 73 yards on 12 attempts for a 6.1 per carry average and with LaMichael James now in the mix, Seattle must evolve. Ok, so, let's use a real-world example of why it's important to have speed at the middle linebacker position because on some level, it's important to see its practical use. "Speed is nice to have at linebacker." Well, no duh. But, why? Below -- the play I picked out from Seattle's Week 10 win over Baltimore was a good enough example. You may remember that the Ravens, on their first possession, badly gouged the Seahawks with two consecutive end-around plays, first to Torrey Smith then followed up with one by Seahawks MVP that game, David Reed -- both for 16 yards. Then, they completely abandoned that idea because it didn't seem to be working. Let's just throw it deep and forget we have Ray Rice! Ok, their curious offensive playcalling is neither here nor there. Below, 1st and 10, no score, Ravens nearing mid-field. The Ravens will fake the run to the left with a total sell by the line, the fullback, and the running back. It works. I've penciled in where David Reed will run at the snap. Below, you can see the Seahawks bite on the run action -- Chris Clemons actually gets pancaked here so the run-blocking was, shall we say, genuine? Regardless, you can see below that Leroy Hill (ROLB) and Earl Thomas crash toward the line, and on the backside of the play, LOLB K.J. Wright and MLB David Hawthrone bite on the run that way as well. Richard Sherman is playing heads up on Torrey Smith on the wing in man. Below, as the numbers indicate, the Seahawks have seven defenders bunched into the box, with K.J. Wright on the backside as a borderline eighth. He will get sucked in too far and by the time he recognizes it's an end around, he's out of the play. A rare misread play by Wright. Above, you see Hawthorne react. Below, in the next two slides, you'll see why an ability to 'close' is important. Reed just beats Hawthorne to the corner. Kam Chancellor takes a bad angle too, as you see above, and Reed manages to pickup an additional six yards or so from where he's standing here. This sideline-to-sideline speed that you'll hear people talk about is what could make Bobby Wagner a special player. He's lauded for his ability to get off of blocks, run in coverage, and read plays, but his closing speed should allow him to make plays in space where you must break down and tackle or chase down an offensive ballcarrier -- the above end-around being an example. Another factor at play here is that often you'll see a quarterback get flushed from the pocket against the Seahawks, and far too often those quarterbacks were able to scramble for ten yards in front of the tightly-covered receivers in the secondary. Anyway, it's common sense as to why this speed may be beneficial for the Seahawks' defense. But, when you really look at individual plays from 2011 where things broke down in the intermediate range of the defense, many times, the lack of speed was apparent. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Bobby Wagner with that sideline-to-sideline speed By Danny Kelly @FieldGulls on Oct 10, 2012, 3:04p I wrote an article earlier, during the offseason, breaking down the importance of 'sideline to sideline speed' at the linebacker position for the Seahawks. The way Seattle plays with so much size on their defensive line - last year more than this year, maybe - it dictated that the big bodies in the middle were there to hold the point of attack, prevent penetration up the middle, and hopefully hold contain to keep the quarterback in the pocket. Seattle was stout last year against the run early on, but as teams began gameplanning against Seattle's weaknesses, they started getting things out on the edges more, and opposing teams with some speed at running back were able to pick up chunks of yards by stretching the Seattle defense toward the sidelines. Seattle's linebackers were often left to clean up the mess -- often the middle linebacker that was assigned coverage duties on the QB scrambling or running back on a delayed draw play. All too often though, we saw that once the pocket failed, plays broke down and gaps were compromised for the Seattle defenders, QBs and/or ball carriers out of the backfield were able to get yardage by attacking the lack of speed on the defensive front-seven. David Hawthorne is not a speedster, and with Leroy Hill or K.J. Wright out in zone coverage or blitzing to the wrong side, one weakness for the Seahawks defense that began to show up was their inability to close on runners (either a scrambling QB or a cut-back running back) once they'd gotten past the wall of Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, and Alan Branch. This defense, generally, isn't exotic or wildly schemed -- it's about maintaining gaps and discipline, but when gaps are inevitably compromised, it's essential speed and power are there to compensate. As a result, one of the main things that the Seahawks' front office talked about upgrading over this offseason was 'team speed,' particularly at the linebacker position (Again, that should sound very familiar). Bobby Wagner was targeted for many reasons -- he's good at shedding blocks, he's instinctual in zones, he's a strong tackler -- but above the rest was his speed and acceleration. That's shown up a good amount already this season -- he had a few great tackles for a loss in the backfield against the Rams and Wagner collected 1.5 sacks on Sunday against the Panthers. Oh, and by the way -- Bobby Wagner is now playing in all the defensive sub-packages -- nickel, dime, you name it. Wagner played 56% of Seattle's snaps against St. Louis in Week 4, then 100% of Seattle's 55 snaps against Carolina in Week 5, (wouldn't be at all surprised to see Jones take a similar path to start the season, splitting MLB with Worrilow and taking over more and more as the season progresses) and much like K.J. Wright's quick ascension to garnering complete trust by this coaching staff, after four weeks, Wagner and Wright are playing nearly every snap together as the Seahawks' linebackers, and it only broadens what Gus Bradley and Pete Carroll can do with their schematics. I wanted to break down one play from Sunday that exhibits what I've been talking about with regard to sideline-to-sideline speed and 'making up' for compromised gaps, because Wagner's closing speed saves what would have been, most likely, a huge gain against this defense last season. Let's take a look. 3-7-CAR 46 (1:04 1ST QUARTER) (Shotgun) C.Newton sacked at CAR 42 for -4 yards (B.Wagner). Carolina in 3rd and 7 here at their own 46 yard line, trying to string together some gains in their third drive of the game. The Seahawks are in their nickel package (5 defensive backs), and have some interesting line splits going on. Going from left to right below, you'll see Chris Clemons in his wide-9 alignment, and a full ten feet over from him, you'll see Alan Branch at the 1-technique spot toward the weakside. Down the line even further you'll see Jason Jones and Bruce Irvin bunched closely together, both outside the right tackle. Off Irvin's shoulder is K.J. Wright. In a play that vaguely resembles the stunt-twist strip-sack by Bruce Irvin that Josh Kasparek broke down the other day, Alan Branch is going to barrell into the RG at the snap, allowing Jason Jones to stunt underneath him and try to find a lane to the QB. Bruce Irvin will rush to the outside, with K.J. Wright stunting underneath him through the B-gap (which Jonathan Stewart will pick up). On the offensive left side, Bobby Wagner and Chris Clemons will attempt the same type of stunt. So, six pass-rushers employing three stunts on 3rd down, with single-high safety, underneath man coverage. Maybe I spoke too soon about the Seahawks not using exotic schemes. Ball is snapped, the plan goes into action. You see the three stunts start - Clemons to the left, Jones in the middle, and Wright on the right. Over the top -- Brandon Browner, Marcus Trufant, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor are in man-coverage, leaving Earl Thomas patrolling the deep middle of the field. For Carolina's part, they do a decent job stemming the onslaught, but can only hold for so long. As Cam pulls down what would look to be his first read to the left, the pressure starts closing in. Jones and Wright break through (above), but Cam Newton is a gazelle -- he takes off running to the left, with plenty of green space downfield to that side. You can see below that Chancellor and Trufant are in man and this leaves the underneath zone mostly vacated. Browner must stick with his man until Newton crosses the line of scrimmage for fear that a pass could be lofted on the run. Essentially, this leaves Bobby Wagner, seen below getting off a block to his side, as the only Seahawk between Newton and probably 10-15, maybe more like 30, yards of open field. This is the type of play -- where original scheming has broken down and the quarterback gets out of the pocket, in which the Seahawks were gashed in at times last season. Not many players are going to catch Cam Newton in the open field like this, but Bobby Wagner does a brilliant job of cutting off Newton's angle and making a tough tackle. (Speed kills) Jones' speed as a run defender to either sideline is just as big of a reason he was drafted as his coverage potential in the passing game. As we clearly see from these two articles, covering the outside edges of the line of scrimmage is one of the weaknesses of this defense that gets exposed due to the 3 heavly DL's this scheme employs on base defense. A very fast MLB is part of the answer towards shoring up that weakness. And it's even better that this is the type of LBer that can stay on the field for all 3 downs and be an assett in the passing game too. This should help address the question why Jones skillset is more attractive at MLB than WLB in this scheme as opposed to more traditional 4-3 defensive schemes.
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