On Pass Rush: A Preseason Preview

A new NFL football (pre) season is here. And where there are football seasons seasoning, there are pass rushers pass rushing. The 2019 Seahawks, though, might be testing the validity of that statement with personnel losses ranging from the permanent to the temporary, and to the to-be-determined. To be blunt, the Seahawks’ defensive line is hurting. But hurt, while painful, must not preclude hope. First round draft pick L.J. Collier and Ziggy Ansah could figure to frontline the Hawks’ rotation, but both will be sidelined in August.

Returning though is sophomore speed EDGE Jacob Martin; he who posted a pressure rate akin to Frank Clark’s over the course of last season. Joining Martin in his Seahawk incumbency is the versatile Rasheem Green, last preseason’s breakout phenom (regular season breakout to be determined). Quinton Jefferson had a respectable 2018 as a nickel interior rusher while offering much needed stability as a run stuffing big-end at 5, 4, 4i technique. Barkevious Mingo has been moved to the edge permanently where his explosion, fluidity, and speed are — at worst — intriguing. Vet and familiar name Cassius Marsh will get a sizable portion of snaps as well.

While other names might splash here and there as the month of August unfolds, the first four aforementioned names will be receiving the most of my and many’s attention so as to ascertain the general state of the defensive line’s capabilities heading into the regular (read: real) season. The nature of preseason means quality reps will be far and few between, but these players can still reveal where facets of their game may have improved.

Here’s what I will be personally interested in to watch for in each player:

Base 5-Technique and Nickel Versatile Rasheem Green:

Green showed promise early last year with a very technical approach. This came as a welcome surprise as it didn’t square with his college play style much. Defensive line coach Clint Hurtt is reputed as an excellent pass rush trainer and Green seemed to have taken to his coaching early, having had developed a primary stab-club/chop combo which he went back to the well for with frequency. Here is a compilation:

This allowed Green to provide sharp corners to clear the tackle. His impressive waist bend (given his stature) allowed him to dip and reduce his hitting surface to maintain a clear path to the quarterback.

When Green couldn’t gain entry to land his stab, he was able to nullify tackles’ attempts to land their punches and keep his own pads clean with a propensity to gain wrist and forearm control:

And in speaking to his versatility, he got inside pressure too:

Unfortunately, very little of this technical proficiency translated to much pressure in the regular season. Of course, the level of competition differs greatly from the preseason, but it can be reasoned that his early season high ankle sprain may have had lingering effects. He wasn’t able to gain depth on tackles to achieve the half-man positioning that facilitates his stab-club or chop moves. He lacked the get-off and twitch inside that he did show in pre-season and college as well. It’s typical for young pass rushers, should they see any degree of early success, to lean on their athleticism. Interestingly, we saw/see the inversion of that with Green.

This month, my primary concern is to see if his athleticism can catch up to the technique-focus of his rush plan. While strength is an implicit variable in the finesse nature of his approach, it would be nice to see him develop a bull rush for variety’s sake, as well the dividends it would pay in keeping tackles’ sets short to further open up the outside. He struggled powering in both preseason and the regular season last year, yet in college it what was elemental to his game.

Carroll mentioned that he came in leaner this camp and can rush the edge not just as a 5-technique, but even wider as a LEO — a notion that Brian Nemhauser of Hawkblogger posited based on his own camp observations too.

Edge Burner Jacob Martin:

Martin ended the season last year as a fixture of the nickel line as a rush-end/LEO type. His pressure rate by PFF’s charting wasn’t far behind many league leaders. While the foundation of his game is speed, he developed and stressed primary knock-down moves to keep his pads clean and clear the outside arm of tackles. Martin was deliberate with his footwork to manipulate tackles’ depth and balance as they set him to open up the outside path.

Despite playing at 240 pounds (which diminished to the 220’s as the season unfolded), Martin still wasn’t the most flexible in his ankles and could often drift downfield when bending the corner. His skill allows him to secure positioning often enough, but I will be looking to see if he looks any looser in his lower body to bender tighter paths.

Martin is now coming into the season a bit heavier this year per Ben Arthur’s reporting at Seattle PI, standing currently at 248. Hopefully this provides him with more weight that he can put behind his knockdown moves (he loves the swipe, club, and inside-chop). Martin is in the mists of developing a leaping cross-chop as well that elite rushers like Aaron Donald, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Yannick Ngakoue have perfected. He only landed it once, but woof was it effective:

From heavier hands will follow a more effective cross-chop.

And more directly, it would serve Martin well to see if his added weight allows him to convert his speed into more on-the-nose power moves. It was an aspect of his college game after all, so we know it’s a part of his mentality and repertoire. Here he is at Temple countering to shot-put and semi-hump moves on off-balanced tackles over-setting to match his speed:

Ideally, he can incorporate this into his NFL game when he’s still even with tackles at the top of his rush.

Linemen are likely to look at Martin’s tape from 2018 and aim to deep-set him. They won’t attempt to set him vertically as often where they risk his speed and hand-work in space, but instead will set more square and deep in the pocket, daring him to power them. The Lions game was an excellent illustration of a cool EDGE vs. tackle battle with Martin being engaged in space and eventually finding his way to the outside for a couple of pressures. Eventually their right tackle retreated to the pocket and Martin couldn’t convert his speed to power and spill the tackle into Matt Stafford’s lap.

Simply developing a bull rush that must be accounted for is key for his rush plan to continue to flower so any degree of knock-back he achieves in the month of August will be noted.

Jack of All Trades Barkevious Mingo:

Mingo being moved to the edge full time (per Carroll and every camp report out there), is more of a signal for lack of depth up front, but that doesn’t mean his application there isn’t still intriguing. Of course, at this point in his career, if he was going to be a viable pass rusher we would have likely seen it already. Nonetheless, his explosion and fluidity still intrigue. His slight frame (relative to the demands of the position) means that we shouldn’t hope to see anything substantial by way of pass rush repertoire, but this has been the first offseason of his career solely focused on pass rush development. Looking for improved and purposeful footwork when working the half-man relationship isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Perhaps his speed will open up enough air inside the tackle that counter spins and counter rips sprinkle themselves in as well.

Big-End and Nickel DT Mainstay Quinton Jefferson:

Q-Jeff was a key part of the twists and games that Seattle schemed at the line last year. He sprung Reed and others for a couple of sacks using his up-field speed. His lateral quickness lets him corner quickly off the snap on guards to create his own pressure — the man has moves and is far from a non-entity in passing situations inside. Carroll has name dropped Jefferson a couple of times in the affirmative this training camp and, with Reed out for six weeks, perhaps he takes it upon himself to hit another gear and provide interior pressure.

With preseason being just that, there will be few projectable reps, but there may still be some things to glean from this group that will hint at what direction their regular seasons might be headed.

 

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