On Pass Rush: Rostering on the Edge

Jadeveon Clowney! Patience and prudence pay off!

John Schneider capped off a near-excellent offseason with the swindling of Bill O’Brien and the Generally lacking Managerial situation in Houston. While Frank Clark pricing himself out of Seattle’s budget was a tough reality to accept, Schneiz and the Guyz were able to, in time and indirectly, turn him into L.J. Collier, Ezekiel Ansah, and now Clowney. No matter how good Clark proves to be in Kansas City, it’s an exceedingly worthwhile trade-off that could see Seattle’s defensive line go from a major liability to a potential strength.

Lost in the actual trade to acquire Clowney is fledgling — and promising at worst — EDGE, Jacob Martin (in addition to Barkevious Mingo and a 3rd round pick). There were little expectations for Jacob Martin given his draft status and not terrible — but not particularly exciting — combine testing, and yet he grew to be a fixture of Seattle’s nickel pass rush as the edge opposite Clark. An easy player to root for. His ceiling still appears to be capped, but his effort and rush process were intriguing.

But like the long and short term benefits of the Clark trade making the move worth it, parting with Martin is an easily stomachable loss to secure the services of the wrecking ball that is Jadeveon Clowney. This is an enormous net gain in talent.

Perhaps the biggest variable to take into consideration in light of a Martin exit, though, is not the current defensive line talent situation, but the existing defensive line skill set composition. Clowney is as versatile a pass rusher as one can realistically concoct, and the best use of his skills might be as an interior pass rusher, mimicking the situational alignments of Michael Bennett. So the most frequent pass rush packages could feature Ansah at one end and Clowney inside.

That leaves us without an easily identifiable nickel left end. Rasheem Green figures to be an option on paper, but his “wins” come slow. He is not an edge burner. And Cassius Marsh, who can provide the speed element on the edge, has been interestingly — and somewhat surprisingly — cut. Outside of the speedy linebackers that are likely to feature in pressure packages, the roster simply does not have anyone to complement the power and beef that the defensive line is currently built on.

A turn to free agency might prove to be the move — perhaps targeting a low expectation, low floor, high ceiling guy to give Clint Hurtt a project, analogous to the Dion Jordan experiment. Let’s take a look at some available EDGE types that could use some career revival that the Pete Carroll Culture and Clint Hurtt Pass Rush Development Course can provide.

Notable 3-4 OLB, 4-3 End, and Other Free Agents:

  • Noah Spence
  • Kony Ealy
  • Obum Gwacham
  • Christine Michael
  • Damontre Moore
  • Jihad Ward

You got me! Hah, yeah, yeah, I know, they already tried with Damontre Moore — hard to quit some guys. Just tried to slip him in there.

Ealy, Gwacham, and Ward can probably be eliminated given that they have a large enough sample size that you can affirm them as bottom of the rotation players at best.

This leaves us with Noah Spence and Christine Michael as the only viable options to round out the roster with a speed end skill set. I know what you’re thinking, though. Spence was drafted as an edge speedster at 240 or so — a very exciting player — and then in an effort to add power to his game he gained weight, but the power gains weren’t enough to offset the speed and flexibility loss incurred. The speed is still there, but it’s no longer an elite trait for him. Sound familiar? Bruce Irvin is a solid player, but he too struggled with the same conundrum many tweeners face.

So where does that lead us?

c-mike

Back to him.

*Kashmir guitar riff intensifies*

Wait don’t go, I’m serious kinda.

Any good speed rusher needs absurd get-off and up-field speed as a foundation to their game, right?

Well…

cmike6

Check and check.

But you can’t just run in a straight line quickly. If that’s all it took, Usain Bolt would be making millions in the NFL. You need lower-body flexibility to change direction and help turn the corner…

cmike4

That’s elite ankle flexion to hit the bend read. Imagine that change of direction and explosiveness at the top of the arc running offensive tackles mad trying to play catch up.

You might say he’s too short at 5’10”. But we know better after seeing firsthand the antiquated conventions of the draft process failing Poona Ford. Short does not equal small in and of itself. Short does equal leverage, though.

Cmike1

Facilitated by his height, C-Mike’s low pad level, coupled with his explosion, helps him get under guys and decleat them. Tearing off that edge, Michael would be able to convert speed to power readily — just like Poona. The only difference there really is 100 pounds.

Here’s a better look:

cmike2

You might say, “Well I see your point, that’s a really good point actually, I totally get where you’re coming from, but C-Mike *does* have short arms — at least Poona has long arms.”

True, but let us not forget the old as time adage, one arm is longer than two:

cmike7

With a game built off of speed, knockdown moves won’t be that necessary, but the long-arm stab bull-rush is live and a natural extension of his inherent leverage advantage.

So now you’re probably thinking, “Okay, I get it. He’s explosive. He stresses tackles’ sets. He can capitalize off of that by converting to power, but we need to see some counters. I’m almost convinced this could work, but he can’t just be a two-trick pony. He’ll get shut down in time.”

I’m glad you mentioned that.

How could we forget his ultimate calling card? The most C-Mikeian thing there is. C-Mike distilled.

The spin move.

1.

cmike3

2.

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3.

cmike8

A counter spin Dwight Freeney could be proud of.

The talent is there. The traits are for real. This makes for a sensible projection, but don’t worry I’m not going nuts here. Is he going to be Von Miller? Of course not! Duh! I’m not saying that!

But could he be something like a short Von Miller?

*Kashmir guitar riff picks back up*