Seahawks are looking for a leader to step up on defense
The Seahawks have gone with youth over experience on the defensive front, but who will step up to replace Lofa Tatupu and Lawyer Milloy?
Seattle Times staff reporter
"We all we got," shouted Lawyer Milloy.
"We all we need," his teammates responded.
That moment inside Seattle's locker room was captured by NFL cameras last January after a playoff victory over New Orleans. That scene defined the defiance of that Seahawks team, which took the field as the largest home underdog in league playoff history and then beat the defending champion Saints.
"We all we got," Milloy shouted again.
"We all we need," came the chorus.
Whose voice will the Seahawks follow this season?
That is not a criticism, but an honest question, one the Seahawks still must answer. Milloy is gone, the Seahawks choosing not to re-sign him because they believed Kam Chancellor was ready to become the starter at strong safety. Lofa Tatupu, Seattle's captain since the playoffs of his rookie season in 2005, was released, and David Hawthorne is now the middle linebacker.
Who are the leaders on this defense?
"That's a great question," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "It really is. We've got quiet leadership right now."
That means someone's voice will have to emerge.
The subtraction of Milloy and Tatupu looms large, two men with a passion to go with their Pro Bowl appearances. The fact they aren't with the Seahawks is the reality of professional football. The Seahawks' front office and coaching staff were comfortable turning the page, getting younger by pruning back the veterans and seeing which youngsters are ready to grow into leaders.
For all the hand-wringing about inexperience, it's worth pointing out that when Mike Holmgren rebuilt this team more than 10 years ago, he ended up regretting that he pieced together an older defense while assembling his offense one draft pick at a time when it should have been vice versa.
"If I had to do things all over again, if you're going to have to go young, you go young on defense," Holmgren said in October 2002. "You've got athletic guys, and you just wind them up and they're flying around."
Sounds like what Seattle is hoping for this season. Three of Seattle's four starters in the secondary are in their second NFL season. Only one of its starting defensive linemen has played more than four seasons in the league.
Chris Clemons is coming off a year in which he had a career-high 11 sacks, his performance setting a standard for his teammates.
For all the millions Seattle has spent on its linebackers the past three years, it was Hawthorne — an undrafted free agent — who has been Seattle's most productive player at that position the past two years.
Then there are the safeties. In Seattle, that might be the backbone. Chancellor is built like a linebacker, and he's stepping into that enforcer's role Milloy filled in 2010. But it's free safety Earl Thomas who is this defense's pace car.
"He just is a leader," coach Pete Carroll said of Thomas. "He doesn't say much about stuff, but he is a leader because of the tone that he sets and the tempo that he sets."
You can't declare yourself a leader. Not in an NFL locker room. That is something that requires a combination of performance and charisma, and it is not something that is demanded, but a status that's earned.
"It's a role that you don't put on yourself," Thomas said.
It's something as intangible as a clutch shooter in basketball or an unflappable closer in baseball. It requires an attitude in addition to athleticism.
Tatupu was the nerve center of last year's team, Milloy was its pulse.
They are gone. This is all Seattle has got, and from this group, the Seahawks must find what they need.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com
The Morning Memo
The Morning Memo jump starts your day with weather, traffic and news
Career Center Blog
Your Opinion Matters
Take our survey and enter to win $100. Enter Now!