Mike Macdonald’s vision for Seahawks’ defense starts with one thing: Versatility


ORLANDO, Fla. — Mike Macdonald’s defense is starting to take shape. Meeting with reporters Tuesday morning at the Ritz-Carlton, site of the NFL’s annual meeting, the new Seattle Seahawks coach emphasized what he envisions being one of the unit’s defining characteristics: versatility.

The most notable changes have come at linebacker and safety, which make up the spine of the defense. Seattle replaced inside linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Bobby Wagner with free-agent signees Tyrel Dodson and Jerome Baker. Dodson’s one-year contract is worth $4.2 million, while Baker’s is worth $6.7 million. Dodson, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, will start as the Mike linebacker. Baker, an ex-Dolphin, will be the Will. But Macdonald said their overlapping skill sets give Seattle flexibility to use them in multiple ways.

“Both guys have played both spots,” Macdonald said. “Two guys that can run. Two intelligent football players. Tough. I thought they were both good tacklers. They’re both good players in space. Those are things we’re asking of our inside ‘backers. Those guys gotta take up a lot of ground, man. They gotta play people out of the backfield, they gotta play all the choice routes on the weakside, which is hard to do.

“I think we got the right guys for the job. They’ve gotta blitz, play man-to-man. We ask a lot out of our inside ‘backers. It’ll be a great battle, and we’ll see how it comes to life, but I think there’s some opportunity there to have a little more position flexibility than I think maybe you saw in Baltimore.”

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Safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs have been replaced by Rayshawn Jenkins and K’Von Wallace. Jenkins signed a two-year, $12 million deal and has a 2024 cap hit of $4.1 million. Wallace’s one-year deal is worth $1.5 million. Adams and Diggs had clearly defined roles based on their skill sets — Diggs manned the deep middle of the field while Adams played close to the line of scrimmage. Between Julian Love, Jenkins and Wallace, Macdonald envisions the safeties being a bit more interchangeable.

A first-time Pro Bowler last season, Love is at his best when closer to the line of scrimmage, but he can also make plays on the back end, as he demonstrated when leading the team with four interceptions, two of those coming on deep shots in Seattle’s win over the Eagles.

Jenkins has primarily played strong safety but spent a decent portion of last season playing deep. He’s similar to Love in that regard. The same goes for Wallace, a fourth-round pick of the Eagles in the 2020 draft who was waived after the 2023 preseason and then claimed by the Cardinals. Arizona waived him midway through the year, and he was picked up by the Titans. He can line up to either the short or the wide side of the field and make plays coming downhill.

“It comes down to position flexibility, so you’re not just putting guys pigeonholed into roles,” Macdonald said. “We’ll see what they do best, how they complement one another, see how they work together. But I think it gives us some flexibility to possibly be in some three-safety sets based on how it shakes out at nickel, then we’ll kind of go from there. Both guys can play man-to-man, they can play deep area of the field.”

The three-safety looks would mirror what former defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt used with Adams, Love and Diggs on the field together. In those situations, rookie Devon Witherspoon played left cornerback, and Adams was effectively a “big nickel” who played near the line of scrimmage. Witherspoon made the Pro Bowl and finished fourth in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting while demonstrating his versatility, bouncing from nickel to left cornerback based on the situation.

Essentially, Macdonald is looking to have more of the multiplicity across the entire unit, mixing and matching his guys to keep the offense on its toes.

Seattle has just $2.3 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap, so there might not be any roster additions before the draft, but Macdonald said there has been some consideration to bringing Adams back.

“We love Jamal, and if it’s the right opportunity, I think we would jump at it,” Macdonald said. “Hasn’t been this long-form conversation about it, but he’s a guy we respect a ton and if it’s the right opportunity for us and right opportunity for him, I’m sure we’d be interested in doing that.”

During a radio interview Thursday, general manager John Schneider suggested that re-signing Adams would mean playing him as a weakside linebacker. Macdonald essentially echoed that sentiment, noting that he’s most impactful when closer to the action.

“You look at all of his work that he’s done over the course of his career and it’s close to the line of scrimmage,” Macdonald said.” Not all of it, but 9.5 sacks, double-digit sack type of guy, great blitzer, can play man-to-man, things like that. It’s the linebacker skill set. If that opportunity comes around, then we’ll revisit then.”

With or without Adams, Macdonald’s plan for the defense is to use that multiplicity to put heat on the quarterback from all three levels. The Ravens led the league with 60 sacks last season and ranked eighth in pressure rate (all stats provided by TruMedia unless stated otherwise). They blitzed at the seventh-lowest rate in the league (19.7 percent) but often used simulated pressures to give everyone a chance to rush the passer. This strategy challenged the offense’s protection rules and made life hard on obvious passing downs.

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The Ravens had one of the best defenses in the league on third down last season. Seattle converted 1 of 12 third-down attempts against Macdonald’s defense in Week 9, by far its worst performance of the year.

“If you want to play defense for us, you’ve got to be able to blitz, man,” Macdonald said. “Whatever your one-on-one is, we expect you to win. We carry a team pass rush mentality. It’s not going to be built around one guy. It’s prudent to let everyone have a chance to win on any given play. But if you’re going to blitz from off the ball, we expect you to win one-on-one. Those guys are going to hone their craft and figure out what moves work best for them, and when the matchups are in our favor, hopefully we’re going to take advantage of those things.”

The defensive line is also part of Macdonald’s vision for keeping the offense guessing. Among the reasons Seattle was excited about re-signing Leonard Williams is his ability to play multiple spots up front. He can play everywhere from head up over the center to outside against an offensive tackle.

The starting lineup projects to be Williams and Dre’Mont Jones at defensive tackle, Jarran Reed at the nose and Uchenna Nwosu (assuming he’s healthy) opposite Boye Mafe at outside linebacker. Filling out the rotation would be nose tackles Johnathan Hankins and Cameron Young, defensive tackles Myles Adams and Mike Morris and edge rushers Derick Hall and Darrell Taylor, who re-signed on a one-year, $3.1 million contract.

The Seahawks might add to this position group in the draft, but for now, Macdonald said he is “very confident” in the front line as currently constructed. The interior defensive line is the team’s most talented group, and Macdonald wants that unit to set the tone so they can have a strong spine. Being stout up the middle, with players who can win from multiple alignments, is his preferred path to building a dominant defense.

“We’re trying to build a wall up the middle,” Macdonald said. “We’re trying to stay square, we’re trying to set hard edges, make the ball (go outside), make them throw the thing outside. You don’t want to get gashed up the middle of your defense. You’ve got to have the right guys who can play right there so you can get the job done.’’

(Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)





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