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Clint Hurtt Vows For Schematic Alterations, More 'Aggressive' Seahawks' Defense

Taking over as Ken Norton Jr.'s replacement, Hurtt won't necessarily be reinventing the wheel coordinating Seattle's defense. But with a pair of dynamic young assistants helping steer the ship, fans should expect some significant changes in 2022.

RENTON, WA - While the Seahawks finished a respectable 11th in scoring defense last season, they finished near the bottom of the league in pass defense, sacks, and quarterback pressure rate, struggling in three pivotal areas in today's pass-happy NFL.

In retrospect, these issues had become chronic in recent years and undoubtedly played a role in Seattle's dreadful 7-10 record which resulted in a last place finish in the NFC West, setting in motion a series of moves to overhaul coach Pete Carroll's defensive staff. After four years on the job, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. received a pink slip and the team also moved on from secondary coach and passing game coordinator Andre Curtis.

Stepping in as Norton's successor, the Seahawks officially announced Clint Hurtt would be elevated from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator on Tuesday. After five seasons on Carroll's staff, the aspiring head coach views this first shot at calling plays at the NFL level as a stepping stone to achieving his dream.

"It's a blessing," Hurtt told reporters on Wednesday via Zoom. "I feel honored, obviously, to have this opportunity to work with the staff and the group of players we have coming back. It's something that's along the lines of the dream... this is a step in the right direction."

As a first-time play caller, Hurtt knew through his discussions with other coordinators who have defensive line backgrounds such as his own that he needed to bring in experienced coaches with secondary expertise.

To check off this box, Carroll and general manager John Schneider worked their magic persuading former Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai to join the staff as an associate head coach. They also added former Vikings secondary coach Karl Scott as Curtis' replacement coordinating the defensive passing game, adding two young, innovative football minds to the equation.

Having coached with Desai for three years previously in Chicago, his arrival presents a natural fit and Hurtt expects the two will be able to hit the ground running as they aim to return Seattle's defense to the ranks of the league's elite.

"When the opportunity came to have him with us, it was a no brainer," Hurtt explained. "Obviously, it's someone you have a relationship with, someone you trust, and I know that he's gonna have my back in putting all this thing together... To be able to get him here was a home run, so I appreciate Pete [Carroll] and John [Schneider] getting that done."

When asked about his goals for improving Seattle's defense as the new coordinator, Hurtt didn't waste words. In lockstep with Carroll after multiple offseason discussions reflecting on last season's failures and the necessary changes needing to be implemented, this unit will be far more aggressive than its predecessor in all phases.

Incorporating elements of the 3-4 structure he learned during his time at Louisville and working under defensive guru Vic Fangio with the Bears to create a more diverse scheme, Hurtt's mission remains to turn up the heat on opposing quarterbacks. While that may not necessarily mean the Seahawks will blitz at a significantly higher rate than a year ago, he made one thing abundantly clear: defensive linemen won't be dropping into coverage at the same frequency as last year under his watch.

With Norton at the wheel, the Seahawks dropped defensive linemen into coverage at a higher rate last season. Per Pro Football Focus, veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap logged 44 snaps in coverage, jumping from 5.9 percent of his snaps against the pass to 12.5 percent. Defensive tackle Poona Ford dropped back nine times after only doing so once during the year prior. Even 335-pound nose tackle Al Woods dropped back seven times.

Though scheme may sometimes lead to a defensive lineman dropping back on zone blitz calls to fill zone responsibilities, Hurtt doesn't sound keen on the idea of using such tactics often. Fielding calls from players after news of his promotion broke, he made sure to assure them they would not be regularly dropping into the flat and be doing what they do best hunting down passers instead.

"I don't want to see big guys going backwards," Hurtt stated. "Everybody understands that the last thing I want to be doing - you guys have seen me in person - I'm not going backwards. I want to be going forward now."

Thanks in part to the presence of Desai and Scott, who learned under legendary coach Nick Saban at Alabama, coverages will also receive a bit of a makeover compared to Carroll's traditional Cover 3-heavy scheme to shore up the back end of the defense in an effort to help rushers up front. Once again influenced by Fangio's scheme, Hurtt indicated the Seahawks will transition towards more man coverage and be "less zoney" moving forward.

Last season, per TruMedia, Seattle ranked 31st in the NFL in Cover 1 usage (13 percent), rarely calling man coverage underneath with a single-high safety. With the Bears, Desai called the same coverage 22 percent of the time, good for the 17th-highest rate. As for the Broncos, who were coached by Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, they used Cover 1 on a whopping 31.8 percent of defensive snaps, or the fourth-most in the league.

But while the Seahawks rarely deployed man coverage, Norton's defense did begin to trend more towards two-deep safety schemes. Most notably, he called Cover 6 - a combination of Cover 4 and Cover 2 - 12.3 percent of the time, the eighth-highest rate in the league. Donatell and Desai used this specific coverage more than any coordinators in the league at 19.6 percent and 18.6 percent respectively, which should ease the acclimation period as Hurtt seeks a more varied defense meshing aspects of both Carroll and Fangio's schemes.

Though Hurtt admitted it will be challenging to marry those two systems together and they will have to lean more towards one than the other, he's confident with knowledgeable assistants such as Desai and Scott coming on board that they will be able to pull it off in time and improve their pass rush and coverage as a result.

"You have to adjust along the way and sometimes that means you have to adjust your scheme," Hurtt elaborated. "That's where we're going into a transition right now. We're learning and adapting for where we've been. Obviously with my background, Sean [Desai], Karl Scott, the new guys that have come in here, we're adjusting some things. We're going to be changing."

While adding talent to the roster remains a priority and the team has numerous key free agents set to hit the market, including safety Quandre Diggs, Hurtt kept circling back to the importance of maximizing on the strengths of Seattle's personnel. Last year, such issues became a point of contention for fans seeing Dunlap regularly drop into coverage or safety Jamal Adams playing 20 yards off the ball in split safety coverage rather than using his rare pass rushing gifts among other tendencies.

Thrust into his first coordinator gig, Hurtt understands the onus will fall on him, Desai, and his new-look staff to ensure players such as Dunlap and Adams are put in the best position to excel. Ultimately, his own success or failure will largely ride on his ability to accomplish that task and get the most out of the talent at his disposal at all three levels, something Norton simply wasn't able to do well enough.

If Hurtt is able to do that while leaning on his assistants for support, regardless of what moves Schneider and Carroll orchestrate trying to improve the roster in coming weeks, he has a prime opportunity to guide the Seahawks on a defensive resurgence with continued schematic evolution and help put them right back into the playoff mix in quick fashion. With running his own team in the future remaining his ultimate goal, that'd be quite an accomplishment to tack onto his resume.