The abysmal performance of last year’s secondary doesn’t rest on any lone person’s shoulders, but a few players took the brunt of the blame.
In some cases, critics just want a scapegoat. After all, the Seahawks finished dead last in pass defense last year, which was both unsettling and unexpected given the same unit’s performance in 2007. But in other cases, things like film and statistics don’t lie.
At the forefront of the criticism in the 2008 secondary was CB Kelly Jennings, the Seahawks’ first-round pick out of Miami in 2006. Standing at 5-11 and weighing in at 180 pounds, Jennings took (and still takes) a lot of flak for being undersized and overmatched in most situations. While that may be true, Jennings was outplayed all over the board by teammate Josh Wilson in 2008, and Wilson stands two inches shorter. Granted, Wilson makes up for the height with a little extra bulk (he has 12 pounds on Jennings), but Jennings isn’t holding up to his first-round selection status.
The cornerback position was also an obvious concern through the offseason, because Ruskell and the coaching staff elected to bring back free agent CB and former Seahawk Ken Lucas. The fact that Lucas is back in the mix, on top of Wilson’s increasing stock and Marcus Trufant all but a lock to remain the opposite-side starter, makes things look grim for Kelly Jennings.
It’s hard to imagine Jennings beating out any of those guys for a job in camp. I could see him competing with Kevin Hobbs or Marquis Floyd for a spot further down the depth chart, but even those two have shown some rising stock in the recent past – long enough to stay on the active roster, at least. Hobbs has a lot to compete for now as well, because he played in 14 games last year and therefore is no longer eligible for the practice squad. Floyd, meanwhile, could remain on the practice squad.
Jennings’ main problem last year was being out-muscled at the line of scrimmage by bigger receivers. His speed is where it should be, but his instincts have lacked under pressure. I can remember two separate instances last year where Jennings’ man was thrown to, and he didn’t even turn around. When you’re an NFL cornerback and you have your back to the ball when your man is making the catch, something is terribly amiss.
Moreover, Jennings doesn’t have much tackling power. He had 42 tackles in 2008, whereas Trufant had 64 and Wilson had 69. Wilson also became the star of the secondary last season when he forced three fumbles and grabbed four interceptions. Jennings racked up zero in both those categories.
In short, Jennings has everything riding on this training camp. He needs to be in pristine physical condition and play up to the caliber of his first-round selection, because the Seahawks have already upgraded at his position. Ken Lucas may have been released by Carolina, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a better fit for the West Coast Defense.
At this point, the team would most likely get along fine without Jennings – it’s up to him to prove otherwise.