One of the keys to the Seattle Seahawks’ success in 2009 will be the return to health for defensive end Patrick Kerney, whose undergone multiple procedures on his upper body this off-season.
“There was that original surgery right after I hurt my shoulder against San Francisco, then they found out it was worse and they repaired the labrum again.” Kerney said during a recent interview on the Brock & Salk Show on 710 ESPN Seattle. “After that, it was a wrist reconstruction, which is why I was playing with a cast all season. So they put that back together.”
Those two operations, combined with a recent procedure to remove bone chips from his elbow, surgery last off-season to repair a torn labrum (the same one he had repaired again this off-season), and surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2006 season with the Atlanta Falcons, paint a fairly grim medical picture for the Seahawks’ top pass-rusher.
Kerney doesn’t seem concerned.
“At my position, as long as you can still run, that’s the key,” Kerney said. “My upper body now, it’ll come back, and I’ll get the bulk back on to be able to play down in the trenches.”
Prior to injuring his shoulder against San Francisco, Kerney had played in nearly 80% of the Seahawks’ defensive snaps and 60% of their defense plus special teams plays. Had Kerney continued at that pace, he would’ve been one of 20 defensive linemen with a playtime percentage of 60% or higher. He also would’ve been one of only three defensive linemen over the age of 30 with a percentage that high (Pittsburgh’s Aaron Smith and Buffalo’s Ryan Denney are the others), as well as the only defensive linemen over 30 coming off surgery to repair a torn labrum to log that much playing time.
80% of one team’s defensive plays can be much different than 80% of another team’s plays. Seattle’s defense was on the field for 1,058 plays in 2008, second-most in the NFL, meaning that had Kerney played the entire season, he would’ve logged well over 800 snaps. That’s a large number of high-speed collisions with 300-pound offensive linemen for anyone to be involved in, let alone a 31-year old defensive end coming off two major upper-body surgeries in as many years.
Seattle’s inefficient offense and the team’s lack of depth at the defensive end position, as well as coaches practically needing to handcuff Kerney to the bench to keep him off the field, playing him as much as they did early in 2008 was largely unavoidable.
Kerney is expected to be ready for training camp and he’ll likely see limited action, if any, during the pre-season. His age, work ethic and proven track record of being able to recover from off-season surgeries make it far too early to suggest that he’s somehow at a Trace Armstrong, “pass rush specialist” stage of his career. Still, it might be worth their while for the Seahawks to consider conserving Kerney’s playing time once the regular season starts.
There are two ways for the Seahawks to do that.
Improving an offense that ranked 30th on 3rd downs, and subsequently 32nd in time of possession, would take some pressure off the defense. A more balanced approach offensively should help, as would healthy seasons from Matt Hasselbeck, Nate Burleson, Deion Branch, and Walter Jones and the rest of the offensive line. John Carlson taking the next step in his development and the off-season additions of Deon Butler and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who has averaged 56 receptions for first downs over his last five seasons (no Seahawks receiver had more than 55 receptions total last season) should help the Seahawks be a more efficient offense.
Defensively, Lawrence Jackson will be out to silence those who have criticized his rookie season, which it turns out was largely played on one foot. Darryl Tapp is entering his contract year, and both he and Jackson should be motivated by the off-season acquisition of Corey Redding. Jackson (1st round pick), Tapp (2nd round pick) and Redding (former team captain in Detroit) have combined to start 118 games in the NFL and should put on an entertaining three-way battle this summer for the starting job opposite Kerney.
With four experienced defensive ends (five including Baraka Atkins, who played pretty well down the stretch and shouldn’t be overlooked), the Seahawks have the depth that would allow them to evenly rotate their defensive ends, which would keep Kerney rested to do what he does better than anyone on the Seahawks roster: Rush the quarterback.
Slightly reducing Kerney’s playing time doesn’t necessarily mean his production would decrease. Eight 4-3 defensive ends had 10 or more quarterback sacks in 2008 and half of them played in less than 50% of their team’s defensive and special teams plays.
Here's a list of those eight players, along with their sack totals, age, and 2008 playing time percentages:
Brian McIntyre lives in the Boston area. In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian maintains his own blog (www.macsfootballblog.com), writes for FalconInsider.com, and charts games for Football Outsiders. If you’d like to e-mail Brian, you may do so here.