Will the Seahawks' secondary continue to be a strength in 2023?

No. 5 overall pick Devon Witherspoon is one of many offseason additions to the Seattle Seahawks' secondary. Lindsey Wasson/AP Photo

RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks’ secondary was the lone strength of their underperforming defense in 2022, sending Quandre Diggs to his third straight Pro Bowl and rookie Tariq Woolen to his first.

It was also the position group that Seattle improved the most over the offseason, first by signing Julian Love to a two-year, $12 million free-agent deal and then spending the fifth overall pick on Devon Witherspoon.

Whenever Jamal Adams gets back on the field, the former All-Pro could be considered something of an addition himself, given that he played less than half a game before suffering a season-ending injury in last year’s opener.

On paper, it’s the best collection of defensive backs the Seahawks have assembled since the Legion of Boom came undone in 2017.

And yet ...

“Michael Jackson has had the best camp of anybody,” coach Pete Carroll said at the end of minicamp in June, saying last year’s starter at left cornerback delivered “almost a dominant” performance while stepping back in with the No. 1 defense on the right side after Woolen’s knee injury.

Jackson‘s strong spring highlights the depth the Seahawks have in their secondary, in addition to the star power of the projected starters. But the group has some question marks as well.

After taking stock of the front seven in May, here’s a look at the defensive backs and all that the Seahawks will have to sort out before their Sept. 10 opener against the Los Angeles Rams.


Departures: Justin Coleman (not re-signed), Xavier Crawford (not re-signed)

Additions: Witherspoon (first round), Lance Boykin (UDFA), Montrae Braswell (UDFA), Arquon Bush (UDFA), James Campbell (UDFA), Benjie Franklin (UFA)

Returners: Woolen, Mike Jackson, Tre Brown, Coby Bryant, Isaiah Dunn, Artie Burns

Woolen had arthroscopic knee surgery in May and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp on July 26. Witherspoon, the highest draft pick of the Carroll/John Schneider era, seems like a safe bet to start on the other side.

But could he play nickelback as well? With Coby Bryant limited during the spring with a sprained toe, the Seahawks took a look at Witherspoon (6-foot, 180) in the slot. He had also been working with the No. 1 defense at left corner after recovering from a hamstring injury that limited him early on.

“I talked to him about it way back when and he was all excited about it,” Carroll said. “He said, ‘I can learn it all, I can get it,’ and he's really positive about it. So when we gave him the chance, he jumped right on it. He’s a really good football learner. He gets it, man, and it makes sense to him, and he does things naturally really well, and that expedites the process ... [W]e’ve seen him look pretty much in charge of the position, so we'll see how it goes.”

Bryant had a solid rookie season that included four forced fumbles, but it wasn’t enough to guarantee him the nickelback job in 2023. His toe injury wasn’t expected to require surgery, per Carroll.

Witherspoon didn’t play nickelback at Illinois but moved around and occasionally winded up inside. One potential scenario is Witherspoon and Woolen playing on the outside in base packages, then Jackson coming in to play on the left side in nickel situations, kicking Witherspoon inside.

“We've seen him play on the slots, and it doesn't matter who he was playing, he covered everybody,” Carroll said. “So he's a special cover guy. His quickness and his instincts and all really lend to [the thought that] he could be an effective player there.”


Departures: Ryan Neal (RFA tender rescinded), Josh Jones (not re-signed), Johnathan Abram (not re-signed), Teez Tabor (not re-signed)

Additions: Love (UFA), Jerrick Reed II (sixth round), Jonathan Sutherland (UDFA), Morrell Osling III (UDFA), Ty Okada (UDFA), Christian Young (UDFA)

Returners: Adams, Diggs, Joey Blount

The big questions here are: When will Adams be ready? And how long will it take him to regain his form?

Adams has yet to practice while recovering from surgery to repair a torn quadriceps tendon. Comments from Carroll have made it clear that he may not be ready by Week 1. The Love signing -- an expensive one by Seattle’s standards -- gave the impression that the team believes Adams may have to begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which would require him to miss at least the first four games.

“We'll see,” Carroll said of Adams being ready by the opener. “Let's get to camp first and see what happens. It may be too much to ask. I don't know. We'll see.”

Diggs made it back by last year’s opener from a broken ankle, but he said recently that it wasn’t until midseason that he felt like himself. The comment was a useful reminder that Adams may not regain his 2020 form right away, if he regains it at all.

Hence the Love signing. The Seahawks consider him to be an upgrade over Neal, who had been an unsung hero in recent seasons while filling in for Adams. The team rescinded its RFA tender to Neal in a cost-saving move after signing Love. He gives the Seahawks insurance against Adams’ health and a versatile defensive back who can play alongside him in sub packages.

Love played all over the New York Giants’ secondary and was a team captain last season. He has experience at nickel but has solely been working as the starting safety opposite Diggs.

“He's been fantastic,” Carroll said of Love. “I think he's 26 or something. He’s a young kid still, a young man still. But he's like he's been around forever. He's got great sense, great awareness, presence. He totally gets football, it makes sense to him, he's an excellent communicator, really a gifted smooth athlete with real quickness, and real quickness, and that comes from really great instincts. He looked great. I know that it's been obvious to Quandre that he's got a guy that really can command what's going on. And so they're sharing the duties and working together and growing.”

Johnathan Sutherland is the undrafted rookie to keep an eye on in training camp. The Penn State product worked with the No. 1 defense as the sixth defensive back in dime packages during the spring, though that was with several other defensive backs sidelined by injuries.