Rebuilt Seahawks will lean heavily on Rasheem Green, rookie class

Rookie pass-rusher Rasheem Green has three sacks and 13 tackles in his first two preseason games. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

RENTON, Wash. -- After the Seattle Seahawks drafted Rasheem Green in the third round, general manager John Schneider joked that the baby-faced defensive lineman sported a mustache in his picture for the USC media guide in an attempt to look older.

Green was only 20 on draft day, having left school after three seasons, and turned 21 a week before Seattle began organized team activities a month later.

In a football sense, the Seahawks need their youngest player to grow up in a hurry.

Such is life for a defense with a major question mark off the edge and a team that will be counting on younger players more so than in recent years following an offseason of big-name veteran departures.

Perhaps no rookie will be counted on to play more than Green given Seattle's situation at defensive end. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, mainstays since 2013, are gone. Dion Jordan, the projected starter opposite Frank Clark, is nursing a leg injury that could keep him sidelined for a few more weeks. That could push Green into the starting lineup when Seattle opens against the Broncos in Denver.

It's an encouraging sign, then, that Green racked up three sacks and 13 tackles in his first two preseason games and has several times drawn praise from coach Pete Carroll for how advanced he is in terms of his technique and understanding of the game.

"His hands and his body work and the things that he can do, his sense, his feel for stuff -- he's not like a raw rookie that doesn't know anything," Carroll said. "He's got a lot of background, so he's been worked really well."

Carroll has never been afraid to throw young players into the fire, dating back to his time at USC. It's his belief that the experience they'll gain is worth the inevitable lumps they'll take. In the end, the individual and the team will be better off for it.

That carried over into his first few seasons in Seattle as the Seahawks were fielding one of the greener teams in the NFL. But it wasn't as easy for rookies to catch on in recent years -- not with a roster that was always stacked with Pro Bowlers, All-Pros and a few potential Hall of Famers, many of whom have now moved on.

While several factors are always at play -- from injuries to the caliber of the players themselves -- it's no coincidence that only 10 of Seattle's 20 draft picks from their 2013 and 2014 Super Bowl seasons cracked the initial 53-man roster as rookies (see chart). Those teams were exceedingly hard to make.

It's a sign of the changing times in Seattle that six of their nine draft picks are considered locks to make the team and at least two of the other three have a chance to contribute at some point this season, if not immediately.

Top pick Rashaad Penny probably won't wrestle the starting running back job away from Chris Carson right away, but he'll get his touches one way or another.

Tight end Will Dissly (fourth round) was part of a makeover at tight end with Seattle letting Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson leave in free agency. He could be the starter in Week 1 with Ed Dickson's status uncertain, and either way he's expected to play a big role in their offense because of his blocking prowess.

K.J. Wright's recent knee surgery could push Shaquem Griffin (fifth) into the starting lineup at weak-side linebacker for the beginning of the season, and it's not entirely out of the question for cornerback Tre Flowers (fifth) to join him opposite Shaquill Griffin, who's taking over for Richard Sherman on the left side. Punter Michael Dickson (fifth) has replaced Jon Ryan, the longest-tenured Seahawk, and has looked like a legitimate weapon while leading the NFL in punting average this preseason. The last of Seattle's four fifth-round picks, Jamarco Jones, would have competed for the right tackle job and potentially could later in the season if he can come back from an ankle injury that required surgery.

Jacob Martin (sixth round) has shown enough potential as a pass-rusher and special teamer that he'll be hard to leave off the roster. That could leave quarterback Alex McGough (seventh) as one of only two draft picks who don't make the team, and it's still possible that he beats out Austin Davis for the backup job if he closes the preseason on a high note.

And then there's Green, who will be battling Branden Jackson for a starting spot assuming Jordan isn't ready by Week 1. Even if he doesn't start, the Seahawks view the 6-foot-4, 279-pound Green as someone with the versatility, length and athleticism to play the five-technique end position on early downs then move inside to rush in passing situations.

Green, a first-team All-Pac 12 selection in 2017, produced 16 sacks and 19 tackles for loss over his final two seasons with the Trojans.

"For him to have to step in and [play] as a rookie, it's a big thing, but I feel like he can hold it down and I feel like he has no choice actually with me being the Leo on the other side," Clark said. "He's gotta step up to the plate and get it done. That's why we brought him in."