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Originally published August 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 23, 2008 at 12:26 AM

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Seahawks rookie Lawrence Jackson has a mind for the game

Rookie Lawrence Jackson has the body to play defensive end. But, more important, he has the smarts for one of the most thoughtful spots on the field.

Seattle Times staff reporter

RENTON — Defensive end Lawrence Jackson weighs 271 pounds, making him big enough to slide inside to defensive tackle for a play or three.

He's also got the strength to bench-press 225 pounds 31 times, as he did before the NFL draft, second most of any defensive end at the league's scouting combine in Indianapolis.

But it's not the physical specs that have impressed Patrick Kerney most about the Seahawks' first-round pick.

"It's his mind-set," Kerney said. "A very open mind to learning. He's very intelligent, and that's one thing that's rarely talked about with pass rushers in this league."

Turns out there's a mental side to one of the most manic positions in all of football. There needs to be a method to the madness of chasing after opposing quarterbacks.

"Rushing the passer, it's a chess game," Kerney said. "There's so much that goes into it. And Lawrence has that, I think. That philosophy, if you will."

Jackson did study philosophy in college at USC, and might have majored in it if there weren't so many philosophy classes that conflicted with his football schedule.

After four years at USC, Jackson was drafted by the Seahawks, added to a pass rush that finished fourth in the league with 45 sacks last season.

Kerney is coming off a career-high 14.5 sacks last season, and is entrenched as the starting left end. Jackson is competing with Darryl Tapp for the starting spot at right end, a competition that will go down to the end of the exhibition schedule, said coach Mike Holmgren.

Like any good pass rusher, Jackson showed a quick first step with a sack and forced fumble in the exhibition opener in Minnesota. He also chased down two plays from behind.

"He has a chance to be a great player," Holmgren said of Jackson.

That was the idea when the Seahawks chose Jackson in the first round, picking a player at a position where they'd drafted Tapp in the second round in 2006 and signed Kerney as a free agent in 2007. The Giants showed last season that having an abundance of pass rushers simply translates to more heavy objects that can be thrown in the direction of the quarterback.

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Pass-rushing defensive end is one of the premier positions in football. That's why only cornerbacks tend to command higher top-end salaries on defense. It's also why left tackle has become the second-highest-paid position on offense. Teams need someone to stop pass rushers hellbent on planting the quarterback so hard into the turf that he leaves a divot.

And while linebacker Lawrence Taylor set the standard for an outside pass rusher's performance and wild-eyed personality, a successful defensive end must have more than just raw aggression and reckless abandon.

"If you can't think, if you're just tall, fast, strong, you're not going to get to the quarterback," Kerney said.

The end must read the formation and recognize the strategy the other team is employing to stop him, and the really good ends are coy enough to set up an opponent for a specific move they'll use down the road. Thinking three or four moves ahead is just the beginning.

"You've got to start thinking about the 14th and 15th move on the chess board," Jackson said, "and trying to set yourself up for a time when you really need to get a great play."

Some teams have done studies on what makes a successful pass rusher, and the Washington Redskins found that the Wonderlic scores of defensive ends did tend to correlate with pass-rushing success. The Wonderlic is a 50-question exam that seeks to test an ability to process information, and it is administered to draft prospects at the scouting combine. Kerney and Jackson each had scores that were above average.

Of course, it takes more than smarts to collapse a quarterback's pocket, and not even Plato could think his way to a sack.

But it also takes more than fast-twitch muscles to get around the 320-pound mountains that pass for left tackles these days, and with two weeks to go until the regular season begins, Seattle's first-round pick has shown he has a mind for his position.

Notes

• DT Red Bryant returned to practice Friday, exactly three weeks after undergoing surgery to clean out cartilage in his left knee. He is ahead of schedule in his recovery.

• C Chris Spencer escalated his practice participation, taking part in 11-on-11 drills for the first time. The first-team center was sidelined for more than two weeks by a back injury, and while he is not expected to play in Monday's exhibition at San Diego, Holmgren was encouraged by his return.

• TE Jeb Putzier returned to practice after missing much of this week because of a sore back.

• K Brandon Coutu watched practice in a baseball cap. His status was not clarified by the team.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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