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Seahawks could seek Branch replacement in draft

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The Seahawks could potentially lose a key cog from the team's defensive line rotation in free agency in starting defensive tackle Alan Branch.

Branch is expected to generate some interest when free agency begins next week.

Branch started all 16 regular-season games in 2012, finishing with 29 tackles and a sack. The 28-year-old helped anchor a Seattle run defense that finished No. 10 in the league, giving up just 103.1 rushing yards a contest.

Branch could receive interest from Jacksonville in free agency, with former Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley now the head coach for the Jaguars.

A potential replacement for Branch in this year's draft that could be a target for Seattle is Alabama defensive lineman Jesse Williams.

At 6-31/2 and 323 pounds, Williams is a powerhouse inside, demonstrated by his 600-pound bench press. But the native of Brisbane, Australia also is surprisingly agile because of his rugby and basketball background.

While players like Florida's Sharrif Floyd, Utah's Star Lotulelei and Missouri's Sheldon Richardson are garnering more attention, Williams is gaining steam as a late first-round selection because of his consistent play anchoring Alabama's national championship defense.

"I think just being physical," Williams said, when asked to describe himself as a player. "Being a physical force at the nose at stopping the run. I like to feel I was a bit of a leader on the defense as far as holding down the middle. It's pretty tough position down there. And if I get knocked out of the way, it opens pretty much everything up. So it was pretty crucial for me to be down there."

Williams, 22, earned a second team All-SEC selection in 2012. He started 12 games, finishing with 36 tackles with 2.5 for loss, one sack, two pass deflections, four quarterback hurries and a blocked field goal.

Williams also played some fullback for Alabama on goal-line situations.

He's been compared to San Francisco's Justin Smith and New England's Vince Wilfork, but Williams looks to versatile Baltimore defensive lineman Haloti Ngata as a guy that he tries to emulate at the next level.

"As a player he holds himself pretty well," Williams said. "We have similar body types. And the way he plays, his attitude toward the game, and I think his love for the game is something I strive to be as much as I can."

For Seattle, Williams could be a player who could replace Branch as a run stuffer in early downs if the Seahawks lose the Michigan product in free agency.

Branch conservatively will make at least $4 million annually in free agency.

Last year's No. 25 overall pick, New England linebacker Dont'a Hightower, signed a four-year, $7.74 million deal, $6.28 million of which was guaranteed. So a player like Williams would be a more inexpensive option to fill that role for Seattle, and he could back up Red Bryant at defensive end.

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