Seattle’s secondary will either be far superior to fans’ (and experts) expectations this season, or will be by next season. In other words, the foundation is in place for success, and it is only a matter of time for that success to arrive. Richard Sherman will be a player in this league. Brandon Browner will be a player in this league. Walt Thurmond is a question mark until I see him this year. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas should be the best safety tandem in team history within a year.
The secondary’s biggest problem will be pass interference and illegal contact penalties. The increased focus on press coverage and bigger players has also brought players more likely to be overly aggressive and less agile. Fans may get less aggravated with long passes getting completed over the top of smaller defenders, but some of that aggravation will transition to anger about repeated penalties that keep drives alive.
The Offensive Line
No unit will be harder to predict heading into the regular season than this one. The overall talent is clearly upgraded, but so much about offensive line performance is about coordination and chemistry that it is possible the overall production could be worse than last season. Coach Tom Cable has a reputation and track record of maximizing his line talent, so this is not a long-term concern. Seattle’s running attack was so toothless last season, that even small things like converting more 3rd and 1 plays and increasing the overall time of possession would be significant improvements.
Pass protection, false starts, and holding penalties are the places fans may see the youth and lack of chemistry commonly appear in 2011.
More than just talent, though, the personalities of this group give me a ton of confidence that better days are ahead. John Moffitt strikes me as a “glue” guy. James Carpenter is soft-spoken, but plays with power. Russell Okung looks like a leader-in-the-making who won’t accept less than excellence from himself. Max Unger may have some physical questions he’ll need to answer, but his make-up is great. Robert Gallery fits right in. Talent, coaching and complimentary personalities make success appear inevitable.
Jackson will become the next polarizing figure on the team. There will be some who make excuses for him, and others that criticize every throw. Jackson has generally been a sub-par quarterback in his career. I expect he will continue to be a liability. There is only so much that scheme and supporting cast can do about poor decision-making and inaccuracy. He will have a few moments or games where people believe they see his potential, and others where people call for Whitehurst. A QB rating over 90 would be an all-time shocker. A rating over 80 would be a serious accomplishment for the coaching staff and Jackson.
Rice will be a fast favorite. He will dazzle, and sometimes, dominate. He will also potentially cause as much trouble as opportunity for Mike Williams. Williams became the featured receiver last season. He is a very different player than Rice, and may be more effected by Jackson’s inaccuracy and lack of chemistry with him. If the team goes four games with Rice getting 5-9 catches and Williams getting 1-3, there may be some griping, especially if the team is losing. The price you pay for talent at the WR in the NFL is diva-esque egos. Rice is going to get his. The pressure on Williams to prove last year was no fluke, combined with a drop-off in QB play could create a recipe for in-fighting.
Paul Allen Advantage Underplayed
The Seahawks have stood apart from many teams in free agency by going out and signing premium talent. Lots of teams appear to be sitting on the sidelines both because they are not required to spend a minimum amount until 2013, and because they think re-signing their own players makes more sense in a lockout-shortened off-season. Paul Allen has clearly given Pete Carroll the go-ahead to spend this year. Going big in free agency is not a great way to build a team, but when you are talking about adding Pro Bowl-level players that are in their mid-20s, that’s a bit different than throwing big money at a 30-year-old.
Built To Last
There is a chance the Seahawks have the foundation built for lasting success at: offensive line, wide receiver, cornerback, and safety. Defensive line, quarterback, linebacker and running back all have more things like contracts ending and some older players that make them less projectable in 2+ years. If the best case scenario works out, the team could be one more off-season away from completely refreshing the roster with talent that could grow and win together for a long, long time.
Sam Bradford should be a star for years to come if he can stay healthy. Kevin Kolb could become a franchise QB. If Seattle succeeds “too much” this year, it is possible they could miss out on the QB they need and be locked into mediocrity while their divisional competition surpasses them. Quarterback play still is the best indicator of team success in the NFL. Drafting a franchise QB is by far the most proven way to find that talent. I, for one, will not exhale until we draft a guy in the 1st round who can develop into that player.
San Francisco Scares And Confuses Me
The only explanation for the 49ers off-season is that they are going after Andrew Luck. There really is no other reason I can think of why they have sent so much talent packing while adding so little in return. If they get Luck, it would all be worth it, as they would become the team to beat for years to come. Something tells me it is not that simple, though. There is some element of Jim Harbaugh’s ego and 49er front office oddity that is leading the franchise down a risky path. They used to be the most talented team in the division without a good coach and quarterback. Now, they are not the most talented team and still have big questions at coach and quarterback. Weird.
More to come…at least my head is a little lighter than it was before.