Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Special Guest Scott Enyeart

Who needs an actual football season to talk ball? Not Hawk Blogger and Scott Enyeart! Download and listen to over an hour of in-depth discussion of the Seahawks, their draft, Pete Carroll, Matt Leinart and more. Scott is a long-time USC and Seahawks fan who also has coached Division I football, specializing in the offensive line. He has personal ties to some folks on the Seahawks staff, which has helped him to be one of the must-follow personalities on Twitter.

Take a listen, and let us know what you think.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Whitehurst's Roster Spot Not Safe

NFL Network's Michael Lombardi and I got in a little Twitter tussle this morning about his article dismissing the possibility of the Matt Leinart coming to Seattle. National reporters rarely know a team well enough to do a reasonable job analyzing what they may, or may not, do. Lombardi's article is a perfect case in point. The implicit premise was that Leinart has done nothing to merit consideration as a starting quarterback solution for the Seahawks, or any other team. Who said he was being considered as a starter? National media, including Pro Football Talk, do a surface analysis and see a starting QB gap, an old Carroll protege, and reports the two sides have been in contact. Put them all together and they lazily assume 1+1+1 = 3. Could it be possible Leinart is being considered as a starting option? Sure. They might be considering Jimmy Clausen or Charlie Whitehurst as starting options as well, but that doesn't mean it's anywhere near likely. What makes far more sense is Leinart being brought in as a replacement for Whitehurst.

Do yourself a favor and set aside any anti-Leinart feelings you have and just consider the facts. Choose which quarterback you want:

Quarterback #1
Age: 28
College Stats
SO 63.4% completions, 3556 yards, 8.8 YPA, 38/9 TD/INT*
JR 2 65.3% completions, 3322 yards, 8.1 YPA, 33/6 TD/INT*
SR 3 65.7% completions, 3815 yards, 8.9 YPA, 28/8 TD/INT
*Won National Championship
Drafted: 1st Round, 10th pick overall
Pro Stats
Combined: 340/595 57.1% completion, 3893 yards, 6.5 YPA, 14/20 TD/INT 70.8 Rating

Quarterback #2
Age: 28
College Stats
FR 57.5% completions, 1554 yards, 7.3 YPA, 10/6 TD/INT
SO 61.9% completions, 3561 yards, 7.7 YPA, 21/13 TD/INT
JR 50.7% completions, 2067 yards, 5.9 YPA, 7/17 TD/INT
SR 67.4% completions, 2482 yards, 7.3 YPA, 11/10 TD/INT
Drafted: 3rd round, 81st overall
Pro Stats
Combined: 57/99, 57.6% completion, 507 yards, 5.1 YPA, 2/3 TD/INT 65.5 rating*
*Was the winning starter of a game that decided NFC West Championship

Let's continue looking at the facts. Quarterback #1 won the starting job as a rookie in the NFL. He was later displaced by a sure Hall of Fame quarterback that led his team to the Super Bowl and deep in the playoffs. Quarterback #2 entered the league behind a Top 10 NFL QB, and was not expected to take over the starter's role anytime soon. QB2 also stayed at #3 on his team's depth chart during his time there, unable to beat out the veteran back-up for the #2 spot.

Neither player has distinguished himself in the NFL. Neither has played enough in the last three years to definitively state who they are as NFL QBs. QB1 made between $600K-$1M in 2010 and QB2 made $4.5M.

Obviously, QB1 is Leinart and QB2 is Whitehurst. I find it most effective to strip the names away and just look at facts. Leinart came into the league with high expectations, a reputation as a lazy playboy, and has done little to justify those high expectations. His career is not nearly as catastrophic as most would have you believe. He's had seven games of a QB rating over 88, and thrown for over 400 yards, things Whitehurst has never done. He sat behind a QB in Kurt Warner just as good, if not better, than Philip Rivers.

Whitehurst apologists love to throw out that he's never really been given a chance. That's the worst kind of mealy-mouth horse shit analysis you will find. David Greene was never really given a chance. Neither was Jesse Palmer. Do you know why? Because they did not EARN it! Nothing is given to anyone. Even rookie QBs that start earn the right to do so by the way they played in college, tested in the combine and proved themselves in camp. Whitehurst has earned the right to be considered due to his "good enough" performance in a critical game. Leinart has not won a big game in the NFL, but you'd be hard-pressed to make the case Whitehurst has been a better career winner than Leinart.

Another criticism of Leinart is that he has become a pure check-down QB that only throws short. You all realize Whitehurst had a YPA of 5.1(!!) in his only NFL action last year, right? Nobody in the NFL throws shorter at a lower completion percentage than Whitehurst. Leinart completed over 63% of his passes for at least an 8-yard average in his 3-year college career. Whitehurst never eclipsed 7.7 YPA, and was all over the place in his completion percentage. There is more evidence that Leinart could eventually become a big boy and throw down-field again than that Whitehurst will suddenly start to do something he has never shown the ability to do.

None of this is to say Leinart is a terrific fit in Seattle, or anywhere. He's behaved like a douche, and deserves the criticism he's received. He's also a left-hander, and I question whether the line is ready to have a RT protecting it's quarterback's blind side. The real point here is that we have a very expensive 3rd-stringer masquerading as a back-up quarterback who has no guaranteed money on his contract this year. There are LOTS of viable replacements on the market. The fans and media are fixated on who the starter will be. That matters a lot, but the way Schneider and Carroll manage the roster, it would not surprise me to see them cut bait on Whitehurst and take another flier on a guy that has even marginally better potential than he does at a much lower price. It's called hedging your bets, and Leinart could be a perfect combination of price, potential and risk.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Top 10 Teams Competing For A Veteran QB

Half of the time I sit down to write the posts is because I have a question that I can't find the answer to. More times than not, a little research and reflection gives me what I was looking for, and hopefully helps you guys out along the way. I admit it. I'm a selfish blogger. The question on my mind at the moment is, just how many realistic destinations are there for a veteran QB? Figuring this out will help anticipate what kind of competition the Seahawks will be facing, since they are clearly one of the teams in the market for QB help.

Let's first list the teams that have a clear starter, and have absolutely no reason to sign a starting-caliber QB (in no particular order):

1) New England Patriots
2) New Orleans Saints
3) Green Bay Packers
4) Indianapolis Colts
5) NY Giants
6) NY Jets
7) Pittsburgh Steelers
8) St. Louis Rams (ugh)
9) Houston Texans
10) San Diego Chargers
11) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12) Atlanta Falcons
13) Kansas City Chiefs
14) Philadelphia Eagles
15) Baltimore Ravens

Next, let's list teams that are highly unlikely to go after a starting-caliber QB:

16) Dallas Cowboys
17) Denver Broncos
18) Chicago Bears
19) Carolina Panthers
20) Cleveland Browns
21) Detroit Lions
22) Jacksonville Jaguars

That leaves 10 teams. Let's examine each of those teams to determine which have the greatest need, listed in ascending order of need:

#10  Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals "have" Carson Palmer. More importantly, they drafted a player in Andy Dalton who they believe can play right away. They also drafted rookie WR AJ Green, so it makes some sense for them to begin rebuilding right now.

#9 San Francisco 49ers
This one is a little bit of a cheat. The truth is, they are in the market for a starting QB, but considering Coach Harbaugh has already been openly positive about Alex Smith and even went as far as giving him a playbook before signing him, there seems to be a love connection there. That takes them off the list.

#8 Oakland Raiders
The Raiders would be open to a new QB, but they have a couple of mediocre signal callers that are capable of getting them to the playoffs. The situation is not desperate, and bringing in a player like Matt Hasselbeck would be odd. These are the Raiders, though...

#7 Buffalo Bills
Ryan Fitzpatrick was similar to the Raiders QBs. He was good enough to not be the major problem on the team. The team surrounding him is not good enough to be a veteran QB away from contending. They likely re-enter the Andrew Luck sweepstakes next season.

#6 Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins might convince themselves they are a quality starter away from contending, but more likely, they continue to build with youth. Chad Henne is probably not the answer, but bringing in a veteran for a couple of years makes very little long-term sense.

#5 Seattle Seahawks
Remember, this is ranking a team's need for a starting-caliber veteran QB. As much as many of us may disagree, the Seahawks believe they have a player they could run out as a starter in Charlie Whitehurst. They could choose to sign a veteran back-up, and elevate Charlie. Whitehurst is not a rookie, so there's nothing to keep the team from putting this on his shoulders other than having two functioning eyes and a brain. 

#4 Tennessee Titans
The team could decide to run Jake Locker out there right away or even sign familiar face Kerry Collins to play for a year. More likely, the front office will want to get a player like Hasselbeck in the fold who can play well, and be a terrific mentor for Locker.

#3 Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings could choose to run with Christian Ponder, or play Tavaris Jackson or Joe Webb. The talent of this team is old enough that waiting for Ponder to develop does not make a lot of sense. They will probably want to bring in someone who is a proven playoff QB right away. It has worked for them with Favre, and they will probably try to recapture that magic one more time before rebuilding with Ponder.

#2 Washington Redskins
The Redskins have to sign somebody that can start, but it is not clear they are going to go hard after a playoff-caliber starter. The team is pretty suspect, and I don't think Shanahan is interested in adding an older vet. A guy like Kyle Orton or Kevin Kolb that is young enough to still build around are more logical fits.

#1 Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals stars, Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, and Larry Fitzgerald are either at their prime, or past it. This team has every right to think it is a quality quarterback away from recapturing the division and making some noise in the playoffs. The rumor about Marc Bulger seems a little odd. Bulger has not been good for some time. Hasselbeck would appear to be the perfect fit. He's tighter with players on that team than any other than team outside of Seattle. He's won in the playoffs as recently as a few months ago, and Arizona is not all that far from Seattle. Not to mention, Hasselbeck would get at least one game in Seattle each year for some extra family time. 

Not all of these teams in the Top 5 are looking for the same type of veteran. A team like Seattle or Washington could be after their next franchise guy. Players like Kolb and Orton make a little more sense there. Minnesota and Arizona believe they are a good QB away from contending. Tennessee and Minnesota (again) have their future franchise QBs, and any veteran signing would be a short-term play, so Kolb wouldn't make sense. If Seattle signs Hasselbeck at this point, the front office is officially delaying the search for the next franchise QB another season. I'm not sure that fits Pete Carroll's M.O. 

Carroll sees a hole and wants to fill it. Hasselbeck can only play for another year or two at best. Without a young QB to groom on the roster, that puts the front office behind the eight-ball as soon as next year again. The more logical play would be to go after a player like Carson Palmer or Kevin Kolb. Palmer is five years younger than Hasselbeck and gives the front office more breathing room to find Mr. Right. Kolb would be the perfect fit as he would be Mr. Right. I still personally prefer Orton to Palmer due to age and recent productivity, but all is quiet on that front. 

It took writing this post to realize that going without a QB in the draft this weekend probably sealed the deal on Hasselbeck leaving Seattle. Sports radio is generally feeling the opposite. Their logic is that Matt is all the more valuable to come back and contribute right away. The problem with that logic is that Matt will be far more valuable to other teams, and signing him does little to stabilize the Seahawks QB position beyond this year. Nobody would be happier to see Hasselbeck return, but odds are he'll be a Cardinal, a Titan or a Viking come next season.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Morning After: Seahawks Draft Now Complete

Evaluating a draft class before any of the players have played a snap is generally a waste of time. The number of variable involved is staggering, as are the number of unanswerable questions. Could the team have drafted him later? Is he more valuable in our system than in another team's system? Will he be a starter? How much better can he be than he is right now? What we can do is compare the known needs of the team heading into the draft with the players selected, and take some educated guesses about what needs remain.

Heading into the 2010 pre-season, I ran a series breaking down and ranking every position group on the team. Here's how things stacked up:

Now, remember as you look at this that these rankings are relative. When a team is lacking talent overall, being the #1 position group does not necessarily mean that much. Exiting the season, the offensive line had done little to change its ranking. The defensive line proved how well it could play when healthy, but had key question marks with Brandon Mebane's free agency and Red Bryant's knee injury. The wide receiver group showed a lot of growth, but lacked a vertical threat. The linebackers were NFL average, at best, outside of David Hawthorne. And, of course, the quarterback question mark is well known. If I had ranked needs 1-N before the draft it would have looked something like this:

#1 QB
#2 OG
#3 DT
#4 CB
#5 5-Tech DE (Red Bryant partner)
#6 RT
#7 ILB
#8 Back-up LEO
#9 Center
#10 Big-play WR

Let's try to match-up the team's new draft picks with where they might fit relative to this list of needs:

#1 QB
#2 OG (John Moffit)
#3 DT
#4 CB (Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell)
#5 5-Tech DE (Lazarius Levingston)
#6 RT (James Carpenter)
#7 ILB
#8 Back-up LEO (KJ Wright)
#9 Center (Moffit allows Unger to slide over to Center)
#10 Big-play WR 

Not listed: Kris Durham, Mark Legree, Malcolm Smith

You can interpret this in a variety of ways. One, the front office very well may have a different Top 10 list of needs than I do. Two, the front office likes what it can do via free agency and/or trade for some of these gaps more than what was available in the draft. Three, the front office is committed to taking the highest rated player on their board even if it is not a key need for the team. Likely, it is a combination of all these things.

What I find most instructive is the players they drafted that don't fill a major need. Start with Safety Mark Legree. Legree was a 5th round pick, which is still relatively high. It is not unheard of for 5th round picks to play some snaps in their rookie year outside of special teams. Legree is not a player I know well, but all accounts describe him as the anti-Kam Chancellor. He's a speed coverage safety who is not great near the line of scrimmage, but can run with almost any slot receiver or TE. Earl Thomas is a fixture in the defensive backfield. He is the guy who can probably cover anybody. Lawyer Milloy will probably be back for one more season, and will compete with Bam Bam Chancellor for the starting safety spot opposite Thomas. Both Milloy and Chancellor are exceptional near the line of scrimmage, supporting against the run and even blitzing on occasion. Both also struggle at times in coverage. Legree is a guy the Seahawks are likely hoping can be a 3rd and long safety compliment to Thomas. Thomas was used to cover some receivers one-on-one toward the end of the season, and Legree could potentially allow him to do more of that. He also could give the team a back-up should Thomas ever be out for a bit. There was literally nobody on the team that could be considered a coverage safety other than Thomas last season. Legree needs to prove he can cover in the NFL, but the logic behind the pick is pretty clear. It also illustrates a continuing trend toward specialization on the roster. Having specialists, guys that might be great at something but bad at something else, allows coordinators to mix and match lineups for a variety of situations. This is a different philosophy than coaches that want do-everything guys who never come off the field, but are less likely to be exceptional at any one thing. 

Take a look at Kris Durham next. At 6'5", 216 lbs, with a 4.43 40-yard dash and a 35-inch vertical, Durham is an intriguing prospect. Analysts talk about him as a possession receiver similar to Mike Williams, and a red-zone threat. That's a pretty athletic possession receiver. He's also pretty strong with 17 reps of 225lbs. Here's a highlight video that give a decent view of what he brings. Pay particular attention at ~1:50 and ~3:50 with his catch and run acceleration: 

The kid has good hands, will catch over the middle, and looks extremely comfortable finding the seam in the defense. The seam route may be one of the most important in the West Coast Offense, and since John Carlson seems less able to run it than we all hoped, players like Brandon Stokley and Durham become more valuable. It would be ideal to bring Stokley back for one more season to teach this kid the ropes, but it is not hard to imagine the mismatches presented by 6'5" Williams, 6'5" Durham and Ben Obamanu 6'1". Durham will need to learn how to find holes in the zone, and be more than seam/fade guy. He may end up helping with that big-play WR need, but that seems less likely given his projected role in the offense.

Malcolm Smith is a 7th round pick, so spending too much time evaluating him is silly. A guy picked that late is slotted for special teams if he makes the club. However, Carroll mentioned how fast he was and how good he was in coverage. Again, here's a specialist that could replace Hawthorne in certain coverage situations. Curry is already taken off in those scenarios.

Now let's look at KJ Wright. At 6'3", 236 lbs, Wright is a decent size linebacker. Two immediate roles come to mind for this kid. First, and most commonly mentioned, is to back-up Chris Clemons at the LEO position. That's a pass-rushing spot that can allow for somewhat lighter players. The more provocative role would be a hedge against Aaron Curry's future with the team. Curry makes serious cash, and is not producing anywhere near the level he is being paid for. He's not even one of the ten best players on a pretty bad team. Wright has the size to play over the tight end, and could prove to be a better football player than Curry. Pay close attention to where Wright is getting his snaps come pre-season.

Lazarius Levingston is another 7th-rounder, but the team may rightly believe it can address that 5-tech spot with guys that are less valuable to other teams and systems. Remember, Junior Siavii moved over to that spot for one game against Atlanta and made an immediate impact. The role demands a player that can stand up the right tackle, and not a ton else. Siavii was 6'5" and 315 lbs. Levingston is 6'4" and listed at 292 lbs. He'll probably need to add some weight, but the real hope is Bryant is healthy enough to make the back-up role less critical.

The two selections at cornerback are revealing. We know Carroll prefers tall corners, but what gets less discussion is his desire to be able to press with regularity. He wants his corners rolled up on the WRs a lot, disrupting their routes off the line. Both Sherman and Maxwell are over 6' (Sherman is 6'3"!), and excel in press coverage. This is a classic case of being more valuable in this system than in others. Where these guys were graded lower was due to their pure coverage ability in a back-pedal. Picture the Bears Charles Tillman. That's what Carroll is looking for. If he gets his hands on you as a WR, it's over. If you can get past his press, you'll probably be open. Sherman plays with a nasty edge, and likes to hit. He is the anti-Kelly Jennings on the field. There is some potential there as a blitzer as well.

Capenter and Moffit are going to be given every chance to start, and that's putting it mildly. The offensive line has a proven coach, a cornerstone left tackle, and strong young players at every position except left guard. It is a given the team will sign a veteran left guard, and there are plenty of great ones to choose from. Assuming that gets done, the front office has put together a group that should be reaching its prime in two seasons, but will be better running the football immediately. It typically takes less time for a young lineman to deliver production in the running game than as a pass protector. What we don't know is how good these young guys will be at little things like false starts and handling stunts or blitzes. That's where Cable will be held accountable. The importance of building a strong young offensive line cannot be overstated. It improves every facet of the offense, and in turn, can elevate a defense. Championship teams rarely have a less-than-stellar offensive line.

The team is, however, left with some glaring holes. Carroll implied yesterday that the Seahawks have a plan for the quarterback position that, "we just can't execute yet." Captain Obvious tells me that is either a free agent or a trade. It that guy is going to be the team's starter, and that person is not Matt Hasselbeck, it will be almost impossible to get him ready for the season if the lockout goes on for a few more months. Hasselbeck can probably roll in and be reasonably effective right away. Carson Palmer, Kevin Kolb or others would need a few months to adjust. There is also the chance that they elevate Charlie Whitehurst, and sign a back-up (Matt Leinart anyone?). If that's where things end up, take solace in the fact the team could be in position to nab Andrew Luck next year at this time.

Defensive tackle is a more stressful gap than quarterback. At least there are tons of options at QB. If the Seahawks don't sign Brandon Mebane, there are very few difference makers on the free agent market. Albert Haynesworth anyone?

All drafts take on a life of their own, almost a personality. Last year's draft was a celebration. The Seahawks made splashy, popular picks in each of their first three choices. Even a guy like Walter Thurmond was a high-profile player coming off an injury and Anthony McCoy was a highly thought of tight end that fell due to a failed drug test. This year requires a lot more faith in the front office. Few draft analysts are celebrating the choices the Seahawks made. There is no reason to think it is a bad draft yet, but Schneider has put more pressure on himself by picking players many felt were chosen above their value. Seahawks fans have every right to feel nervous about a "no-name" draft after suffering through some duds, and seeing their division rivals grab some exciting prospects. Keep in mind all the roster shuffling last season, even at the end of training camp. The front office has a pretty darn good track record of finding talent to plug in. Trusting that these were the right choices will be tough. Something tells me, though, this off-season is just beginning. Don't be surprised if the Seahawks make some major splashes in free agency or via trades.