Seahawks 2010 Season Preview Part II: 2009 Recap, Off-Season and Offense

A look back at 2009

There was a point in my career where I took over a group that had a bad reputation. Nobody wanted to work for this group, and nobody wanted to work with them. Why would anyone want to walk into a situation so bleak? It came down to a simple lesson I learned early in life: when you’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up. Pete Carroll walks into a similar situation with Seahawks.

The 2009 Seahawks were decimated by injuries to their offensive line, linebackers, and secondary. Their coaching, especially on offense, was sub-par at best. None of those were the reason the 2009 Seahawks finished 5-11. The reason they “earned” the #6 pick in the NFL was simply that they were a bad football team. Bad on offense. Bad on defense. The manner in which the Seahawks fired 1st year head coach Jim Mora Jr. was surprising, but the firing itself was not. This was a desperate, punchless team that was not headed in the right direction. Perhaps, the most concerning part of the 2009 Seahawks was the total lack of emerging young talent. 

Highly touted #4 draft pick Aaron Curry was forgettable. Linebacker mates Lofa Tatapu and LeRoy Hill were injured and ineffective. The only player on the entire team that you could make a reasonable case for as a young talent on the rise was LB David Hawthorne. 

There are few things in sports more depressing than a losing team without young talent. The franchise needs to be completely re-made. It needs someone willing to wash away anything and anyone not contributing to future championship. Otherwise, fans can expect the losing to continue for many years to come. 

2010 Off-season grade – A
Never before have I written a season preview where I felt compelled to give the team an incomplete grade on it’s off-season moves just days before game one of the regular season. Even as this post is written, the potential remains for additional trades and waiver claims. Before we get into the most recent series of events, let’s look all the way back to the changes that started last season.

GM Tim Ruskell was given the well-deserved boot before 2009 came to a close. Getting rid of a GM that drove our most successful head coach and a Hall of Fame offensive lineman out of town, while making some of the worst personnel acquisitions in Seahawks history is reason enough to celebrate. Ruskell had me wishing Bob Ferguson was back in the saddle. My strongest criticism of the off-season was the decision not to bring Mike Holmgren back. Holmgren has taken two moribund franchises and turned them into championship contenders. There was no reason to take a risk on someone who doesn’t have those credentials. He wanted back in Seattle, and ownership turned him away with an offer they knew he’d never accept. 

It is far too early to tell if the combination of Pete Carroll and John Schneider have what it takes to make fans forget about Holmgren. What we do know is that they are relentless in their pursuit of talent, and they show no signs of fearing the big decisions. The draft they put together may go down as the best in franchise history. People may say they made the obvious choices with OT Russell Okung, S Earl Thomas and WR Golden Tate in their first three selections, but after watching Ruskell take Kelly Jennings, Aaron Curry, Lawrence Jackson and Chris Spencer, it’s obvious there is no such thing as an obvious choice. The duo deserves credit for the moves they didn’t make as well, holding steady in round two and landing Tate, waiting through the entire third round and nabbing S Kam Chancellor and CB Walter Thurmond, among others. There was a savvy and confidence to the way the draft was handled that announced to the league and the fan base that it was okay to hope again.

Every single one of the draft choices, outside of 7th round pick Jameson Konz (injured), made the team, and has the potential to be a significant part of the team’s future. DE/LB Dexter Davis came in the 7th round, and already is among the Hawks best pass rushers. TE Anthony McCoy is the best combination of blocking and receiving the team has at the position. Thurmond may be a starter for years to come. DE EJ Wilson is a rotation player that showed potential to be more than that down the road.

Trades brought players like RB Leon Washington and QB Charlie Whitehurst onto the team. Scouring the NFL scrap heap uncovered the likes of WR Mike Williams, who has gone from being out of football for two years, to being the #1 receiver on the roster. OG/OT Chester Pitts was brought in after surgery on his knee and will likely start if he can stay healthy. And the list goes on and on and on to the tune of 130+ roster moves in less than a year. 

There was, and will continue to be, controversy over letting players like Josh Wilson and TJ Houshmandzadeh go. The energy spent wringing hands over veteran players is wasted. This team won 9 games in two years. Veterans are not going to lead us back to the Super Bowl. Star Search 2010 is alive in Seattle. Kick back and watch the next generation of heroes rise up, or let their asses get kicked to the curb.

Offense – Starters
Matt Hasselbeck – QB
Justin Forsett* – RB
Mike Williams* – WR
Deion Branch* – WR
Chris Baker* – TE
John Carlson – TE
Sean Locklear* – RT
Max Unger – RG
Chris Spencer – C
Mike Gibson* – LG
Russell Okung* – LT
* New Starter or New Position
** Pro Bowl

Offense – Running Game
It is never a good sign for the running game when the consensus best offensive line coach in recent NFL history quits the week before the season begins. Whatever the reason for Alex Gibbs’ departure, it greatly diminishes the optimism that a weak offensive line can form a cohesive whole. Russell Okung and TE Chris Baker will make a difference here, as will starting Forsett over Tim Ruskell’s Devil Spawn (aka Julius Jones). It’s not realistic, however, to expect a lot. This was one of seven teams in 2009 to rush for less than 100 yards/game. We saw no evidence of that improving in the pre-season. Look for a similar outcome, and be pleased if it is better.

Offense – Passing Game
After years of searching, it appears the receiving corps has finally been reloaded with playmakers. The offensive line looks to be stronger in pass protection than run blocking, and Matt Hasselbeck is healthy again for the time being. The challenge here will be facing many 3rd and long situations that an ineffective running game will put the team into. Jeremy Bates, the new offensive coordinator, is creative without seeming desperate. Gone, are the Greg Knapp 40-yard hail mary throws on 3rd and 1. Bates shows some sophistication in his route combinations that create space. He favors a lot of two TE formations, and the Hawks have the TE talent to make that an interesting weapon. Only six teams had a lower yard-per-attempt (6.2) than the Seahawks last season. Expect that to jump into the 7.0+ range this season with far more big plays. 
Offense – Quarterback
Hasselbeck is the best quarterback in the NFC West. Sam Bradford may take that crown soon enough, but Matt has it firmly in grasp for now. He played injured, hesitant and frustrated last year. Some of it was due to a lack of command of Knapp’s offense, some of it was because of a terrible offensive line, and some of it was subpar receivers. As goes Matt, so goes the Seahawks. Expect a solid rebound season for Hasselbeck, with a QB rating back over 80.

Offense – Offensive Line
Okung may be the savior every Hawks fan hoped for when Walter Jones retired. He looked fantastic in his first pre-season game, but quickly got injured and will miss at least the first regular season game. Mike Gibson is a new starter at guard next to him, but could be replaced by Chester Pitts once Okung comes back. That would give the Hawks a pair of 320+ lb lineman on the left side. Chris Spencer remains the starter at center, and is not a difference maker. Max Unger goes into his second year at RG, and is a question mark. He has received a fair amount of media and fan praise, but I see a lot of mistakes. RT Sean Locklear looked disinterested and outmatched in the pre-season. Stacy Andrews was acquired just a week before the season begins, and will challenge Locklear. Tyler Polumbus will battle at tackle as well, potentially getting the week one start in place of Okung. Polumbus only saw limited pre-season action and looked slow-footed. Lots and lots of questions on the line. That’s never a good thing.

Offense – Backfield
Forsett and Washington are a serviceable running back duo. Each runs hard, has big play potential, and are strong receivers out of the backfield. With our offensive line challenges, it doesn’t hurt that they both can block as well. These are not running backs that can create their own holes. They are talented, but need an offensive line that can pave the way. I expect both of them to be valuable contributors, if not stars. Any carries that Julius Jones gets are a waste of time. He represents everything this new regime is supposedly against, older players who have no chance of contributing to a championship future. I would have rather seen Louis Rankin make the squad and gambled on the 1/500 chance that he flashes a reason to make the future team. Jones is a dead end, and his presence is only tolerable if he is sitting on the bench. Quinton Ganther is a fine third back and fullback. 

Offense – Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Heading into this pre-season, most observers around the NFL rated the Seahawks receiving corps as among the worst in the league. Housh was too slow, and playing away from his best position, the slot. Branch was too often injured and had not produced in his Seattle opportunities. Our best receiver, Nate Burleson, had left to Detroit. What’s left is a younger, more dynamic crew that most defenses will never see coming. Mike Williams assumes the role of #1. Despite being away from the game for two seasons, he’s still just 26, and is physical specimen. Hasselbeck has never had a receiver like him during his career. It would not surprise me in the least to see Williams in the Pro Bowl by season’s end. How he handles success in the off-season will be interesting. Deon Butler is bursting with confidence and has the skills to match. His run-after-catch rivals Williams for best on the team. Branch remains on the team, and as a starter. He demonstrated some chemistry with Hasselbeck that could translate into a productive season, but history indicates otherwise. Golden Tate has rare and undeniable talent, but is raw. He will only see the field in four WR sets, or in special situations. He can blow by defenders for deep throws, and can throw the ball well himself on reverses. Expect more from him late this season and into next. Fans should enjoy watching this new crop of players emerge.

Our tight ends should be one of the strengths of the team. Led by 3rd-year starter John Carlson, they each can make plays as receivers. Carlson is a putrid blocker, though, and it is starting to effect his career trajectory. Baker is the vet with a solid combination of talents, who is know more for his blocking. Anthony McCoy could be the best of the bunch. He is a rookie, though, and may not get a ton of time on the field. Cameron Morrah is the fourth TE and is a good receiver. O-Coordinator Bates likes two TE sets, so get to know this group.

Offense – Overall 2010 Outlook
The 2010 Seahawks offense will leave you feeling like an old man on Viagra, excited and confused. Are we the team that just made a dazzling 80-yard touchdown catch, or are we the team that had the ball land 20 yards from the nearest receiver? The offensive line is in flux. Not good. The quarterback is solid, but aging. The running backs can get the job done if given the chance, but won’t inspire kids to hang their posters up anytime soon. The wide receivers have significant upside, but none of them have proven it on the field in Seattle. The goal for this season should be to find a few players the offense can build around, and an identity. It may also end up being Matt Hasselbeck’s last season in Seattle as he is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Enjoy him while he is here. Even at his worst, he is better than almost any QB the franchise has seen.

In the final part of my season preview, I will break-down the defense, our division and predict game-by-game results. Stay tuned.