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Tim Ruskell’s name makes my teeth clench. He did more damage to the Seahawks franchise than Bill Leavy, Ken Behring, and Etric Pruitt combined. Nearly every personnel decision he made was wrong, and by the time he had cursed the team into position for a #4 overall draft choice in 2009, I had already decided he was Seahawks Enemy #1. It is always easy to second-guess decisions from general managers, but with Ruskell, I spent a fair amount of time criticizing his decisions immediately after they were made. One of the lone exceptions was a his pick of Aaron Curry with that 2009 first-round draft choice.
Curry was considered the most talented player in that draft by many, and was projected as the #1 overall pick for at least a few weeks. The Lions owned that pick, and were bad enough that picking the best player was more important than filling a particular position. Ruskell made what I thought was a clever move by trading the Lions Julian Peterson a month before the draft. Not only did he clear some salary off the cap, but he made it easier for the Lions to move off of Curry and onto Matt Stafford. Maybe they would have picked Stafford no matter what, but I thought Ruskell deserved some credit for increasing the odds of nabbing Curry.
Everyone was fairly certain the Rams would pick the top offensive tackle, Jason Smith, with the #2 pick. The Chiefs were the wildcard at #3. Many had them taking Curry until people realized Scott Pioli was helping them move to a 3-4 defense and that Tyson Jackson could be uniquely valuable to them. Sure enough, the Chiefs drafted Jackson, and I pumped my fist in the car as I drove down to Olympia with my family for a visit to grandma. Curry was ours. A sure-fire Pro Bowl linebacker that could be our answer to Patrick Willis, who the 49ers had just drafted.
The warning signs appeared as soon as his first practice during training camp, that I happened to attend. Curry had just signed his massive contract, and came running onto the field. I watched him like a hawk (no pun intended), and saw a guy that was eager to hit, but not necessarily wise about when to do it. I wrote very briefly about seeing him take on lineman head on instead of shedding the blocks. At the time, there was plenty of hope that it was just a rookie learning some early lessons. Only, Curry never seemed to learn.
My second mini-panic started building when I did some research on great NFL linebackers, and found that most of the Pro Bowl-level linebackers tend to flash their rookie year. It is not a position that requires the adjustment period like a quarterback, wide receiver or defensive back might. If a linebacker is going to be great, and at #4 overall Curry needed to be great, he should show signs right away. Those signs never came.
Curry went on to have a mediocre rookie season where he impacted at least a couple of games, but never dominated. It was said that Lofa Tatupu’s injury that year hurt his progress as Tatupu had been helping to line him up in positions to succeed. Tatupu’s return, combined with continued mediocrity from Curry put that theory to rest in 2010.
Pete Carroll came in and made a big deal out of looking at tape of Curry first when he got the job. He went so far as to employ an over 4-3 defense that would put Curry on the line of scrimmage over the tight end more like he did in college. It was a chance for him to just cut it loose and play quickly instead of having to make so many choices. In some ways, Curry’s greatest contribution to the Seahawks may have been the fact that he was considered so important that the team employed a defense that best suited him. That defensive change then changed the type of defensive ends the team needed, and gave Red Bryant a chance he would have never gotten to played defensive end.
Curry struggled in some areas that coaching can not fix. He was incredibly uncomfortable in space. He was not a good open-field tackler. He was often lost in zone coverage, and was equally flawed in man coverage. He never showed an ability to shed blocks or speed rush around guys. Curry, though, was not as terrible as some would have you believe. He was excellent at setting the edge and blowing up tight ends and offensive tackles to turn running plays back inside. He was a big part of the great run defense the Seahawks played. He filled gaps with ferocity, stopping runners and fullbacks dead in their tracks.
Strongside linebacker is not a position where you see lots of flashy plays, in general. Curry was a league-average player at that position with some potential for growth. His best position is probably an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense where he does not have to play in space very often and can just seek and destroy. He still has the tools to be an impact player.
Many are wasting time debating whether he is the biggest bust in Seahawks draft history. For my money, a bust is guy who never made an impact in the league and has proven to have no potential to be a quality NFL player. Busts are players who get released, not players who get traded for multiple draft choices. Busts are players who are out of the league within a few years. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if he is a bust or not. What matters is that both he and the Seahawks are better off without one another. I’d love to see him succeed in Oakland because I am confident he would have never succeeded here. This Seahawks team has enough young talent that fans don’t need to wish for bad things to happen to players that are no longer here, especially guys who have played their hardest. It was Ruskell’s finale. At least that’s something to celebrate.