John Crist: Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren flat-out told the world that he was going to trash the running game midway through last season and rely almost exclusively on throwing the football. Despite all that pressure being placed on Matt Hasselbeck's shoulders, he enjoyed perhaps his best performance in a Seahawks uniform. Hasselbeck still has plenty left in the tank at just shy of 33 years old, but does the organization have a long-range plan at quarterback?
Doug Farrar: The job Hasselbeck did in the second half of the 2007 season was indeed impressive. Holmgren basically put the playbook on the internet, and his quarterback still got it done. I think Hasselbeck has a few more great years left, especially in an offense that doesn't require him to test a deep arm that he doesn't really have. As far as a long-term replacement plan, it's difficult to say at this time. 2008 will be Holmgren's last year with the team, and incumbent head coach Jim Mora will want his own development projects.
The Seahawks have Seneca Wallace and Charlie Frye behind Hasselbeck at this time. Wallace is an interesting case. He's probably the best athlete on the team, and people have wondered for years what he'd look like as a full-time wide receiver. However, Wallace has improved his mechanics and efficiency as a quarterback over the last few years, and he's one of the better backups around. Frye is an unknown. I wasn't very impressed with what I saw of him in Cleveland – he couldn't stop getting sacked in the same offense that Derek Anderson almost took to the playoffs in 2007 – but maybe there's something the Seahawks see in him. Honestly, I think the Seahawks' next franchise quarterback is preparing for his sophomore or junior year in college.
JC: Shaun Alexander went from MVP of the league to the scrap heap in a stunningly short period of time, and he's still currently unemployed. Veteran backup Maurice Morris looks to be at the top of the running back depth chart these days, but the front office also brought in a pair of free agents with Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett. What do you see from the ground game without Alexander, and how will the rotation work out this season?
DF: Alexander's main problem was that his gliding, slow-developing running style was heavily dependent on an offensive line that had been blown apart by injuries and personnel missteps over the past two seasons. He's not the one-cut-and-go guy who can succeed behind a lighter, quicker line, which is what the Seahawks are preparing to unleash this season. Now that his burst is gone, he'll find it difficult to succeed in the NFL.
The depth chart has Morris and Jones tied at the top, and they'll probably split carries and catches in the regular season. They have very similar skill sets, though Morris is probably quicker through the line while Jones is a better receiver and shiftier in space. We'll probably see more of Jones than Morris against the Bears, because Morris looked great against the Vikings and it's time for Jones to establish his place in the rotation. Duckett's more the one-trick pony – it'll be his job to convert on third and short, which was a major problem for the Seahawks last year.
There are two rookies to watch in this game. There's fullback Owen Schmitt, a facemask-breaking maniac who blocks in a way that superfan Bill Swerski and his kielbasa-eating friends would admire. But the real surprise this preseason has been Justin Forsett, a Pocket Hercules from Cal who brings something different to the table. If you like the styles of Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren Sproles, Forsett will look good to you. He's shifty as you'd want, but he's also strong enough to bull through a defender. Very impressive strength for his size. You'll see a lot of him in the second half.
JC: Bobby Engram has been a solid player in the Emerald City ever since he left Chicago after the 2000 campaign, and the former Bear was better than ever this past year with 94 catches for 1,147 yards receiving – both career highs. What is it that makes him such a good fit for that west coast offense, because he doesn't appear to have an abundance of physical tools at his disposal. Additionally, how big of a loss is D.J. Hackett to the receiving corps?
DF: First of all, you won't see Engram against the Bears – he broke a bone in his shoulder against Minnesota and he could miss up to two months. In the larger sense, he's perfect for this system. While he doesn't have the size or track speed you expect from the NFL's elite at his position, he's amazingly quick in short areas and he's a consummate route runner. Great hands, and he's fearless in traffic. Whenever Hasselbeck needs an escape hatch on third down, he goes to Bobby and the drive continues.
Losing Hackett wasn't a huge deal because he was hurt so often. However, the fact that we still don't know when Deion Branch will return from the ACL injury he suffered in the divisional playoffs means that the receiving corps is very thin right now. The smart money is on Courtney Taylor to get most of the reps, but keep an eye on Ben Obomanu. He has what the Seahawks have needed from Engram – the ability to cut in traffic and make plays. His development is very important right now.
JC: Patrick Kerney doesn't get a lot of fanfare across the NFL, but he was in the running for Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 immediately after leaving Atlanta for Seattle. Kerney had just 11 total sacks his last two seasons with the Falcons, so how was he able to jump all the way up to 14.5 in one year with the Seahawks? And sacks can be an overrated statistic for defensive ends, so give us a quick scouting report on the rest of his game.
DF: Kerney had a torn pectoral muscle in 2006, which limited his effectiveness, He was still recovering from that injury in the first half of the season – eleven of those sacks came in the second half, including three different three-sack games. So we don't really know whether he'll regress to the mean or spread that performance out over a full season. What we do know is that with or without Kerney, the Seahawks have been among the league leaders in sacks over the last few years. He's in a great system for what he does.
Sacks are overrated, but Kerney was also among the league leaders in hits (12) and hurries (17.5, both numbers per Football Outsiders). He's slightly better against the run than your average speed-rushing end, but that's not what he's paid for and the Seahawks have great linebackers. He's there to pin his ears back and go after the quarterback.
JC: Seattle was good but not great in almost every defensive category a year ago: 15th in total defense, 12th against the run, and 19th against the pass. But if you put all those statistics aside, the Seahawks were actually tied for sixth in the league with just 18.2 points allowed per game. What exactly did this unit do in the red zone that kept opposing teams off the scoreboard? On top of that, does the D look to be better or worse after any offseason tweaking?
DF: Yeah, the yards/points ratio will always be a bit off – the bend-but-don't-break zone schemes tend to do that. The improvement against the run was due primarily to rookie tackle Brandon Mebane, who came in and helped an iffy front four clamp down on opposing running backs. Against the pass, the Seahawks benefited from the acquisition of two veteran safeties, Deon Grant and Brian Russell. Both were more intuitive and assignment-correct than predecessors Ken Hamlin and Michael Boulware, though Russell's tackling is a problem. Cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings were helped by an outstanding pass rush. Neither are elite, though Jennings has the man-coverage speed to really impress if he can put it all together. Trufant is a solid technician and a great tackler, but he'll get turned around by the NFL's better receivers.
The Seahawks didn't make a lot of defensive moves in the offseason – the thought is that with the same starting eleven returning, the cohesiveness and consistency will turn this into a top-five unit. If everyone stays healthy, that's certainly possible.
To read Part II of this series, where John answers five questions from Doug, Click Here.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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