Are We There Yet? (2004 Version)

Steve Utz comments on last week's draft, how good our team is, the off-season, and the nature of fandom.

The draft is over, for better or worse. Much has been presented, pro and con, concerning just how good the 2004 draft was for the Seahawks. Many logical arguments have been presented on both sides, including a lot of what-if, “shoulda-coulda-woulda” scenarios. I would grade the whole draft out at about a B or so. Not earth-shaking, nor particularly sexy, but effective.

I won’t add individual critiques of the players selected here. That has been pretty well covered by people better informed than I. They all seem to be pretty good picks, if you want solid role players. Did we pick anybody that will come in and jump-start this team and immediately start playing at a Pro Bowl level? Probably not. But, that doesn’t bother me much.

That reflects where the team is, anyway. We don’t need a new “franchise” player. Arguably, we have that in Hasselbeck. This is a pretty good team. They did make the playoffs last season, and did so in fairly strong fashion. The playoff loss was more of a wake-up call than an embarrassment. Teams like Dallas and Denver, that had rather pathetic showings in first round playoff losses last season, appear to have more holes than we do.

I’m not here to argue that we didn’t need substantial help on the Defensive line. But the truth is, after we re-signed Woodard and brought Wistrom in, what that squad needed was quality depth, not a re-build. Woodard and Moore played pretty well down the stretch last season and no one should be overly concerned about them starting this season. However, it would be foolish to start the 2004 campaign with them as the only big DTs on the team. Presumably, the problem is taken care of.

The secondary was treated well this off season too. The veteran Bobby Taylor and the rookie Michael Boulware are both intriguing additions. Much like on the D-line, adding talented vets and young studs should provide immediate improvement, as well as long term stability.

The linebackers have not been bolstered as much as the other units, but maybe that’s okay. After all, shoring up the D-line to protect them from the offensive linemen should significantly improve their performance.

Now, we enter the doldrums of the football year. Post draft, there is little of any import happening anywhere, and probably won’t until June, when the next round of cuts will occur. In truth, not much really happens then either. Around the league, teams are learning to maintain their salary caps more effectively, meaning that there are fewer June 1 cuts of any value any more. But one never knows, and it does look like the team will be prepared with a couple of million in cap space available after the rookies are signed. It is a sign of a well run team that they won’t have to restructure any veteran contracts or release anybody to sign the new draftees.

It is a difficult time of year for fans. News arrives in dribs and drabs, and for the most part is insignificant. But, as mentioned above, that is an indicator of good things. As a playoff team, there isn’t much to do anyway.

As an out of state fan, I don’t think too heavily on the local Seattle fans. I just envy them, for the most part. Last weekend, my brother visited me here in Southern California and he wondered how I could follow the team so closely. Thanks to the internet, it has become much easier to do so.

But, he is not a football fan, nor a sports fan in general. That intrigued me, and as I talked to him over the weekend, it came out that he had been a fan at one time. Yes, my brother is a disaffected fan, whose loyalty was squandered during the Behring years by a team front office that seemingly had no interest in cultivating the local fans in their attempt to move the team to California. In short, he is exactly the type of fan the team needs so desperately to win back into the fold. He has returned to his home in Auburn now. Perhaps, once the season is underway, I can come up and take him to a game.

Can we pull him back into the fold? I don’t know. I’m not inclined to force him to be a fan, of course. But I was watching an old sports movie, “Major League” and I was struck by the romantic nature of the depiction of how a sports team can energize a community and draw it together. That is all Hollywood, of course, but there is something else there that we can identify with.

Having a football team we can be proud of can add to the pride we have in our community. There is a kind of sentimental value in that that transcends the cold hard economics it all a little bit. Yes, pro football is a business, but it is a business that can’t be run strictly on dollars and cents. There is a bit more a team has to do to win the hearts and support of its local fans. A team has to prove it can win and in so doing make the community look good. While the Seahawks’ commitment to winning may have not seemed very strong to some over the past few years, the 2003 season was a wake up call for all of us.

In contrast to the prior regime, the current front office seems better organized, calmer, and looks more like a group with a plan and the means to carry it out. Gone are the crazy off season attempts to build the team through free agency, resulting in questionable high dollar contracts for underachieving individual players. In its place is a more reasoned approach, always with an eye on the long term affects that personnel moves will have. This group eschews sexy draft day trades and moves to cherry pick “star” college athletes and instead looks for hard working, team oriented players that are coachable and have an appreciation for where they are.

There is a new attitude that many fans don’t really understand. There is a confidence around the front office now. It comes from the knowledge that the Seattle Seahawks are a good team now. Yes, they need to get better. But the bar has been raised and there is an expectation that the team can do so much more.

Formerly, the team was always plugging holes. Now, the team has precious few holes to fill. For the most part, our class of 2004 draftees, if they make the team, will be adding to the mix, rather than providing instant solutions for glaring weaknesses. The Seahawks are starting to look like a team, not just a group of players wearing the same uniforms.

Are we there yet? Well, no one really knows, of course. But there is a feeling, an excitement surrounding this team that says we’re close. Everybody is expecting more in 2004.

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