The Ruskellization of the Seahawks

In the wake of what can best be described as an unconventional draft, Seahawks fans everywhere reacted initially by shaking and scratching their heads. With no players that command raucous cheers from pundits or a majority of fans, it is tempting to say they blew it. The signs were there beforehand. We were warned.

The common conception of this year’s draft class was one where very few players really stood head and shoulders above the rest, and had a large class of players that were very close in overall value through several rounds. The talent curve was pretty flat, by all accounts.

There were very few players whose positive attributes were not offset at least a little by some negative critique. Some players were “great pass rushers” but maybe their speed was too “straight line” to be effective at the pro level. Many had superior speed, but inferior size or strength, or vice versa. The requisite number of players came with off-field baggage and concerns about character and work ethic.

Tim Ruskell prefaced the draft by stating categorically that he would place emphasis on things like team fit and character. It is easy to worry that he would do so at the expense of talent and production. The results look promising in many ways. While all of this year’s crop of players score glowing marks in the character, leadership, and work ethic areas, they are also players that contributed significant measurable statistics to their college teams. Most were team or squad captains. Most come with pedigrees of team, conference and NCAA awards.

There was significant press that labeled some, or even most of this Seahawks draft a “reach.” But if early evaluations were true to form, the ground was sown with the probability that people would disagree significantly about the value of the players available. One team might value a player that fits their system as a second round talent, while another team would call him a fourth round value at most.

One thing absent from sportswriters and talent evaluators not affiliated with a specific team is the need or ability or even the concern to speculate on how well a player might fit a specific team. The Mel Kipers of the world don’t have to worry about such things.

They do lip service to matters of fit, of course. But that generally does not go beyond stating “Team X needs a quarterback,” then opining that they should take the “best quarterback available.” Best available ratings too often stop at what can be measured, as if the process was a science. But it isn’t, it’s an art form. Individual teams have to somehow factor in questions about how well a specific player will fit into the system they use. Failure to do so can be painful.

The Seahawks did need a quarterback. They picked Georgia’s David Greene in the third round. Many “experts” called that a reach, but the team weighed the need, the fit, and the possibility that he would be selected by some other team before our next pick. Apparently, they considered him a good fit, because he was rated very high in the short to medium passing game that our West Coast Offense uses. They also must have had some concern that another team would select him, or they would have waited to pick him.

The same logic pertains to our first-round pick. Robbie Tobeck will not live forever. Durable and dependable are perhaps the best things to say about Tobeck’s game. He is reasonably mobile and very smart, but has always been just a little light in the butt to push modern defensive tackles around.

Spencer fixes that, at least in the long term. Deemed by many to be the best interior offensive lineman in this year’s draft, and described by some as the best center to come out in 10 years, this kid has had high hopes and expectations heaped on him. There are some who think he could start this year. While that seems doubtful, it is comforting to know that we have added someone to our offensive line that could anchor it for a few years. His press conference was, at any rate, a home run.

Clearly, Tim Ruskell is not picking based entirely on character issues. Apparently in his universe players can have both character and talent.

This brings us to the larger issue of the current off season as a whole.

There was much criticism of the selection process which resulted in the hiring of Tim Ruskell. Certainly, the end result has been praised, as he is widely respected around the league.

There was some criticism of Ruskell about letting Ken Lucas and Chike Okeafor leave in free agency as well as releasing Anthony Simmons and Chad Brown. Arguably some our best defensive players were lost to the team in the month after Ruskell came aboard, and some might say that he did not try hard enough to retain them. However, quotes by several players after the event would lead one to believe that allowing those moves as lightly contested as they were was part of the Ruskell attitudectomy.

Free agent acquisitions this year didn’t arrive on life support. Andre Dyson and Chuck Darby, at least, are in the primes of their careers. Joe Jurevicius and Jerome Pathon are a bit older, but have still been productive recently. All in all, the talent level has not dropped, and it could be argued that it has improved. Certainly Simmons and Chad Brown had durability concerns. In Simmons’ case, it could be argued that his rehabs from past injuries have been slower than expected, giving rise to concerns about his real desire to get back in action.

The new players, veteran and rookie, at least express a desire to be here and a sense of gratitude to the Seahawks for giving them the chance to play.

Looking back at last year’s record reveals some interesting facts. We were 0-3 against arch-rival St. Louis, but 9-5 against the rest of the league. The Rams, 3-0 against us, were 6-11 against the rest. In the twelve regular season games against common opponents, Seattle was 8-4, while the Rams were 5-7. If you include the loss to the Falcons in the playoffs, they were 5-8.

What does that indicate except an absence of heart? Nobody wants to say that the other guy has their number, but the losses to the Rams were indicators of their winning the battle of wills as much as anything. The overall record, and especially the record against common opponents says that the Seahawks do not have a talent deficit when compared with our most maddening rival. In fact, it indicates that we may have more talent. In the face of that evidence, Ruskell has prescribed a heart transplant.

Time will tell if the new players he has brought in to replace what were widely considered pretty talented guys have the heart to win when they should.

Overall, our 2005 Seahawks are not less talented than the 2004 version. We are definitely younger, and presumably less susceptible to injury. We are left with the question: Will they play 4 quarters every game, without regard to the score or situation?

Do they have heart?

Steve Utz writes frequently for Seahawks.NET. Send your feedback to Steve at sutz12@comcast.net.


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