The roster has undergone a major facelift. Gone (via release, trade or free agency) are LB Anthony Simmons, FS Damien Robinson, CB Bobby Taylor, RT Chris Terry, WR Koren Robinson, LB Chad Brown, QB Trent Dilfer, CB Ken Lucas, DE Chike Okeafor, DT/DE Brandon Mitchell and FB Heath Evans. The new faces include P Leo Araguz, LB Kevin Bentley, DE Joe Tafoya, DT Chuck Darby, DE Bryce Fisher, CB Kelly Herndon, WR Joe Jurevicius, WR Jerome Pathon, LB Jamie Sharper, CB Andre Dyson and FS John Howell.
That's a whole lotta shufflin'. So is that good or bad?
As the disappointing seasons come and go, I find myself waging a mental war as each new one approaches. I feel a pull towards a morass of negativity that this new season will turn out like all the rest (Mr. Glass Half-Empty). I might spend a few days immersed in that glass, but then someone shouts at me from the top of Mount Optimism and I start feeling pretty good. That person who shouts at me is called Mr. Glass Half-Full.
And so it begins anew. I have already started having these "gray matter debates" in my head, where the two sides send volleys back and forth at each other like it's Wimbledon. The good news is that I haven't started to make these mental conversations audible, nor have I started dressing up like Little Bo Peep. If that happens, I'll need to start talking about what time K-Mart opens, or push forth my overwhelming need to watch "The People's Court".
Here's how the conversation has gone recently:
HALF-EMPTY: This team’s critical weakness over the last several seasons has been the pass rush. Opposing quarterbacks had way too much time in the pocket last season. One had so much time, he was able to trim a Bonsai tree. I don't see how that has improved at all. In fact, they let the leading sack guy (DE Chike Okeafor) go to a division rival.
HALF-FULL: True about Okeafor, but in his place is the leading sacker from archrival St. Louis (Bryce Fisher). You also forget that DE Grant Wistrom missed the majority of last season with injuries, and that 2004 #1 pick Marcus Tubbs was a wash. If he can improve his contribution even 50%, that's a major boost. And there's always the Peter Boulware factor. We all know he'll sign with the Seahawks so he can play with his little brother.
HALF-EMPTY: Then we have the dropped passes. Fittingly, the 2004 season ended on a dropped pass. How apropos. The Seahawks have finished near the top of the league in drops each of the last two seasons. They even acquired the greatest wide receiver in NFL history last season and even he started dropping passes. Must be something in the water at Qwest Field.
HALF-FULL: "Apropos"? No need to go all $2 word on me. Despite all the dropped passes the last few seasons, the offense has still churned up enough yardage to finish in the top-10 in the NFL. And QB Matt Hasselbeck inked a new long-term deal, which speaks volumes. If all the drops wore him down, he could have gone elsewhere. The worst culprit was Koren Robinson, and he's gone. We have replaced him with the sure handed Joe Jurevicius and Jerome Pathon. Subtract one bad egg and add two character guys who can actually catch the ball? That's a net gain.
HALF-EMPTY: Well what about that defense? Instead of progress, they went from #19 in 2003 to #26 last season. There was also the ridiculous ways in which they handed over games to the St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys.
HALF-FULL: What did you expect with all those injuries? Granted, the defense did not play well - but then again, they didn't have much to work with, either.
I've come to understand that where Seahawks fans fall on the "half full vs. half empty" line directly correlates to just how much they can stomach. Some are eternal optimists who find no fault in anything this franchise does. At the polar opposite, some nitpick everything down to the size of the logo on the teams jerseys. Honestly, neither viewpoint is off base. I can empathize with those who foresee nothing but doom and gloom. I also appreciate the merit of staying positive.
I've been a Seahawks fan since 1978, and I'm not showing signs of jumping ship anytime soon. Maybe that means I just have a large threshold for the sublime, the ridiculous, the disappointing.
But I will say that this team better be ready to play coming out of camp this year. The first five games can all be considered "tough". At Jacksonville, who features a strong defense and a warm, humid playing environment. Home against Atlanta, who reached the NFC Championship last season. Home against Arizona, who gave the Hawks all they could handle last season and who have had what many pundits assess as the best off-season. On the road in Washington, who also feature a very good defense. And then it's on to the "House of Horrors", the Edward Jones Dome. That's the home of the Rams – who, in case you haven't noticed, have won four straight against the Hawks. A place where the Seahawks have never won.
Looking at those first five games, the possibility exists that the Seahawks will start 0-5...
...or 5-0 (I just received a mental e-mail that Mr. Half-Empty has been sent on vacation). Enough of the pessimism.
Clubhouse miscreants Simmons and Robinson are gone. So is the troubled Terry. Walter Jones is signed long-term, and he will be in training camp (hey Walt, use Mapquest if you need to find Cheney). The depth at receiver includes veterans who can catch the ball, as well as some promising young guys (Hackett, Urban, Wallace). Hasselbeck does not have the worry of a new contract hanging over his head. I hated to see Chad Brown leave, but we replaced him with Sharper. Brown has played in 29 games the last three seasons, Sharper 48. TE Jerramy Stevens might finally reach his potential, and Tubbs almost counts as an extra #1 pick this season, as he is re-motivated to validate his selection. Up and coming linebackers D.D. Lewis and Tracy White are back from injuries. CB Marcus Trufant and FS Ken Hamlin are only going to get better, and versatile offensive linemen "Pork Chop" Womack finally has the opportunity to play full time.
Somehow, despite the inordinate amount of free agents heading into the off-season (thanks, Mr. Whitsitt), the front office has managed to keep the core of this team together. That's the same core that has been to the playoffs the last two seasons.
I'm not worried about the schedule, or starting well. The Seahawks are 6-0 in the last two seasons during weeks 1-3. My concern is the team unity, with all the new parts, and how they respond to adversity. They also need to learn how to slap the Rams around the field. As of today, the Rams own the Seahawks. Plain and simple, that needs to change.
What will happen when this team is leading late in the game, and the ghosts of 2004 try to spook them? Will they hear the rattle of chains if a lead starts to whither away? Will the hair on the backs of their necks stand up as if chilled by the presence of a spirit of defeat?
I already have my "take me to a happy place" vision set aside for that first critical dropped pass or defensive breakdown. I can only hope that those trips to my happy place are few and far between this season. The way this team responds to challenge and struggle may dictate whether Mr. Half-Empty or Mr. Hall-Full sways you, or if you even keep your glass intact at all.
Greg Renick is a writer for talkhawks.com, and his articles are syndicated to Seahawks.NET. Feel free to contact Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.