QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Matt Hasselbeck. Backups -- Seneca Wallace, David Greene, Gibran Hamdan.
Hasselbeck should be more relaxed after signing a six-year contract in the offseason. The deal has also given him the credibility needed to become more of a leader in the locker room. He had better stay healthy, however, because the Seahawks lack experience behind him. Trent Dilfer was a calming influence on Hasselbeck and the entire offense. He thought like a coach and served as a sounding board for Hasselbeck. Dilfer also won games when called upon, although his performances were often short on artistic merit. Without Dilfer, Seattle may investigate the possibility of a veteran passer before camp. If not, Wallace and the rookie Greene – neither of whom has ever played in a regular season NFL game - will be the second and third quarterbacks. Hamdan impressed with the Amsterdam Admirals of the NFL Europe League before breaking his collarbone halfway through the NFLEL season. He’s expected to be healthy by the start of training camp on July 29, but there probably isn’t room for him on the roster.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Shaun Alexander, FB Mack Strong. Backups -- RB Maurice Morris, RB Kerry Carter, RB Marquis Weeks, RB Jesse Lumsden, FB Leonard Weaver, FB Tony Jackson, FB R.J. Luke.
Seattle is rock-solid in the backfield if Alexander reports on time and Strong can maintain his reliability. If those factors don’t play out, the Seahawks have reason to be a bit nervous. Alexander will probably report in time for the regular season. If not, he stands to lose $370,000 a week in paychecks. Morris and Carter won't make anyone forget Alexander, but they are probably good enough to share the load if Holmgren leans a little more heavily on the passing game. Strong, who turns 34 on opening day, has struggled a bit more with injuries in recent years. Seattle lacks experience and depth behind him.
TIGHT END: Starter -- Jerramy Stevens. Backups -- Itula Mili, Ryan Hannam.
This is probably the year Stevens finally emerges as a starter. His off-field problems finally appear to be a thing of the past. No one impressed teammates more than Stevens this offseason. He was certainly more committed than Mili, who ballooned to 290 pounds before working his way back into shape. Mili has the experience and last year he was able to win back the staring job. Stevens has all the physical tools to become a favorite target for Hasselbeck. It helps that Hasselbeck wants to reward Stevens for his efforts this offseason. Hannam will have a hard time bouncing back from knee trouble.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram, Joe Jurevicius. Backups -- Jerome Pathon, Jerheme Urban, Alex Bannister, Marque Davis, Taco Wallace, Jason Willis, D.J. Hackett.
Mike Holmgren’s precamp projection has Jackson and Engram split wide, with Jurevicius in the slot. Speed is in short supply for this group, but it’s more important that Seattle’s receivers improve their reliability after leading the NFL in dropped passes over the last two seasons. Jurevicius will help in that regard, and Koren Robinson’s release will help in any number of ways. Pathon was acquired in the offseason via free agency, but apparently landed in Holmgren’s doghouse after showing up to a passing camp slightly out of shape. Urban is a try-hard guy who will look to climb up the depth chart. Bannister is hurt again (collarbone) and his return is crucial to Seattle’s special teams. Hackett has a chance to stick in the rotation if he can stay healthy for a change.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Walter Jones, LG Steve Hutchinson, C Robbie Tobeck, RG Chris Gray, RT Floyd Womack. Backups -- C Chris Spencer, G Jerry Wunsch, T Wayne Hunter, G/T Sean Locklear, G Andy King, G Steven Gibbs, G William Henry, T Ray Willis, C Joey Hollenbeck.
This is one of the better lines in the league, even though a few questions linger on the right side. Jones might be the best tackle in the game. He's a better run blocker than people realize. Hutchinson has a mean streak to match his superior talents as a road grader in the run game. Tobeck is among the smartest centers in the league, but this is probably his last year as the starter after Seattle used a first-round pick on Chris Spencer. The trouble spots are on the right side. Gray has started 90 games in a row for Seattle and that's probably too many. He's 35 years old and vulnerable against big tackles. Womack was once the player Seattle wanted to groom at RG, but his future is probably outside. Locklear, a second-year tackle, impressed when given brief time on the starting line. Willis is a fourth-round pick who might project as a guard in the NFL.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LDE Bryce Fisher, LDT Cedric Woodard, RDT Rashad Moore, RDE Grant Wistrom. Backups -- DE Antonio Cochran, DE Otis Leverette, DE Jeb Huckeba, DE Joe Tafoya, DE Kevin Emanuel, DE Christian Mohr, DT Chuck Darby, DT Cedric Woodard, DT Rocky Bernard, DT Marcus Tubbs, DT Ron Smith, DT Craig Terrill.
The DT situation remains in flux. Tubbs will push hard for a starting spot and shoulder trouble could hinder Moore's ability to fend him off. Both players have had reputations as underachiever types, although Moore has overcome that label and Tubbs’ disappointing rookie season came with mitigating factors. Darby could get a shot because new president Tim Ruskell wants high-energy types in the lineup. Darby's motor never stops, even if it's a small motor. Wistrom is healthy again after a disappointing first season in Seattle. His energy and overall playmaking helped the defense to a No. 1 ranking early last year. Without him, Seattle's defense slid all the way to 26th by season's end. Fisher was the third DE for the Rams, but he'll be asked to start in Seattle after the team lost Chike Okeafor in free agency. That's a gamble. Unless Fisher surprises, Seattle again looks like a team that might not get enough pressure with its front four.
This is why, aside from the Shaun Alexander soap opera, Seattle’s possible pursuit of Peter Boulware is the most intriguing pre-training camp story. If Seattle acquired the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker, he’d be projected as a situational pass-rushing DE.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Jamie Sharper, MLB Niko Koutouvides, WLB D.D. Lewis. Backups -- MLB Lofa Tatupu, LB Isaiah Kacyvenski, LB Solomon Bates, LB Cornelius Wortham, LB LeRoy Hill, LB Tracy White, LB Kevin Bentley, LB Terrence Robinson, LB Tim Galloway.
This unit needed and received a major offseason overhaul. Veterans Chad Brown and Anthony Simmons are gone. Both had been injured too much to be much help in recent years. Sharper has been a warrior for the Ravens and Texans, and he’s the only Seahawks linebacker with significant NFL starting experience. Tatupu could win the starting job over Koutouvides in the middle, even as a rookie. Seattle took a lot of heat for drafting him in the second round, but Ruskell thinks he might have found the next Zach Thomas. We'll see. Lewis should anchor the weak side unless his surgically repaired shoulder breaks down again. Seattle needs Lewis to stay healthy and produce. Sharper aside, there are a great many question marks here.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Marcus Trufant, RCB Andre Dyson, SS Michael Boulware, FS Ken Hamlin. Backups -- CB Kelly Herndon, CB B.J. Tucker, CB Kris Richard, CB Kevin House, CB Omare Lowe, CB Michael Harden, S John Howell, S Terreal Bierria, S Marquand Manuel, S Junior Rosegreen, S Jordan Babineaux, S Jamaal Brimmer, S Terry Holley.
Dyson and Herndon were affordable free-agent pickups who should pay dividends right away. Dyson's cover skills are above average. Herndon is a scrapper who might be best suited as the nickel cornerback. Although Seattle will miss Ken Lucas’ big play ability, Dyson and Herndon provide valuable depth which was missing last season in the Seahawks’ frequent nickel sets. Trufant is coming off shoulder surgery again and his health could be an issue. He has Pro Bowl talent, but hasn't quite taken that final step.
Boulware was already a star as a rookie. His knack for the game-turning turnover separates him from every player on the defense, as do his study habits. This should be a huge year for him. Hamlin finished strong last year but he's coming off shoulder surgery. Manuel is looking like the first safety off the bench, even though Bierria started last year. Bierria was not helped at all by his severe limitations in pass coverage. Rosegreen, an undrafted free agent from Auburn who picked off six passes in his senior season (including four in one game), could factor in…but the question is where. He’s thought of by some as too small to be an NFL safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: P Donnie Jones, K Josh Brown, LS J.P. Darche.
The punting situation remains in flux. Jones, Leo Araguz, Chris Kluwe and Ryan Dutton all have a shot. Brown is the third-year incumbent who connected on 23 of 25 field goals in 2004. He could be an elite kicker if the depth of his kickoffs improves.