.NET: Sharper is excelling quietly in his role as the strong side linebacker in a 4-3, as opposed to the inside in a 3-4 (where he played with Houston). He’s currently fourth on the team in tackles with 24 (19 solo). The leadership role is a bit different than may have been expected, because MLB Lofa Tatupu has really taken the bull by the horns with his instincts and work ethic. Lewis is getting a severe challenge on the weak side from rookie Leroy Hill, who has shown a great ability to wreak havoc in pass rush situations.
To answer your question about Sharper more specifically, I’d say that he’s helping the younger linebackers around him simply by being consistent in his performance – and consistently on the field! Given the horrific injury history of Seattle’s linebackers in recent years, the fact that Sharper has missed barely any time in his nine-year career was undoubtedly a huge factor in Seattle’s off-season interest. He hasn’t disappointed in any way. The continuity he provides is crucial for the kids around him, to be sure.
HPF.com: The Seahawks endured a rather interesting offseason, beginning with the delayed changing of the guard in the front office. What is your assessment in how the situation was handled, and specifically, the contract decisions that were made to a few key players, including Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, and Walter Jones. Was anything missed in all the hubbub?
.NET: Considering how dysfunctional things were at the beginning of the offseason, it’s a miracle more wasn’t missed. Former team president Bob Whitsitt was fired on January 14, 2005, mere days after the team’s wild-card loss to the Rams. At that time, the Seahawks had sixteen free agents to sign or cast aside…and they were also dealing with the departures of able executives Ted Thompson (to Green Bay) and Scot McCloughan (to San Francisco). The cupboard was bare to a frightening degree – and things could have been disastrous were it not for Mike Reinfeldt, the exiled contract and salary cap genius who ran the numbers from 1999 through 2003 until Whitsitt forced him out.
Reinfeldt came back as a consultant in early February and set about signing QB Matt Hasselbeck and LT Walter Jones to long-term deals, which allowed the Seahawks to put the franchise designation on RB Shaun Alexander. By the time Seattle hired new Team President Tim Ruskell in late February, those major pieces were in place. Reinfeldt was the team’s savior in that regard – who’s to say that Ruskell would have taken the job had Hasselbeck, Alexander and Jones remained on the open market? Reinfeldt was rewarded with the full-time position of Vice President of Football Administration. This is now a very tight front office after years of chaos.
Given the fact that he had a ridiculously short time to assess the situation from a free agency and draft perspective after his hire, I personally think Ruskell did a great job putting things back together. Some elite players were lost in free agency – CB Ken Lucas (to Carolina) and DE Chike Okeafor (to Arizona) were the two most prominent names – but Ruskell was able to replace frontline talent with less expensive and fairly equivalent players, which allowed more and better depth. Example: The Seahawks “replaced” Lucas with two players – former Titan Andre Dyson and former Bronco Kelly Herndon – for less than Carolina paid for Lucas alone. In the current cornerback market, that was an absolute stroke of genius.
HPF.com: Speaking of Hasselbeck, he has sprinted out of the gates this season with a 97.1 quarterback rating and a TD:INT ratio of 7:2. He has overcome an inconsistent receiving corps and with the injuries Seattle has suffered at wide receiver, he still made things happen in the win last week over the Rams. Is this a mirage, or has Hasselbeck taken his game to the next level? What is the ceiling for Hasselbeck?
.NET: The primary difference for Matt this year is that he’s got receivers who will actually catch the football! Funny how that helps a quarterback’s numbers…
He’s not a Peyton Manning – he’s not going to break records ostentatiously. But Hasselbeck runs a good game, has an arm accurate enough for the West Coast Offense (a little iffy with the deep ball), and he’s far more competitive than his off-the-field demeanor would lead one to believe. His performance against the Rams was not only a triumph for Hasselbeck himself – it was also a coup for the front office and their ability to assess depth needs. Joe Jurevicius and D.J. Hackett subbed very well for the injured Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram.
Another factor in Hasselbeck’s favor is his offensive line. We’ll talk about this later, as the offensive line as an overall subject is certainly on the minds of Texans fans everywhere!
HPF.com: As for Alexander, his game – which was already productive to begin with – seems to be improved in the early going this year as well. His per-carry average has increased a half yard from a year ago (and almost a full yard from ’02-’03) to 5.3 yards. Is he just running toward the free agency ATM this offseason, or has something changed with him, too? And do you really think he’ll be playing elsewhere next season, or is that just posturing from either side, given the peculiar no-franchise tag clause in his one-year deal?
.NET: No doubt the “ATM” Is foremost in Shaun’s mind – the Seahawks did do a one-year deal with Shaun which prevents them from franchising him next season. Not only is his production up, but Alexander is obliterating the criticisms about his playing style that have hounded him despite his production. He’s never been a willing blocker out of the backfield – but he’s better at the “dirty work” this season. His reception numbers had dropped severely in 2003 and 2004, but that’s picking up a little. And the primary dent in his reputation is the past perception that he goes down far too easily and fears contact. This year, he has been more forceful when hitting the hole. Right now, he is as complete a back as he’s ever been.
At the beginning of the season, I thought there was no chance he’d be a Seahawk in 2006. I assumed the team would want someone who fit the WCO better (like Brian Westbrook) and that Shaun would want to be the main man in a run-heavy offense. But if he keeps this level of performance going throughout the year and the Seahawks keep winning because of that, there might be an accord between player and team. I’m still not entirely convinced that this will happen, but I now see it as a possibility.
HPF.com: This also looks to be the year that tight end Jerramy Stevens puts it all together, as he’s had five straight games with three catches in each. Has he finally matured - or at least harnessed that potential - for the long-term? With receiver Darrell Jackson now out for a few more weeks, do you see that trend continuing or even improving?
.NET: Stevens enjoyed some sort of epiphany in the offseason. After three years of nothing but unfulfilled potential, the 2002 first-round draft pick went through minicamps, training camp and the preseason working like a demon and imploring Hasselbeck to trust him on the field. So far, so good – he came up with an incredible diving catch in Seattle’s Week Two victory over Atlanta, and he’s an ungodly target at 6’7” and 260 pounds. He could be nearly impossible to defend in the end zone if he keeps his game together.
And yes, with Jackson and Engram out for the time being, you could see a lot of Stevens this Sunday.
HPF.com: Following the team’s battle with Texas against the Texans and Cowboys, the Seahawks have a bye in Week 8. Would mind if the Texans borrowed Walter Jones for their game that Sunday? They could really use the help at left tackle.
.NET: You can’t have Walter. Nobody can!!! He’s the best offensive lineman in the NFL. When he’s really on his game, he’s among the best players in football. Ask Patrick Kerney of the Falcons and Bert Berry of the Cardinals – those guys probably should have filed police reports after what Big Walt did to them this season.
Jones leads Seattle’s offensive line, a very powerful unit. Joining him on the left side is All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson. If you want to get to Hasselbeck, you aren’t going to do it from that end. And when Alexander rumbles left, it’s a problem for opposing defenses. C Robbie Tobeck and RG Chris Gray are wily vets who can be pushed around a bit too much at times. RT Sean Locklear has been solid in spot duty as Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack recovers from various injuries.
HPF.com: On defense, Texans fans are going to recognize a few names on the Seahawks’ depth chart that played their college ball in this state – linebacker D.D. Lewis and defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs of Texas, and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard of Texas A&M (lest I forget little-used reserve receiver Jerheme Urban of Trinity, too). I imagine, much like the former ‘Texans’ on the Chargers’ roster when they played in Houston last season, that these guys will have a little extra motivation playing against a team from near their old stomping grounds. How has each played relative to expectations so far this season (i.e. Lewis is starting and Bernard already has three sacks? Who saw that coming)? While I’m at it, would you mind if the Texans sent you all of their Washington players (LS Bryan Pittman and TE Mark Bruener) in exchange for those three?
.NET: Bernard has been a pleasant surprise, no doubt. His previous season high in sacks was 4 in his rookie year of 2002. Seeing him with 3.5 already this year is great, especially considering the fact that he essentially fills a backup role in the DT rotation – Marcus Tubbs and Chuck Darby are the starters.
Tubbs was a disappointment last season – injuries and the death of his mother conspired to sap his strength and focus. This season has been a rebirth for him. Tubbs is not a statistical giant, but he’s the one taking on double teams as the point of focus in Seattle’s interior defensive line.
As I mentioned before, Lewis, who missed all of 2004 with a shoulder injury, could lose his starting WLB position to Leroy Hill over time. That’s less an indictment of Lewis as it is a glowing reflection of Hill’s early performance. If Lewis wants to buck that trend, he’d best do it with a quickness.
HPF.com: There weren’t too many questions about the offense heading into this season, with the thought that the Seahawks’ playoff hopes rested upon how well their defense improved from a year ago. With a revamped linebacking group to go with the young talent at defensive back, will these guys hold up this season into the winter months? And just what is the defensive philosophy employed by coordinator Ray Rhodes? Can you please ask him not to blitz too hard on third downs this week? Pretty please?
.NET: Ray’s blitzing a bit more this year, in concert with linebackers coach (and former Carolina defensive coordinator) John Marshall, who has been calling the defense this season so far. Rhodes suffered a mild stroke last month, and he’s been a consultant and advisor while Marshall handles the big picture. Last year, David Carr and that horrifically porous Houston offensive line may have had a chance to emerge unscathed – Rhodes is known for taking a base 4-3 with little in the way of scheming or stunting, and he’ll back his defense off into a soft zone at the drop of a dime. There’s been less of that this season, which I would attribute to both Marshall and the possibility that Rhodes has a little more faith in his personnel.
HPF.com: What will it take for head coach Mike Holmgren to finally get fired? Is he safe as long as he keeps winning at least nine games every season, or was last year the last, last, lastlastlastest time that will be acceptable? Has owner Paul Allen just blacked out since Holmgren last had Brett Favre as his quarterback?
.NET: While I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Holmgren is quite possibly an overrated coach (at least he used to be - his star has fallen precipitously in the last few years), I’m not all about the “Favre made Holmy’s team go” theory, either. Holmgren had an unbelievable braintrust in Green Bay, starting with the near-immortal Ron Wolf at the top, and talent like Andy Reid, Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci and Dick Jauron on his coaching staff. He’s never found the defensive coordinator worthy of replacing the late Fritz Shurmur (Rhodes has not yet proven to be the answer), and the management he was dealing with in a day-to-day basis in Seattle under Bob Whitsitt was nightmarish at best.
With a more solid team, and intelligent discipline the order of the day in the front office now, Holmgren now has his best chance to win in Seattle. I can’t see him lasting here if he can’t put an end to the team’s two-decade playoff victory drought this year…but I’ve been wrong about his lifespan in Seattle before.
HPF.com: Visiting teams despised the crowd noise in the Seahawks’ old home at the Kingdome, not unlike the racket that bounced off the walls of the Astrodome during Houston’s first foray into the NFL. Yet, the Seahawks seem to have played very well in their new home of late, dating back at least to the end of last season. How has the switch to an outdoor stadium changed the atmosphere for pro football games in Seattle, and does anyone miss the old dome, if only for sentimental reasons? Or did Seattle police have to hold back the fans from throwing extra dynamite on the old place?
.NET: The Kingdome has a place in my heart forever, as I saw three of my favorite entities there – the Seahawks, the Mariners and Metallica! It was a wonderful place for football, although no baseball fan in his right mind misses it. Qwest Field (formerly Seahawks Stadium) is an amazing place, and the passion of the fans still shines through – maybe not with the same sheer frightening volume (we are, after all, at an “acoustic disadvantage” in a comparative sense), but with the very same amount of soul.
Keith Weiland writes the "Advance Scout" column for Houstonprofootball.com, the leading independent website for Houston Texans coverage. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.