.NET: Seattle’s biggest weakness is the same it’s been over the last few seasons – a moribund special teams unit which not only fails to capitalize on opportunities, but frequently puts the offense and defense in the hole with infuriating penalties on both sides of the return team. The Seahawks currently rank 2nd in the NFL in points scored (one tenth of a point behind Indy with a 29.1 PPG average) and 4th in the NFL in points allowed (16.8 PPG)…but they’re 14th in punt return average (8.3 YPR) and 16th in kickoff return average (22.1 YPR). In addition, the Seahawks rank 22nd in net yardage per punt (36.2). This is the one factor that could really hurt Seattle in the postseason, when mistakes become magnified.
New special teams coach Bob Casullo got the booby prize when he sanctioned the release of punters Chris Kluwe and Donnie Jones in favor of Leo Araguz, who, to my knowledge, isn’t even in the NFL right now after his poor performance led the Seahawks to release him in favor of veteran Tom Rouen. Jones currently leads the NFL in net average for the Dolphins, and Kluwe is excelling in Minnesota.
ColtPower: Who is Seattle’s most promising rookie?
.NET: There are two. The name known to most is second-round pick Lofa Tatupu, the impressive MLB from USC. Tatupu was considered a reach by most draft “experts” as the 45th overall selection (the typical dunderheaded “too small, too slow” stuff), but he quickly decimated all doubts as to his ability to succeed in the NFL. He was calling the defense as early as his first minicamp, and he has transferred his frightening ability to read offenses from the college level. A favorite Tatupu story originated at the 2005 Orange Bowl, when he was yelling Oklahoma’s plays to Sooner QB Jason White pre-snap. USC trounced Oklahoma 55-19 on the way to their second straight national championship. Tatupu hasn’t stopped for a second since. He has everything needed to make a real difference at his position, and an extreme desire to prove the naysayers wrong. At this point, the naysayers are curiously silent. Tatupu is currently the frontrunner for the Defensive Rookie of the Year title.
The real under-the-radar rookie is OLB Leroy Hill from Clemson. Hill was named the 2004 ACC Defensive Player of the Year (beating out a certain Shawne Merriman for the award). The Seahawks got a steal when they took Hill in the third round. Hill’s specialty in the NFL has been the pass rush – he has a real knack for penetrating in blitz packages. His seven sacks tell the story. He has been starting at SLB in place of the injured Jamie Sharper, and has performed very admirably. Hill has ten more tackles than Merriman, and he should receive at least the occasional mention as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate…but most don’t know his name.
ColtPower: What are the biggest differences between the Seahawks' top two wide receivers?
.NET: The receiver situation has been interesting for the Seahawks, in that Darrell Jackson, their top man, just returned last Sunday from a ten-week absence caused by a knee injury. Jackson is a deep threat with great route-running skills who is tough to press at the line of scrimmage. I would hesitate to put Jackson in Marvin Harrison’s class, but he’s pretty close when healthy. If Harrison’s an “A+” receiver, I’d say Jackson is an “A-”. His one past liability – a propensity to drop easy throws – is a distant memory.
Bobby Engram and Joe Jurevicius were asked to step up in Jackson’s stead, and both men have done so. Engram leads the team in receptions (63) and yards (735). He’s a tough, slightly undersized possession receiver whose specialty is extending drives with crucial third-down receptions. Like Jurevicius, Engram can play wide or in the slot.
Jurevicius is a personal favorite player of mine – has been since his days in Tampa Bay. I was a huge admirer of Denver WR Ed McCaffrey and the way he would fearlessly go after any ball and fight for yardage after the catch. Jurevicius is McCaffrey’s virtual reincarnation – both men are 6’5”, both were originally drafted by the New York Giants, both men perform beyond their scouting reports into their intangibles, and Jurevicius currently wears #87, just like Easy Ed used to. Jurevicius has caught 9 TDs this year (his height makes him an optimal red zone threat), but his blocking has been just as important to the team. He’s a violent blocker who has no fear of contact. This speaks to his “team-first” mindset. I was ecstatic when Seattle acquired Jurevicius in the off-season, and he has exceeded my positive projections. He could wind up being the NFL’s best free-agent signing of 2005.
ColtPower: How big a role do the tight ends play in the Seattle offense?
.NET: I’d say the roles played are in decent proportion of production, but there are only so many footballs to go around! Jerramy Stevens is enjoying his best season in 2005. His first three years with the Seahawks were a study in disappointment, as the team and their fans kept waiting for Stevens to break out. With his physical gifts (he stands 6’7” and weighs 260, and he’s surprisingly quick for his size), there’s no reason he couldn’t be an elite NFL tight end.
TE Ryan Hannam’s value is at the line of scrimmage – he’s a great blocker, and he’s added strength to that already stellar offensive line.
Itula Mili, who has been Seattle’s most reliable tight end in past seasons, hasn’t been a factor this year due to medical issues (intestinal blockage) and Stevens’ ascendance.
ColtPower: What are the biggest differences between this year's team and the ones of recent seasons?
.NET: The biggest difference between the 2005 Seahawks and previous incarnations? Quite simply, it’s from the neck up. Teams with ungodly talent, and equally enormous issues regarding production, teamwork and discipline have marked the Holmgren era in Seattle.
When new Team President/GM Tim Ruskell came on board in February, he immediately went to work changing the culture. Certainly, the recent Patriots were a model, but Ruskell had his own ideas and ingredients to add to his high-character/high-intangible mix. Any player who was too old, didn’t fit the system or didn’t get with the program was summarily dismissed – and it’s telling that most of those players currently don’t have jobs with other teams.
Previously, certain favored players would get chance after chance on the field despite reprehensible and dangerous behavior in the community. Previously, accountability took a backseat to familiarity. Previously, the front office and the coaching staff kept a contemptuous distance, and poor communication led to organizational breakdowns. Ruskell has blown that system to bits and rebuilt the team around high-effort winners who lead by example and work together at all times.
For that, he deserves to be named the 2005 NFL Executive of the Year.
In a landslide.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at email@example.com.
Ed Thompson is the Publisher of ColtPower.com.