In 1971, defensive tackle Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings grabbed the Associated Press award as the League’s Most Valuable Player, the first lineman in the modern era to do so. Three years later, Rams DE Merlin Olsen won the Maxwell Club of Philadelphia vote. Of course, an offensive tackle will never win such an award no matter how good he is, just as rhythm guitarists, no matter how talented, don’t make the cover of Rolling Stone without the rest of the band. Cleveland OT Lou “The Toe” Groza’s 1954 Sporting News Player of the Year award doesn’t really count, as Groza was also a kicker who scored 85 points. However, were you to poll the football cognoscenti after the 2005 season, you’d get a surprisingly high number of votes for Jones to become the first true offensive lineman to accomplish that feat.
What is the argument for Jones as MVP? Start with the fact that when Giants DE Osi Umenyiora beat him for two sacks in Seattle’s 24-21 OT win in November, it was big news – Jones hadn’t given up a sack before then in 350 pass attempts, and according to Pro Football Weekly, he didn’t give up a sack in the 2004 season. If that doesn’t convince you, ask Atlanta's Patrick Kerney, the unfortunate soul who went up against Jones in Week Two when the Seahawks played the Falcons and Fox decided to focus on the match-up. Kerney was wheezing, hands on his knees, by the second quarter.
Or ask Carolina DE Mike Rucker, the unwitting participant in this author’s nomination for Seattle's most incredible play of the 2005 season – in the NFC Championship game, Jones engaged Rucker and pushed him back 16 yards as Shaun Alexander ran alongside with the football, whistling a merry tune. Rucker was absolutely helpless (see the play at the two-minute mark of this video). Where Big Walt goes, demolition follows.
For such a big man, Jones is incredibly fast and agile – he ran a 4.6-40 in 1997 – but it is his ability to plant and engage that is without peer in the NFL. Umenyiora’s great initial quickness off the line was the cheat code, but few ends have what it takes to get past Jones before he sets himself. Once he does, you’re done. This is a man who pushes Escalades in the off-season – what chances do mere mortals have against him?
2006 Outlook: For the second consecutive year, Jones will not be a training camp holdout – and that’s bad news for the rest of the league. The contract he signed before the 2005 season will ensure that he retires a Seahawk. When that day comes, it will be a five-year wait for Canton, and Jones will be enshrined as quite possibly the greatest player in Seahawks history and most likely the greatest offensive lineman of his generation.
And maybe, just maybe, the only modern o-lineman to win an MVP award.
From left to right, the key to Seattle's line excellence in 2005 was experience – until you got to the far right. When Floyd Womack suffered a triceps injury in a preseason game against the Chiefs, Locklear was pressed into service as a starter at the beginning of his second professional year. He exceeded everyone’s expectations by becoming anonymous, which was a good thing – for offensive linemen, getting noticed usually means you’re doing something wrong. Quicker than he is powerful, Locklear’s still a quality run-blocker, The one play for which he was singled out – the drive-killing holding call in the Super Bowl – was the subject of much discussion among the Competition Committee at the March owner’s meetings, and will supposedly be the catalyst for change in the way holding penalties are called.
2006 Outlook: With a solid year under his belt, Locklear comes into 2006 with great potential. He will most likely stay at right tackle as Womack moves inside to replace Steve Hutchinson at left guard. However, Locklear did play guard at NC State and could be an emergency option there.
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/327 Yr: 2 Age: 23 Florida State
Willis played sparingly as a rookie in 2005, but impressed coaches during the preseason with his strength and athleticism. Willis is a solid pass-blocker who is also physical in the running game, although his quickness isn’t great so he has a tendency to struggle when finding defenders to block at the second-level. Coming out of Florida State, some thought that Willis may have the better college career between himself and St. Louis' first-rounder Alex Barron. Willis has a great work ethic and seemed to pick up Seattle's blocking scheme well.
2006 Outlook: Unless something strange occurs, there’s no reason to think that Willis won’t make the final roster in September. He’s smart, athletic enough to mirror good pass-rushers and he’s got a mean-streak that coaches love to see. But unless Walter Jones or Sean Locklear are injured, don’t expect to see him take the field unless the Seahawks are way ahead and running out the clock.
Signed by Seattle just a few days after Steve Hutchinson’s departure for Minnesota, the former Patriot Ashworth is an underrated technician with great versatility. He was one of the few points of stability in New England's offensive line last season, as the unit suffered a number of injuries.
2006 Outlook: Projected as a tackle for the Seahawks by some, Ashworth also has the ability to slip inside. It seems that Seattle, after the loss of Hutchinson, is looking more for linemen who can play multiple positions, echoing their defensive line rotation. Ashworth is more thinker than bruiser, but that works with this team. If Womack can’t stay healthy, Ashworth is probably the favorite to play left guard. Mike Holmgren has said that Ashworth will certainly play guard through training camp, and it’s possible that he’s being groomed to replace Chris Gray.
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/330 Yr: 6 Age: 27 Mississippi State
More than any other Seahawk lineman, Womack is a pure power guy. He’s wonderful at driving into blocks and pushing opponents back at the point of engagement. What he lacks is the lateral movement or first-step quickness to be a truly effective tackle, which is why the idea that he might replace Hutchinson is such a good one.
2006 Outlook: He’s struggled with injuries, but Womack is a classic mauler when healthy. Putting him between the supernatural Jones and the cerebral Robbie Tobeck should provide a very intruiging canvas of styles.
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/303 Yr: 14 Age: 36 Auburn
2006 Outlook: It’s been a long and gutsy career for the one-time Auburn Tiger. Gray came into the league in 1993, and has bounced from team to team and position to position. Over the last few years, he’s been able to hold onto his job, but with the enormous amount of depth, youth and talent Seattle has the guard positions, he’ll have the fight of his life to start.
An undrafted free agent in 2004, Henry was cut by Atlanta in the final cut to 53 that year and then spent last year with Frankfurt of the NFLEL. Henry is athletic and has good size, but lacked the strength and quickness necessary to deal with inside pass-rushers. Henry is smart and was named to the Academic All-American team during his time at Clemson where he was a two-year starter at left tackle.
2006 Outlook: Even with the loss of Steve Hutchinson, the Seahawks offensive line is still one of the top lines in the league and they may have the best depth, along the line, of any team in the league. Because of that, Henry has his work cut out for him, especially with the drafting of Rob Sims this past February.
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/3020 Yr: R Age: 22 Ohio State
Sims started very early in his Buckeye career and only missed two games due to injuries in his four years on campus. Started five games at tackle as a true freshman, then held down the left tackle spot his sophomore and junior seasons. Because of need, he was moved inside to guard and that is where he earned All-Big Ten honors for his work on the interior. Has a great work ethic and at times can look like a top talent. However, his footwork needs to get better and he isn’t a super-athlete, getting by on grit and desire more than sheer athleticism.
2006 Outlook: The player that was in church when he got the call from Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren suffered a devastating loss this spring when his father passed away suddenly. It his highly unlikely he won’t be on the roster following the final cut down and with his experience playing against the top-shelf competition week-in and week-out in the Big Ten, he may even have a chance at seeing some playing time this fall if injuries warrant him moving up. His versatility is also a huge plus.
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/298 Yr: 13 Age: 36 Washington State
Named to his first Pro Bowl in 2005, Tobeck is a savvy and smart player whose rapport with Matt Hasselbeck is as good as any QB-center exchange in the league. While that sounds great on the surface, there are problems as well. As a light player for his position. Tobeck will get bulled back at times, and he racked up more penalties then any other center in the NFL. His way with line calls and his understanding of protection schemes are his greatest assets.
2006 Outlook: This might be the end of the road for Tobeck as the Seahawks’ starting center. The team drafted Chris Spencer in the first round last year, and teams generally don’t like their top selections riding the pine any longer. Expect more of a rotation approach as opposed to Spencer taking over right away. The Seahawks still require Tobeck’s gameday intelligence.
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/3010 Yr: 2 Age: 24 MIssissippi
Spencer didn’t play much during his rookie season, but he still figures as the future at the pivot for the Seahawks. Spencer is super-strong (was Mississippi state weight-lifting champion as a senior in high school) and smart. Last year he backed up veteran Robbie Tobeck and could play one of the guard positions in a pinch this season. Last year, during training camp, he was Tobeck’s shadow and you can expect that to continue during his second year.
2006 Outlook: Rarely do you take a player in the first round and not get him on the field sometime during his first two years. Spencer needs to get the line-calls down, something that every young player struggles with, and, if he can do that, he has a very good chance at being the starter no later than 2007.
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/302 Yr: R Age: 22 Montana State
An accomplished center/guard from Div. 1AA Montana State, Bolton brings a lot to the table as he tries to make the cut at the pro level. In 2004 he was named 1st Team All-Big Sky Conference and was a 2nd Team All-American at guard. He followed that up by garnering 1st Team All-Big Sky and was named 1st Team All-American at center as a senior in 2005. Also was named the Rimington Trophy Award winner as Div. 1AA’s best center. He’s strong, has a good feel for technique and, even more important, he’s smart, able to make the various line calls and adjustments. He’s also surprisingly fast for a man of his dimensions and he can easily get out on traps and pulls.
2006 Outlook: With Chris Gray and Robbie Tobeck getting up in age, the Hawks need some youth among their interior depth chart. Bolton's strength, versatility and smarts could mean that he is a player the Seahawks would look to keep on and develop. It will be interesting to see how he fares during training camp. He’s one of the few rookie free agents to have a real chance of making the final roster.
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/305 Yr: R Age: 25 BYU
Possessing good size and experience at a high level, Reynolds is a solid player from a good program at Brigham Young. He also hails from a football family – his father played for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Reynolds was a two-year starter for the Cougars and was named second-team All-Mountain West and was also voted BYU's number one offensive lineman as a senior. Both brothers are on LDS missions in the Seattle area.
2006 Outlook: Will battle for the final interior spot along the offensive line. Not as versatile as some of the other players he’s competing against, however, Reynolds has experience with complex pass-blocking schemes and he is hard-nosed and tough. Unlikely to make the final roster, but has a chance to stick on the practice squad.
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/280 Yr: R Age: 23 Boston College
Ross was named All-Big East as a junior in 2004 and was voted a captain of the 2005 Eagles squad. Ross works hard and has a fiery attitude that makes him a leader on any team he is on. He lacks bulk and needs to get a bit stronger to compete at the pro level, but there’s no denying his ability to handle a high level of competition. Some fear Ross may have maxed out his potential, although NFLDraftScout.com’s Rob Rang listed him as the best undrafted center.
2006 Outlook: Ross is a longshot to make the final roster, but his toughness and leadership skills make him a prospect that could impress enough to end up on the practice squad. At the very least, he'll give Matt Hasselbeck someone to talk about BC football with.
(Editor's note: Because his primary role is as a long snapper, center J.P. Darche will be profiled in the Special Teams Position Analysis article.)