Doug Farrar, Seahawks.NET: The line’s been worse than I imagined, and I thought the post-Hutchinson hit would be pretty big. Now, it’s never conclusive when you attempt to analyze the effects of one person’s absence on a group dynamic like an offensive line. Each member of that group will have their own issues. In the case of Seattle’s 2006 line, Walter Jones has been bothered with various ankle injuries since the season opener. Floyd Womack (who was supposed to replace Hutch at left guard) has missed six games with hamstring and groin injuries – rookie Rob Sims has filled in ably, but let the word “rookie” be your guide.
Center Robbie Tobeck and RG Chris Gray are ambling toward the wrong sides of 40 and losing ground – Tobeck has been out for weeks with a hip injury and could be done for the season - and talented RT Sean Locklear had missed several weeks with a high ankle sprain before returning to full-time duty against the Cardinals on December 10.
Were he surrounded by a cast of hobbled starters and inexperienced replacements, it’s not really clear how much Hutchinson’s presence would have helped this situation. Yes, he’s better than Womack and Sims – probably better than Womack and Sims combined – but one man can only do so much.
Michael Lombardo: After his audition earlier this season, do the Seahawks view Seneca Wallace as their quarterback of the future?
Doug Farrar: Hard to say. Wallace did pretty well, helping Seattle to a 2-2 record as a starter while Matt Hasselbeck was recovering from a knee injury. He showed signs of inexperience (those four starts were his first in his four-year career), often telegraphing his throws and adjusting to pocket timing, but there’s no doubt he’s a great athlete and potentially a very solid quarterback. He’s not a West Coast Offense guy at first glance. He wasn’t a Mike Holmgren pick from all accounts, his short-to-intermediate throws are decent but not spectacular in their accuracy, and I wonder if Holmgren himself wouldn’t sometimes prefer a Jeff Garcia or Tim Rattay as a systemic security blanket.
Personally, I love what Wallace brings to the table. He reminds me a great deal of Marlin Briscoe, an African-American quarterback who played one season at that position for the old AFL Denver Broncos in 1968. Briscoe was the first black quarterback in the modern era. He set a Broncos rookie record for touchdown pass that was broken 15 years later by some guy named Elway - and then was released and converted to receiver by the Bills. Wallace’s gait is stunningly similar to Briscoe’s when he scrambles (choppy but fast; think Warrick Dunn, not Michael Vick), he’s been minimized as a quarterback due to his height, and he’s had to balk at the prospect of a position change. Briscoe the receiver won Super Bowl rings with the 1972-73 Dolphins, but one tends to wonder what might have happened in a more progressive age.
I’d like to see Wallace get a real shot somewhere, sometime, as a quarterback.
Michael Lombardo: Which team – the Rams or the 49ers – is Seattle’s primary competition and perhaps scares your club and fans over the next few years?
Doug Farrar: The 49ers, without question. The Rams are aging at light speed and I’m not convinced that Scott Linehan can have that revised offense clicking with the personnel he’s got. That team is built for the aerial game, and Linehan wants balanced, ground-based discipline. Pretty hard to do that when you have a right tackle in Alex Barron who draws three false start penalties when he wakes up in the morning. That’s a multi-year rebuild in the making.
You didn’t mention the Cardinals, but obviously nobody can take them seriously until Dennis Green is fired, and a personnel executive who doesn’t make Matt Millen appear near-competent is brought in.
The 49ers have had to rebuild almost completely after several disastrous seasons, but they’re doing it right. Mike Nolan is instilling his approach, Frank Gore is the best running back in the division, Moran Norris is a horribly underrated blocking fullback, the line is playing better than expected, and the young defense is coming together. If the 49ers win out, they’d double their previous win total for the second straight season. Having swept the Seahawks this year, they’d also shock the bejeezus out of everyone and win the NFC West. Yep – give the Niners one more good draft, and the Seahawks had best be aware.
Michael Lombardo: To what degree can this season’s struggles be attributed to a Super Bowl hangover?
Doug Farrar: I’m not prone to a belief in “Hangovers”, “Loser’s Curses”, and the like. Basically, after a 2-2 start, the 2005 Seahawks played to the absolute peak of their individual and collective abilities through the rest of the season. They were incredibly fortunate in that when players were injured, replacements would step up at a level that made the personnel deficits negligible at best. They started one offensive line over and over all season until they’d wrapped up home field throughout the playoffs and were playing for nothing but Shaun Alexander’s touchdown record. The defense played together and within itself as a group to a near-miraculous level.
In 2006, there’s been a different o-line almost every week, Hasselbeck and Alexander missed several games each with injuries, the defense keeps losing ground because it’s every man for himself out there – individuals are trying to do too much because the unit is underperforming. Honestly, it’s a miracle they’re still in the hunt for the NFC West title, and that’s with the caveat that this is the NFL’s weakest division.
A hangover? I don’t buy it. A team underperforming one year after a season in which just about everything went their way? I think that sums it up.
Michael Lombardo: If these year’s Seahawks still resided in the AFC West, what kind of record would they be looking at?
Doug Farrar: They’d end the season a .500 team at best. No shot at the playoffs. They’d have the NFL’s best team right now – the Chargers – to deal with twice. The Broncos are twice as good as any current division foe. The Raiders are most likely two automatic wins for anyone this year, but there’s also the fact that Seattle would be playing more and better AFC teams outside of the division. It’s very much like the difference between baseball’s American and National Leagues – overall, the level of competition in the NFC is simply inferior right now.