Notebook: Line Gets Younger, But Better?

The Seahawks' offensive line was an injury-ravaged mess much of the season. That began to change in recent weeks and now the team has reason to think the future will be bright. No one was happy about the way the season ended. Seattle's 27-24 overtime loss to Chicago stung because the Seahawks left so many opportunities on the field.

But with rookie Rob Sims and 2005 first-round pick Chris Spencer gaining momentum up front, Seattle's Shaun Alexander gashed the NFL's sixth-ranked run defense for 108 yards and two scores.

Sims, a fourth-round pick from Ohio State, has given Seattle the answer it sought when Steve Hutchinson left in free agency. He is a smart, physical player who can open holes in the run game.

Sims and Spencer became starters for the first time this season. Spencer took over at center when injuries sidelined veteran Robbie Tobeck. Right tackle Sean Locklear, a starter since 2005, should also be around for a while. He'll be entering his fourth season.

"Those guys are going to be mainstays for the next eight to 10 years around here," veteran fullback Mack Strong said. "Those guys are phenomenal players and they are getting better with each game."
Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones has a few good years left, leaving right guard as the only spot without long-range options.

"All you need is experience," Jones said, "and those guys are getting great experience going this deep in the playoffs."

The Seahawks need reinforcements at fullback, tight end, safety and along the defensive line. Those will be priorities heading into the offseason. Kicker Josh Brown, tight end Jerramy Stevens and free safety Ken Hamlin can become unrestricted free agents.

Tobeck and right guard Chris Gray turn 37 this offseason. Tobeck has said that he will hang up his cleats, and Gray appears to be a candidate for retirement. Fullback Mack Strong, 35, will also consider his options. Each helped the Seahawks go from perennial also-rans to a team that has appeared in the playoffs four years running. But it's time for some of the younger guys to get a chance.

"I think we've got a really good nucleus of guys that can take this thing to the next level," Spencer said.

Re-establishing offensive continuity will be a priority next season. Age, injuries and free-agent losses prevented the offense from sustaining rhythm. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck faltered as a result, and Alexander didn't get going until late in the season. A team with less depth never would have made the playoffs, but Seattle tapped into well-stocked reserves at receiver in particular.

"It's been the most unusual year that way," coach Mike Holmgren said. "In some respects, it has been one of my more rewarding years as a coach. I've seen great effort by young people that under normal circumstances probably wouldn't be playing a lot.

"As a coach, that keeps you going. That's good stuff. But I would just as soon not lose as many people as we lost."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Matt Hasselbeck did not play his best Sunday, tossing an interception and bobbling a critical fourth-down snap.

--WR Darrell Jackson caught four passes for 49 yards despite a toe injury. He had not practiced all week.

--WR D.J. Hackett was inactive Sunday with an ankle injury. The Seahawks missed him.

--RB Shaun Alexander carried 26 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. He ran hard and played well, adding a 12-yard reception to keep a drive moving.

--CB Pete Hunter picked off a pass Sunday less than two weeks after Seattle signed him off the street to help a banged-up secondary. His interception at the Seattle 5 killed a potential Bears scoring drive.


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