QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Matt Hasselbeck. Backups -- Seneca Wallace, David Greene.
Hasselbeck took a step backward during a season marked by injuries, personnel changes and dropped passes. His protection wasn't nearly as good and Hasselbeck had a hard time handling the additional challenges. His season seemed to be gaining momentum when Vikings LB E.J. Henderson slammed into his right knee, sidelining Hasselbeck for four games. Hasselbeck came back, only to break bones in his non-throwing hand. He took 34 sacks in a dozen games, 10 more than he took in a full 2005 season, and now he might need surgery to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. Wallace played reasonably well for a backup when pressed into action, but some think the team would be better off with a more experienced alternative.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Shaun Alexander, FB Mack Strong. Backups -- RB Maurice Morris, FB David Kirtman. Injured reserve -- FB Leonard Weaver, FB Josh Parry.
Alexander suffered an injured left foot in the season opener, sending his season on a downward course. He played two more weeks before a crack developed in his fifth metatarsal. The injury sidelined the reigning MVP for six games, preventing him from topping 1,000 yards or adding to his string of seasons with at least 15 touchdowns. Alexander played increasingly well upon his return and finished the season as the team's most effective offensive weapon. Alexander had a hard time adjusting to a rejiggered offensive line. He'll be much better off next season if he can stay healthy and the line can build on the continuity that started to develop late in the season. Strong is going to the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive season, but he is beat up and considering retirement. The Seahawks leaned on him too heavily this season and the extra work took a toll. Strong caught far too many passes. TE Will Heller wound up replacing him for stretches late in the season because Weaver and Parry were on injured reserve. Weaver has a chance to develop as the starter next season if he continues to improve on his blocking. Morris put together a couple of 100-yard games before Alexander returned to the lineup.
TIGHT END: Starter -- Jerramy Stevens. Backups -- Will Heller, Tom Ashworth.
Stevens missed the first five games to injury and struggled with his consistency until late in the season. He remains a bit of an enigma, a talented player who hasn't put it all together. Opponents have a very hard time covering him down the field, but sometimes Stevens is his own worst enemy, coach Mike Holmgren has said. Veteran Itula Mili was basically a non-factor and the team cut him before the first playoff game. Heller proved valuable in spots but he wasn't a starting-caliber option at the position. Seattle knew that going into the season, but there wasn't much the team could do when Stevens suffered a second knee injury in training camp. Seattle needs a versatile tight end with solid blocking skills to maximize the running game. Ashworth remains primarily a backup tackle, but he was effective in the two-back, three-tight personnel group used mostly around the goal line.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Darrell Jackson, Deion Branch. Backups --- Bobby Engram, D.J. Hackett, Nate Burleson, Ben Obomanu.
Jackson was leading the NFL in receiving touchdowns when a toe injury ended his season early. He returned for the playoffs but was not healthy enough to be a factor. Hackett emerged as a starting-caliber player whose size helps him win at the ball downfield. Hip and ankle injuries shortened his season, one reason Seattle's passing game lacked sufficient bite in the playoffs. Branch joined the team early in the season and didn't get enough work with Hasselbeck to develop the kind of rapport they will one day enjoy. Burleson struggled to assimilate until the playoffs. He should emerge as a more productive player next season. Engram is a free agent coming off a season marked by health problems, but Holmgren loves what he brings to the team.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Walter Jones, LG Rob Sims, C Chris Spencer, RG Chris Gray, RT Sean Locklear. Backups --- RT Tom Ashworth, T/G Floyd Womack, T Ray Willis.
The line got off to a bad start when three-time Pro Bowl LG Steve Hutchinson left in free agency. It was downhill from there. Health problems sidelined Pro Bowl C Robbie Tobeck, effectively ending his career. Injuries affected Locklear and Jones, but a lack of continuity and cohesiveness was the problem this season. Seattle went from having one of the NFL's most stable and cohesive lines to not knowing which combination would start from week to week. The team used eight combinations during the regular season after using one for the first 15 games in 2005. The upshot was this: Spencer and Sims got to play more than anyone expected, and both look like long-term starters. They are big, physical and athletic guys who could give the ground game a boost as they get more time together. Seattle will need to find a replacement for Gray, who turns 37 this offseason. Tobeck is retiring, opening up another spot. The Seahawks probably need to draft another lineman early and consider signing a veteran along the lines of Ashworth. Womack is a free agent and he simply hasn't been able to stay healthy. Ashworth proved to be valuable as a backup at tackle, but he was not comfortable playing guard.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DLE Bryce Fisher, DRE Grant Wistrom, DLT Chuck Darby, DRT Rocky Bernard. Backups -- DT Russell Davis, DE Joe Tafoya. Injured reserve -- DT Marcus Tubbs, DT Craig Terrill.
The Seahawks ran low on depth after losing Tubbs and Terrill to season-ending injuries. Tubbs was more important than his status would ever suggest because he had the size and athletic ability to attract double-teams, helping teammates get one-on-one matchups. Terrill was a high-effort guy who gave the team good pass-rush pop. He was also always a threat to block field goals. Fisher and Wistrom wore down a bit during the season and Tapp wasn't always the answer when he came off the bench, particularly against the run. Seattle probably needs a starting-caliber end and another big body at tackle. Davis wound up being an important addition in free agency, proving that a team can never have too many competent defensive linemen on its roster. Tafoya is a very good special-teams player who doesn't factor into the rotation on the line.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Leroy Hill, MLB Lofa Tatupu, WLB Julian Peterson. Backups -- LB Kevin Bentley, MLB Niko Koutouvides, LB Lance Laury, LB Marquis Cooper. Injured reserve -- OLB D.D. Lewis.
Peterson was by far the most consistent linebacker, earning the third Pro Bowl berth of his career thanks to a 10-sack regular season. Peterson blossomed because the coaching staff did a good job of playing to his strengths. The team found ways to exploit Peterson's speed and pass-rushing ability instead of forcing him to conform to the system. Tatupu wasn't as consistent, but he did finish the season strong. He could use another big body in front of him, but he also needs to do a better job shedding blocks. Even so, Tatupu is heading to the Pro Bowl for the second time in two seasons, suggesting his peers recognize his value and contributions. Hill also finished strong, but injuries and a change in his role hurt his play most of the season. Hill was the player most affected by Peterson's arrival. He went from rushing the passer to covering tight ends.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Jordan Babineaux, LCB Kelly Jennings, SS Michael Boulware, FS Ken Hamlin. Backups - CB Marcus Trufant, CB Pete Hunter, CB Rich Gardner, CB Gerard Ross. Injured reserve -- LCB Kelly Herndon, S Mike Green, CB Jimmy Williams.
This group suffered from inconsistent play at safety and a rash of injuries at cornerback. Losing Trufant, Herndon and Williams in the final two weeks of the regular season made things much tougher for Seattle in the playoffs. Trufant should be fully recovered from his ankle injury in time for minicamps. Herndon's broken ankle also should be ready for next season, but Williams' torn ACL could be problematic. The Seahawks badly missed Green, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in training camp. Without Green, the team suffered multiple coverage lapses in defending the deep ball. These problems led coaches to replace Boulware with Babineaux at strong safety, but Boulware returned and played better in a revised role. Jennings proved to be good in coverage. He rarely blew assignments or made the same mistakes twice. Jennings is a favorite to start opposite Trufant next season. Green's return could be key. Hamlin is a free agent.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Josh Brown, P Ryan Plackemeier, LS Derek Rackley, KR/PR Nate Burleson. Injured reserve -- LS J.P. Darche.
Brown earned the annual Golden Toe award from Pro Football Weekly as the NFL's best kicker/punter in 2006. He made four game-winners in the final minute, single-footedly getting Seattle into the playoffs. Plackemeier overcame some early growing pains to become a good punter with a bright future. Plackemeier changed the way he kicks on a short field, producing better inside-the-20 numbers. His averages (45.0 gross, 37-plus net) were dramatic improvements over his immediate predecessors. Burleson emerged as a sometimes-dynamic return man. His 91-yard punt return helped Seattle beat the Rams. Burleson also outplayed Bears return man Devin Hester in the divisional playoff game. His future as a return man is not certain, however, because the team wants Burleson to develop into a bigger part of the offense. Scobey was serviceable as a returner, but better on coverage teams.
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