Second down, take two: Lions defensive end James Hall blew by Ashworth with embarrassing ease and sacked Matt Hasselbeck for a seven-yard loss. Third down: Ashworth was replaced at left tackle by Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack, previously pulled from his spot at left guard because Rogers was beating the daylights out of him. Shaun Alexander (wisely, in this case) ran right for seven of the 51 rushing yards he’d pick up in the game. Punt, rinse, repeat … and so it would go.
Jones returned for the game’s next series, but the ankle bothered him all season. The man who had a legitimate claim to the 2005 NFL MVP award would amass nine blown blocks in 2006. Womack, who replaced Steve Hutchinson at left guard after Hutchinson poison-pilled his way to Minnesota, never displayed a fraction of his predecessor’s effectiveness, and missed several games with various injuries starting in the season’s second week. Chris Spencer, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2005 and Womack’s first replacement, started five games at left guard before moving to center because of Robbie Tobeck’s hip injury. Spencer started at center for the rest of the season. Womack played six more games at left guard, got hurt again, and finished the season on the right side. Ashworth found a level of effectiveness at right tackle when Locklear missed five games with a high ankle sprain. The only point of encouragement was rookie Rob Sims, who flashed potential in the preseason and started the last three games of the regular season at left guard.
After starting the same line in all but one game in their Super Bowl season, the Hawks used eight different combinations up front last season. In the first four days of practice, it's been just more of the same.
Womack was sidelined and underwent arthroscopic surgeries on both knees. Womack had shown promise as an occasional fill-in at either position in his first five seasons before getting the chance to win the left guard spot last season. But Womack's injuries and ineffectiveness opened the way for rookie Rob Sims to take over the position. This time around, he was expected to be in the mix with Chris Gray at right guard. The early prognosis is that Womack will return for training camp.
Meanwhile, one of the team's more promising prospects, third-year lineman Ray Willis, broke his left hand. Willis has matured well enough as a back-up to Sean Locklear at right tackle that coach Mike Holmgren has declared that position open for the taking. He's also tried working the 6-foot-6 Willis at right guard in an attempt to get the best five linemen on the field. Willis has continued to practice with a cast on his hand.
Alexander loves what he sees from Willis at guard, saying that he shows the aggressiveness of former Hawk Pro Bowl guard Steven Hutchinson.
Gray, who turns 37 later this month, is in a fight for his starting spot. But the veteran of 14 seasons missed the first week of minicamp moving his family to Seattle from Alabama.
An absence of greater concern is Spencer at center. Spencer took over at center for the injured Robbie Tobeck last season and, with Tobeck's retirement, is expected to hold down the spot for years. But an off-season shoulder surgery has limited Spencer's involvement and kept him out of most of the team drills. Ashworth also has been out while recovering from a hip injury.
Although it's only June, Holmgren has obvious concerns. "I think it's big," he said of the need to solve the offensive line issues. "Part of our success has been continuity up front. Last year, we played some younger guys. Their experience last year will help them."
On the battles for starters' roles? "We're going to try to make that decision as soon as we can, but (the competition) will go into camp," Holmgren said.
The sooner the better, according to Spencer. "It's crucial," he said. "It's important to have the starting five having a chance to play together because that's how you build your bond."