As each team heads into the offseason, a full evaluation must be made of their current personnel before they can assess what direction they'll take in Free Agency and the Draft. The following is my assessment of Seattle's current roster.
For the first time since 1999, an offense other than Mike Holmgren's will be in Seattle. New Head Coach Jim Mora has publicly stated that he'd like to run the ball more and open up the passing game with more downfield throws. That's a nice idea, but I foresee some problems with the current personnel. For over a decade this team has been built with the West Coast philosophy. QB Matt Hasselbeck is still among the NFL's best, but throwing the deep ball has never been his strength.
This team also lacks a legitimate deep threat to scare defenses and become truly deadly with the use of play-action. Seattle's offensive line also lacks the strength and power to get the kind of push necessary to pound opponents with a running game. Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp has experience in the West Coast offense, so I doubt there will be drastic changes installed overnight. However, this offense will be different than the ones Mike Holmgren used to run.
2008 was a year that QB Matt Hasselbeck would like to forget. A back injury and the combined injuries to players around him prevented the offense from any continuity or rhythm. When healthy, Hasselbeck is a solid player that understands defenses and can move the offense. However, there are no minor back injuries, and at his age, depending on Hasselbeck to stay healthy for the entire season might be a lot to ask.
Backup Seneca Wallace did well considering he had to deal the same injury problems to his offensive line and receivers. He also showed some toughness, fighting through his own injuries throughout the season. I'd like to see him use his athleticism more, though. In the past he was so concerned about proving that he could be a pocket passer that he went away from what makes him a special player. His ability to run, get out of the pocket and buy time with his feet makes him one of the best backups in the league and he needs to utilize that.
Third QB Charlie Frye was supposed to be a possible future successor to Hasselbeck. But in two years, Frye hasn't given the front office any reason to believe that.
The time to find a successor to Hasselbeck is definitely upon the franchise, but I wouldn't expect the team to pull the trigger on a QB early in the Draft unless the value is simply too good to ignore. I would expect a late-round pick to compete for the #3 spot.
A year after letting Shaun Alexander go, this group still has questions to be answered. Julius Jones was thought to be the guy after signing a big contract, but despite solid production during the first few weeks, Jones' carries began to drop. He only carried the ball 6 times the final 4 games and didn't get a single carry in 2 complete games. Seattle turned to veteran Maurice Morris down the stretch and got decent results. Morris does many things well, but isn't great in any area. He's also knocking on 30 and is a Free Agent.
FB Leonard Weaver continues to get better as a run blocker, but his ability to catch the football and run like a RB is what makes him special. He's also a Free Agent, but unlike Morris, I expect the 'Hawks to lock him up for the long term. Rookie FB Owen Schmitt got more playing time as the year wore on, especially in short yardage situations, and should continue to get better while being solid on special teams. Veteran RB T.J. Duckett is the mystery. He was brought in to be Seattle's short yardage RB, a role which he did well, but he has a cap figure of over $2.6 Million.
With Leonard Weaver on the roster, I just don't see Duckett worth his salary. However, Coach Mora has said that the team is going forward with him in 2009. Rookie Justin Forsett is a decent return guy, but whether or not he'll be able to contribute as a RB isn't clear.
Seattle's current RBs fall in the good, not great, category. The team can win with Jones, Weaver and Schmitt, but will probably add a backup RB at some point in the Draft. I expect Maurice Morris to leave via Free Agency and, unfortunately, it looks as if Duckett will be back.
Very few teams can remain competitive when they're starting street Free Agents each week at WR. But that's the hand that was dealt to the Seahawks last season. At a position in which the team thought they had solid veterans and promising rookies, Seattle's receivers dropped like flies. #1 receiver Deion Branch didn't get on the field until week 11, Bobby Engram's numbers were cut in half (with no TDs), supposed #2 Courtney Taylor struggled so bad that he was even cut at one point, and Nate Burleson tore his ACL in week 1.
That was bad enough, but Logan Payne and Ben Obomanu were also placed on IR, forcing the team to sign the likes of Billy McMullen, trading for Kerry Kolbert and even re-signing former 'Hawk Koren Robinson. McMullen and Kolbert were ultimately cut and Robinson was just decent, still dropping too many easy passes and not showing enough after the catch. Rookie TE John Carlson was the lone bright spot for the offense. He led the team in receptions and has Pro Bowl potential. Backup TE Will Heller has proven to be a better receiver than the team expected and is still a solid blocker, but is a Free Agent this year.
Things will have to be much different in 2009 if this offense is going to get off the ground. Whether via the Draft or through Free Agency, the team must upgrade the talent and depth across the board. Branch can't seem to stay healthy, Burleson is coming off an ACL, and Engram is 36 years old and a free agent. All the young receivers that we were told were going to be solid (Taylor, Obomanu, Kent, Payne) haven't done anything at this point and are just guys.
Despite dealing with injuries and a slight drop-off in play, LT Walter Jones is still among the league's best. But at 35 years old, you have to wonder when all the years of pounding will force Jones to think about retirement. LG Mike Wahle was supposed to be the team's answer to the O-line problems heading coming into last season. While he was an upgrade, he also had some costly penalties and, like Jones, isn't the youngest player on the team and had some injuries. C Chris Spencer has the size and athleticism to be a great one, but he's been a disappointment thus far and was another player put on IR (back).
Starting RG Rob Sims was placed on IR after Week 1. He was replaced by G/T Ray Willis and G/T Floyd Womack. Both played better than expected, but both are also heading into Free Agency. RT Sean Locklear was a bit inconsistent after signing his big contract last year, but he's still young and can play every position but Center. Ray Willis also saw time at RT and after some growing pains came on. Backup G Mansfield Wrotto hasn't done anything in two seasons, but C Steve Vallos played better than expected subbing for Spencer. Young OT's William Robinson and Kyle Williams are backups at best.
As it is with the receivers last year, this position took a tremendous hit from injuries. I would expect the team to re-sign G/T Ray Willis because of his versatility, but the team must add more talent to this unit. RG Rob Sims hasn't shown much, C Chris Spencer has back issues and has been a disappointment, and LT Walter Jones isn't getting any younger. Expect the 'Hawks to target an offensive lineman early in the Draft and possibly a veteran in Free Agency.
Key Offensive Stats:
26th in Total 1st Downs
30th in 3rd Down Conversions
28th in Total Yards
25th in Points Per Game
This was supposed to be the strength of the team last year. Returning all 11 starters and adding a 1st Round pick at DE, players like MLB Lofa Tatupu were talking about how many shutouts they'd get. But whether it was the scheme or simply the players not executing how they're supposed to, it didn't work and changes were made to the coaching staff after the season ended. If you're tired of the vanilla defenses that were so common in the past, new Defensive Coordinator Casey Bradley has promised that 2009 will be different. He's said that this defense will be aggressive, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll see all-out blitzes every down, either.
Being from the Tampa 2 system, logic says that Bradley will install more Cover 2, but that's not getting the most out of Seattle's personnel. 'Hawk LBs have blitzing ability, but in a true Cover 2, they should be dropping into coverage while the front four gets pressure on the QB. The problem is that Seattle doesn't have the pass rushers along their defensive line to do that. I would expect to see more Cover 2 this season, but Coach Mora knows where his strengths are and will utilize the blitz more than what Seattle fans have seen in the past. For a defense that was 30th in yards allowed, 29th in opponents' passer rating, and 25th in points allowed, let's hope so.
Losing Pro Bowl DE Patrick Kerney to injury was a tremendous blow for the team last year. His ability to rush the passer changes the way team's game plan for Seattle. His presence forces opponents to double-team him, thereby allowing more one-on-one situations with the rest of the D-line. Not having that last year definitely hurt. Rookie DE Lawrence Jackson won the starting job out of training camp, but he had his share of growing pains, ultimately being benched in favor of veteran DE Daryl Tapp. Tapp is a decent pass rusher, but doesn't have the size or speed to be considered special. However, he's solid as a rotation guy and is a good backup. Baraka Atkins is just a guy.
DT Brandon Mebane was probably Seattle's most consistent player last year. He has the size and quickness to both take on blockers and get penetration in the backfield. Veteran Howard Green played surprisingly well, but is only a two-down player and is a Free Agent. Craig Terrill continues to be Seattle's best interior pass rusher and is a solid 3rd DT. Rookie Red Bryant has the size the team is looking for, but had some injuries and is far from a finished product. Former standout DT Rocky Bernard hasn't had the impact the team thought he would have and will probably be allowed to leave via Free Agency.
The key to this unit is Kerney. If he's healthy, he's still a Pro Bowl pass rusher. But at 32 and coming off another surgery, that's wishful thinking. Jackson has the size and ability to be a double-digit sack guy. The game should slow down for him in his 2nd year, so I'd expect him to improve and be a starter. Mebane is already solid, but he needs help. Adding a starting caliber DT to the mix would be tremendous for the entire defense. Unless the team falls in love with DT B.J. Raji (Boston College) and uses the 4th overall pick on him, the team will likely have the same personnel as last year.
A dropoff in play was noticeable with the LBs last season. After going to the Pro Bowl in his first 3 seasons, MLB Lofa Tatupu wasn't the force the defense was used to. He dealt with nagging injuries all year and is expected to be the foundation of the defense this year. OLB Julian Peterson went to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, but I can't figure out why. He used to be one of the best pass rushers in the league, but seemed to have lost a step and only had 5 sacks. He's also terrible vs. the run and doesn't look as agile in coverage as he used to be. However, with a change in scheme, the team is banking on him to be a force off the edge again.
Flanking OLB LeRoy Hill had a solid year, making tackles all over the field, but still being hampered by the defensive scheme. After getting 7.5 sacks his rookie year, Hill hasn't been given the opportunity to rush the passer as much as he should. He's also a Free Agent and was arrested after the season, clouding his future with the team. Veterans D.D. Lewis, Lance Laury, and Will Herring are decent backups and solid special teams players. Rookie MLB David Hawthorne was a pleasant surprise should only get better.
Assuming Tatupu gets back to the level the teams is accustomed to, the LBs should be fine. Peterson definitely needs some work vs. the run, but more importantly, he needs to be given greater blitz opportunities to exploit his skills. Re-signing Leroy Hill will be a priority, but his recent arrest might make GM Tim Ruskell think twice. If all three are back, they'll remain the best unit on the team. If Hill isn't re-signed, the team will get one via the Draft and could select one for added depth even if he's back.
This might have been the most disappointing unit of the entire team last year. Coming off a Pro Bowl year and a huge contract, CB Marcus Trufant was expected to be the foundation of the secondary. But as it was in his previous seasons, his coverage ability was hindered by his lack of ball skills. Often he's right with a WR, but doesn't make a play on the ball. He's still a top-10 CB and should get better with an aggressive scheme this year.
CB Kelly Jennings was benched in favor of CB Josh Wilson, but I expect Jennings to rebound. Wilson is quick and aggressive, but his 5'9" size limits his ability vs. big, physical receivers. He got better last year and this year's training camp should be a battle with Jennings. Wilson's kick return ability is also a huge bonus. FS Deon Grant is a good all-around safety, but I think he's a better fit at SS. Starting SS Brian Russell was never a player that had good speed or athleticism, but his instincts made up for that.
However, last year he regressed and the team suffered because of it. It's unclear whether or not the 'Hawks will try to replace him, but the team can't afford to have him as the last line of defense any longer. CB/S Jordan Babineaux is a solid backup and his versatility is a nice bonus for the defense. FS C.J. Wallace is a good special teams player, but he's an average safety.
Of all the units that might prosper from the new defensive scheme, the secondary might benefit the most. In an ideal world, the 'Hawks would love to get a 6'200-pound CB that can bang with the likes of WR Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, but that probably won't happen this year. Outside of Russell, the talent is in place to go on a playoff. Expect the 'Hawks to take a long look at selecting a safety in the 2nd or 3rd Round of the Draft and possibly adding a veteran through Free Agency.
Key Defensive Stats:
30th in Yards Allowed Per Game
25th in Points Allowed Per Game
32nd in Passing Yards Allowed Per Game
K Olindo Mare played very well for the 'Hawks, averaging nearly 89% from the field and getting much better distance on his kickoffs than former Pro Bowl K Josh Brown. However, the team will have to decide soon on whether to stick with Mare or go with the potential of 7ht Round pick Brandon Coutu. Keeping two kickers on the roster for the entire season isn't an ideal situation for any team. P Jon Ryan gave Seattle some consistency at the position and was fairly solid.
CB Josh Wilson did well as Seattle's primary kick returner and should get better with more experience. After getting released and getting a short stint with the Indianapolis Colts, RB Justin Forsett performed adequately as a punt returner, but his pure lack of speed will prevent him from being special. Seahawk coverage units were solid and feature a good group of LBs that can get down the field.
The offense doesn't scare anyone because they lack playmakers on the perimeter and are average at best up front. Defenses don't look at Seattle's roster and say to themselves "If we're going to win, we have to stop this guy" because the Seahawks don't have a guy like that. Even when everyone's healthy, the players like Deion Branch, Nate Burleson and Julius Jones don't strike fear into anyone. Matt Hasselbeck remains solid, but he needs better weapons around him for this team to get back to prominence.
The defense is a different story. Whereas the offense's deficiency can be directly linked to injuries and overall lack of talent, the defense is just the opposite. Seattle's defense has the talent to be a top-10 unit, but the scheme will have to put its players in a better position to succeed. Coach Mora has already mentioned the changes he's going to make, but adding another key player, especially at DT or S, would be wise.