Position Preview – Specialists/Special Teams
Before departing for the Tennessee Titans, interim general manager Ruston Webster put a stamp on his tenure with the Seattle Seahawks by signing Jon Ryan to a six-year, $9.1 million dollar contract extension in the days following the regular season finale.
Ryan has a net average of 38.6 yards per punt over his 31-game career with the ‘Hawks, putting 34 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Ryan also serves as the holder for Olindo Mare, who had the franchise tag placed upon him in February.
Mare is 48-of-53 (90.5%) on field goal attempts, and 58-for-58 on extra points during his two seasons with the Seahawks. The 37-year old Mare also has pounded 44 touchbacks, helping the Seahawks' defense in the field position battle.
Kevin Houser snapped fairly well during his one season with the Seahawks, but was hospitalized with a collapsed lung following Seattle's Week 15 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Houser's injury led to the hilarious site of 5-11, 180-pound Kelly Jennings handling the long-snapping duties for the rest of the game, and Seattle broke the "In Case Emergency, Break Glass" case they've been keeping local resident Jeff Robinson in the last few seasons.
Determined to get younger, the Seahawks signed Patrick MacDonald and Matt Overton this off-season. Overton injured his foot on the opening day of the off-season workout program, and was subsequently waived. Once Overton was healthy, MacDonald was released, indicating that the Seahawks like what they see from the Western Washington alum.
Adding a veteran long-snapper remains on option, with Bryan Pittman lurking.
Seattle's coverage units took a hit with the departures of linebackers Lance Laury and D.D. Lewis, who combined for 30 tackles and two forced fumbles on special teams. Laury led the team in special teams tackles with 21, and signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets after the Seahawks opted not to extend a qualifying offer to the restricted free agent.
Healthy seasons from Lofa Tatupu should allow David Hawthorne and Will Herring to take on leadership roles on the special teams units, which was lacking as both played prominent roles on defense in 2009.
Seattle's lack of explosive athletes/play-makers was never more evident than in the return game, where Nate Burleson and Justin Forsett combined to average 7.5 yards per punt return, with a long of 29 yards. Seattle's kick returners—Forsett, Louis Rankin, Ben Obomanu, Josh Wilson, and Deon Butler— averaged 21.9 yards per return, with a long of 46 yards.
Burleson has moved on, and Forsett could be the team's starting running back, creating opportunities at both return positions.
Obomanu and Butler are certainly in the mix, as are Rankin and Isaiah Stanback, a pair of former University of Washington stars. Wilson's status as a starting cornerback make keep him in his "only in an emergency" role as a kick returner.
Second-round wide receive Golden Tate has similar size, speed, and power to Minnesota Vikings first-round wide receiver Percy Harvin, who made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist. Tate could be used in that role as a rookie.
If healthy, fourth-round cornerback Walter Thurmond would appear to be an option as a punt returner. Thurmond averaged 15 yards per return, with a 78-yard touchdown, in 2009 before an injury ended his college career. Thurmond also averaged nearly 26 yards on 33 kick returns as a collegian.
Then there's running back Leon Washington, who has averaged over 25 yards per kick return, with four touchdowns during his career. Washington's return ability earned him a Pro Bowl bid in 2008.