Seattle Seahawks 2008 Preview Report

Holmgren

By Andy Benoit, www.NFLTouchdown.com

Predicted: 1st

2007 Record: 10-6 (1st NFC West)

Head Coach: Mike Holmgren (10th season)

Roster Quick View

*rookie

**new veteran

Offense

QB: Matt Hasselbeck Probably deserves a little more credit than he gets for his annual improvements and stable leadership.

RB: Julius Jones** Criticized in Dallas for a perceived lack of toughness. Lucky for him, the fans up here are accustomed to seeing Shaun Alexander.

FB: Leonard Weaver Terrific all-around FB who can lead-block and occasionally handle the ball. Pro Bowls await him.

WR: Bobby Engram Coming off his first 1,000-yard season. Still more of a No. 2 than a No. 1.

WR: Nate Burleson Has never really earned a starting job anywhere but will get an opportunity here, thanks largely to attrition at wide receiver.

TE: John Carlson* Seahawks had him rated as the draft’s top tight end. Is expected to contribute in the passing game right away.

LT: Walter Jones Has been supplanted by Joe Thomas as the best LT in football, though NFC defensive ends may disagree.

LG: Mike Wahle Was underwhelming last year in Carolina, but at 31, has veteran experience and enough left in the tank. Good pickup for the Hawks.

C: Chris Spencer

Has evolved into the team’s best interior offensive lineman, but hasn’t quite yet fulfilled all the potential that made him a first-round choice.

RG: Rob Sims Moves to the right side after having some issues early last season on the left. Talent is acceptable–just needs to improve awareness.

RT: Sean Locklear Natural skill has allowed him to develop too many bad habits. New five-year contract will likely stunt the rest of his growth.

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QB: Seneca Wallace Hey Charlie Frye! Start playing up to par so this guy can move to slot receiver!

RB: T.J. Duckett Downhill running style makes him a good fit in this straight-line offense.

WR: Courtney Taylor Sixth-round pick last year, caught only five passes in limited action.

WR: Deion Branch (injured) Coming off February ACL surgery, likely won’t be ready to compete until midseason (if then). His absence hurts.

Defense

DE: Patrick Kerney Led the NFC with 14.5 sacks last season, though wore down late. Regularly feasts on shoddy right tackles.

DT: Brandon Mebane Holmgren loves the guy. He’ll love him even more if his improved quickness pays off as expected.

DT: Rocky Bernard Offseason arrest for domestic abuse looks bad, but frankly (perhaps sadly?), not bad enough for the Seahawks to forget how explosive he can be.

DE: Darryl Tapp A quintessential solid DE. Overcomes mild lack of size with adeptness in his second move.

SLB: Leroy Hill The third guy in the dynamic linebacking trio. Doesn’t have blazing wheels, but a demon at the point of attack.

MLB: Lofa Tatupu Three Pro Bowl appearances in three years. Enough said.

WLB: Julian Peterson Versatility makes him perhaps the team’s best front seven player.

CB: Marcus Trufant Received a well-deserved top-dollar contract this past offseason. Teams are starting to throw away from him.

SS: Deon Grant By no means a star, but consistently performs up to par wherever he is.

FS: Brian Russell If you think he’s a classic example of a limited athlete surviving on scrappiness and smarts, you might be surprised:.by exactly how right you are.

CB: Kelly Jennings Improved drastically during his rookie season; Seattle may have a gem in this No. 2 cover corner.

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DL: Craig Terrill Down on the depth chart, but his underrated quickness always seems to afford him playing time.

LB: Will Herring Almost exclusively a special teamer because Tatupu, Peterson and Hill never come off the field.

NB: Josh Wilson May have a tough time keeping Jordan Babineaux out of the nickel duties.

2008 Seahawks Preview Report

Pssstt. Come here. Shhh. Listen up.

Now, what I’m about to tell you needs to be kept quiet. You can’t repeat any of this to anyone–especially not the Seahawks. If they hear you, this plan will be foiled. Got it? Good. Now listen: As you know, head coach Mike Holmgren is retiring after the season. Can you believe he’s been here 10 years now? Neither can he. But come 2009, he’s done. Wants to open a bakery with his wife Kathy or something. Anyway, because he’s leaving, everyone–the media, fans, whoever–will begin to say that the 2008 season will be one last hurrah for this Seahawks team.

This, of course, is nonsense. For whatever reason, people either don’t realize or don’t believe that this franchise is pretty well set. There is a winning roster in place for at least another two or three years (which, in pro football time, is an eternity). GM Tim Ruskell has done a very fine job.

Why are you shrugging your shoulders? What, you don’t agree?

You guess? What’s there to guess? Ruskell has done a great job! He joined the team in 2005 and has been making upgrades ever since. Look at Seattle‘s offense: He has built around quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who, at almost 33, seems to get a little better each season. He replaced Shaun Alexander–who was deader than the fish they toss at Pikes Market–with Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett. Granted, neither Jones nor Duckett is a star, but you gotta admit:.at least they’ll run with some courage.

The offensive line is solid. Granted, Ruskell screwed up big time when he let Steve Hutchinson get away, but that’s over and done with. At least Mike Wahle will shore things up, right?

Come on:.you know this offense will be decent. It’s finished in the top 10 in yardage five of the last six years.

Okay–and what about the defense? See, that’s what people are missing. This defense is spectacular. The linebackers are all stars–genuine stars. Lofa Tatupu’s been to three Pro Bowls in three years. Julian Peterson has also gone to three. And how about the defensive line? Ruskell invests in the front four like rednecks invest in mud flaps. And his return has been great. He drafted Darryl Tapp in 2006 and witnessed nine sacks from him as a fulltime starter last season. A year ago he signed Patrick Kerney and saw the veteran record 14.5 sacks. He also spent a third-round pick on defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, who became an effective starter midway through his rookie season. And this year, Ruskell spent the 28th overall pick in the draft on a four-year starter from Los Angeles‘s professional team (the Trojans). His name is Lawrence Jackson.

Still not convinced that Seattle is in great hands? Jeeze. Fine, how about the secondary? Ruskell locked up Marcus Trufant–a feared cover corner–with a six-year deal this past offseason. (It was similar in value to the new deal he gave Tatupu.) And three years ago, Ruskell drafted a kid from Miami named Kelly Jennings. Jennings has blossomed into an excellent man defender, which, in this league, makes him a jewel. The Seahawks’ safety position even got upgraded last season–Deon Grant and Brian Russell both lived up to their contracts. And the depth across the board is fine.

So you see? Ruskell has done well, and this team is set. Anyway, whatever.

Now shhhh:.this is where you need to listen. As I was saying, with Holmgren retiring after the season, everyone is going to think that this is one last hurrah for the Seahawks. They’ll say it’s one last chance at a Lombardi Trophy and then question the future from there. It doesn’t matter that defensive assistant Jim Mora Jr. has already been named the next head coach. Anytime a prominent coach like Holmgren is about to leave, people always talk about a final hurrah. It’s a product of the whole idea of selling sports through drama.

Now, what you need to do is play along. Maybe even sell a little yourself. The hope is that the Seahawk players will notice the hype and start to believe it. If they believe it, they might finally maintain their focus. So, DO NOT tell them what I just told you. DO NOT let them know that they’re going to be competitive for at least a few more years. If they find that out, they’ll just win 10 games and get drubbed in the playoffs like they do every year.

We’re sick of it. Problem is, this city doesn’t seem to be. Fans in the Pacific Northwest are just too tame for pro football, know what I mean? Sure, they get together at Qwest Field and all scream their freakin’ lungs out. They make more noise than a Boeing 747. But the fans are never caustic toward their own team. You don’t hear them calling for the coach’s head or demanding perfection. Yes, of course, such demands are ridiculous, but that’s not the point. The point is:.I don’t know:the point is:ugh:.Seahawk fans:it’s like they’re too smart or something. They’re too willing to see their team’s playoff exit and understand that 31 of the 32 clubs fall short of their ultimate goal. They’re too willing to accept that playing in January means their team was at least pretty good. They’re right, but it’s not:uhh:.it’s just not:the Seattle people just need a little more Phillyness in them. You see what I’m saying? They need to demand more. I mean, look at Shaun Alexander for example. For years, the guy would frolic around the field and cower at the first sign of contact. But these fans didn’t start getting on him until last season. And even then they only groaned. Where was the booing? Where was the venom?

You don’t think the players sense this all? Surely at least part of them subconsciously says, Hey, it’s okay if we don’t dominate because these fans–our 12th man–will appreciate us anyway. If the players didn’t feel so comfortable, then by now they would have had more magical seasons than just 2005.

So don’t tell the Seahawks. Don’t tell them that this is not actually their last shot at a title. Let them think that Holmgren’s exit makes this season special. Right now, you’re the father building the dollhouse, and they’re the three-year-old helping with their plastic hammer and Styrofoam lumber. Just smile and let them be. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll maintain their focus for once.

Offense

No question about it, this is Matt Hasselbeck’s team. The 10th-year veteran from Boston College has assumed the leadership qualities that Holmgren so diligently helped instill clear back even in their days together in Green Bay. The player and coach still butt heads, but in a respectful, almost familial way. The fact that they now stand apart whenever Hasselbeck comes to the sideline after an interception (instead of review pictures together and bicker) says everything about the quarterback’s status on the team and grasp on the offense.

Hasselbeck knows the West Coast system, he understands his playmaking capabilities and he makes everyone around him better. How else do you think a player like Bobby Engram, fluid but not fast, experienced but not rock-steady, could catch 94 passes for 1,147 yards in his 12th season? Or how could an offense that, last year, had virtually no tight end (sorry Marcus Pollard), no running game (sorry Maurice Morris) and an inconsistent offensive line (sorry Rob Sims, Chris Gray and Sean Locklear) still rank ninth in total yards and points?

Hasselbeck may have his work cut out for him in ’08. He’ll be without Deion Branch early in the season, which means he’ll be without a true weapon. Branch, who went under Dr. James Andrews’s knife to repair a torn ACL in February, is the only serious playmaking threat in Seattle‘s catch-and-run offense. In his absence, Engram will assume the flanker duties, while Nate Burleson will line up at split end. Both players have spent the majority of their career in a reserve role, and their presence in the starting lineup puts a considerable dent in Seattle‘s depth at wide receiver. Second-year pro Courtney Taylor will be given a chance to earn the No. 3 duties, though third-year man Ben Obomanu has more experience in the West Coast system. Obomanu saw fragmented action last season but didn’t always capitalize on his opportunities.

The Seahawks are hoping to get more from their tight end in 2008. After Pollard failed to produce, they went out and drafted Notre Dame’s John Carlson in the second round. Carlson is the latest NFL tight end to have significant basketball experience. He played in two hoops games during his freshman season at Notre Dame and was a McDonald’s preseason All-American in high school. However, his mark with the Irish was made in front of Touchdown Jesus, of course. He had 87 catches over his final two years. The Seahawks hope Carlson can be their long-term answer at tight end. Behind him will be career backup Will Heller and ex-Bronco and-Texan Jeb Putzier. The former can block, the latter can catch.

Pass protection has never been much of a problem for Seattle, thanks in no small part to seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones. However, the run-blocking by this unit was atrocious last season, prompting Holmgren to fire offensive line coach Bill Laveroni. Replacing Laveroni is Mike Solari, who spent 11 years coaching what was generally a dominant front line in Kansas City.

Solari inherits a slightly better group than the one Laveroni had in ’07. Next to Jones will be 11th-year vet Mike Wahle, a gritty run-blocker who earned Pro Bowl recognition two seasons ago in Carolina. Wahle replaces 24-year-old Rob Sims, who moves over to the right side where the team hopes he can improve his awareness against blitzes and stunts.

To the right of Sims will be tackle Sean Locklear. Locklear is a prime example of what happens when a good athlete admires his talent too soon. Blessed with a dexterous 308-pound frame (which functions like a 330-pound frame), Locklear has gotten away with forming too many bad habits. He plays with B-grade effort and probably doesn’t even know it. Because Ray Willis and Pork Chop Womack have never taken advantage of their opportunities to start, Seattle felt compelled to sign Locklear to a new five-year, $32 million contract. That’s like tossing a bone to the dog that won’t come.

At center is Chris Spencer, a man on the path to fulfilling his first-round billing. A shoulder injury hindered his progress the past couple years, but Spencer’s strength and quickness are commodities that will really start to flourish as he stays healthy and begins to fully understand the details of coordinator Gil Haskell’s offense. Improvement from Spencer could help variegate Seattle‘s north-south run-blocking schemes.

More complex blocking approaches may not be needed though. New starting running back Julius Jones prefers to operate from space rather than behind a road-grader. At 211 pounds, Jones is more durable than he’s given credit for, though he likely won’t outperform his career-best ’06 season, when he posted 267 carries for 1,084 yards. Jones is built a lot like Maurice Morris, Seattle‘s longtime backup. Morris might have seen his playing time evaporate when the Seahawks became the latest team to sign bruising back T.J. Duckett. They’re paying the former first-round pick $7 million over the first two years of his five-year deal, which means Duckett may finally be given a true chance to contribute.

Jones is more accustom to being a lone back, but there’s no way Seattle will allow burgeoning fullback Leonard Weaver to lose his role. The Carson-Newman product (Carson Newman, by the way, is a liberal arts college in Jefferson City, TN) learned from mentor Mack Strong and is poised to follow in his Pro Bowl footsteps.

Defense

There’s no reason the Seahawk defense can’t be the most formidable in the NFC. Coordinator John Marshall (who runs a Cover 2) has a front seven that helped create 45 sacks last season (fourth in the NFL) and a secondary that features the enviable benefit of having two excellent cover corners. Sixth-year veteran Marcus Trufant was paid the GDP of a small country after posting a career-high seven interceptions in 2008 (he had just two picks total in 2006-07). Ruskell reluctantly gave the Washington State product a six-year, $52 million deal. As a negotiating ploy, the GM had declared that he did not believe Trufant to be in the Darrell Green-Deion Sanders-Champ Bailey shutdown class. However, when DeAngelo Hall’s $10 million a year contract in Oakland elevated the cornerback wage scale, Ruskell was forced to cave on Trufant’s $9 million a year demands.

Its money well spent. Not only has Trufant become a playmaker but, more importantly, he’s a play-stopper. Trufant–who moved back to his natural left cornerback position under secondary coach Jim Mora’s last season–has fluid coverage skills, particularly downfield (a rare trait for any defensive back). Teams aim to throw away from him, not just because they fear the interception but because whoever Trufant’s defending usually isn’t open.

Trufant’s brilliance puts more pressure on right cornerback Kelly Jennings, a former first-round pick who improved weekly in his first fulltime starting gig last season. Uncommon for a player of Jennings‘s youth is the polished technique that the 25-year-old displays. Jennings gives up a minimized buffer zone and shows impressive patience in timing his breaks. He’s not extraordinarily quick, but he consistently gets between the ball and the receiver (he broke up 12 passes in ’07).

Auxiliary defender Jordan Babineaux can play safety or corner and seems to be a superior option to second-year pro Josh Wilson for nickel duties. Wilson, however, was a second-round pick last season and will be given every chance to earn playing time. Strong safety Deon Grant and free safety Brian Russell have done exactly what they were brought in to do, which is lead and buckle down against the deep ball.

An improved pass rush has aided the secondary. Patrick Kerney’s NFC-leading 14.5 sacks set the tone up front in ’07, though his disappearing act in the Divisional Round loss at Green Bay suggested that fatigue had set in on his 31-year-old body. This prompted the drafting of Lawrence Jackson in Round One.

Jackson will slide into a defensive end rotation that includes Kerney and moderately undersized yet productive Darryl Tapp. Tapp occasionally struggles to hold his ground in play-side run defense, though when he’s able to maintain initial separation and get into his second and third moves, he can be an unruly attacker.

Second-year man Baraka Atkins may have trouble carving out a niche in this defense. In addition to the rookie Jackson, the Seahawks will employ weakside linebacker Julian Peterson as an edge-rusher, as well as athletic ex-Texan Jason Babin.

Inside, Brandon Mebane has drawn the praise of Holmgren and the coaching staff after capturing Craig Terrill’s starting job midway through last season. Mebane has nice litheness for an inside player, which he uses to his advantage against the run. His natural ability to avoid entanglements with bigger offensive linemen is a skill that coaches must zone in on and help maximize. In all, Mebane is still at least a year away from recognizing his full potential, which is why Seattle will likely call on veterans Terrill, Chris Cooper and Larry Tripplett to play some downs in ’08.

Rocky Bernard starts at the other defensive tackle position. His offseason was marred in controversy after he was arrested for allegedly punching his girlfriend in the forehead. Assuming Bernard is on the field, he gives Seattle an enticing blend of power and agility, shown in the penetration he often gets.

Sandwiched between the secondary and front line is the best three-man linebacking unit in football. Spearheaded by middle man Lofa Tatupu and flanked by outsiders Julian Peterson and Leroy Hill, the Seahawks have a trio of stallions that devour the run and, perhaps more impressively, stifle the pass. Tatupu is an intelligent player, though he tends to gamble like Barkley, which occasionally causes him to over-pursue or misdiagnose. His speed can actually exacerbate his misreads (of course, that same speed can just as easily ameliorate them).

Peterson’s wide-ranging talent puts him in the discussion of best outside linebacker in the NFC. Consider him third behind DeMarcus Ware and Lance Briggs. Hill is one of the best closing forces in the NFL. His raw skills are a cut below those of his running mates, but put him in an average linebacking unit and he’d stand out.

Injuries have never been a problem for Seattle‘s linebackers, and they’d better hope that remains the case. Should one of the three go down, into the lineup would go either Will Herring, a fifth-round pick a year ago, D.D. Lewis, often an out-of-football injury bug victim, or Lance Laury, maker of 19 tackles in 2007.

Special Teams

The Seahawks should be kicking themselves for letting Josh Brown get away. Instead, they’ll likely just be kicking fewer successful field goals in ’08. At 35, Olindo Mare still has a powerful foot on kickoffs. However, his accuracy is waning, which is why the team drafted Brandon Coutu in the seventh round. Punter Ryan Plackemeier–himself a seventh-round pick two years ago–struggled in ’07, averaging just 34.3 net yards per punt (31st in the NFL). Reggie Hodges was brought in for camp competition, but Plackemeier isn’t likely to lose his job quite yet.

Nate Burleson is a terrific return artist, though his elevated role in the offense will prompt Holmgren to gauge other options here. Josh Wilson seems the likely choice. He returned 14 kickoffs last season, including an 89-yard touchdown.

Bottom Line

The Seahawks are still the most talented team in the NFC West, but how many years of good-but-not-great football has this club had? A lot of key players have recently been well compensated, and there aren’t a lot of job competitions heading into training camp. If Mike Holmgren’s farewell tour can ignite a sense of urgency with this team, a run at Super Bowl XLIII is not out of the question. But if no sparks ablaze, say hello to 10-6:.again.

Key Acquisitions

DT Chris Cooper (FA)

RB T.J. Duckett (Det)

RB Julius Jones (Dal)

LB D.D. Lewis (FA)

S Omare Lowe (Atl)

K Olindo Mare (Mia)

TE Jeb Putzier (Hou)

DT Larry Tripplett (Buf)

G Mike Wahle (Car)

Players Lost

RB Shaun Alexander

OT Tom Ashworth

LB Kevin Bentley (Hou)

K Josh Brown (Stl)

DT Chuck Darby (Det)

WR DJ Hackett (Car)

LB Niko Koutouvides (Den)

TE Marcus Pollard (NE)

DL Ellis Wyms (Min)

Replacing Tinkerbelle Alexander with Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett was a great move. Neither player is a stud, but at least they don’t go down when breathed on wrong. Losing Brown hurts, especially considering that he stayed in the division. Mare is by no means a lock to make the team. Their special teams will take a hit with the departure of Bentley and Koutouvides (their captain). Lewis has been out of football too long to be counted on, which is why their linebacker depth is non-existent. Wahle was a good pickup considering their serious needs at guard.

2008 Draft

Rd Sel # Player Position School

1 28 Lawrence Jackson DE USC

2 38 John Carlson TE Notre Dame

4 121 Red Bryant DT Texas A&M

5 163 Owen Schmitt FB West Virginia

6 189 Tyler Schmitt LS San Diego State

7 233 Justin Forsett RB California

7 235 Brandon Coutu K Georgia

Experts say that every six seconds, someone in the world gets brought in by the Seahawks to play D-line. Seattle has been stockpiling defensive linemen the past few years. Jackson, their latest addition, was a four-year starter in college. He’ll rotate with Patrick Kerney and Darryl Tapp and play inside on passing downs. The Hawks traded their third-round pick to move up 17 slots and snatch Carlson. In him, they believe they’ve finally found their long-term starter at tight end. Careful here–the last guy like this turned into Jerramy Stevens. You don’t see many teams draft back-to-back Schmitts. The fullback version will have a tough time making the roster; the long snapper version will probably, like most long snappers, be here 20 years.

Myth Buster

Myth: The Seattle Seahawks are an offensive team.

The feeling you get when assessing these Seahawks is not unlike the feeling you get when you’ve been outside all day and suddenly realize that, somewhere along the lines, it got dark. Long considered an offensive team, the Seahawks have subtly transformed into anything but. They lack playmakers at all the skill positions other than quarterback, and they no longer boast a dominant front five.

On the other side, their defense is one of the elite 11-man units in the game. With stars like Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson, Patrick Kerney and Marcus Trufant, and rising young forces like Brandon Mebane, Darryl Tapp and Kelly Jennings, Seattle has a plentiful blend of defensive playmakers and show stoppers. Given their homefield advantage at noisy Qwest Field, there’s no question about it: Mike Holmgren, a West Coast offense guru, has bread that is buttered with a rich Cover 2 defense.

Open Thought

The coolest new tradition in football is the raising of the 12th Man flag in Seattle. This pregame ritual has managed to avoid falling into the trap of cheesiness or cliché that ruin so many inspirational moments. The idea of featuring a different flag-raising guest each game is excellent. The instant momentum that is built from the moment is an advantage.


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One Response to “Seattle Seahawks 2008 Preview Report”

  1. Randy Otto says:

    I feel your article on the Hawks is spot on and this is from a fan of the team since 76 and season ticket holder since 93. I think that if the O-line can play above their output of 07 and I one of the youngsters of Obo, Taylor, or Payne steps up that the offense will be better. The D WILL be better than 07 so all this adds up to a trip to the superbowl regaurdless if Lord Favre returns or not. The real question for 08 is, are the Hawks good enough to beat the Pats?