Cloudy, temperature in the 50s, and the calendar approaching August? Yes, it’s finally time for football in Seattle.
As the Seahawks start Bing Training Camp at their Renton, Wash. facilities, out is former head coach Jim Mora Jr. and in is his place is recent University of Southern California head coach Pete Carroll.
With Carroll comes a spirit of competition, something Seattle hopes will help turn the team around from its recent 9-23 record over the past two seasons. During that span, injuries and inconsistent play ravaged the previous four-time NFC West Division Champions, leaving many questions to be answered prior to Seattle’s Week One home opener against division rival San Francisco.
How will the offensive line hold up?
Last year the offensive line got so bad, the team was forced to sign and use players off its practice squad and the street in order to patch together a unit that couldn’t keep quarterback Matt Hasselbeck upright.
The two biggest issues last year with the line was finding a replacement for then-injured and now-retired left tackle Walter Jones and consistently putting a unit on the field.
Injuries forced Jones out of four games in 2008 and all of last season. With his absence, the Seahawks were routinely left scrambling trying to fill the void of the Pro Bowl left tackle.
The team used its first pick in the 2010 Draft, the sixth overall selection, to draft left tackle Russell Okung. Seattle also added veteran guards Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts via free agency. Okung and Hamilton will be inserted into the starting lineup, where the two will team up with center Chris Spencer, right tackle Sean Locklear and second-year center/guard Max Unger. Pitts, coming off microfracture surgery, he should provide excellent depth to the unit.
With the selection of Okung, the Seahawks found itself a long-term left tackle that dominated in college and should mature into a quality player at the pro level.
As far as cohesiveness goes, Seattle should be in much better shape this year. Now with Okung at tackle and Hamilton in at one of the two guard positions, the Seahawks will not have to rotate players along the line, allowing the three returning starters to play the positions they’re most familiar with.
What about the linebackers?
Like the offensive line, injuries wreaked havoc to Seattle’s linebacking group.
Both outside linebacker Leroy Hill and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu missed time, the latter playing in just five games last season. Seattle managed without Hill, but Tatupu’s presence was missed the most. Without the Seahawks’ middle linebacker on the field, the development of the much-hyped rookie outside linebacker Aaron Curry dwindled, as he failed to record a sack after Week Five.
Tatupu’s recovered now and wasn’t listed as a limited participant or a member of the Physically Unable to Perform list for the first of two practices Seattle had to start Bing Training Camp today.
Hill missed time due to injury toward the beginning of the season last year, but what hovers around him now is a one-game suspension by National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy, with the possibility of the suspension lengthening due to a court trial regarding an alleged altercation between the football player and his girlfriend. If Hill were to receive a longer suspension, he isn’t a lock to remain on the Seattle roster.
With or without Hill, Seattle’s linebacking corps should be much stronger than it was last year now that the unit has a healthy Tatupu anchoring it once again. Having Tatupu on the field will provide Curry his on-field mentor/coach as well as allowing him to move around in Pete Carroll’s new defensive scheme which could see him play not only linebacker, but the ‘elephant’ position that is a hybrid of defensive end and linebacker. While Hill is out, look for David Hawthorne to step in. Hawthorne was arguably the team’s best and most valued player defensively last year, recording 117 total tackles, four sacks and three interceptions coming off the bench at first last year and then taking over the starting middle linebacker duties for the injured Tatupu.
What can be expected out of the running back corps?
Seattle’s running game has been a shell of its former self. The team’s leading rusher has failed to reach 700 yards each of the past two seasons.
Pete Carroll and new general manager John Schneider sought to bring in fresh faces this offseason to challenge the Seahawks’ incumbent backfield of Julius Jones and Justin Forsett. Via Draft-Day trade, Seattle acquired a bruising back in LenDale White and a speedster in Leon Washington, who spent the offseason recovering from a broken leg.
While many fans thought that Jones, the team’s leading rusher the past two seasons, would be the odd man out, it was White that got walking papers first.
Reports out of day one of Bing Training Camp are that Washington was able to practice with the team today, while ones coming over the offseason indicated that Forsett has caught the eyes of Carroll. Washington and Forsett are essentially the same player, right down to their height at 5-foot-8. I expect the former to have a bigger impact in the team’s return game this year. The latter should overtake Julius Jones atop the depth chart during the season and finish out the campaign as the team’s leading rusher, a topic I wrote about Tuesday.
Is Charlie Whitehurst the quarterback of the future?
While this question will remain unanswered during training camp and the preseason, the current answer is no.
Brought in to push current starter Matt Hasselbeck, the former third-stringer in San Diego, Whitehurst, so far hasn’t been able to stoke the competitive fire. Reports from offseason workouts pointed to the young gunslinger lacking consistency with his throws and knowledge of the playbook. Whitehurst’s erratic offseason performance was so lackluster that many believe it was the reason why Seattle brought in J.P. Losman, a veteran, as a backup instead of having an inexperienced two-headed reserve unit of Whitehurst and former Seahawk Mike Teel.
Whitehurst has a two-year deal with the Seahawks and, if he doesn’t improve in a hurry, could spend time not only in the shadow of Hasselbeck this year, but possibly a 2011 first-round draft choice at the position next season.
Does Seattle have a legitimate receiving threat?
In a word…yes.
While the T.J. Houshmandzadeh signing was great last year for the Seahawks, the kind of performance that fan’s expected out of the wideout was a year too early. What Houshmandzadeh lacked was a true counterpart to help draw double coverage off him. Having a broken Matt Hasselbeck also didn’t help.
Insert rookie Golden Tate. Tate, a product out of Notre Dame, has the tools to start right away in the Seattle offense. While he has the speed to stretch the field and the leaping ability to challenge defenders, it’s Tate’s knack of finding holes in the secondary and exploiting them that will help relieve pressure off of Houshmandzadeh the most.
A dark horse that could provide Seattle with some playmaking ability at the wide receiver position is Mike Williams. The former first-round-choice-turned-dud has reportedly come to Seattle knowing it’s his last opportunity to play at the professional level. In shape with the right attitude and his 6-foot-5 frame, Williams could surprise this year as a red-zone threat and/or a player that could provide Seattle the affordability to move Tate to the slot.
Throughout the preseason, SeahawksGab Editor Devon Heinen will continue to break down the Seattle Seahawks and provide the latest news on the team as it prepares for the 2010 season. Make sure to check back often for his columns and the latest developments on the Seahawks.
Can’t get enough SeahawksGab? Follow Editor Devon Heinen on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DevonHeinen.