Sunday marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Seattle Seahawks, the Pete Carroll era.
“I couldn’t be more excited about it,” said Carroll at his first regular-season Wednesday press conference at the team’s Renton, Wash. training facilities.
“I think it’s going to be really interesting to see where we stand in this division.”
The Seahawks won’t have to wait long to see where they stand thanks to a Week One matchup at Qwest Field against the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers have steadily improved over the past three seasons. After finishing 5-11 in 2007, San Francisco bettered its record to 7-9 in 2008 and then to 8-8 last year.
Hoping to continue to build on the recent improvement, the team will look to its revamped offensive line to provide quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore time to move the ball down the field. In April, San Francisco spent two first-round picks in the National Football League Draft on the line with the selections of left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis.
“They made two big statements by going out and getting a couple [of] young offensive linemen to put that line in order,” said Carroll.
With Iupati and Davis installed into the unit, the running game will become an even more integral part of the 49ers’ offense. This means more carries for a punishing runner known also for his ability to turn a routine run up the middle into a game-changing play. In two games against Seattle last season, Frank Gore toted the football 25 times for 232 yards – an average of 9.28 yards per carry – with two runs going for 79 and 80 yards, both of which were touchdowns.
If the Seahawks focus too much on Gore, Alex Smith will make them pay. The sixth-year signal caller from Seattle enters the 2010 season with a luxury he hasn’t had since his college days at Utah. Having the same offensive coordinator for consecutive season for the first time in years has helped Smith feel more comfortable leading the 49ers’ offense since he doesn’t have another new playbook to master.
While Smith doesn’t have a new playbook, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck does. With the arrival of his new head coach and Carroll’s staff, Hasselbeck has had to learn the intricacies of a new offense for two straight offseasons.
Helping Seattle’s quarterback out will be newly named starting running back Justin Forsett, a player that’s left Coach Carroll buzzing.
“His constancy of making people miss,” said the coach. “He’s really, really hard to get a good hit on.”
That ability to make people miss is something that vaulted the third-year back out of Cal ahead of a group of notable names at his position last season. Averaging 3.2 yards after contact per attempt in 2009, Forsett outperformed Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew and Arizona’s Chris “Beanie” Wells.
However, Forsett isn’t the only runner in Carroll’s stable of running backs. He also has veterans in Julius Jones and first-year Seahawk Leon Washington.
“If a guy gets hot in a game, he’s staying,” said Carroll.
If Seattle wants to win Sunday against San Francisco, it will need to have more than just a potent ground game to move the chains and put points on the scoreboard.
That’s where Mike Williams and Deon Butler come in.
Williams joined the team over the offseason as an unrestricted free agent two years removed from professional football. Brought in on a tryout, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Williams turned heads throughout the offseason and preseason en route to earning playing time with Seattle’s first-string unit in the team’s exhibitions despite facing tough odds from his head coach.
“He’s been impeccably directed,” said Carroll. “I was probably tougher on him than anybody.”
His efforts on the practice field and in games gave the Seahawks an option they didn’t think available when they brought him in to challenge for a roster spot. Just one season into a five-year deal with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seattle opted to cut its starting flanker and give the role to Williams.
Williams won’t be able to lead the receiving corps by himself. Thankfully, Carroll has somebody else that he says has progressed even more this offseason and preseason than his new starting flanker.
Entering his second season in the NFL, Deon Butler isn’t a new face to Carroll – the two faced each other in college when Butler’s Penn State team played Carroll’s Southern Cal squad – but he’s been a surprise nonetheless.
“He’s our most improved player,” said Carroll.
“He’s always been a playmaker,” the coach added about Butler, Seattle’s starting third receiver for Sunday. “He’s been making things happen consistently.”
Kickoff is set for 4:15 p.m. Eastern Sunday at Qwest Field.
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