There is a lot of excitement and anticipation going into this season in 12th Man Land. Cortez Kennedy is the second Seahawk in the Hall of Fame, following Steve Largent. Walter Jones will be in there soon too.
Despite back-to-back 7-9 seasons, the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era has included a playoff win and the never quit, never die spirit that permeates the team and fans. There are a lot of good omens. The defense has improved, getting into the top ten in 2011. The young secondary sets a definite swagger tone and on offense, Marshawn Lynch continues to taste the rainbow.
So now that I’ve visited the training camp and went to the first preseason game, the big questions are: “Terrell Owens? Really?” and “Braylon Edwards? Really?” So let me list out the seven areas I think the Seattle Seahawks need to address in the 2012 season.
1. Quarterbacks: Quarterback was the weakest point in the Seahawks last season, by far. Tarvaris Jackson was brought in to replace Matt Hasselbeck and ended up being just average, at best. Charlie Whitehurst was worse than bad but is gone, thankfully.
Jackson finished the season with a 60.2 completion percentage for 3,091 yards and 14 touchdowns, most of them with a torn pectoral muscle suffered against the Giants in game five.
No one can question his toughness and grit. No, Jackson was a liability because he sucked in the last two minutes of the half, completing less than 50% with zero touchdowns and six interceptions. Jackson also took 42 sacks, ranking second behind Alex Smith. Seventeen of those sacks took at least 3.3 seconds to happen, considered long sacks, which was down to holding the ball and a lack of decision-making that drove me into a sputtering, profanity-spewing and non-coherent Daffy Duck.
Seattle tried to get Peyton Manning to visit, but he spurned the Seahawks in favor of the Broncos, so Carroll went after and signed Matt Flynn, the two-game wonder from Green Bay. Flynn is in, no matter what Compete Pete claims.
Russell Wilson was a surprise pick but looks to have more upside than last year’s surprise, Josh Portis, who should end up somewhere.
2. O-Line: The Seahawks struggled early in the season with this unit. The reasons include injuries, lack of training camp with two rookies, and Russell Okung coming back from injury again.
This season, a full training camp will go miles to improved play from the former starting rookies and second string linemen that have lots of experience now.
Right tackle James Carpenter is still a question mark from knee surgery and may begin the season on the PUP (physically unable to play) list, but a move to left guard may be in his future. Before his injury, Carpenter was not progressing well at all. The team was impressed with the replacements, journeymen Paul McQuinstan and Breno Giacomini, and resigned both of them.
Despite the injuries to the youngsters, the line improved every week. Twenty-nine of the 50 total sacks came in the first seven weeks.
Okung is the unlucky injury guy so far. In 2011, he tore his pectoral muscle after getting hip-tossed by Philadelphia defensive end Trent Cole after the whistle blew. He’s back to full health now and has been excellent when he can stay that way.
3. Wide Receivers: Seattle has turned into a halfway house for aged receivers now that T.O. is in town.
He looked good in his workout and first practice but only time will tell if he can handle a full season. He’s 38 years old and although physically he looks good, as Indiana Jones said, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage.
Before Owens arrived, the project receiver was Braylon Edwards, late of the 49ers, Jets, and Browns. Edwards has always had the physical tools to be a stud receiver but his hands and attitude have let him down repeatedly.
My question to these signings is: “Why?” To answer that, we have to look at the current Seattle incumbent receiver corps.
The team has three basically the same receivers in Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Deon Butler. All three are good. Baldwin is exceptional, Tate has progressed nicely and Butler is the fastest but spent a long time coming back from a broken leg.
Sydney Rice was the big free agent signing and has been sensational when he can get on the field. Offseason surgery on both shoulders is holding him out of the contact drills but watching him run and catch, his mobility and reach look good. It’s down to whether he can take the hits on his shoulders now.
Ben Obomanu has had some great catches but they are few and far between. His best play has been on special teams.
Ricardo Lockette came on as the speed merchant and has had two great catches in his career. The first was a 44-yard grab against San Francisco and the other a 61-yard touchdown catch against Arizona. He still needs to prove he’s a full-time receiver though.
The rest of the roster isn’t much more than depth right now.
While I’m not happy with Owens joining the team, I am confident that Carroll will cut his ass if it turns out that age really has caught up with Owens.
4. Tight Ends: John Carlson took his injured shoulder and buttery hands to Minnesota. In his place, Seattle got Kellen Winslow Jr. from Tampa Bay to match up with last year’s free agent acquisition, Zack Miller.
Both should benefit from improved line play to get out in pass routes more. Miller came in for big money as a free agent in 2011. By the numbers, he had a disappointing season. The numbers don’t tell how he had to stay in for protection.
Anthony McCoy dropped too many passes and Cameron Morrah is more of a blocking specialist. Seattle needs more pass-catching production from this position.
5. Special Teams: The first week loss to the 49ers was sealed by the special teams after Jackson led the Seahawks to within two points. One kick return and punt return for touchdowns by Ted Ginn Jr later and the final score looked like a blow out.
Kicker Steven Hauschka did well all last season. Punter Jon Ryan was among the top five in the league but the coverage teams were weak. Seattle signed linebacker Heath Farwell and safety Chris Maragos at mid-season. They finished in the top two for special teams tackles. Seattle needs consistency from this unit, especially if the game turns into a field position battle.
6. Linebackers: Leroy Hill and K.J. Wright are back but leading tackler David Hawthorne went to New Orleans only to find tackling bonuses gone with the Gregg Williams suspension for his part in “Bountygate.” Draft pick Bobby Wagner, a 6’ and 241-pound tackling machine from Utah State, can play all three linebacking positions.
Wright is expected to fill the Hawthorne’s shoes in the middle. Seattle will look to fill in the second string with young backups.
7. Secondary: When the starting corners Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond went out with injuries early, I had visions of Larry Fitzgerald waltzing through the defensive backfield.
The replacements, Brandon Browner, a CFL retread, and Richard Sherman, a former Stanford wide receiver in his first year, didn’t inspire confidence but they did allow Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to play a much more aggressive and physical style.
With safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, arguably the best young safety combo in the league, this style skyrocketed the defense up into the top ten in the league.
Overall, Seattle started 2011 going 2-6 before finishing out 5-3. There was no game, apart from the Charlie Whitehurst fiasco in Cleveland that the Seahawks didn’t compete to the final whistle. In fact, Seattle surprised Baltimore at home and the Super Bowl-winning NY Giants in the Big Apple.
After a roster turnover the last two years that resembled a tornado sweeping through the Seahawks, last season saw the foundations set. This season the team seems set in a lot of positions. With the religion of competition that Pete Carroll preaches constantly, no player can afford to rest on their laurels.
I was worried when Carroll was hired that the Seahawks would become a resting place for all USC alumni, especially when he traded for LenDale White during the first draft under the Carroll/Schneider regime. I felt a lot more confident when White was cut before training camp.
If Matt Flynn proves he’s not a flash in the pan, Seattle looks like they can compete with the surprising San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals (who refuse to go away). He looked good against Tennessee—not perfect, but definitely good.
I am not feeling the arrogant confidence that Mike Holmgren earned. Pete Carroll still has to prove there is more to his game than pom-poms.
A fast start against a very tough opening schedule would go a long way towards that end. The first three games have Seattle traveling to Arizona before returning home to face Dallas and Green Bay on Monday Night Football.
That should be enough time to know if this team is ready to step up or to still barely tread water.
Photo credits: Marshawn Lynch corn maze image: kissingsuzykolber.uproxx.com; Three QBs image: Tim Booth/AP; Kam Chancellor image: seahawks.com.