Tim Ruskell admits that if he had his druthers, he would shy away from selecting an offensive tackle with the fourth pick in April’s NFL draft.
Second in an eight-part series looking at the Seahawks’ needs for next season and the moves they might make.
“I have never been fond of the high (pick) offensive lineman,” Ruskell said, offering an expression to match the sentiment.
“It’s not a sexy pick and you can’t really show highlights.”
Watching Andre Smith, the highly rated but portly 340-pound tackle from Alabama, jiggle around the field plays into Ruskell’s assessment.
But this year, with that pick, un-sexy might be the way to go.
The Seahawks do need to address at some point the fact that future Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones can’t play forever. The sixth pick overall in the 1997 draft, Jones will enter his 13th season having turned 35 in January and coming off microfracture surgery on his left knee.
Besides Smith, who might not be the best fit for the Seahawks, three other tackles could allow them to scratch this long-range itch: Mississippi’s Michael Oher (6 feet 5, 320 pounds), Virginia’s Eugene Monroe (6-5, 315) and Baylor’s Jason Smith (6-5, 300).
“The reality is, there are guys who warrant that pick,” Ruskell said. “Just looking at it, the offensive linemen in this draft are pretty strong.”
But one thing you won’t get Ruskell to buy into is that the Seahawks can find “the next Walter Jones” in this draft.
“Well, you’re not going to find a Walter Jones, that’s for sure,” Ruskell said. “I can say that right now.”
He was laughing, but he was serious.
Jones has played at an exceptional level from the first time he stepped onto the field in a Seahawks uniform. It was the team’s third preseason game against San Francisco, a few days after Jones reported to training camp after an extended contract negotiation. Jones lined up opposite Chris Doleman (since retired with 151 career sacks) and more than held his own.
He has been doing pretty much the same thing for the past 12 seasons.
“My future? I guess I’m cool,” Jones said. “I’m still under contract. My surgery went real good. Hopefully, I’ll come back and be healthy and be strong. That’s the plan.”
Don’t read too much into Jones being beaten for two sacks by the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware in the Thanksgiving Day loss in Dallas — his final game — because he was coping with a knee so painful that he should not have played.
“It was pretty tough,” Jones said. “It was a tough situation. You play this game for so long, you kind of get used to playing with pain.
“It was a situation where I was out there trying to play on one leg. Should I have sat out the game? I don’t know. But it was a tough situation.”
Worrying about who might play left tackle after Jones finally calls it a career is just the tip of what became an iceberg-sized problem for the offensive line in 2008.
The injury bug began gnawing at the team’s starters and depth in training camp, when center Chris Spencer injured his back and veteran backup Chris Gray suffered a back injury that forced him to retire. Right guard Rob Sims tore a pectoral muscle in the season opener and needed season-ending surgery. Before the carnage was over, left guard Mike Wahle (shoulder), Spencer (back), right tackle Sean Locklear (toe) and Jones had joined Sims on injured reserve.
This season-long surge of injuries allowed the Seahawks to give long, hard looks at their backup linemen. Guard Floyd Womack and tackle Ray Willis were the best of the backup bunch, but they’re scheduled to become unrestricted free agents.
So, maybe a tackle at No. 4 isn’t such a bad idea, despite Ruskell’s initial reservations.
“I don’t know if that is a correct way to look at it, with the increased importance placed on the left tackle,” he said.
SEAHAWKS ’09: OFFENSIVE LINE
A look at the position as Jim Mora takes over as head coach and the Seahawks move on without Mike Holmgren for the first time since 1998:
WHAT THEY HAVE: Question marks, and concerns. Walter Jones might be the best left tackle to ever play the game, but he’s not getting any younger and is coming off microfracture surgery on his left knee. Right tackle Sean Locklear, once thought to be the eventual replacement for Jones, regressed last season after signing a five-year, $32 million contract. The addition of Mike Wahle as a free agent helped fill the void created when All-Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson was allowed to leave in free agency in 2006, but Wahle also was guilty of some costly penalties. Center Chris Spencer and right guard Rob Sims, first- and fourth-round draft choices in 2005 and 2006, did little to convince anyone that they are the long-term answers at those positions.
WHAT THEY CAN GET: The Seahawks could have their pick of what is being hailed as a once-in-a-football-generation litter of tackles with the No. 4 selection in April’s draft. If they decide to go in that direction, the player would have time to adjust to life in the NFL, because Jones isn’t close to being finished. Perhaps a bigger question is should the club go after a veteran center in free agency — like the Colts’ Jeff Saturday? Or, will Spencer finally “get it” in his fourth season as the starter?
WHAT THEY NEED: Continuity. It’s the cornerstone for any offensive line, the staying-together/playing-together ingredient that allows five fingers to play as a fist. In his first season with the club, line coach Mike Solari never had his expected starting unit on the field together.