INDIANAPOLIS – Looking to add to an aging roster that underachieved last season, the Seattle Seahawks staff arrived Tuesday to begin its quest of giving the franchise an injection of youth in new coach Jim Mora’s first year at the helm.
Seahawks brass started that process in earnest three weeks ago at the Senior Bowl. Now they will crank up the talent evaluation process a couple more notches with the NFL combine beginning this week.
The event provides an opportunity for Seattle to get an up-close look at marquee names such as Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree, Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford and offensive tackles Andre Smith of Alabama and Michael Oher of Mississippi.
The Seahawks have the No. 4 overall pick in April’s draft. The next two months offer a chance for Mora and team president and general manager Tim Ruskell to begin to put their imprint on the franchise with Mike Holmgren off enjoying his retirement.
Seattle has its highest draft selection in more than a decade. And with a surprisingly poor 4-12 finish last season, Seattle has several needs to fill heading into the 2009 season.
“We like what we’re seeing in the draft,” Ruskell said. “And we will help this football team. But there’s really no position that’s out or in yet. We haven’t done that yet. But we have to look at it, sure.”
Several mock drafts have Seattle selecting Crabtree with its first draft pick. The Dallas native is considered the best prospect by some draft prognosticators. And there’s no questioning the ability of Crabtree, a two-time Fred Biletnikoff Award winner as the best receiver in college football.
However, questions linger if Crabtree has elite speed. And the Seahawks won’t find the answer to that query this week – Crabtree’s chosen to wait to run the 40-yard dash until the pro day he will host in Dallas at the end of March.
But Seattle will get a chance to interview Crabtree and determine if his personality fits in with the rest of the team.
Even though the draft and the onset of free agency at the end of the month offer an opportunity for the Seahawks to add talent, Mora said he believes Seattle already has a great deal of talent on the roster.
“I don’t think it’s important or necessary to come in and wipe the slate clean,” Mora said. “Get all new coaches, come in and say, ‘This guy can’t play, that guy can’t play,’ – instant evaluation.
“So the last two years have afforded me the chance to sit and watch these guys and make sure that we are putting the right coaches with the right players to draw the best out of our players that we can draw out of them to become the best team that we can be.”
The Seahawks’ top draft priorities heading into the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis:
All five projected starting linemen at the beginning of the season finished the year on the injured reserve. The most talented of that group is perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones, who had season-ending microfracture knee surgery on his left knee. Jones, 35, is expected to be ready for training camp. But Seattle does not know how Jones will respond to the surgery and might want to draft Jones’ heir apparent and start grooming that player for the future.
The Seahawks finished last in passing yardage allowed in 2008 after giving up a league-low 15 passing touchdowns in 2007. Seattle gave up 25 touchdown passes in 2008, tied for third-worst in the league. Smaller cornerbacks Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson struggled matching up against more physical receivers. The Seahawks poor pass rush also contributed to the struggles in the defensive secondary.
Seattle still has trouble stopping the run, and could use a run stuffer up front to pair with emerging talent Brandon Mebane. Rookie Red Bryant played well at times but couldn’t stay healthy. Veteran Rocky Bernard did not have his best season in a contract year and could be on the way out. Craig Terrill and Howard Green are good fill-in guys, but they aren’t every-down players.
If Nate Burleson comes back healthy from surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament and Deion Branch continues to play like he did at the end of last season, then the Seahawks could be OK at receiver. But that’s a big if. And the Seahawks still need to decide if they want to bring back veteran Bobby Engram. Engram brings value to the offense along with leadership, but Ruskell may have soured on him after he threatened to hold out for more money last season. The Seahawks need a consistent playmaker.
Can Matt Hasselbeck stay healthy in 2009? The 33-year-old quarterback plans to participate in the team’s first minicamp in April, but coach Jim Mora said there’s no guarantee Hasselbeck will stay healthy, and that the team may draft a quarterback to groom as a future replacement.