Rookie Aaron Curry, the Wake Forest linebacker generally regarded as the nearest thing to a sure thing in this year’s draft, doesn’t seem to be one of them.
Curry is a 6-2, 254-pound building block — or rather a rebuilding block — for a Seattle team that went 4-12 last year after five consecutive playoff seasons, including a Super Bowl run in 2005.
How will 33-year-old quarterback Matt Hasselbeck rebound after missing nine games last season with a bulging disk in his back? How effective will offensive tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney be after surgeries?
And the list goes on.
At least Curry figures to immediately fit into a starting spot.
“I think we made ourselves a lot better. Certainly, when you draft a guy like Aaron Curry, you help your whole team,” Mora says.
In four seasons as a starter at Wake Forest, Curry grew into last season’s Butkus Award as college football’s top linebacker.
“To find out that I was going to be a Seattle Seahawk was one of the best things that I have ever heard,” Curry says.
The draft is risky business, especially at the top where teams make big-money investments. Busts happen. But Curry seems a rock-solid prospect and investment.
Going into the draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had Curry ranked as the top player available.
“He’s not going to be a bust,” Kiper says. “He’s going to give you everything he has. He’s got great character. He’s got great versatility. He can cover. He can rush the passer. Aaron Curry would probably fall into that category as the safest guy. Maybe not a boom, but certainly not a bust.”
Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell says “something clicked” when club officials interviewed Curry at the scouting combine and he spoke about his family and passion for football.
“He was a guy you could talk to. You saw his priorities,” Ruskell says.
He also liked what the Seahawks heard from Curry’s coaches at Wake Forest. “The coaches couldn’t say enough about him in terms of what he meant to that program,” Ruskell says.
“His leadership, the way he conducted himself, the way he was with his teammates, his motivational ability — kind of off the charts. We’re always going to pay attention to that. You combine that with the ability of the player to play and be productive, and then it became a no-brainer.”
Mora echoes that.
“There was really just no doubt about his character and his personality and his competitiveness,” the coach says.
“He’s a top-flight kid, and he will really add a lot to this organization both on the field and off the field and in the locker room.”
However, there were options for the Seahawks on draft day that could lead to future second-guessing.
Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez was on the board when Seattle drafted Curry. Given Hasselbeck’s age and injuries, Sanchez might have been a perfect successor.
But Ruskell says his team would have considered trading down had Curry not been available at No. 4.
He was available, and Ruskell says that when the time came to make the pick, Curry was the top-rated player on the Seahawks’ draft ranking board.
“So we stayed true to our board, and he was the next guy to pluck off,” says Ruskell, who says it was not a “need deal,” even though Seattle had a need.
In March, the Seahawks traded linebacker Julian Peterson, a 30-year-old five-time Pro Bowler, to the Detroit Lions.
Peterson signed a seven-year, $54 million dealt in 2006. Before last season, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu got a $42 million extension through 2015. And in February, the club had placed the franchise tag on its other outside linebacker, LeRoy Hill, giving him an $8.3 million tender offer for next season.
Curry will replace Peterson on the field, though he won’t come cheaper.
After the draft, the Seahawks removed the franchise tag from Hill and risked losing him to free agency. But they’ve since re-signed him to a six-year deal.
“It’s a perfect fit being that Lofa and Leroy are great at their position,” Curry says. “I am really looking forward to being like a little brother to both Lofa and Leroy.”
The Seahawks still have to sign Curry, who probably will command at least $25 million in guaranteed money based on his draft slot. But the rookie sounds eager to get a deal done.
“Football is big in my heart. I love the game of football,” he says. “I am very passionate when I play, and I’m very passionate when I practice. I’m very passionate about the game when I’m just lifting weights.”
The Seahawks are banking that his passion will help fuel a return to the top of the NFC West in 2009.
AROUND THE FIELD WITH THE SEAHAWKS
Quarterback: Three-time Pro Bowler Matt Hasselbeck missed nine games last year with a bulging disk in his back (with nerve issues that resulted in weakness in his right leg). He says he’s recovered after an offseason of rehabilitation. Backup Seneca Wallace has played well in recent years.
Running back: Julius Jones, signed as a free agent a year ago, rushed for a team-high 698 yards. Maurice Morris, who supplemented Jones, left to sign with the Detroit Lions. Second-year fullback Owen Schmitt is heir apparent to Leonard Weaver, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wide receiver: Veteran flanker Bobby Engram left for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Seahawks replaced him by signing T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a 2007 Pro Bowler. Nate Burleson, who had season-ending surgery after a knee injury in the 2008 opener, is at split end. Veteran Deion Branch, a former Super Bowl MVP who is also coming off knee surgery, also is in the mix.
Tight end: John Carlson is coming off a rookie season in which he had 55 catches for 627 yards and five touchdowns, all team highs.
Offensive line: By the end of last season, all five starters from the beginning of the year were on injured reserve. Left tackle Walter Jones, a nine-time Pro Bowler, is 35 and coming off microfracture knee surgery; he might not be ready anytime soon. Second-round draft pick Max Unger played center, guard and tackle at Oregon and could be immediately pressed into service.
Defensive line: End Patrick Kerney, a two-time Pro Bowler, had season-ending shoulder surgery in 2008 and had bone chips removed from his elbow in the offseason. Seattle expects him to be ready for training camp. Cory Redding, obtained from the Lions in the Julian Peterson trade, can play inside or out and could take time from ends Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson, a first-round draft pick in 2008. New tackle Colin Cole is a run stuffer and will team with emerging Brandon Mebane.
Linebacker: Five-time Pro Bowler Peterson will be replaced on the outside by rookie Aaron Curry, the fourth overall pick of the draft. Lofa Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowler at 26, is in the middle, and LeRoy Hill is back on the outside with a new contract in hand.
Secondary: The Seahawks were last in pass defense last season. Cornerback Ken Lucas returns after being released by the Carolina Panthers and is the starter at right cornerback opposite 2007 Pro Bowler Marcus Trufant. The veteran safeties are Deon Grant and Brian Russell.
Special teams: Olindo Mare made 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. Punter Jon Ryan ranked sixth in the NFL with an average of 45.6 yards a punt. Josh Wilson provides speed as a kickoff returner.
Coaching staff: Jim Mora, who had been head-coach-in-waiting behind Mike Holmgren, is waiting no more after Holmgren’s departure. Mora was 26-22 in three seasons as coach of the Atlanta Falcons (2004-06). Greg Knapp, who was with Mora in Atlanta, is the new offensive coordinator and figures to re-emphasize the running game. Casey Bradley, linebackers coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the past two seasons, will coordinate a defense that was 30th overall in 2008.
Outlook: No team was hit harder by injuries last season. After winning the NFC West title for four consecutive years, the Seahawks went 4-12 during Holmgren’s final season. If Hasselbeck can stay healthy, that will be a start. But there are many lingering injury question marks. An 8-8 finish would be a return to respectability for a team in transition.