While the Seahawks’ receiving corps has received a bulk of the headlines during the offseason, it is the continued development of tight end John Carlson that may key the team’s passing game. The second-year pro has been terrific during the early part of camp, and is quickly emerging as one of the best tight ends in the NFC. Carlson gives Hasselbeck a dependable threat over the middle of the field as a polished route runner with outstanding hands. Although it is unlikely that the former Notre Dame standout will remain the team leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, it is quite possible that he will continue to post big numbers in the Seahawks’ offense. Knapp has enjoyed tremendous success featuring the tight end in his previous stops at Atlanta (Alge Crumpler) and Oakland (Zach Miller), so expect Carlson to remain a prominent contributor in the Seahawks offense.
The Seahawks put a lot of faith and money in Julius Jones last season. Does that mean fantasy football owners should, too?
» The unheralded return of cornerback Ken Lucas should shore up the Seahawks’ biggest defensive weakness. The eighth-year veteran is slated to start at right cornerback, and he teams with former Pro Bowler Marcus Trufant to give the team a formidable corner tandem. Although Lucas’ skills have slipped a bit since his initial stint with the team, he still has enough skills to give the Seahawks the best cornerback tandem in the NFC West. Lucas’ insertion into the lineup allows the team to use Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson as sub-defenders in the team’s nickel and dime packages, which better suits their skill sets at the present time.
» Don’t be surprised if Justin Forsett becomes a key contributor in the Seahawks’ rushing attack. The second-year pro is an ideal fit in the team’s new zone-based scheme, and could eventually supplant Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett as the feature runner in the backfield. Although Forsett didn’t log any carries during his rookie season, the former California star showed outstanding promise as a runner during the 2008 preseason when he averaged 5.4 yards a carry and produced a rare 100-yard game during the preseason. With Forsett enjoying another outstanding training camp, it is only a matter of time before he finds his way into the running back rotation.
» Keep an eye on wide receiver Jordan Kent during the preseason. The third-year pro is having an outstanding camp, and is making a strong push for playing time as a sub-receiver. While the former Oregon standout has always teased team officials with his exceptional athleticism (Kent lettered in football, basketball and track as a collegian), he is finally putting it together as a receiver with outstanding results. Kent made several spectacular catches on the day, and continues to impress coaches with his ability to get behind the defense. Although he is unlikely to be more than a fourth receiver at this point, he could prove to be a vital backup during the regular season.
Cory Redding may be the most pivotal player on the Seahawks’ defense this season. The sixth-year veteran was acquired from Detroit as part of the Julian Peterson deal, and was originally pegged to fill a role as a rotational interior player. However, the team now intends to use Redding at left defensive end on early downs before kicking him inside on pass-rush situations. This move gives the Seahawks a stout player on the offense’s preferred running side (most offenses are right-hand dominant), and allows the team’s best pass rusher (Kerney) to focus extensively on pressuring the quarterback from the backside. In addition, it enables Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson to focus on making contributions as situational pass rushers in the team’s nickel package. Given the struggles of the Seahawks defense, particularly the defensive line, the decision to use Redding as a utility player may spark a defensive uprising in the Pacific Northwest.
Wide receiver Deon Butler, the rookie speedster from Penn State, is set to make a major impact as a “do-it-all” playmaker for the team. Butler ranks as one of the fastest players on the Seahawks’ roster, and gives the team’s receiving corps a much-needed deep threat from the slot. The Seahawks will use him extensively on bubble screens and reverses to take advantage of his dynamic running skills in space. While those contributions will be critical, the rookie may make his biggest impact as a returner in the kicking game. Butler has been fielding kicks and punts in practice, and could give the team an explosive dimension in the return game.
» After watching the Seahawks defense practice for a day, it is obvious that new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is building his scheme around the team’s impressive trio of linebackers. Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill and Aaron Curry are athletic playmakers capable of excelling as rushers or cover men. And Bradley is taking advantage of the group’s varied skill set by incorporating a host of exotic blitzes with the crew alternating blitz responsibilities. With the offense unable to identify the blitzing linebacker, the Seahawks are banking on the indecision leading to sacks or turnovers in the pocket. After watching the first-team defense record three sacks on blitzes within the first five snaps of the team’s 11-on-11 period, opponents should fear the blitz-happy approach the Seahawks are set to employ.
» Hasselbeck’s injury played a large part in the team’s dismal season a year ago, but the three-time Pro Bowler has returned to health. The 11-year pro is showing no lingering effects from the knee and back injuries that sidelined him for nine games last season. Hasselbeck has been throwing the ball with good zip and velocity through the opening weeks of training camp, and showing the trademark accuracy that has enabled him to complete 60 percent of his passes throughout his career. Although Hasselbeck is still adjusting to the version of the West Coast offense being installed by offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, the savvy veteran is poised to put up big numbers in a redesigned offense that is looking to take more shots down the field.
» The offsensive line remains the biggest question mark. The team’s front five has been besieged by injuries and an unexpected retirement (Mike Wahle) prior to training camp. Offensive line coach Mike Solari has been forced to reshuffle the line up to find an effective combination up front. A healthy Walter Jones remains the only lock to be in the starting lineup during Kickoff Weekend, the rest of the starters along offensive line will be sorted out through evaluation during preseason games. Throw in the team’s change to a zone-based scheme, and the competition between Rob Sims, Chris Spencer, Max Unger, Ray Willis and Sean Locklear is undoubtedly the most pivotal to the success of the Seahawks
Mora, who takes over for Mike Holmgren, has experience orchestrating dramatic turnarounds after quickly transforming the Falcons into NFC South champions during his first stint as an NFL head coach. Mora, 47, took a team that finished 5-11 under Dan Reeves and Wade Phillips the year before his arrival and led them into the NFC Championship Game in his first season on the job in 2004.
Although Mora took over a downtrodden franchise in Atlanta, the Seahawks had reigned supreme over the NFC West until injuries ravaged their roster last season. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, defensive end Patrick Kerney and tackle Walter Jones were a few of the Pro Bowlers who spent time on the sidelines last season. They were joined by numerous others in the training room over the course of the year. Without their big guns on the field, the Seahawks relinquished their four-year vice grip on the division and missed the playoffs for the time since 2002.
However, the Seahawks have seemingly returned to full health, and their fortified roster is embracing Mora’s energetic approach. The team moves briskly from drill to drill and there is a quiet confidence surrounding the team that was noticeably absent last season. Whereas most teams have an optimism buzzing throughout their camp, the feeling surrounding the Seahawks is reminiscent to the swagger of a champion.
With that mixture of confidence, energy and redemption abound in the Pacific Northwest, the thought of the Seahawks regaining their crown in 2009 is not only a possibility, but a growing reality in the NFC West.