Given Jones’ uncertain status, the performance of the Seahawks’ retooled offensive line became a prominent story line Saturday night. If 30 minutes on the first-half game clock can be used as a sample size – 30 minutes against a famously overwhelmed defense that spent last season in backpedaling mode – it’s safe to say there’s, uh, work to do.
Sean Locklear, the regular Seahawks right tackle who has been shifted to the left side in Jones’ absence, gave up two sacks in the first half, both credited to Broncos defensive end Kenny Peterson. Furthermore, with Peterson looming over him on a third-and-3, Locklear was flagged for a false start.
It would be one thing if Locklear were a rookie trying to impress in his first audition before a home crowd. But he’s a veteran of six seasons, 18 months into a five-year contract extension worth $32 million. With Jones on the shelf, Locklear is the leader – both in service time and ability – of the offensive line. If he’s getting torched by the Broncos, or picking up a penalty over concerns of getting torched by the Broncos, it’s an ominous sign that suggests the offense has miles to go before the games count.
Peterson wasn’t the only Denver defender who created trouble. The Seahawks’ second drive of the night was scuttled when linebacker D.J. Williams sacked Matt Hasselbeck on a blitz that appeared to confuse reserve running back Justin Forsett.
Aside from the three sacks the offense gave up in the first half, the morning-after headache for coach Jim Mora concerns starting center Chris Spencer. He suffered a quad injury of undetermined severity; if the injury is serious, it further impedes any cohesiveness the offensive line hopes to achieve during the last two weeks of camp.
But there were some positives for the offensive line, too. Hasselbeck had all the time he needed on the game-opening drive, when he took the Seahawks into the end zone on eight plays that covered 70 yards. The protection allowed Hasselbeck to achieve a rhythm with receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. (The free agent receiver, formerly of the Bengals, seems destined to become a Qwest Field favorite. Whenever he pulled in a catch, the crowd responded by chanting “Hooosh!” Which is a lot easier than chanting “Houshmandzadeh!”)
As for the first-team defense, it was competent enough to enable the Seahawks to walk off the field with a 14-10 halftime lead. An interception by another free-agent acquisition – cornerback Ken Lucas – was a highlight. But the surprise of the half had to be Kyle Orton, the ex-Bears quarterback who has replaced the controversial (and far more talented) Jay Cutler in Denver.
When the Broncos traded for Orton, there was speculation that his memoirs of the 2009 season would be titled “Orton Hears a Boo.” But Orton was proficient – the Seahawks rarely pressured him – and he responded by connecting on a succession of dinks and lobs that moved the chains.
The second half was boilerplate preseason – backups trying to make an impression before the first round of roster cuts on Sept. 1 – and the crowd went home in an upbeat mood.
But the most important player of the night was a guy who wasn’t on the field, and may not be on the field for several weeks. Any Seahawks fans wondering if Walter Jones will be missed upon his retirement got their answer Saturday.
He already is.