The forecast for Seattle is overcast and cool, and it’s not the weather I’m talking about it; it’s the Seahawks. Once the best in the NFC West, Seattle is a club that has a lot people perplexed these days, with no one sure when … or if … the team returns as a contender.
That’s why the club shelled out big bucks for Pete Carroll. Let’s be honest: There’s no way of knowing what impact he has on the team. Just because he won at the college level doesn’t mean that happens here. Carroll’s job is to keep Matt Hasselbeck in the lineup … and find a running game … and patch up the offensive line … and fix the pass defense.
I think you see where I’m going. There are a lot of holes and Carroll must fix them. It can be done, especially in the NFC West. But can it be done in one season?
“I don’t know if anybody really knows,” said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
I’m with him. Nevertheless, let’s try to sort these guys out:
• The return of Pete Carroll. The last time he took over an NFL team he went 10-6 in his first season and won a division title. Of course, he had Drew Bledsoe, Curtis Martin and Ben Coates then, and Seattle is a team that won nine games the past two seasons total. Carroll has the energy and enthusiasm to get the job done, but they can only take him so far. He needs players, plenty of them, and the jury is out there. “He’ll be successful,” said New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who played for Carroll at Southern California, “because he’s so competitive. He’ll have the right people around him. He’s smart, but he knows at this level you don’t do it on your own. You need to entrust other coaches and players with the responsibility of helping your team succeed. He’s a winner. Everywhere he goes he’s done well. He’ll take the fans by storm, the media by storm and the team will really respond to him.”
• The recovery of former Jets running back Leon Washington. A year ago he broke his leg and was lost for the season. Now he’s back, practicing and looking good. The plan is to have him ready for the season opener and Washington sees no reason why that can’t happen. “Everything is right on schedule,” said Washington. “It’s going perfectly. My goal was to get back for training camp the first day, and I made that goal. My second goal was to get into a preseason game and actually play, and I’m getting close to that. So it’s great just to be back on the football field. I’m sure everybody in New York knows how much I loved football when I played there. I’m doing the same thing here. I’m going out there and playing with a passion.”
• The addition of offensive line coach Alex Gibbs. Gibbs is one of the best in the business, and, guaranteed, he makes an ordinary offensive line better. Of course, having first-round draft pick Russell Okung should help. Okung steps in for the retired Walter Jones, and hallelujah. The Seahawks plugged in four replacements for Jones last season, with Sean Locklear taking most of the snaps. Now Locklear is back on the right side, Okung is on the left and the Seahawks are better off. “If you get Alex coaching the running backs to do exactly what they’re supposed to do, you’re not going to have negative runs and you’re going to be successful,” said Matt Hasselbeck. “He’s never not been successful.”
• The play of Hasselbeck. First of all, he’s healthy. He missed parts of the past two seasons with injuries and appears over them. Second, he’s fit, with running back Justin Forsett saying, “He’s got a little four-pack now, so it’s looking good for him. I’ve been here three years now, and this is the first time I’ve seen that. It used to be a two-pack.” Hmmm. Third, and most important, Hasselback looks confident and sharp. Barring an unexpected event, he will start again for the Seahawks and backup Charlie Whitehurst will serve as his caddie. “[Hasselbeck] is our starter,” said Carroll. “He’s had the best offseason of his life. He’s as physically fit as he’s been in years. He’s had a great camp and hasn’t had anything that’s bothered him for a second. And now he’s ready to go. He gives us confidence, leadership and experience that you can only find in a guy who’s lived a life as an NFL quarterback for as many years as he has.”
• The schedule. The Seahawks play in the NFC West, where the past six years only one team in the division had a winning record, and that’s the club that won it. With Kurt Warner gone from Arizona, the popular opinion is that the 49ers return to the top, but I have to see it to believe it. I’ll take the Cardinals again, but I wouldn’t rule out the Seahawks. They open at home against San Francisco, then pick up San Diego in Week 3 at Qwest Field. So what? So the Chargers are slow starters, with 2-3 their best record through the first five games of any season with Norv Turner.
• The return of former USC wide receiver Mike Williams. Yes, that Mike Williams, the former first-round draft pick and millionaire bust of the Detroit Lions. Williams washed out in a hurry, with Tennessee giving up on him two years ago, but he’s not only back; he’s going to make this team. In fact, he could start. I’m serious. In the preseason opener, Williams caught one pass — but it was a 51-yarder for a touchdown. “He looks great,” said Carroll. “He’s not looked like this since maybe his sophomore year of college.” Williams’ return has a lot to do with Carroll, with the former Trojans star stopping by USC last fall to ask his former head coach for advice on returning to the game. “I didn’t think much about it,” Carroll said. “And then I hear he’s getting ready, and I said, ‘Let’s bring him in and see what he looks like,’ just on a lark.” Result: The Seahawks have themselves a wide receiver who could be a difference maker. “He’s very hungry,” said Hasselbeck, “and he’s been awesome.”
• The best way to protect your quarterbacks is with a solid rushing attack, but the Seahawks didn’t have one last season — ranking 26th overall, with their seven rushing TDs tied for fifth lowest in the league. So what? So the same backs who carried the load last year are the same backs who will do it again, Forsett and Julius Jones. OK, so Washington is here, too, but he’s not an every-down back; he’s a specialist, with returns and big third-down plays his specialty. Forsett and Jones will split the carries, with Forsett the likely starter, and the hope is that both up their numbers with an improved offensive line. We’ll see.
• The offensive line. It wasn’t very good last season, and Carroll knows it. That’s why he brought in Gibbs to straighten these guys out. So he has a new left tackle, which will help, but he’s a rookie — and rookie offensive linemen typically take a year to develop. Yeah, I know about Joe Thomas, but he was the exception. There are two new starters, both on the left side, and it will take everyone time to mesh … and time is something that is running out on Hasselbeck, who turns 35 next month.
• The pass rush. There isn’t a premier pass rusher here. Patrick Kerney led the team in sacks last year, and he’s gone. Lawrence Jackson was second, and he’s gone, too. So is Darryl Tapp, who was fourth in sacks in 2009. Seattle dropped to 28 sacks last season, one reason the club ranked 30th in pass defense, and check out the roster and tell me why you would expect that to change this fall. Chris Clemons? Red Bryant? Kentwan Balmer? I don’t think so.
• The road. The Seahawks weren’t just bad there; they flat-out stunk, winning once, a 27-17 defeat of St. Louis, and getting clobbered by everyone else. They were outscored 260-117, allowing 30 or more points in each of their final seven road starts, and were positively horrible down the stretch, losing their final four games anywhere by a combined score of 123-37. Can you say, “Fore?”