The Seattle Seahawks are out to prove that they’re ready to regain a division they dominated for the middle part of this decade. They will do so with a head coach who is out to prove he belongs in the big show.
The Seahawks won four straight division titles from 2004-2007 with their best showing coming in 2005 when they went 13-3 and made it all the way to the Super Bowl before bowing out to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The club then struggled in 2008, Mike Holmgren’s final season as head coach before a brief retirement, and his hand-picked successor Jim Mora Jr. managed just a 5-11 record in ’09 with an aging roster before being given his walking papers after just one season.
Going with a “think big” philosophy that is sure to saturate Seattle’s 2010 war cry, the organization brought in one of college football’s more recognizable faces to man the sidelines in Pete Carroll, who will be looking to show his earlier failures as an NFL head coach were an anomaly.
Carroll posted just a 33-31 record in four seasons with the New York Jets (1994) and New England Patriots (1997-99) before retreating to the college ranks at USC, where he was 97-19, won seven straight Pac-10 titles and a pair of national championships.
“I was not at my best at New York, I was not at my best at New England,” Carroll said at his introductory press conference in January. “I think my experience [at USC] has changed me. I’m not the same. Hopefully, I’m better.”
While Carroll retained defensive coordinator Casey “Gus” Bradley, who was hired last year by Mora and whose unit struggled versus the pass, the offensive staff underwent a complete overhaul. Among the new faces is offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who was Carroll’s assistant head coach of the offense last year at USC, one season after serving as the Denver Broncos’ quarterbacks coach.
With a roster that lost both left tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney to retirement and features several projected starters over the age of 30, Carroll’s first task was to bring in some new blood. Having three selections in the first 60 picks of the draft helped that and Carroll appears to have hit some potential home runs with tackle Russell Okung (sixth overall), safety Earl Thomas (14th) and wide receiver Golden Tate (60).
Seattle also traded with the Jets for 27-year-old running back Leon Washington on draft day while also bringing in 28-year-old quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, 26-year-old wideout Mike Williams and 26-year-old running back Quinton Ganther.
While looking to get younger, Carroll’s goal was to also create some competition at every position for the Seahawks. He can only hope that translates into the franchise being competitive once again in the NFC West.
“We’re not thinking about last year anymore. Nobody’s thinking about the past,” tight end John Carlson told the Seattle Times at the start of training camp. “Competition is kind of the core of this team. Competing every day.”
Below we take a capsule look at the 2010 edition of the Seattle Seahawks, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2009 RECORD: 5-11 (3rd, NFC West)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2007, lost to Green Bay, 42-20, in NFC Divisional Playoff
COACH (RECORD): Pete Carroll (first season with Seahawks, 33-31 overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jeremy Bates
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Casey (Gus) Bradley
OFFENSIVE STAR: Matt Hasselbeck, QB (3029 passing yards, 17 TD, 17 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Earl Thomas, S (1st Round, Texas)
OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 26th rushing, 15th passing, 25th scoring
DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 15th rushing, 30th passing, t25th scoring
KEY ADDITIONS: QB Charlie Whitehurst (from Chargers), QB J.P. Losman (from Seahawks), RB Leon Washington (from Jets), RB Quinton Ganther (from Redskins), WR Mike Williams (from Titans), WR Golden Tate (2nd Round, Notre Dame), TE Chris Baker (from Patriots), T Russell Okung, (1st Round, Oklahoma State), G Ben Hamilton (from Broncos), G Chester Pitts (from Texans), DE Chris Clemons (from Eagles), DE Robert Henderson (from Lions), DT Kevin Vickerson (from Titans), LB Matt McCoy (from Buccaneers), LB Tyjuan Hagler (from Colts), FS Earl Thomas (1st Round, Texas),
KEY DEPARTURES: QB Seneca Wallace (to Browns), FB Justin Griffith (to Texans), WR Nate Burleson (to Lions), TE John Owens (to Raiders), T Walter Jones (retired), T Brandon Frye (not tendered), T Damion McIntosh (not tendered), G Rob Sims (to Lions), DE Patrick Kerney (retired), DE Darryl Tapp (to Eagles), DL Cory Redding (to Ravens), LB D.D. Lewis (not tendered), CB Ken Lucas (not tendered), S Deon Grant (to Giants)
QB: At the very least, the Seahawks are hoping to squeeze at minimal one more season out of Matt Hasselbeck (3,029 passing yards, 17 TD, 17 INT). A veteran of 11 seasons, the 34-year-old missed two games last year due to fractured ribs while a back issue cost him nine games in 2008. Cutting down the 32 sacks will be key to keeping him healthy. It was thought that Whitehurst, acquired from San Diego, could push Hasselbeck for the starter’s role, but he instead is trying to hold off journeyman J.P. Losman for the backup spot. Whitehurst has yet to throw an NFL pass, though he did run for a touchdown in 2006 with the Chargers, while Losman played in one game last year with the Oakland Raiders and also spent time in the United Football League. While Seattle may try to groom Whitehurst for the future, the Seahawks will be dead in their tracks if they can’t keep Hasselbeck healthy.
RB: No position will feature Carroll’s competition philosophy more than the running back spot and the coach showed his love of a two-back system in the college ranks. Seattle has no short of four options to go with and that doesn’t include LenDale White, a former USC back whom the Seahawks acquired from Tennessee in a draft day trade before later cutting the back. Julius Jones (663 rushing yards, 2 TD) led the team in rushing last year but has posted just 1,361 yards on the ground in two seasons since joining the club from Dallas. Justin Forsett (619 rushing yards, 4 TD) pushed Jones last year and will look to do so again, while the speedy Washington is trying to return from a serious leg fracture suffered last year in October. Ganther got a chance to run the ball in Washington last year because of injury and could also play fullback with the Seahawks. However, that starting job figures to belong to Owen Schmitt, who is entering his third season.
WR/TE: T.J. Houshmandzadeh expected more than the 79 receptions, 911 yards and three touchdowns he posted a year ago and the Seahawks will look to get him more involved in his second year with the club. He has another veteran starting opposite of him in Deion Branch (45 receptions, 2 TD), who had just 437 receiving yards in 14 games last year. Those two will mentor Notre Dame product Tate, who is dangerous in the open field and who Seattle hopes will develop into the playmaker the club desperately needs. Williams, also a former USC Trojan, has had an uneventful career since being taken 10th overall by Detroit in 2005. However, at 6-foot-5, he could revive his career under Carroll as a red zone target. Ben Obomanu and Deon Butler will also try to figure into the wideout mix. Bates has a pair of solid options for a two-tight end system as the club added free agent Chris Baker (14 receptions, 2 TD with New England) to 2008 second-round pick John Carlson. Carlson has 106 catches and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons, while Baker will provide additional protection on the line for Hasselbeck.
OL: It will take some getting used to, but the Seahawks will officially move on from the Walter Jones era. The nine-time Pro Bowl selection was unable to suit up a year ago due to injury and will instantly be replaced by Okung. Praised by offensive line coach Alex Gibbs for his commitment to the game of football, Okung has big shoes to fill but is up to the task. Okung and newcomer Ben Hamilton will try to help the Seahawks cut down on the 41 sacks allowed last year. Hamilton, formerly of Denver, will line up next to Okung at left guard, while Chris Spencer starts at center. Max Unger is at right guard after making 16 starts as a rookie last year and Sean Locklear shifts back to the right tackle spot. This unit will put Gibbs’ zone-blocking scheme to work and try to give stability to a line that saw players come in and out last year. Steve Vallos will back up at center and can also play guard along with Mike Gibson. Ray Willis is insurance at tackle.
DL: With the retirement of Kerney and the trade of Darryl Tapp to Philadelphia, the Seahawks are going with a completely different look on the front line under Carroll. The club is trying 323-pound defensive tackle Red Bryant at the left end spot with Colin Cole (48 tackles) at nose tackle. Brandon Mebane, who managed just 1 1/2 sacks last year, would settle into the three-technique tackle spot with Chris Clemons (11 tackles, 3 sacks with Philadelphia), acquired from the Eagles for Tapp, roaming at the “Leo” end spot in a 3-4 look. Bradley hopes the size of that line will enable his club to shut down the run while also mixing in some speed. Lawrence Jackson (32 tackles, 4.5 sacks) will be trying to play his way into the mix at end with Nick Reed. Craig Terrill and Kevin Vickerson, a former Titan, are the reserve tackles. While stopping the run appears to be the first priority, the Seahawks did finish last season with just 28 sacks, tied for 26th in the league.
LB: Whatever weaknesses the rest of the defense has will be made up for by an outstanding linebacker group that consists of a returning Lofa Tatupu, 2009 fourth overall pick Aaron Curry and Leroy Hill. A former Pro Bowler, Tatupu missed 11 games last year due to a torn pectoral and was sorely missed. David Hawthorne stepped into the middle spot for Tatupu last year and led the Seahawks with 117 tackles to go along with four sacks. Hawthorne could start Seattle’s season opener at the left spot due to Hill’s one-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Charges from a pending domestic assault case could also affect Hill’s season. The return of Tatupu should help Curry (61 tackles, 2 sacks) improve in his second NFL season and prevent him from fading again down the stretch. Will Herring and Matt McCoy back up on the outside and the Seahawks also added former Colt Tyjuan Hagler during camp.
DB: Seattle’s secondary will also benefit with the return of a healthy player, as Marcus Trufant (49 tackles, 2 INT) failed to play up to his Pro Bowl potential after returning from a back injury last year. A 2006 first-round pick, Kelly Jennings will battle with fourth-year corner Josh Wilson (45 tackles), who returned two interceptions for touchdowns last year, for the other starting job, with the loser shifting to the nickel spot. Seattle’s secondary also got a huge boost with the drafting of Thomas, who is expected to add range and aggressiveness to the free safety position. Entering his 15th season, Lawyer Milloy (34 tackles) was re-signed to start on the strong side, pushing Jordan Babineaux (104 tackles, 2 INT) to a reserve role along with 6- foot-3, 232-pound fifth-round pick Kam Chancellor out of Virginia Tech. Walter Thurmond, a 2010 fourth-round selection, and Kennard Cox should also find roles as backups in the secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Olindo Mare comes into the season having made 21 straight field goal tries while hitting on a career-best 92.3 percent (24- of-26) of his attempts last year. He also converted all 28 of his PATs and posted 22 touchbacks on kickoffs. Seattle also returns its punter from a season ago in Jon Ryan after he averaged 46.2 yards per punt while sticking 28 kicks inside the 20. Clint Gresham, a rookie out of Texas Christian, is the long snapper. With Nate Burleson no longer around, Forsett could serve as the primary returner after averaging 24.0 yards per kickoff return in 2009. Tate and a healthy Washington could also see bigger roles in the return game if Forsett gets a lot of carries in the backfield.
PROGNOSIS: The good news for the Seahawks is that even though they are in the middle of a transitional phase, the fact that the NFC West is once again wide open may allow them to compete for a division title earlier than expected. They are ahead of the Rams in the rebuilding process and neither the 49ers or Cardinals look like they will run away with things. Seattle must stay healthy for starters, especially Hasselbeck, Tatupu and Trufant, and will also need a host of young defensive players like Mebane, Curry and Wilson to take more steps forward. If Okung, Thomas and Tate are able play ahead of the learning curve, Seattle can challenge for the division crown, but at the very least the Seahawks should take one giant step forward in once again becoming a consistent challenger for NFC supremacy.