The Seahawks have reached the halfway point of their first season under coach Pete Carroll at 4-4, so it’s time for Seahawks.com’s Clare Farnsworth to hand out his midseason awards:
Best player: Lawyer Milloy. How many players in the league who are wearing their age on their jersey have had the impact that the Seahawks’ No. 36 has? Milloy was re-signed in late April – for a second season with the Seahawks and 15th in the NFL – to mentor rookie free safety Earl Thomas and “compete” for the starting strong safety spot. He has done all of that, and so much more. He has 43 tackles (one behind co-leaders Lofa Tatupu and Marcus Trufant). He has three sacks (his first since 2006). He has forced a fumble and broken up a couple of passes. But his greatest value has been his follow-my-lead work ethic in practice as well as games, and his no-excuses mentality that plays into one of Carroll’s cornerstone rules.
Best offensive player: WR Mike Williams. The unevenness of his season has matched that of the entire offense. Of his team-leading 35 receptions, 27 have come in the four victories – including 21 in the back-to-back wins over the Bears and Cardinals, the highest two-game total in franchise history. Fourteen of his receptions have come on third downs. Twenty one have produced first downs. With Williams, however, it’s not so much what he’s already done as what he is capable of doing in the second half.
Best defensive player: MLB Lofa Tatupu. After a couple of injury-plagued and -interrupted seasons, the instinctive and productive Tatupu is back. Yes, he shares the lead in tackles with Trufant (44 each). But Tatupu’s game always has been more than mere numbers, no matter how impressive they might be (123 tackles in 2005, four sacks in 2005, four interceptions in 2007). For starters, he does not come off the field, regardless of down, distance or personnel package. But as Carroll has stressed on several occasions, the way Tatupu plays makes those around him better players.
Best special teams player: Leon Washington. There’s the consistency of punter Jon Ryan, as well as the club-record streak of 30 consecutive field goals by Olindo Mare that was snapped against the Raiders. But Washington continues to lead the league in kickoff return average (31.4) and had TD returns of 101 and 99 yards that were the difference in the Week 3 win over the Chargers. Now, he’s also handling punts returns. And, he’s still capable of taking it the distance every time he gets his hands on the ball.
Best rookie: FS Earl Thomas. He wasn’t even 21 when the Seahawks selected him with the 14th overall pick in April’s NFL draft. But the kid obviously can play. He has four interceptions – one off the club record for a rookie and tied for the third-highest total in the league. He’s also fifth on the team in tackles (37). But it is his combination of speed and closing ability that has allowed the defense to play more aggressively at other positions because Thomas is able to roam centerfield so well. And, he’s only going to get better as this season and his career progress.
Best veteran newcomer: DE Chris Clemons. There’s a lot of competition here (which has to make Carroll smile). But Clemons has been even better than advertised – or expected – since coming over in a mid-March trade with the Eagles. He has displayed the needed prerequisites of pass-rush ability (a team-high 5½ sacks) but also stoutness against the run (28 tackles, seventh on the team and second among the D-linemen) to more than just fill the hybrid “Leo” end spot in Carroll’s defense.
Best assistant coach: Brian Schneider. He coaches the special teams, which have been the Seahawks’ most consistent and productive units. And the key work here is “coaches.” Schneider and his assistant, Jeff Ulbrich, don’t miss the slightest nuance in preparing their units for whatever might come. From bloop kickoffs to onside kicks, the Seahawks have had it covered (with the exception of Devin Hester’s too-little-too-late 89-yard punt return in Chicago) – because of Schneider’s attention to the most-minute detail. Not surprisingly, the Seahawks lead the league is average starting point after kickoffs (31.9) and are second in opponent starting position (22.7; just behind the Ravens’ 22.6).
What would they do without? Justin Forsett. He began the season as the starting running back and was averaging 4.2 yards per carry and had nine receptions when Marshawn Lynch was acquired in a trade with the Bills. While the arrival of his old college teammate and friend (not to mention groomsman in his wedding) cost Forsett the starter role and some carries, it also allowed him to return to his most productive role as the third-down back – where he’s effective running the ball on draws, catching the ball out of the backfield and doing a better job of blitz pickup than anyone his size should be able to. Forsett’s per-carry average is up to 4.4 yards, and he had receptions for double-digit yardage in two of the past three games.
Biggest surprise: Mike Williams. That’s surprising, as in pleasant. Williams had not played in the league since 2007 when the Seahawks gave him a tryout during an April minicamp. And he never played all that well in the league after being the 10th pick overall in the 2005 draft by the Lions. But he did, and said, all the right things from his first day with the Seahawks. His renewed love of – and respect for – the game got him a contract. Which led to the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, so Williams could step in as the starting split end. Which has led to Williams leading the team in receptions. His is a story that needs to be covered in an ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, if not a made-for-TV movie.
Biggest disappointment: Injuries, especially those on the offensive line. The Seahawks already have had nine starters miss a combined 24 games, and that number will only continue to grow with guards Max Unger and Ben Hamilton and defensive end Red Bryant on injured reserve. But no unit has been more affected than the O-line, and no player has been missed more than first-round draft choice Russell Okung. With Okung in and out of the lineup because of sprained ankles, and Unger and Hamilton out for the season, the Seahawks have used three starters at left tackle and two each at left guard, right guards and right tackle. If offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has said it once, he has said it once a week: “We’ll go as far as the offensive line allows us.”
Best stat: 2 for 24. That was the Bears’ (0 for 12) and Cardinals’ (2 for 12) combined success rate on third downs in the Seahawks’ back-to-back victories. In their season-opening win, the 49ers were 1 for 15. In three of their losses, the Broncos were 14 of 20, the Rams 7 of 16 and the Giants 6 of 13.
Most telling stat: 12. Of the 14 turnovers the Seahawks have forced, all but two have come in their four victories. They are plus-8 in the all-important takeaway/giveaway category in their wins, minus-8 in their four losses. The signs in the meeting rooms at Virginia Mason Athletic Center proclaim Carroll’s philosophy in capital letters: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BALL! The Seahawks’ exact-opposite efforts are all the proof anyone needs.
Most misleading stat: 3.1. That’s Lynch’s per-carry average since being acquired in an Oct. 5 trade. Has anyone ever run so hard to gain the 188 yards Lynch has on 61 carries? He broke a 39-yarder against the Cardinals and added a 26-yarder against the Giants. But Lynch has been at his power-running best while getting something out of plays where he appears he’ll get absolutely nothing.
“He’s an extraordinarily determined football player and I love that that’s demonstrated for our guys – to show how hard guys will fight to make their space and make their plays,” Carroll said. “I think he’s a great illustration of great toughness and competitive, and I think it showed up in particular on the one play (against the Giants) when the whole pile was going and then he came out of the chute. I thought that was really cool.”
Most boggling stat: 239. That’s the number of roster moves that have been made since Carroll and general manager John Schneider were hired in January. That’s 239, and counting.