The Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line has not been the same since perennial Pro Bowler Walter Jones succumbed to a knee injury after a Thanksgiving Day game against Dallas in 2008, leading to season-ending microfracture surgery and his eventual retirement a year later.
Since then, the Seahawks have cycled through 18 different starting offensive line combinations, seven left tackles and four offensive line coaches.
So, it’s no surprise Seattle finished in the bottom third of the league in total offense the past three seasons, and offensive line remains the team’s most obvious need heading into this year’s draft.
Head coach Pete Carroll said improving the talent on both sides of the line remains a priority this offseason. But because of the league’s labor dispute, Carroll has not had a chance to start improving up front.
But Seattle got a head start last season by drafting offensive tackle Russell Okung No. 6 overall in the 2010 draft. The Oklahoma State product only played in 10 regular-season games because of high ankle sprains on both legs, but when he played the offensive line performed, and by all accounts Okung is the team’s left tackle of the future.
Where Seattle needs help this year is at both guard positions and right tackle. The Seahawks can shore up the center position by either re-signing free agent Chris Spencer or moving third-year pro Max Unger from guard to center, considered his best position.
Others who could compete for a starting job currently on the roster include interior linemen Stacy Andrews, Mike Gibson, Chris White and Lemuel Jeanpierre, and offensive tackles Tyler Polumbus, Breno Giacomini and Will Robinson.
But the Seahawks also will look to the draft or free agency for help at those spots, with several mock drafts penciling in top interior line prospect Mike Pouncey of Florida to Seattle.
The Seahawks also made a move to solidify the offensive line by hiring former Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Cable as the team’s new offensive line/assistant head coach.
The Seahawks have been trying to install the zone blocking scheme since 2008, with then-offensive line coach Mike Solari starting the effort during Mike Holmgren’s final year in Seattle.
Solari left to join NFC West division rival San Francisco’s staff after Jim Mora’s first and only year as the head coach of his hometown team at the end of the 2009 season. And Carroll brought in the father of the zone blocking scheme, Alex Gibbs, to take over that arduous task.
However, Gibbs didn’t make it past training camp, abruptly retiring just before the regular season began, and assistant offensive line coach Art Valero was left to pick up the pieces.
Valero did an admirable job, juggling 10 different starting offensive line combinations as Seattle suffered through a rash of injuries up front for a third straight season.
And the injury bug reflected on the team’s performance offensively, particularly running the ball, with the Seahawks finishing as the second-worst rushing team in the league, averaging just 89 yards a contest.
At the end of last season, Valero was asked to move on after offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was fired by Carroll. Valero is now an assistant offensive line coach for Tennessee. And now Cable has the job of piecing Seattle’s line together.