You don’t have to tell Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider what Seattle’s most obvious need is – he had an up-close view from the sideline last season.
“I would say that we’d like to come out of the draft with at least one offensive lineman and one defensive lineman,” Schneider said. “Now, whether or not our board falls that way, I don’t know. But we’re not going to reach for guys just because we feel like we have to have one.”
The Seahawks started the rebuilding process up front last year by drafting Russell Okung No. 6 overall. The Oklahoma State product suffered high ankle sprains of both legs, but managed to play 10 regular-season games and was productive when healthy. By all accounts, Okung is the team’s left tackle of the future.
“Last year was … unique because Walter Jones wasn’t here so we needed a left tackle – a legitimate guy – so that was pretty nerve-wracking,” Schneider said.
Veteran center Chris Spencer and right tackle Sean Locklear are free agents and may not return. And with third-year pro Max Unger coming back from season-ending toe surgery, with his ideal position center, Seattle needs upgrades at left guard, right guard and right tackle.
The Seahawks’ offensive line has not been the same since perennial Pro Bowl player Jones succumbed to a knee injury after a Thanksgiving game against Dallas in 2008, leading to season-ending microfracture surgery and his eventual retirement before the 2010 season.
Since then, the Seahawks have cycled through 18 starting offensive line combinations, seven left tackles and four offensive line coaches.
The result of all that juggling up front has been inconsistent play. Seattle finished in the bottom third of the league in total offense the past three seasons.
So it’s no surprise that offensive line remains the team’s most obvious need heading into this year’s draft.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said improving the talent on both sides of the line is a priority. But because of the league’s labor dispute, Carroll did not have a chance to jump-start that process through free agency.
Seattle has some possible pieces to the puzzle already in the fold in 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, trade or free agency for help at those spots, with several mock drafts penciling in top interior line prospect Mike Pouncey of Florida or Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State for Seattle in the first round.
But perhaps the most important move Seattle made to solidify the offensive line was the hiring of former Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Cable as the team’s 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 season in Seattle.
Solari left to join NFC West Division rival San Francisco’s staff after Jim Mora’s only season (2009) as the head coach of his hometown NFL team.
With the change of coaching administrations, Carroll brought in the father of the zone blocking scheme, Alex Gibbs, to take over.
However, Gibbs didn’t make it past training camp last summer, 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 starting offensive line combinations as Seattle suffered through a rash of injuries on the line for a third season in a row.
The injury bug affected the team’s performance offensively, particularly running the ball, with Seattle finishing as the second-worst rushing team in the league, averaging 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 at Tennessee, and Cable has the job of piecing Seattle’s line together.