Seahawks Defensive tackles need help to stop the run

Through the first part of the 2010 season, solid defensive line play had been a strength for the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle ranked second overall in rushing defense through six games, giving up just over 76 yards a contest. But when defensive end Red Bryant and defensive tackle Colin Cole went down with injuries against Oakland in Week 8, the Seahawks failed to recover up front and the defense suffered. The Seahawks allowed 239 rushing yards in a 33-3 humbling at the hands of the Raiders, and an average of 144 yards a contest the rest of the season, finishing 3-7 down the stretch.

Bryant suffered a torn MCL in his right knee that required surgery, landing on injured reserve. And Cole missed five games with a severe high ankle sprain. Add to that the four games starting defensive tackle Brandon Mebane missed because of an injured calf, and it’s clear why the Seahawks could be looking for defensive line help early in the draft.

Combined, Bryant, Cole and Mebane missed 19 games last year. And there’s no certainty if Mebane will return. The Cal product could be an unrestricted free agent this season, depending on what happens with the league’s labor dispute.

Mebane’s agent, Chuck Price, said his client would like to return to Seattle, but the two sides could not reach an agreement on a contract before the collective bargaining agreement expired in March.

“They made it clear that they would like Brandon to stay,” Price said. “And Brandon has made it clear that he’d like to be there. So we’re really working hard to keep Brandon there.”

The Seahawks did place a third-round restricted tender on Mebane in the event the lockout is lifted and the league reverts to operating under the 2010 CBA rules temporarily, which would mean that Mebane would be a restricted free agent.

A third-round selection out of California, Mebane originally signed a four-year deal worth nearly $3 million. Mebane has been a four-year starter for Seattle, missing five games in four seasons and averaging 40 tackles and 2.5 sacks a season.

Under the expired CBA, an original round tender for a player with four accrued seasons like Mebane carries a $1.275 million, non-guaranteed base salary in 2011.

So if another team signs Mebane to an offer sheet and Seattle decides not to match, the Seahawks would receive a third-round pick as compensation.

However, there’s still some uncertainty that Mebane would be a restricted free agent under the new CBA, once the players and owners reach a new agreement. There’s a chance he could become an unrestricted free agent and allowed to fully go out and test the market.

So far Mebane is believed to have received interest from other teams, so under the current scenario interested teams would likely be willing to give up a third-round pick to receive Mebane’s services.

The restricted tender provides some protection for Seattle, and shows they would like Mebane to return. Seahawks general manager John Schneider said talks have gone well with Mebane’s representation, and that he considers the Cal product one of the team’s core players.

Players that Seattle could consider to add depth up front in the first round include Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget and Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.

–Considered the most important position on the field, the Seahawks need to find a long-term solution at quarterback heading into the 2011 season, head coach Pete Carroll’s second in Seattle.

Signing veteran free agent Matt Hasselbeck remains a possibility. The two sides discussed contract terms before the 35-year-old Hasselbeck, who has been with the team for a decade, became a free agent in March.

But with Hasselbeck expected to generate high interest around the league whenever the free-agency period begins, the Seahawks might be ready to move on and look for a younger alternative at quarterback, instead of using the Boston College product as a bridge to the team’s quarterback of the future.

“Financially, we went after it and couldn’t get it done,” Carroll told reporters at the league meetings in New Orleans. “In my mind, it kind of came right down to the final day of it. We made an effort and they made an effort.”

Currently, reserve quarterback Charlie Whitehurst is the only quarterback on the team’s roster. Whitehurst finished 1-1 in two starts last year, including a 16-6 win over St. Louis in the regular-season finale to help propel the Seahawks to the playoffs.

However, Whitehurst enters the final season of a two-year deal this year, set to earn $4 million in non-guaranteed base salary in 2011. And Whitehurst did not receive enough of an opportunity for the Seahawks to evaluate if he’s the long-term solution at quarterback moving forward.

The Seahawks reportedly are interested in Philadelphia quarterback Kevin Kolb, with the Eagles likely seeking at least a first-round pick in compensation in a trade. But the competition for Kolb’s services will be high, with San Francisco, Arizona, Minnesota, Cleveland and Cincinnati all possible suitors.

And whatever team ends up with Kolb will have to face the prospects of signing the Houston product to a lucrative, multi-year deal to keep him around.

Other trade or free-agent possibilities for Seattle include two USC products – Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer, who said he will retire instead of play for the Bengals for another season, and Matt Leinart, who fizzled in Arizona and served as Houston’s No. 3 quarterback last year. Leinart is a free agent, while Palmer still has four years and $50 million left on his deal.

Both offer some familiarity to Carroll because they played for him while at USC.

The Seahawks also have been active in looking at draft prospects, scheduling private workouts with Auburn’s Cam Newton, Washington’s Jake Locker and Ryan Mallet of Arkansas.

General manager John Schneider also attended Mallet and Locker’s Pro Day. Newton likely will not be around when Seattle selects at No. 25 in the first round, but Mallet and Locker are possibilities if the Seahawks believe either quarterback could be a future franchise leader.

Schneider had good things to say about Locker, who struggled with accuracy during his time at Washington, after watching his Pro Day recently.

“I thought he had a great day,” he said. “He was loose, he was extremely confident, feeling good about himself and he ripped it. He had a great, great workout.”

So what will Carroll do to solve the team’s quarterback woes? He has less then a month left to figure it out before this year’s draft begins on April 28.

–The 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.