Thick fog hangs over the Seattle Seahawks’ Renton, Wash., lake-side training complex.
As with one third of the league’s 32 teams, the defending NFC West champions are shrouded in uncertainty at the quarterback position.
After coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider combined to make a staggering 284 roster moves last season, expect a few more when the league re-opens for business and player movement returns.
Carroll’s Seahawks still have plenty of upgrades to make despite a surprising 7-9 playoff appearance in his first season highlighted by a 41-36, wild-card upset of the defending champion New Orleans Saints.
The Seahawks had a meat-and-potatoes draft, eschewing the chance to select a quarterback 25th overall. They instead took Alabama tackle James Carpenter to play opposite last year’s first-round selection, left tackle Russell Okung. Seattle re-addressed its front line by selecting Wisconsin guard John Moffitt in the third round.
When asked about not drafting a young quarterback, Carroll told Seattle reporters, “We didn’t think we could afford to yet. You saw us go after a couple of guys that were offensive linemen, which is an area — without that, the quarterback can’t play.”
Consider five burning questions the 2011 Seahawks must answer in order to defend their title:
1. For Pete’s sake, who will be under center?
After a decade with Matt Hasselbeck as the face of the franchise, Carroll would like to get younger at quarterback. Whether that means committing to last offseason’s acquisition Charlie Whitehurst or pursuing another option such as Philadelphia Eagles backup Kevin Kolb, Carroll’s former Southern California quarterbacks Carson Palmer or Matt Leinart could be possibilities.
Still, the longer the lockout goes, the better the chance that Hasselbeck could return. He is well-versed in the West Coast offense new coordinator Darrell Bevell will run from their 2000 season together with the Green Bay Packers.
Bevell contacted Hasselbeck, 35, to inform him he was wanted during the brief window when the lockout was briefly lifted during the draft. Hasselbeck has continued acting like a leader who wants to be back, throwing with tight end John Carlson and running back Justin Forsett despite turning down a contract extension before the March 12 lockout.
Carroll said he’d like to bring Hasselbeck back. Question is, at what price? And what other options will be available when football returns? The hiring of former Trojans quarterbacks coach Karl Smith might be a signal the door is being kept open for Palmer or Leinart.
Then again, Carroll said the Seahawks didn’t chase a quarterback in the draft because they spent a 2010 third-round pick on former San Diego Chargers third-stringer Whitehurst a year ago.
“Charlie was part of this draft class in a sense in that we used a third-round pick to get him,” Carroll said. “We have a young, up-and-coming quarterback.
“And I know where you’re looking, ‘Let’s go get another one.’ But we’re happy with Charlie. …. I’m not feeling like we missed out on an opportunity because Charlie is growing with us.”
2. Can the Seahawks run to win?
New assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable is a power running disciple and the guru the Seahawks sorely missed last season when zone-blocking offensive line coach Alex Gibbs retired.
Cable’s hiring means the Seahawks will be more ball-control oriented, using the run to set up their passing game. The reverse was true too often last season.
Tailback Marshawn Lynch was best known for his back-breaking “Run Heard ‘Round the Pacific Northwest” when he ran through six would-be Saints tacklers for his 67-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown that sealed Seattle’s wild-card win. Time will tell if the two-time former Buffalo Bills 1,000-yard rusher can rekindle his earth-shaking downhill running under Cable.
When the picks of Carpenter and Moffitt, the Seahawks’ intention seems to be to bolster a weak-link run game that finished 31st in rushing yards and counted 10 different starting offensive line combinations last season.
“We made a statement about what we’re trying to get done, we wanted to get tougher and stronger up front, so we made both our (first two) picks to do just that,” Carroll told the NFL Network. “James Carpenter is a fantastically physical kid; loves to get after it; will give us good run play and also will do a good job in the pass game. John Moffitt is physical — is as tough as can be. Both those guys give us the kind of guys we want to make a statement with to improve our front.”
Lynch’s power running style should be offset by the home-run hitting speed of Forsett and return/third-down specialist Leon Washington.
3. Who will prove to be Steve Hutchinson’s Seattle successor?
Ever since the Seahawks let then perennial all-pro left guard Hutchinson go to the Minnesota Vikings in a free-agent fiasco following their 2005 Super Bowl run, they have been searching for his replacement.
Given the hiring of Cable, Raiders free-agent guard Robert Gallery would seem a natural target to reunite with his former head coach. Ben Hamilton and Mike Gibson alternated at the position last season, but are better suited as backups.
The Seahawks were at their Super Bowl-title contending best with a left side of retired tackle Walter Jones and perennial all-pro Hutchinson.
Last year the rookie was the team’s best offensive lineman, but he needs help — as does a 27th-ranked defense. A re-commitment to a power running attack figures to ease pressure on the defense.
4. Honey, have you seen the space eater?
Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole were decent in the middle until Cole was lost to a season-ending ankle injury. But with the presence of St. Louis Rams power back Steven Jackson, San Francisco’s Frank Gore and Arizona’s three-headed attack of Tim Hightower, Chris Wells and rookie Ryan Williams, the Seahawks need to be stouter in the middle, especially since Mebane could be a free-agent departure.
Carroll said re-signing Mebane is a priority after the Seahawks lost seven of their final 10 regular-season games following the injury losses of Cole and right defensive end Red Bryant.
More depth and bulk is needed up front, especially for a defense that ideally would like to morph back and forth from a base 4-3 scheme to the faster, more exotic 3-4 looks Carroll featured at Southern California.
5. Did they get stronger and stingier in their secondary?
Kelly Jennings wasn’t the answer at right corner and the free agent likely won’t be asked back. Seattle hopes fifth-round, 6-2, 200-pound Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman lives up to expectations as his intended replacement.
Carroll recruited Sherman to Southern Cal. But Sherman wanted to prove that a kid from the streets of Compton, Calif., could make it at a prestigious academic institution such as Stanford. Carroll got his big-bodied, “lock-up” corner on the second try to help match up with the likes of Arizona’s five-time Pro Bowl wideout Larry Fitzgerald.
Left cornerback Marcus Trufant’s play has slipped since a 2007 Pro Bowl nod and was burned for three touchdown passes against Tampa Bay late last season,
Safety Earl Thomas made a run at Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with a team-best five interceptions last season and has tremendous upside. But the Seahawks had only 12 interceptions last season and needed to get younger, quicker and stingier in the secondary. Sherman is a big, physical step in the right direction.