Seahawks outlook: Return to playoffs might be a reach

The housecleaning during Pete Carroll’s first season as head coach took the Seattle Seahawks back to the playoffs.

Marshawn Lynch will continue to be the featured back in Seattle this season.
Seattle’s renovation, however, remains in its early stages. Don’t let a 2010 NFC West title or the improbable playoff victory over New Orleans trick you into thinking these Seahawks are a finished product. Far from it, in fact.

The question Carroll inherited at quarterback is even more muddled now than a year ago, and Seattle did not have a single Pro Bowler for the second consecutive season.

That wasn’t for lack of trying, however. The Seahawks made nearly 300 roster moves in 2010, reclaimed receiver Mike Williams from the recycling bin and got younger, bigger and faster all-around.

“We know that we’ve made a lot of strides,” Carroll says.

But this is a team that still has a long way to go.

What’s new

Offense: The Seahawks will have their fourth offensive coordinator in four years, but the hiring of Darrell Bevell marks a return to Mike Holmgren’s version of the West Coast offense. That means a passing game with fewer deep throws, more timing routes and an emphasis on throwing to running backs. The biggest change in Seattle’s offense, though, will come from the hiring of Tom Cable as line coach to insert some toughness and discipline and jumpstart the running game.

The most important position in the NFL is the biggest uncertainty in Seattle. Just how the Seahawks solve their quarterback question will influence the course of Carroll’s run in Seattle.

Strong-armed and standing 6-5, Charlie Whitehurst is built to play the position but went 1-1 in two starts and showed a tendency for throwing too many interceptions, which is unacceptable for a player entering his sixth NFL season.

Marshawn Lynch, a former first-round pick Seattle acquired from Buffalo four games into last season, has been anointed the starter at running back. And while Lynch’s 67-yard touchdown run in the playoff victory over the Saints was magical, it was a rare rushing highlight in a season that saw the Seahawks average 89 yards per game in the regular season, fifth-lowest in franchise history.

Seattle’s growth in the passing game will depend on the development of tight end John Carlson and receiver Golden Tate. Neither player fulfilled the sizeable expectations they carried into the 2010 campaign.

Seattle used 10 different offensive line combinations last season, and after all that tinkering, Russell Okung and center Max Unger are the only two guaranteed starters in 2011, with a pair of rookies likely to compose the right side of the line. First-round choice James Carpenter is projected to start at right tackle, third-round pick John Moffitt at right guard. Those rookies will make Seattle a better run-blocking team, but there are going to be some growing pains in pass protection.

Defense: Schematically, Seattle’s defense remains a 4-3. Practically, however, it has elements of a 3-4 alignment. The result is a unique, hybrid defense that was the biggest coaching wrinkle Carroll brought to Seattle. It was effective early, but withered due to injuries on the line in the second half of the season. The Seahawks will be deeper this year, because they know what type of players they need up front.

Two years ago the linebacker corps was forecast as the strength of the team, as Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill were signed to long-term contracts and Aaron Curry entered the league as the No. 4 overall draft pick.

Despite spending all those resources on linebackers, it was David Hawthorne—a former undrafted free agent—who had the best season of any Seahawk linebacker last year. Hawthorne is a big hitter with a nose for the football.

Curry hasn’t shown great instincts or versatility, which is puzzling because he was advertised as the most NFL-ready player in the 2009 draft. He has struggled in his pass drops and hasn’t been a consistent pass rusher.

Lofa Tatupu remains the nerve center of this defense, a captain whose instincts and understanding has made up for his average speed. He was slower at the end of last season and underwent surgery on both knees in the offseason. While those operations could help him, they are also signs he may be wearing down.

Cornerback Marcus Trufant remains a physical tackler, but he’s average at best in coverage. Kelly Jennings has never distinguished himself as a starter, and, while second-year man Walter Thurmond has the size Seattle likes, he was still recovering from a serious knee injury during his rookie season.

Kam Chancellor is a big-bodied thumper of a strong safety who figures to replace Lawyer Milloy at that position. Earl Thomas turns 22 this year and, for a player still learning the pro game, he has great instincts and a knack for catching the ball. He already has elite range for a safety, which is good because he has a lot of holes to plug given Seattle’s secondary.

Opponent’s view

(An anonymous opponent breaks the Seahawks)

“They’re building and just trying to retool things. They got older and they had to go and do some of the things they’ve done just to get back where they’re younger. …

“Quarterback and offensive line, I would say those are the two things that probably jump out the most. With Matt Hasselbeck getting older, they need to have a plan for the future even if he’s there. …

“They changed their scheme under coach Pete Carroll, and how they draft. (General manager) John Schneider comes from Green Bay, a size-speed team. That’s his overall philosophy, and you can see the direction they’re going in. …

“The defense they play is a true hybrid of 4-3 and 3-4 schemes. Their right end, he’s going to be a pass rusher first, and the guy on the left side is going to be a two-gap run player. He ends up on the tight end side most of the time. ..

“… Most of the 3-4 teams run more of a traditional 4-3 over-front. The Seahawks play more under and, with all those linebackers they’ve had, they had all those guys and they were trying to fit.”

Bottom line

Carroll showed in his first season that he can make the most of his raw materials, whether it’s a reclamation project like Williams at wide receiver or a patchwork offensive line.

The Seahawks won’t repeat their numerous roster moves of a year ago, but this roster is hardly settled, either. The Seahawks were barely good enough to win the worst division in the NFL and likely won’t see a return to the playoffs, especially given the uncertainty at quarterback.

Carroll and general manager John Schneider are rebuilding this franchise through the draft, and that takes time. A winning record will be asking a lot this season, maybe too much in a division that will be much improved if only because it’s hard to imagine the NFC West getting any worse.

Breakout candidate

Golden Tate looked like a star-in-the-making during offseason minicamps before his rookie year. Twelve months later the Seahawks are still waiting. He caught 21 passes in 2010, only two of which gained more than 15 yards. He struggled with the precision of his routes, but Carroll still believes Tate is the home-run threat Seattle’s passing game was missing. Tate is like a running back once he catches the ball, and getting him chances will be an emphasis in 2011 when Darrell Bevell replaces Jeremy Bates as offensive coordinator.

“He’s got a huge upside. I think he’s a fantastically natural football player. He’s got competitiveness about him, he’s got play-making in him and I wish it would have come more to the front this year. That’s a big project for us. We need to bring him out.” — Carroll

Depth chart


QB Charlie Whitehurst

FB Michael Robinson

RB Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett

LT Russell Okung, Tyler Polumbus

LG Tyler Polumbus, Mike Gibson

C Max Unger, John Moffitt

RG John Moffitt, Mike Gibson

RT James Carpenter, Tyler Polumbus

TE John Carlson, Cameron Morrah

WR Mike Williams, Deon Butler

WR Ben Obomanu, Golden Tate


DE Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis

DT Brandon Mebane

DT Colin Cole

DE Red Bryant, Pep Levingston

SLB Aaron Curry, K.J. Wright

MLB Lofa Tatupu, David Hawthorne

WLB David Hawthorne, K.J. Wright

LCB Marcus Trufant, Richard Sherman

SS Kam Chancellor, Mark LeGree

FS Earl Thomas, Mark LeGree

RCB Walter Thurmond, Roy Lewis


K Olindo Mare

P Jon Ryan

KR Leon Washington

PR Golden Tate

LS Clint Gresham