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Seattle Seahawks 2011 NFL Team Preview


Pete Carroll did the Seahawks shuffle when he took over as coach, engineering 284 roster moves in his first 12 months. During this dizzying transformation, he lost his players in a big way at midseason (dropping six of eight games), got them back in a bigger way at season’s end (rescuing the postseason) and turned them strangely historical — coming up with the NFL’s first losing team (7–9) to collect a division title and win a playoff game (41–36 over New Orleans).

In Year 2, Carroll will be hard-pressed to provide a more unconventional encore in the NFC West, pro football’s weakest division. At the same time, the coach likely will keep trading pieces furiously until he reaches desired stability.

A lot of work still needs to be done with the Seahawks, and Carroll has pegged the offensive line as his highest priority, spending his latest top two draft picks on reinforcements. The team Carroll inherited wasn’t tough enough or physical enough, and it was unable to run the ball the way he wanted — a lingering problem for the franchise ever since Hall of Fame-bound left tackle Walter Jones showed considerable wear in 2008 and retired a season later. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck deserved better protection and better health. The defense was on the field and on its heels far too long last season. In Carroll’s mind, a cohesive offensive line is the solution to these problems.

With his top draft choices, Carroll intimated that he replaced the entire right side of his offensive line and picked up immediate starters at right tackle (first-rounder James Carpenter of Alabama) and right guard (third-rounder John Moffitt from Wisconsin). Most draft analysts, however, thought choosing Carpenter with the 25th overall pick was a reach, especially with the defensive line and quarterback upgrades that were still available.

The Seahawks are prepared to suffer with youth on the line, hoping for a future payoff. Left tackle will be manned by former first-rounder Russell Okung, who as a rookie was limited to 10 games because of a pair of high ankle sprains and showed only glimpses of his considerable promise. Center goes to Max Unger, who as a second-year player missed all but one game in 2010 with a turf toe that required surgery after he started a full season at center and guard as a rookie. The left guard will be Robert Gallery, the No. 2 overall pick in 2004 who spent the first seven seasons of his career in Oakland. The Seahawks are so determined to make inroads in a position area that’s been lackluster for three seasons that they hired the animated Tom Cable, former Oakland Raiders head coach, as offensive line coach. Cable’s job is to stabilize a group that used four left guards, three left tackles and three right guards in Carroll’s first season.

Hasselbeck, who turns 36 in September and hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since 2007, did not re-sign with the Seahawks. The new starter likely will be former Viking Tarvaris Jackson, who was signed to a two-year contract. A second-round pick in 2006, Jackson started 20 games during his stay in Minnesota and has a career TD-to-INT ratio of 24-to-22. The job is Jackson’s to lose, but the Seahawks still have Charlie Whitehurst, a sixth-year pro who has thrown a total of 99 passes in his career. Whitehurst quarterbacked the Seahawks’ playoff-clinching win over St. Louis in the final regular-season game with Hasselbeck injured.

The running backs are adequate but nothing spectacular. Marshawn Lynch, a midseason acquisition from Buffalo in 2010, at least resembles the power runner Carroll demands, with no better example than his pinball-like 67-yard TD run against New Orleans in the playoffs. Justin Forsett and Leon Washington provide different gears as backups; Michael Robinson is an able blocker at fullback.

The Seahawks upgraded their receiving corps — they hope — by signing Sidney Rice, one of the top free agents available at his position. Rice caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards two years ago but was limited to six games and 17 catches last season due to a hip injury. After a two-year layoff, Mike Williams resurrected his career and became Hasselbeck’s deep threat with 65 catches, making teams pay attention to him. Holdover receivers Ben Obomanu and Deon Butler return, but Golden Tate and rookie Kris Durham will be given every opportunity to step in. The quarterback’s favorite target might end up being tight end Zach Miller, who averaged 60.7 catches in his final three seasons in Oakland.

An offseason of change took another interesting turn in late July when the Seahawks released middle linebacker Lofa Tatupa, who anchored the Seattle defense in its Super Bowl season of 2005. Tatupu had been slowed by injury in recent seasons. Carroll announced the move as a “mutual decision.” David Hawthorne, an undrafted find in 2008, will move back from the outside to replace Tatupa in the middle. Hawthorne has led the team in tackles in two of his three seasons. Seattle is still waiting on Aaron Curry, the fourth pick overall in the 2009 draft, to break out.

Across the defensive front, from right to left, the Seahawks trot out functional yet ordinary players in Chris Clemons, Colin Cole, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch. Clemons was the closest thing to a playmaker, leading the team with 11 sacks. Don’t be surprised if Carroll gets impatient with these guys. The Seahawks promote themselves as a 4-3 team but often slip into a 3-4 alignment when the yardage piles up, choosing to put pressure on their linebackers to fix things.

The secondary is in transition. Free safety Earl Thomas comes off a productive rookie season. However, veteran cornerback Marcus Trufant has shown signs of age and slippage. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy, entering a 16th season, is way beyond old, prompting the Seahawks to groom Kam Chancellor as a replacement fairly quickly. Kelly Jennings, the other returning cornerback, isn’t the blanket cover guy Carroll wants, and he likely will give way to Walter Thurmond.

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The Seahawks lost reliable kicker Olindo Mare, who set a club record with 30 consecutive field goals, in free agency. Jeff Reed, who was waived by the Steelers last November, is the likely replacement. Jon Ryan, in his fourth Seahawks season, has developed into a reliable punter; the Canadian import utilizes a deft Aussie-style kick to repeatedly back up opponents. Washington, fully recovered from a broken leg, set a club record by scoring on three kickoffs, giving him seven in his NFL career. He is a valuable weapon in the return game.

The schedule is rugged, with road games at Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh and the New York Giants, and home games against Atlanta and Philadelphia. If the offensive line can settle in — after using 10 different combinations last season — Carroll’s club could be a threat in the NFC West and, not to get too carried away here, flirt with a .500 record.

Outside the Huddle
Bear brothers 
When the Seahawks made a midseason trade for Marshawn Lynch, running back Justin Forsett lost his starting job. Forsett, however, was hardly angry or bitter. He was reunited with his former college teammate at California, a close friend and someone who was a member of Forsett’s wedding party. They have lockers next to each other. Forsett couldn’t be more supportive in having Lynch around and sharing the ball with him.

Will sing for food 
Seahawks defensive tackle Craig Terrill had a ready solution to the league labor negotiations: He went on tour. With guitar in hand and fancying himself as a Springsteen-like presence, Terrill showed up at a suburban Seattle performance arts center with the “Rock Out While They Lockout Tour.” When his young daughter called out to him on stage, Terrill responded, “Daddy’s working, and work is had to come by.” Terrill has released a pair of CDs titled CT and Genuine.

Pete’s got game 
Energetic coach Pete Carroll keeps a portable basketball hoop stationed outside Seahawks’ headquarters, giving him a daily release. When it rains, the coach and the hoop move indoors, keeping this routine fairly steady.

Frequent flyer miles 
The Seahawks better make sure they have plenty of legroom and a window seat: They’ll fly 26,918 miles to their eight away games.

Age before beauty 
The Seahawks’ coach’s youthful looks and collegial spirit are deceiving. Carroll, who turns 60 in September, is the NFL’s second-oldest coach, younger only than New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who turns 65 in August.

Postseason parodies 
The Seahawks, at 7–9, became the third team with a losing record to qualify for the playoffs, joining Cleveland and Detroit, both 4–5, who advanced to the postseason in the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season.

Charitable hang time 
Punter Jon Ryan grew his curly red locks extra long for good reason last season. His hair ultimately was shorn for “Locks for Love,” a program that caters to follicle-challenged cancer patients.

Home Cable installation 
Tom Cable was an all-state offensive lineman at Snohomish High School in Seattle’s suburbs in 1981 when he left home to seek his football fortune. He went on a 30-year odyssey that took him as a player and coach to Idaho, San Diego State, Cal State Fullerton, UNLV, California, Colorado and UCLA on the college level, and Atlanta and Oakland in the NFL. Now he’s come home to become the Seahawks’ offensive line coach. Snohomish, a sporting hotbed also home to former NFL players Curt Marsh and Rick Fenney, is 30 miles north of Seattle.

Wakeup call 
In five of their eight road games, the Seahawks will kick off at 1 p.m. Eastern time, or 10 a.m. Seattle time. Traditionally, they’re so jet-lagged they don’t do well in these games.

Mike Williams was the No. 10 overall pick by the Lions in 2005 but caught only 37 passes in two season with Detroit. He spent the 2007 season in Oakland (seven receptions for 90 yards in six games) and Tennessee (no receptions in two games). After a two-year layoff, Williams hooked up with Pete Carroll, his former coach at USC, and led the Seahawks with 65 catches for 751 yards.

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