Two seasons removed from a Super Bowl victory, the Seahawks still hold several championship pieces — quarterback Russell Wilson, both kickers, receiver Doug Baldwin and much of a stifling defense that revolves around Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Bobby Wagner.
Nowhere to be found, however, are any of the starting offensive linemen who earned rings in New Jersey in 2014. Since that pinnacle moment, the Seahawks have gone through a total makeover up front. New faces across the offensive line were blamed for much of Seattle’s difficulties last season, which involved a slow start and didn’t involve a Super Bowl finish for the first time in three years. More new faces could bring added dysfunction this season.
While the Seahawks, under the direction of coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, have been masters at finding elite talent where others don’t think to look — Wilson and Sherman come to mind — reconfiguring the offensive line again presents a significant challenge. Another season could depend on it.
The Seahawks have the steadily improving Wilson coming off a season in which he led the NFL in passer rating (110.1), set career highs in completion percentage (68.1) and yards per attempt (8.3), and went on a 24-touchdown pass, one-interception tear over seven games. Wilson has taken the Seahawks to the playoffs four times and to the Super Bowl twice. He has made great strides with standing in the pocket and continues to unnerve opponents with his improvisational scrambling. Wilson will need help in pivotal places on the offense following the retirement of workhorse running back Marshawn Lynch and the free-agent departures of seasoned left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy.
The second-most important player on the offensive side of the ball might be Garry Gilliam. The third-year player moves from right to left tackle. He’s big enough, measuring a rangy 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, and athletic enough, well remembered around the league for catching a crucial 19-yard touchdown pass on a fake field goal against Green Bay in the 2015 NFC Championship Game. His drawbacks are his lack of a nasty streak, which makes him more of a reactionary player than an aggressor, and his limited experience as an NFL tackle — just 17 games as a starter. He returns with center Patrick Lewis and left guard Justin Britt. Lewis’ midseason insertion at center was credited with helping calm the Seahawks’ line in 2015; he demonstrated more of a flair for recognizing defenses and making proper play calls than his predecessor. Britt, who has bounced from right tackle to left guard, has no problem playing with attitude but has struggled at times with technique. Not surprisingly, the Seahawks drafted huge offensive linemen in Texas A&M’s Germain Ifedi in the first round and Boise State’s Rees Odhiambo in the third round to fill the glaring holes. The two rookies could become the starters at right guard and right tackle, respectively.
The Seahawks enter the season with nagging questions at running back. They hope that Thomas Rawls can bounce back from a broken ankle, regain his sensational rookie form and put people at ease in the post-Lynch era. Rawls had four games of 100 yards or more rushing. Averaging a hefty 5.6 yards per carry, he showed a knack for running up field with a purpose and staying on his feet after contact. Recognizing a need for depth here, the Seahawks drafted three backs, with Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise the best bets to get on the field, in that order.
The receiving corps remains intact, with Jermaine Kearse and Baldwin back as veterans who work well with Wilson, Tyler Lockett supplying a previously missing deep threat, and Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson returning as reputable tight ends. Baldwin took his game to a high level last season, turning in a 78-catch, 1,069-yard, 14-TD performance. The team rewarded the former undrafted free agent in late June with a four-year contract extension worth $46 million ($24 million guaranteed). Baldwin's emergence has coincided with a steep decline in Graham’s production, some of which can be attributed to a serious knee injury he suffered last season. However, it’s unclear whether the former All-Pro can be the impact player he once was.
The Seahawks’ uneven season was no real fault of the defense: These guys were as stingy as ever around the end zone. For the fourth year in a row, Seattle led the NFL in points allowed per game (just 17.3) — a dominance unmatched during the Super Bowl era. Bennett gave this unit yet another elite player, taking his game up a notch as a highly disruptive defensive end. The defense once again appears formidable.
Above all, Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary, the cornerstone of this productive group, is in much better shape approaching this season than last. A year ago, strong safety Kam Chancellor was a two-game contract holdout, free safety Earl Thomas returned from shoulder surgery as a less dominant player, and the team broke in a new cornerback who didn’t last the season. The Seahawks should get strong play from their safeties, and they made it an offseason priority to re-sign veteran cornerback Jeremy Lane, who overcame his own injury issues that limited him to just six games. They also reacquired Brandon Browner, a former starter who last played for the Seahawks in 2013 and will attempt to reclaim his corner job after coming off a subpar season in New Orleans. Sherman? He wasn’t as statistically dominant as in years past, but the gifted defender still showed he could be a lockdown corner when he had to be.
Fast and tough, Wagner and K.J. Wright are among the league’s best at their respective inside and outside linebacker positions. Wagner is considered one of the top two or three tacklers in the NFL, averaging 120 over his four seasons, and he’s a big reason the Seahawks have one of the league’s hardest defensive units to run against. The free-agent loss of Bruce Irvin, a hybrid linebacker/end, creates a sizeable opening, one the Seahawks hope to fill by using players in tandem: They’ve elevated reserve linebacker Mike Morgan and reacquired end Chris Clemons. A starter for the Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning club, Clemons returns after two years in Jacksonville to serve as a role player as a pass rusher.
Once again in 2015 the Seahawks relied on the highly productive Steven Hauschka, who converted 93.5 percent of his field-goal attempts, and Jon Ryan, who averaged 45.5 yards per punt. The real boost, though, came from Lockett, who returned a kickoff and a punt each for touchdowns as a rookie and repeatedly supplied Seattle with great field position.
The Seahawks remain one of the NFL’s heavyweight teams. Their defense doesn’t give up much, and Wilson is extremely hard to contain. Seattle also has a more favorable schedule with fewer early games on the East Coast than usual. There’s a lot to like about these guys, but the bottom line is this: The Seahawks have serious questions across the offensive line. Can Gilliam become an adequate left tackle? Can the rookies make a smooth transition to the starting lineup? This team is likely playoff bound again, but considering the uncertainty up front, a Super Bowl return is probably too much to ask.