2011 team previews
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Recent posts by Dan Arkush
The Seahawks have very aggressively picked up where they left off on the transactions front in Pete Carroll's first year as head coach.
After making a mind-boggling 284 roster moves last season, they wasted no time becoming younger, bigger, stronger and faster this season with the free-agent additions of WR Sidney Rice, TE Zach Miller, OLG Robert Gallery and QB Tarvaris Jackson, among others.
At the same time, they parted ways with veteran leaders on both sides of the ball, deciding not to re-sign free-agent QB Matt Hasselbeck, who hooked up with the Titans, in addition to releasing MLB Lofa Tatupu, the defense's longtime traffic cop.
One of Carroll's bigger goals entering the offseason was to establish a more physical, run-oriented offense patterned after his successful units at USC.
New assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable, the ex-Raiders head coach who was hired two days after Seattle's season-ending playoff loss to the Bears, is firmly committed to the zone-running principles Carroll savors. Cable also was largely responsible for the additions of Miller and Gallery, who played under him in Oakland.
The X-factor for a team that caught everybody off guard when it snuck into the playoffs and pulled off a shocking wild-card upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Saints is Jackson, who was named the starting quarterback very early in camp. Jackson started only six games the last three seasons for the Vikings.
Darrell Bevell, Seattle's fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons, is a disciple of the Andy Reid/Mike Holmgren West Coast system that puts a premium on short, precise passes. An offense similar to the one he coordinated the last five seasons in Minnesota could be in the offing with former Vikings Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice coming to Seattle.
Quarterbacks: Tarvaris Jackson had a 10-10 record in 20 starts over five seasons with the Vikings. He has a very strong arm and can make things happen with his feet. But he has had a tendency to unravel and get sloppy with his mechanics in pressure situations. Jackson's familiarity with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's system — as well as new No. 1 WR Sidney Rice — gives him an early edge over ex-Charger Charlie Whitehurst, a work in progress who did not throw a single regular-season pass in his four seasons in San Diego. Whitehurst rose to the occasion with a workmanlike starting effort in Seattle's playoff-clinching victory over the Rams in his first season with the Seahawks. But he struggled mightily in his other 2010 start, registering a 44.3 QB rating and dropping a snap in a dismal 41-7 loss to the Giants. Whitehurst throws a nice deep ball with great touch. But shorter routes give him all kinds of problems.
Running backs: The Seahawks will be extremely disappointed if they don't get a lot more out of RB Marshawn Lynch in 2011. Obtained in a trade with the Bills a month into the '10 season, Lynch is a bruising, between-the-tackles back who runs a lot bigger than his size (5-11, 215). He also runs with what he calls a "Beast Mode" attitude, as evidenced by his eye-popping, tackle-breaking 67-yard TD run in Seattle's playoff win over the Saints, which became an instant classic. The addition of Lynch returned shifty, elusive Justin Forsett to more of a third-down back role, running draws from the shotgun, catching screen passes and providing solid blitz pick-up, despite his smallish stature. RB Leon Washington, whose primary value is as an exceptional kick returner, had only 100 yards rushing last season. But the four-year contract he signed in early March would seem to indicate he will be used more on offense this season. FB Michael Robinson is a dependable lead blocker with a good blend of physicality, athleticism and intelligence.
Receivers: After previously flirting with the likes of Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson, the Seahawks hope Sidney Rice can become the elite, big-play No. 1 receiver they have been searching for. Rice, who will be 25 in September, has incredible reach and great size, but he is coming off a hip injury that limited him to six games last season. Teamed up with Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu, each of whom signed three-year contract extensions late last season, Rice could give the Seahawks the league's most physically imposing WR corps. Williams, who played under Pete Carroll at USC, had a breakout campaign in 2010, becoming a dominant outside presence with his rare combination of size (6-5), strength and deceptive speed. He played hurt most of the season, missing two games and most of another with an ankle injury. With better health, he could have easily caught 80-85 passes and topped 1,000 yards. Williams hopes to lose a few pounds this offseason in an effort to improve his explosiveness. Obomanu, who can play split end, flanker and slot receiver, has decent hands and is a precise route runner who knows how to work the seams (16.5 yards per catch in '10). He is also one of the smarter players on the team, as well as one of the harder workers. Daily team observers believe fleet-footed flanker Deon Butler, who replaced the departed Deion Branch as a starter, showed more improvement last offseason than any player on the team. But Butler suffered a season-ending broken leg in Week 14 that required major surgery. More is expected from Golden Tate, a '10 second-round draft pick who has natural big-play ability but struggled as a rookie to learn the precise route running required in a pro-style offense. Rookie Kris Durham is a big, sure-handed possession receiver in the same mold as Williams. The Seahawks are suddenly loaded with tight ends, with free-agent addition Zach Miller, who caught at least 60 passes the last two seasons in Oakland, and incumbent John Carlson providing a potentially strong 1-2 punch. After registering the largest reception totals for a tight end in franchise history and scoring 12 TDs in his first two seasons, Carlson saw his production decline significantly last season, as he was often asked to serve as an extra blocker. Anthony McCoy, Cameron Moorah, Anthony McCoy and Dominique Byrd add depth at tight end.
Offensive linemen: Entering this year's draft, the only sure bets on a line that had 10 different starting combinations last season were 2010 first-round draft pick Russell Okung at left tackle and third-year pro Max Unger at center. Despite never being fully healthy (6½ games missed with high sprains on both ankles), Okung displayed impressive agility and footwork in his pass blocking and a mean streak when drive-blocking in the run game. Okung looked overmatched on occasion, but he also displayed flashes of brilliance, great toughness and willingness to play through pain. He suffered another sprained ankle in training camp but is expected to be ready for Week One. Unger was a nonfactor last season after suffering a season-ending injury to the big toe on his left foot in the first game. He was primarily an extremely dependable right guard as a rookie, with three starts at center. Unger has good athleticism, mobility, intelligence and a natural nasty streak that reminds longtime team observers of former starting C Robbie Tobeck. The draft ended with new assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable declaring first-rounder James Carpenter and third-rounder John Moffitt the team's new starting right tackle and right guard, respectively. Carpenter, who never missed a game in college, and Moffitt, who blocked for one of the nation's top rushing offenses (Wisconsin), are nasty road graders handpicked by Cable. The same goes for new starting OLG Robert Gallery, a free-agent addition and former first-round draft pick of the Raiders. The team's only lineman with significant experience, Gallery is considered an excellent run blocker with great intelligence and off-the-charts work habits. The line's primary backups figure to be 6-foot-8 Tyler Polumbus and versatile interior grinder Mike Gibson.
The driving force in a 4-3 scheme that often operates more like a 3-4 are the three 310-pound-plus starters on the defensive line (DRE Red Bryant and DTs Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch), who concentrate more on holding the point of attack and clogging rushing lanes, as opposed to getting upfield.
Defensive linemen: Moving to the outside last offseason after two sporadic seasons at nose tackle, Red Bryant quickly became a force to reckon with at the five-technique end spot. Bryant provided steady penetration and an ability to disrupt plays with his deceptive quickness before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week Eight. DLE Chris Clemons was a relentless force at the "Leo" position, using his excellent leverage and quickness to register a career-high 11 sacks. Clemons also showed a knack for hitting overmatched QBs hard (Arizona's Max Hall, Carolina's Jimmy Clausen) and defended the run better than expected. Injuries took their toll on the interior line last season, with DLT Brandon Mebane missing four games with a calf injury, and DRT Colin Cole sitting out five games with an ankle injury. With continued injury problems making Cole's status very iffy early in training camp, Mebane, an explosive three-technique who makes things happen when healthy, has been moved back to nose tackle, where he had his best season in 2008 (5½ sacks). Taking over at the three-technique spot is free-agent addition Alan Branch, who played the last four seasons in Arizona. A former second-round pick with great size, the Seahawks think Branch can branch out the same way Bryant did in '10. DE Raheem Brock, who steadily earned more time opposite Clemons last season and registered a career-high nine sacks, returns after signing a one-year deal. Other backups include veteran free-agent additions Jimmy Wilkerson and Jay Alford, fifth-year DT Junior Siavii, second-year DE Dexter Davis and seventh-round rookie Pep Levingston.
Linebackers: SLB Aaron Curry has yet to display the impact that was expected from a player with his unique combination of size, speed and strength. Widely considered the most NFL-ready player in the 2009 draft, Curry ended up registering only two sacks as a rookie. Last season, he had his moments but concentrated mostly on setting the edge on the line of scrimmage, playing next to the right end, and serving as a part-time pass rusher off the edge in passing situations. With Lofa Tatupu having been released, David "The Heater" Hawthorne moves over from the weak side to become the team's new starter in the middle. Hawthorne has become the team's most productive linebacker, reaching triple digits in tackles for the second straight year after seamlessly switching from the middle, where he replaced the injured Tatupu in '09. Smart, durable and tough, Hawthorne is an excellent candidate to take on an advanced leadership role. Taking over on the weak side is Leroy Hill, who is getting a new lease on life after playing only 12 games the last two years due to injuries and a league suspension. Hill packed a major wallop on the weak side his first three seasons. Free-agent addition David Vobora, who figures to be a backup on the weak side; Matt McCoy; fourth-rounder K.J. Wright; and seventh-rounder Malcolm Smith provide depth.
Defensive backs: LCB Marcus Trufant, the longest-tenured Seahawks defender, is a tremendous athlete with quick feet who breaks on the ball exceptionally well and never gives up on a play. But he has had his share of injuries in recent years and is no longer considered in an elite class, having become prone to breakdowns like the three TDs he allowed in the Week 16 loss to Tampa Bay last season. Former first-rounder Kelly Jennings, who has never distinguished himself, is likely to be replaced on the right corner by the much more physical Walter Thurmond, who drew rave reviews in relief efforts in place of both Jennings and Trufant last season. 2010 first-round draft pick Earl Thomas looks like a star in the making at free safety. Blazing fast with a fantastic first step, Thomas has sideline-to-sideline range and a center fielder's instincts, in addition to being a very physical tackler and run supporter. Second-year pro Kam Chancellor, a hard hitter with a big body, shapes up as the replacement at strong safety for veteran Lawyer Milloy, who, like Matt Hasselbeck and Lofa Tatupu, will be missed from a leadership standpoint. Key backups include free-agent addition Atari Bigby, dime CB Roy Lewis, ex-CFL CB Brandon Browner, S Josh Pinkard and rookies Richard Sherman and Mark LeGree.
Leon Washington rebounded from a gruesome leg injury in 2009 to become the first player in NFL history to return three kickoffs for scores in two different seasons. His seven career kickoff returns for scores rank him second all-time behind Cleveland's Josh Cribbs. Ex-Steeler Jeff Reed, who connected on 9-of-10 field goals for the Niners while replacing Joe Nedney late last season, is the new placekicker. Jon Ryan, who set a franchise record for gross average (46.2) and tied the mark for net average (38.7) two seasons ago, is arguably the league's most underrated punter.
With what appear to be all kinds of moving parts on both sides of the ball, do not be surprised if dramatic twists and turns from one week to the next are once again the norm in Seattle.
To order the digital edition of Pro Football Weekly's 2011 NFL Preview magazine, visit the PFW Store. The publication contains scouting reports on all 32 teams, rosters, depth charts, positional grades and 2010 week-by-week stats. Also, the magazine includes PFW's exclusive player rankings feature, ranking the top players in the league by position and overall.