With the first two weeks of the NFL preseason under our belts let us take a look at the new player developments and their impact on the team.
If the offensive line is ineffective, it just doesn't matter who else is on the team. This is why so many preseason concerns, on any team, swirl around the O-Line. Developing a core group of guys takes time, which makes it really hard to make an accurate judgement of a squad until the regular season opens up. So far this preseason, the front five continue to be shuffled around amid the lingering injury nightmare of 2008. Nine time Pro-Bowler Walter Jones is most likely out for the season. Bad news for the Hawks, but the 35 year old, 325 pounder’s career had to end sometime. At least with this happening prior to the regular season it means more snaps for Sean Locklear early on, avoiding a mid-season transition. The O-Line has proved resilient to this shuffling, only allowing three sacks in two preseason games.
Key Preseason development Chris Spencer
Spencer, who missed six games last season, was bitten again by the injury bug in the second quarter of the first pre-season game vs. San Diego. A diagnosed left thigh muscle tear will most likely sideline him for the first two or three games of the regular season. This leaves the O-Line anchor position to Steve Vallos, who started every game that Spencer missed in 2008. With Spencer out and Vallos in the temporary starting role, look for rookie second round draft pick Max Unger to see some playing time, at center or right guard, earlier than expected in the regular season.
The Seahawks have out rushed their opponents so far this pre-season 164 yards to 136 yards. Look for the Hawks offense to have improved ability to control the pace of the game through the run with a more effective compliment to Julius Jones.
Key Preseason development Edgerrin James
The recent acquisition of the NFL’s 11th all time rushing leader, Edgerrin James, will provide the offense with a strong veteran compliment to starter Juilius Jones. James, who was a part of a similar zone running scheme in Indianapolis, should fit well in Seattle’s style of offense considering his shifty, power running style, and experience in the zone blocking schemes. When asked in recent interview about offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp’s system, James responded, “Damn, why couldn’t I have been in this system three years ago?”
James, also brings the veteran leadership from an underdog, Super Bowl caliber team that could prove valuable as the Seahawks look to bounce back from a 4-12 record in 2008.
Everything else aside, when Hasselbeck went down last year, that was the end of it. A healthy Matt Hasselbeck is the key to a successful aerial assault in 2009. Hasselbeck looked good in last week’s win over the Broncos going 19 for 28 with 198 yards and two touchdowns.
Key Preseason Development T.J. Houshmandzadeh
The signing of the Oregon State alumni T.J. Houshmandzadeh will give QB Matt Hasselbeck a proven target and a go to red-zone threat. Houshmandzadeh has averaged 98 catches per year from 2006 to 2008. At 6’2” 203 pounds, Houshmandzadeh’s height and physicality makes him a domineering force for a slot receiver that will be especially utilized over the middle and in red-zone situations. This acquisition must be relieving for Matt Hasselbeck and the rest of the offense considering the leading 2008 Seahawks receiver amassed a puny 47 catches.
The Box: D-Line/ Line-Backers
If it wasn’t so easy to pass on the Seahawks last year, teams would have just ran over these guys. The D-Line unit was given a make-over this offseason with the additions of Cory Redding and Colin Cole. This moved Patrick Kerney to the right-end position and Brandon Mebane from nose-tackle to the three technique. With these changes to the line, “the Uglies”, Tatupu, Hill and Curry, should be less tied up with blockers, freeing them to roam the flats, rush the passer, and makes plays.
Key Preseason Development Colin Cole
The addition of DT Colin Cole brings some beef to a somewhat undersized middle of the D-Line. If Cole can throw around that 330 pound frame of his, he should be able open up blitz lanes for Tatupu. This will clog the running lanes up the middle forcing teams to try to take their game to the outside to take on Kerney, Redding, and the linebackers.
The 2008 Seahawks ranked dead last in pass defense averaging 259.3 yards per game. This wasn’t squarely on the shoulders of the of the secondary, the guys up front didn’t put much pressure on the quarterback. The defensive-backs were solid cover defenders, but honestly, they were soft. No receiver was hesitant or thought twice about laying out for the ball in front of these guys.
Key Preseason Development Ken Lucas
The offseason return of hard hitting CB Ken Lucas will bring some punch back to the Seattle’s finesse style secondary. Lucas isn’t known for interceptions, he only tallied two in 2008. Hopefully he’ll be closer to his career high of six INTs in a season, which he had with Seattle in the 2004-05 season, but that’s not what he’s here for. Lucas is here to play fast and lay hat. While his aggressive closing speed will provide solid run support, his most substantial disruption will be his tendency to provoke the sprouting of gator arms from opposing wide receivers. Lucas’s presence in the secondary seems even more crucial now with the development of Marcus Trufant’s disc ailment.
So far, the Seahawks seem to have the talent to meet the high expectations of the upcoming season, this doesn't mean there's not alot of work to be done. In the first two preseason games the defense has allowed 666 passing yards. With eight sacks, I'm pointing the finger at the secondary. If the Hawks can lock down the pass defense on the defensive backs side of things it looks like they could be a playoff contender. That’s assuming, of course, they aren’t again hit with a freakish injury plague like in 2008. Let’s just say Trufant, Jones, and Spencer pose a bit of an ominous sign though.