No one has said the Seattle Seahawks are rebuilding, but they don't have to. Look what's going on. The head coach is new. The offensive philosophy is new. There's a new quarterback in town. There's bound to be a new offensive line. And new running backs. And a new defensive line. And ...
I think you get the idea. But that's what happens when you go 9-23 in two years and finish among the doormats in the NFC West.
New coach Pete Carroll arrives from USC, and already he's put his fingerprints on this franchise. He traded for Charlie Whitehurst, the club's quarterback of the future. He traded away defensive end Darryl Tapp. He let wide receiver Nate Burleson go. He cut safety Deon Grant. In short, he made moves that told you what he thought of the roster he inherited from Jim Mora, and it wasn't much.
The good news for Carroll is that he lives in the NFC West, where finishing above .500 puts you in the playoff chase. The bad news is that this club has so many holes it will take at least a year for him and his coaching staff to dig the Seahawks out. Their offensive line stinks. They don't have a quality running back. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is winding down. There's a shortage of wide receivers.
Someone dial 911.
QB: Carroll has said the starting job belongs to Hasselbeck, which it should. He took the Seahawks to four straight division titles and five straight playoff appearances. But Carroll also said he likes competition and that newcomer Whitehurst will be given a chance to take the position from Hasselbeck. That makes sense, too. In fact, when you spend what the Seahawks did for Whitehurst, a guy who hasn't thrown a pass in four NFL seasons, then commit $5 million to him, it makes so much sense you half expect Whitehurst to be starting sooner or later this season. Given Hasselbeck's history of injuries, you can count on seeing Whitehurst at some point. Hasselbeck missed 11 games the past two seasons, has more interceptions (27) than touchdown passes (22) during that time and turns 35 in September. Moreover, he has one year left on his contract. That combination tells me Whitehurst is more than a challenger here; he might be the lead dog before this thing is through.
RB: The Seahawks want to build their offense around the running game, but tell me: Which running back currently on the roster makes Seattle a legitimate rushing threat? I'll tell you which: None of them. Julius Jones isn't the answer. Justin Forsett isn't the answer. And Louis Rankin isn't the answer. So where do they find that guy? That's why they have a draft. I don't know if the problem is the offensive line or the running backs, but I do know the running backs the Seahawks have now haven't done much of anything the past two years. In fact, nobody on the Seahawks ran for more than 698 yards in either of the last two seasons. Forsett had the better season last year, averaging 5.4 yards a carry and scoring four times, but the club must improve itself at the position -- and it will. One of the club's first two draft picks should be a back, and it could use one with explosion.
WR: With the departure of Nate Burleson, the Seahawks lost their most effective threat. Now they'll have to start looking all over again, especially with Brandon Marshall is off the radar. T.J. Houshmandzadeh led the team in catches with 79 but averaged only 11.5 yards and scored just three times. Deion Branch has been a bust since the Seahawks spent a first-round draft pick to acquire him, and that's about it. Yes, Deon Butler has a future, but he doesn't have top-end speed. Then there's Ben Obomanu and recently signed Lions washout Mike Williams, who starred for Carroll at USC, and ... and ... that's all, folks. The club needs wide receivers like the 49ers need a new stadium. The Seahawks think they have their quarterback of the future in Whitehurst, and they may. But they better find him some targets.
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TE: When the Seahawks drafted John Carlson, then-coach Mike Holmgren predicted Carlson would crack the starting lineup immediately and produce a passel of catches. He was right on both counts. Carlson is one of the top young pass-receiving tight ends in the business, with 106 catches and 12 touchdowns the past two years. For the second straight season, Carlson led the club in touchdown catches, which tells you something about both him and the Seahawks. It tells you Carlson is a player, and it tells you their wide receivers need to make more plays. Newcomer Chris Baker adds depth, and that's important considering that new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates liked to employ two tight-end formations in Denver.
OL: People wonder what's next with tackle Walter Jones -- will he or won't he play? -- but it's time to move on, people. At 36, Jones is at or near the end of his career, and it's time the Seahawks find a suitable replacement. Look for them to draft a tackle early and to hit the offensive line hard in this draft. They must find someone to cover the backs of Hasselbeck and Whitehurst and fast, and I'm not talking about Sean Locklear. They must find someone to replace left guard Rob Sims, too. The Seahawks traded him to Detroit. If you're going to build your offense around a running attack, you better have offensive linemen who can open holes, and the Seahawks don't. New line coach Alex Gibbs is fond of zone blocking schemes, which automatically excluded Sims. So he was traded to Detroit. That doesn't leave much here, but the Seahawks can start rebuilding around young center Max Unger and continue with right guard Chris Spencer. Then they need to keep adding players. Starters, backups, you name it. The Seahawks need offensive linemen.
DL: I was talking to one former Seahawks coach who told me the team's best pass rusher last season was Tapp, which is great, except the club got rid of him. It traded him to Philadelphia for a draft pick and Chris Clemons. Now the team's most decorated pass rusher, Patrick Kerney, retires, and don't tell me that caught anyone by surprise. The guy was going to turn 34 this season and missed parts of three of the past four years with injuries. The signs were there that it was time, and fortunately for Kerney, he heeded them. Unfortunately for Seattle, there's another hole to fill, and don't tell me Clemons is the answer. He wasn't in Philadelphia. Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole are OK up the middle, while defensive end Lawrence Jackson showed signs of becoming legit. Still, the Seahawks need to improve a pass rush that produced 28 sacks last season, including one in their last four games. Trading away Tapp was not a good start.
LB: Once upon a time the Seahawks were supposed to have the best linebacking corps out there, but then Lofa Tatupu got hurt and Leroy Hill got himself in trouble and Aaron Curry struggled getting out of the blocks. An assistant I trust is down, and I mean really down, on Hill, calling him one of the league's great underachievers. Curry has talent and could be an impact player. He certainly should be better than he was last year. Tatupu is back after missing all but five games last season, and don't tell me his absence didn't have an impact on the defense's 24th-place finish. The Seahawks are not the same without him. There is depth here, with David Hawthorne, D.D. Lewis and Will Herring, but the linebackers that were supposed to be so good must make more plays.
DB: Another area of weakness, and look no further for that 30th-place finish among pass defenses. The Seahawks must force more turnovers, and you can start with interceptions. They only had 13. Worse, only five were by cornerbacks. Safety Deon Grant, who tied for the team lead in interceptions and was third in tackles, is gone, leaving for the New York Giants. That opens the door for backup Jamar Adams, and don't ask me if he can be a factor. He barely played a year ago. Marcus Trufant and Josh Wilson are adept at the corners, with Wilson good at making big plays, and safety Jordan Babineaux is coming off a season where he was the team's second leading tackler. Kelly Jennings is the cavalry, and that's not all that bad. What is bad are the 123 points the Seahawks yielded in their last four games, all losses.