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Thursday, November 20, 2008
Mailbag: Holmgren, Ruskell and Seattle

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Dukeshire from Portland, Ore., writes: Senor Sando, I've been reading some interesting comments coming from Mike Holmgren recently about the Seahawks personnel. Specifically their corners being too small to be able to make plays. Would you shed some light on Ruskell's and Holmgren's relationship? How far apart have they been on the type of players Seattle drafts or signs. What is their working relationship like and how great is the chance that this may implode and turn ugly before the end of the season? Thanks for all the hard work.

Mike Sando: You're welcome. We all know coach Mike Holmgren and general manager Tim Ruskell differ on how they would put together the Seahawks. The Seahawks under Ruskell flushed out some of Holmgren's players, from Koren Robinson to Jerramy Stevens and others. We have also seen Ruskell show little interest in re-signing Bobby Engram until Holmgren made a strong push (before last season). Ruskell has also added players -- T.J. Duckett comes to mind -- with an eye toward the post-Holmgren era.

Differences are most easily managed during good times. A losing season puts strain on all.

Holmgren might have a point about the defensive personnel. But I still think the defense is better now than when Holmgren was the general manager. Upon his arrival in Seattle, Holmgren sought to build a big defense in the mold of those 1990s Green Bay teams. Lamar King at defensive end, Levon Kirkland at linebacker, veteran stopgap defensive backs such as Doug Evans, Bobby Taylor, Marcus Robertson, Merton Hanks, etc.

Holmgren's failure to build a strong defense played into the team's decision to remove the GM title from his job description. In 2005, Ruskell made a couple moves that helped the Seahawks realize their potential and reach the Super Bowl. Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, Chuck Darby and Joe Jurevicius played a role in the team getting over the hump. Dumping Robinson, Anthony Simmons and others played a role in that.

Through it all, I think both Ruskell and Holmgren have always had the best interests of the organization in mind. This lost season will test the discipline of both men. The coach shouldn't criticize the personnel any more than the personnel guy should criticize the coach.

Differences become harder to manage when a team loses. Having Jim Mora onboard as the head coach in waiting adds another dynamic. This is a very unusual season. Getting to 2009 can't happen quickly enough for all involved, in my estimation.


Mike from Los Angeles writes: Sando, In looking at the Seahawks rebuilding process, I see many, many holes, and not enough up and coming talent to fill them. For starters, they need a big corner, like I don't know, Ken Lucas, and a big hitting safety, like, I don't know, Ken Hamlin. Add to that list a QB of the future, a playmaking WR, a stud OL like maybe Steve Hutchinson and a pass rushing DE to help Patrick Kerney. My question is, when is Timmay Ruskell going to get the blame for the state this roster is in? Does ownership even pay attention to the talent drain that has taken place under his regime?

Mike Sando: Ownership generally doesn't pay attention to such things when a team is winning division championships every year and playoff games most years. The Seahawks have done that. The conversation changes when a team goes 2-8. That is happening now, and Ruskell will have to account for the team's record.

I try to take the longer view. Two months ago, the Rams couldn't draft anyone. Roughly one month ago, they had really hit on their 2008 draft class, with Chris Long, Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton combining to form a productive young core that was winning games. Now it's back to the team being unable to draft anyone.

The Panthers have been to the playoffs once, losing to Seattle, since paying all that money for Lucas. The Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since signing Ken Hamlin. They, too, lost to Seattle in the playoffs. The Vikings have zero playoff appearances since paying all that money for Hutchinson.

I thought the Panthers arguably overpaid for Lucas. They paid him Pro Bowl money. Hamlin had some health concerns and the safety play in Seattle hadn't been sterling for most of his Seahawks tenure. The team got hot in 2005 after Marquand Manuel replaced Hamlin (not that Manuel sparked the run). Losing Hutchinson was obviously a regrettable mistake.

Matt Hasselbeck is the key for Seattle. With him, the Seahawks have a chance to remain a playoff team while they fill some of the holes you mentioned. Life gets a lot tougher for everyone, Ruskell included, if Hasselbeck doesn't bounce back strong and the team struggles next season as well.


Nick from Los Lunas, N.M., writes: How do you think the 49ers will look with Singletary starting the next season with a fresh start and Hill as the starting QB next year?

Mike Sando: That might be a tough sell unless the team finishes strong this season. I would ask you to check back in a few weeks. Let's see how the 49ers perform in these next few games. I don't think we've seen enough of either man in his current role to say anything definitive for 2009.


Steve from parts unknown writes: After reading this morning's story on the Rams situation at QB I almost get the feeling Ol' Jim just wants his 6 wins so he can stay put as Head Coach (somthing I'm not too crazy about). I mean the season's over, why not throw in Berlin and see if he has anything? Bulger's confidence is shot (us long time Rams fans have seen this before, i.e. Jim Everett). I just don't get it. What's your take Mike?

Mike Sando: Teams should exercise caution in jerking around franchise quarterbacks. Unless the Rams think Brock Berlin is the answer, they should gear everything around building up Bulger. They invested quite a bit in him and they need to do everything possible to m
ake that work. Undercutting Bulger in the locker room would probably do more long-term harm than good, in my view.


James from parts unknown writes: Mike, great coverage of the NFC West. I love your articles and analysis. My dad and I have had AZ Cardinal tickets since 1988 and we are so excited to see our Cards having success. Warner and Boldin/Fitzgerald are getting national recognition, but nothing about Coach Whisenhunt. He has done the impossible and changed the culture of the AZ Cardinals and has taught mental toughness. That is the real story in AZ, but no one in the media is giving him his due. Can you write an article to pump him for Coach of the Year? I have a great buzz phrase to describe Coach Whisenhunt. I am borrowing from the Wizard of OZ. Here is the name for your article. He is the "The Whisard of AZ". God Bless!

Mike Sando: Thanks, James. I certainly recognize what Whisenhunt has accomplished. He is an aggressive coach who shows confidence in his players, and his players have rewarded him. I'll be interested in seeing how well this team handles success. That's the next challenge and a good one to have.


Cody from Coolidge, Ariz., writes: Hey Sando what have you heard about Edgerrin James asking to be released from his contract with the Cardinals? What effect do you think this will have on the teams morale, and the psyche of rookie running back Tim Hightower? I would appreciate your input, thank you for your time.

Mike Sando: No sweat. I don't think it's a big deal. James and Hightower have a good relationship. This is a business issue being handled at the agent level. The Cardinals should be OK as long as James keeps it on that level. It does strike me as bad form when a person making nearly $300,000 per week to watch football games from an NFL sideline complains about the "indignity" of his plight.


Jim from Tucson writes: Bandwagon fans. I think it's interesting that as far back as I can remember, football teams have tended to earn so-called bandwagon fans when they have established a dynasty, or at the very least have become Super Bowl contenders. Cowboys, Packers, Patriots, Giants. What does it say about the Arizona Cardinals and/or their fans that Cards fans are coming to life on the basis of a mere 7-3 start in a weak division?

Mike Sando: There have always been Cardinals die-hards, but the franchise's roots in Arizona go back a relatively short ways, and the team has been horrible a lot of that time. People in Arizona owed nothing to the franchise when it wasn't worth supporting. I have no problem with fans emerging now that the team is worth following. This season could help the team earn loyalty for years to come.


Bill from Palm Coast, Fla., writes: Hi Mike, I keep reading on various websites regarding Kurt Warner that to beat the Cards you merely have to hit Warner a few times "because he is brittle, or fragile or whatever." It seems to me that Warner has taken a significant amount of hits and gotten up from the turf to destroy the opposition. What's the truth? How many times has Kurt been hit compared to other QBs this season and/or do you consider Warner to be a person that collapses easily? Thank-you for your answer.

Mike Sando: Warner has stood up to the punishment this season without developing happy feet or whatever you call it when a quarterback gets a little fidgety back there. The Seahawks (2007) and Jets (2008) were able to force Warner into lots of turnovers by hitting him. Warner has successfully dealt with punishment in other games. I thought the Cowboys roughed him up quite a bit, and it was good for Arizona that the bye week followed. But he is taking sacks once every 40 attempts in the last six games, compared to once every 11.75 attempts in the first four games. That's a huge difference for Warner and the team.


Paul from Phoenix writes: Mike, I'm an Arizona fan. Be honest... do we have a shot this Sunday?

Mike Sando: Absolutely. I would never rule out the Cardinals at home, even though I think it's a tough matchup and the Giants have the better team overall.


Matthew from Eugene, Ore., writes: What is your take on Brian Russell? Everywhere I look online I see people clamoring for him to be replaced in the Seahawks' starting lineup and attacking his perceived lack of talent, but is he really that bad? Looking at NFL.com, he seems to be sixth on the team with 45 tackles (37 solo) and one sack. How do you think his play compares to other starting safeties in the league?

Mike Sando: People routinely criticize defensive-back play without having any clue whatsoever what each player's responsibility might have been on a given play. I think it's fair to say Russell could do a better job wrapping up consistently. Sometimes he goes for hits over tackles, allowing receivers and running backs to get extra yardage.


Mo Ron from parts unknown writes: After Bradshaw's 77 yard run, the Ravens, yes THE RAVENS, gave up on the game because the coaches didn't want [Flacco] hurt. So how far will the Cardinal coaches go? Are they going to let [Warner] take a pounding? Because if Hurt tries to torch the defense he WILL be hit and it will be hard and it will HURT the HURT and then the Cardinal season will go down in flames!

Mike Sando: The Cardinals have been nothing but aggressive all season, even when Warner was taking hits. They did it against the Jets and Cowboys this season. Warner took a pounding in those games.