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Jesper from Denmark took over the NFC West blog Tuesday with his dispassionate dissection of the St. Louis Rams.
Are the Rams really any better?
The question generated discussion on the blog and on my Facebook wall, with some Rams fans taking offense.
Four hours after the item posted, Doug from Yelm, Wash., hit my inbox with a corresponding 700-word dissection of the Seattle Seahawks. I've known Doug for years. Our kids used to play together. Our families get together around the Fourth of July. He's a huge Seahawks fan, but also a realist.
"Jesper from Denmark graced the NFC West mailbag with a position-by-position evaluation of the Rams," Doug wrote. "It would be nice to have the same type of fan-expert breakdown of all the NFC West teams."
And so our Seahawks discussion began.
|Matt Hasselbeck hasn't played in all 16 regular-season games since the 2007 season.|
Doug: Matt Hasselbeck suffered another injury last season on the goal line in San Francisco. He was decent without being spectacular. We can expect more of the same. Charlie Whitehurst won’t be asked to carry this team unless things go south quickly. Verdict: worse.
Sando: There were times in our Rams evaluation when we acknowledged improved depth without saying a position would improve from a talent standpoint. I think we can apply that thinking here. Seattle has strengthened its depth behind Hasselbeck by acquiring Whitehurst and third-stringer J.P. Losman. I wouldn't say Seattle is worse at the position. As long as Hasselbeck is healthy -- and at this point Doug is probably looking at his watch -- the Seahawks will be better at quarterback.
Doug: This position provides the biggest question mark for the Seahawks. The starter right now is mostly likely Justin Forsett. Julius Jones' role is undefined. Leon Washington has a chance to improve this area if he’s healthy. Verdict: worse.
Mike Sando: This position looks like a wash to me. The team had Edgerrin James and T.J. Duckett early last season. Both are long gone. Forsett appears to be ascending. Jones is decent at running, receiving and blocking. Washington is the wild card. Teams avoided running backs through most of the draft and I can't blame Seattle for addressing other areas. I'll be looking to see if Quinton Ganther becomes a factor on some level. Seattle has to be hoping its Mike Shanahan-style offense can produce Shanahan-style results in the running game without an elite back on the roster.
Doug: T.J. Houshmandzadeh is really a No. 2-type receiver and Deion Branch has papier-mache joints. Deon Butler, Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu have potential but somebody needs to break out. Golden Tate could make this a much improved area. Verdict: Better, barely.
Sando: Tate looked great this offseason, but I'm usually skeptical about rookie receivers making strong contributions. It's probably not a good sign when Williams is a key X factor, but if he reports to training camp in shape, the Seahawks could be onto something. Nate Burleson was the only key departure from this group. I'd say Seattle is slightly worse here unless Branch or Williams comes through.
|The Seahawks improved the depth behind starter John Carlson.|
Doug: John Carlson is in his prime and should produce at an even higher level. Cameron Morrah proved to be a solid backup and a good blocking tight end. Verdict: Same.
Sando: Don't forget about Chris Baker and Anthony McCoy, Doug. This is one position where I think the Seahawks have done a nice job upgrading. John Owens is gone and that should help the quarterbacks' completion percentage. The Seahawks will use two tight ends quite a bit. Baker and McCoy should upgrade the depth behind Carlson.
Doug: This was the biggest problem for Seattle last year. Russell Okung solidifies the left tackle spot and even as a rookie he will be better than the patchwork situation last year. Ben Hamilton is a proven starter with a firm grasp of the zone blocking scheme. Verdict: better.
Sando: We're on the same page with Okung. Even if Okung is average, he'll be better than what the Seahawks had at the position after about Week 6 last season. I'm expecting better here, no question.
Doug: This will be the second year in a row the Seahawks try to adopt a new system. Last year, the offense (and Hasselbeck in particular) didn’t buy into the coach’s vision. The whole offense feels like a question mark this year -- Hasselbeck’s successor on the sideline, a mix of veterans and young guys, and a bad running game that was not addressed in the offseason. Verdict: worse.
Sando: It'll come down to health at quarterback, same as last season. We'll also find out whether Hasselbeck can fit into this offensive scheme comfortably. The new staff values mobility at quarterback and Hasselbeck, though not slow, isn't all that fast, either. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates looks like more of an up-and-comer than his predecessor, and with an improved line, Seattle should be better on offense.
Doug: Patrick Kerney’s retirement was way overblown. The need for a pass rush has been there since Kerney was last effective, way back in 2007. Chris Clemons and Lawrence Jackson are not going to set the world on fire. Verdict: worse.
Sando: Carroll sounds sold on Red Bryant at one end spot, though obviously not in a pass-rushing capacity. I'm a little skeptical, but we'll see. Adding Clemons for Darryl Tapp will not make a huge difference. This group looks about the same, minus the false hope that Kerney would revive his career. The Seahawks still do not know where they're going to get their pass rush.
Doug: Colin Cole, Brandon Mebane and Craig Terrill are good, but I’m not expecting to see them in the Pro Bowl. Verdict: same.
Sando: I wonder whether Terrill will earn a roster spot this season. You didn't mention Kevin Vickerson, acquired from Tennessee. I'm not seeing a huge change here, either.
|Lofa Tatupu missed more than half of the 2009 season due to injuries.|
Doug: A strength for the Seahawks and their deepest position. Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill and Aaron Curry are All-Pro level linebackers. David Hawthorne might be the best non-starting linebacker in the NFL. Verdict: better.
Sando: When was the last time those three linebackers played anywhere near an elite level? It's been a couple years for Tatupu. Hill has been on the cusp, but he has not really delivered. And Curry hasn't proved himself in the NFL. Hawthorne is a good backup. I'll agree that this group should improve. Tatupu is back from injury. Hill and Curry have lots to prove. Hawthorne has much to gain. Injuries are still a concern. Tatupu, Hill and Curry played together less than one full game last season. It gets old hearing about how great Seattle is at the position. Time to produce.
Doug: After returning from injury, Marcus Trufant was flat-out embarrassed at times last season. Kelly Jennings is not a shutdown corner. Walter Thurmond will be called on early in the season and he may still be suffering from a knee injury. Verdict: worse.
Sando: Trufant should be healthier and more comfortable this season and that will upgrade the position. You did not mention Josh Wilson, a good player and better corner than Jennings, who isn't bad. Ken Lucas is gone, but I do not see a huge drop-off from last season. Remember, too, that rookie safety Earl Thomas is a coverage player.
Doug: By all accounts, Earl Thomas is a stud and he immediately upgrades the Seahawks at safety. Kam Chancellor is a big, physical safety who should contribute right away. Jordan Babineaux and Lawyer Milloy add versatility and depth, but not much play making. Verdict: better, only because of Thomas.
Sando: Thomas does upgrade this group. The team should get more from Milloy this season. I could even see him starting and providing a veteran presence -- someone Carroll can trust to do the right thing. Milloy was the only member of the secondary to provide true toughness last season, I thought. He is old, but also old-school.
Doug: The Seahawks' defense was the only thing that kept them in the games they were competitive in last season. If they can get a pass rush from the outside, either at linebacker or defensive end, they will be much better. Verdict: better.
Sando: Seattle's defense needs more points on the board, so the progress the Seahawks make on offense will be a key variable here, too. I question where this team will get its pass rush, but the team will have a hard time being worse in that department. I'll agree that the defense should be improved with Trufant healthier, Tatupu back, Thomas at safety and Curry taking a step forward.
|Pete Carroll was brought in to replace Jim Mora, who only lasted one season in Seattle.|
Doug: This team gave up on Jim Mora last year. He called guys out (remember the Olindo Mare incident?) and constantly pleaded with the team to give a better effort. They never bought it. Carroll brings in a lot of recent success from the college ranks, plus enough NFL experience to know what he’s getting into. Verdict: better.
Sando: Carroll will benefit from a better climate in the front office and improved organizational stability. I also think his temperament is better suited for weathering tough times. He'll be more consistent that way and the team will respond more favorably. Bates' addition intrigues me. As noted, I sense he could be an up-and-coming assistant.
Doug: Last season featured three road games in a row, Thanksgiving in Dallas and a road game against Green Bay in December. The schedule is better this season with four of the final six games at home and only three games kicking off at 10 a.m. PT. Verdict: better.
Sando: The schedule is tougher early in the season and an 0-3 start against the San Francisco 49ers (home), Denver Broncos (road) and San Diego Chargers (home) is certainly possible. Seattle has to like the schedule later in the season, though. Finishing at home against the Rams was a plus.
Doug: Carroll brings an energetic, hopeful attitude, but it comes at a price because the Seahawks will be under their third head coach in as many seasons. This team needed a shakeup and new scheming, but results won’t happen overnight. They will be more competitive. I just don’t see how they can make the playoffs. Verdict: better (7-9).
Sando: Six or seven victories seem reasonable and it's a huge step forward if the team can get to 8-8. I expect the Seahawks to handle adversity better than they did last season. That should prevent them from falling off a cliff the way they did in 2009. It's also fair to wonder whether Hasselbeck can stay healthy and whether the team can rush the passer. Problems in those two areas could doom Seattle to another disappointing season.