NFL Nation: Chester Pitts

When Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub heard someone on his line was called for holding during Saturday night's game, he asked quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell who the culprit was.

"Duane," Schaub recalls Dorrell replying.

"No way! I don't believe that," Schaub said.

[+] EnlargeDuane Brown
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTexans left tackle Duane Brown has so honed his blocking technique that, in five NFL seasons, he has been penalized for holding only twice.
Holding on 76 is a rare call these days. In 76 regular-season games, left tackle Duane Brown has had only two holding penalties.

That wasn't the case in college. Technique wasn't exactly No. 76's strong point entering the NFL.

And without solid technique, it's difficult, even impossible, to mount an NFL career that so far includes only two holding penalties. Avoiding holds means being sound enough not to have to resort to a hold. It was something Brown learned along the way.

"I really didn’t become that good of a technician at the left-tackle position until just a couple of years ago," Brown said. "Hand placement and footwork is something I struggled with my first couple of years in the league. Over time, it’s just something I worked at. You try to latch onto guys, but you have to get them off at some point in time and you have to move your feet just to stay in front of them."

He credited offensive-line coach John Benton for part of that development and named former Texans linemen Chester Pitts, Ephraim Salaam and Eric Winston as players who helped teach him.

Brown was surprised, too, to be called for holding during Saturday's preseason game.

"I was a little shocked the way that the play was developed," he said. "I kind of baited the inside move and he took it and I thought I let him go and apparently they thought I held him a little longer than I should have. You never like to get flagged, and I really take pride in that. Better now than the regular season, I guess."
A few thoughts on NFC West rosters after calculating age ranks for NFL teams based on the rosters I maintain:
  • The chart ranks teams from oldest to youngest, excluding special-teams players who can sometimes play into their 40s. The first column shows overall rank, counting offensive and defensive players. The third and fourth columns show where teams rank on each side of the ball. These are for starters and backups. In some cases, teams might plan to release older backups on the reduction to 53 players.

  • Arizona Cardinals: Earlier in the preseason, Kevin Kolb referred to the Cardinals as a young team. They do have young players, some of whom played extensively last season and should be better for it. But the Cardinals have the sixth-oldest roster in the league overall. Vonnie Holliday (35), Clark Haggans (34), Joey Porter (34), Paris Lenon (33), Floyd Womack (32), Adrian Wilson (31), Todd Heap (31) and Nick Eason (31) are some of them. The team has also favored veteran offensive linemen, including veteran backups.

  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams got older on purpose, adding seasoning to their defense through players added on one-year deals. Al Harris (36) is the oldest non-specialist on the team. James Hall (34) and Fred Robbins (34) remain valuable contributors. Both start. Rookie Robert Quinn will likely replace Hall at some point. Drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the 2012 draft could make sense, too. Some of the Rams' additions could come at the expense of incumbent veterans such as Hank Fraley (34 next month) and Na'il Diggs (33).

  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have gotten younger this offseason, particularly on defense. They subtracted Takeo Spikes (34), Aubrayo Franklin (31 this week), Travis LaBoy (30), Brian Westbrook, Nate Clements (31), Brian Westbrook (32 next month), William James (32), Barry Sims (36) and Demetric Evans (32 next month).. Fulback Moran Norris (33) is their oldest non-specialist. The team has only six non-specialists in their 30s, half as many as the Cardinals have.

  • Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have been getting younger by design over the past two seasons. Like the 49ers, they have only six non-specialists in their 30s, with none older than 33 (Raheem Brock). They have subtracted Sean Locklear (30), Matt Hasselbeck (36 next month), Stacy Andrews (30), J.P. Losman (30), Brandon Stokley (35), Lawyer Milloy (37), Chester Pitts (32) and Craig Terrill (31). Most general managers want to make their teams younger when starting out. In Seattle, the head coach is also amendable to that approach. But a few players such as Brock (33), Junior Siavii (32), Colin Cole (31), Marcus Trufant (30) and Atari Bigby (30 next month) have kept the Seahawks defensive ranking from sinking further. Seattle is 16th oldest on that side of the ball.

I've sprouted a couple new gray hairs just typing in some of these names. Might be time to squeeze in an afternoon workout.

Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Tyler Polumbus started at left guard for the Seattle Seahawks last season.

No wonder the team went after Robert Gallery when the free-agent negotiating period opened Tuesday.

Gallery and Seattle agreed to terms on a three-year deal, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The contract length suggests this will be a relatively modest deal financially for Seattle, a bit of a surprise.

Gallery, 31, missed four games last season and 10 in 2009, but he's a significant upgrade at the position for Seattle. The team has struggled to find a long-term starter at left guard since losing Steve Hutchinson to Minnesota following the 2005 season.

The line has been a mess overall. Seattle started 11 combinations last season alone, but the line is taking shape. First-round draft choice James Carpenter projects as the starter at right tackle, with third-rounder John Moffitt at right guard. Max Unger will step in at center, with Gallery at left guard and 2010 first-round choice Russell Okung at left tackle.

For the first time in years, Seattle has what appears to be a coherent, sustainable and promising plan for its offensive line. Gallery's durability is the biggest concern. The Seahawks felt good about adding another veteran guard, Mike Wahle, several years ago. His injury problems prevented him from holding down the job for long, however.

Gallery's connections to new Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable were important in getting this deal done. Both were together in Oakland for years. Gallery let it be known he wanted to leave Oakland and stay with Cable. Cable's presence means the Seahawks know what they're getting from an injury and production standpoint.

NFC West free-agency breakdown

July, 25, 2011
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each NFC West team:

Arizona Cardinals

1. Sign or acquire a quarterback: You've heard all the potential names by now. Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer, Marc Bulger and Matt Hasselbeck all could be available. The same goes for Donovan McNabb, but the Cardinals aren't interested in him. How much interest they have in the others remains less clear. They liked Bulger as an option last offseason, but the timing wasn't right. Kolb reportedly stands atop their wish list now, although price is a consideration. One way or another, the Cardinals will go into the 2011 season with fresh veteran blood at the position.

2. Firm up the offensive line: Left guard Alan Faneca retired. Center Lyle Sendlein and right guard Deuce Lutui have expiring contracts. Brandon Keith showed promise at right tackle, but he's coming off knee surgery. A better quarterback would help take pressure off the line, but Arizona isn't going to find another Kurt Warner. The team has loaded up at running back, adding second-round choice Ryan Williams to an already crowded backfield. The Cardinals need to re-sign Sendlein. Letting Lutui depart would put them in the market for veteran help. I've looked through the free-agent lists for guards already familiar to the Cardinals. Pittsburgh's Trai Essex, a starter in 21 games over the past two seasons, played for Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm with the Steelers.

3. Work toward a deal with Larry Fitzgerald: Ideally, the Cardinals would have landed their next quarterback in March, then spent the offseason working toward extending Fitzgerald's contract beyond the 2011 season. Fitzgerald is an NFL rarity. He's in line to sign three massive contracts during the course of his career. He signed the first one as the third player chosen in the 2004 draft. That deal ultimately became untenable for the Cardinals, giving Fitzgerald the leverage to get $40 million over four seasons, plus assurances Arizona would not name him its franchise player once the deal ended. Fitzgerald, still only 27, will cash in at least one more time.

Top five free agents: Sendlein, Lutui, receiver Steve Breaston, defensive lineman Alan Branch, defensive lineman Gabe Watson.

St. Louis Rams

1. Upgrade the run defense: The Rams could use another defensive tackle to take their promising defensive front to another level. Adding Fred Robbins in free agency last offseason was a good start. Barry Cofield (New York Giants) and Brandon Mebane (Seattle Seahawks) are scheduled to become free agents this offseason. Cofield played for Steve Spagnuolo and would transition to the Rams' system easily. The Rams could use an in-the-box safety, something they addressed later in the draft. They need to find one and possibly two starting outside linebackers. Chase Blackburn projects more as a backup, but he was also with Spagnuolo on the Giants. Blackburn has played all three linebacker positions. Minnesota's Ben Leber would make sense as well. Paul Ferraro, the Rams' linebackers coach, was with the Vikings previously.

2. Help out Steven Jackson: Adding a third-down back such as Darren Sproles would lighten the load for Jackson, who has played through several injuries in recent seasons. Jackson has 654 rushing attempts over the past two seasons despite missing one game and playing for a team that has often trailed its opponents. Only Chris Johnson (674) has more carries during that span. Sproles isn't the only viable potential option. Jason Snelling, DeAngelo Williams and Reggie Bush also could become available. Upgrading at right guard would also help out Jackson.

3. Figure out the situation at receiver. It's questionable whether the Rams will find any clear upgrades at receiver in free agency. That could lead them to stand pat at the position. They have quantity, but not enough high-end quality. Adding more quantity wouldn't solve much. Plaxico Burress gets mentioned as an option for his ties to Spagnuolo, but he's been out of the game and might not offer much. The Rams thought about claiming Randy Moss off waivers last season. Moss could make more sense for the Rams now that Josh McDaniels is offensive coordinator. He worked well with Moss in New England. Sidney Rice could also have appeal.

Top five free agents: receiver Mark Clayton, guard Adam Goldberg, defensive tackle Clifton Ryan and tight end Daniel Fells.

Seattle Seahawks

1. Sign or acquire a quarterback: Bringing back Hasselbeck remains an option. The team expressed interest in Kolb last offseason. The team could also add a lower-profile veteran to the mix -- perhaps a Matt Leinart type -- for an open competition with Charlie Whitehurst. That would not excite Seattle fans, of course. Getting a young quarterback to build around would be ideal, but the Seahawks are adamant they will not force the situation in the absence of viable options. They weren't going to do it in the draft, when they passed over Andy Dalton for tackle James Carpenter. They probably aren't going to do it in free agency, either.

2. Solidify the offensive line: Tom Cable's addition as assistant head coach/offensive line puts the Seahawks in position to court Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery in free agency. Gallery has said he's not returning to the Raiders. Seattle has drafted its starting tackles, starting center and starting right guard in the past few seasons. Max Unger and Russell Okung need better luck with injuries. Okung would also benefit from an experienced presence next to him at left guard. Gallery qualifies as such and he would fit the zone system Cable wants to run. Green Bay's Daryn Colledge could be available, too. He has ties to Seahawks general manager John Schneider. Former Seattle starters Chris Spencer, Sean Locklear, Chester Pitts and Ray Willis might not return.

3. Plug holes on defense. Mebane appears headed for free agency. The Seahawks want him back, but how badly? Mebane could fit better in a purer 4-3 defense. He also might command more money elsewhere. Injuries along the defensive front could also affect the Seahawks' needs. Red Bryant is coming off season-ending knee surgery. Injuries affected Colin Cole and Chris Clemons last season as well. Cornerback is another area to monitor once free agency opens. Does Marcus Trufant still fit at his relatively high price? The Cincinnati Bengals' Johnathan Joseph and other free-agent corners could appeal.

Top five free agents: Hasselbeck, Mebane, Locklear, linebacker Will Herring, defensive end Raheem Brock.

San Francisco 49ers

1. Re-sign Alex Smith: Smith and the 49ers renewed their vows informally this offseason. The official ceremony should come when free agency opens and Smith signs with the team. Smith's name continues to show up on free-agent lists in the interim, but there's no chance he'll sign elsewhere. He's given his word to the 49ers. The team, in turn, has entrusted him with its playbook. Smith even took the lead in teaching what he knew of the offense to teammates. Re-signing Smith takes pressure off rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick. With a new coaching staff, a young prospect in Kaepernick and no access to players during a lockout, this wasn't the year for San Francisco to make a bold play for a veteran passer from another team.

2. Make a decision on Aubrayo Franklin. The 49ers' plans on defense remain a bit mysterious. Coordinator Vic Fangio did not distribute playbooks to players. The team's needs could change based on whether Franklin, a solid nose tackle, leaves in free agency. Franklin's status as a franchise player last season raised the stakes for a new contract. What does Fangio think of him? What specifically does Fangio want from his defensive linemen? How much will Fangio change to suit the 49ers' personnel? How much new personnel might he want? General manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers will not be aggressive in free agency. The team has shown restraint on that front in recent seasons. Losing Franklin would hurt.

3. Figure out the secondary: The pass defense was problematic last season. Personnel changes in the secondary are on the way. Veteran cornerback Nate Clements stands to earn more than $7 million in base salary in 2011. That price appears prohibitive. The team could release Clements or find a way to keep him at a lower rate. Free safety Dashon Goldson does not have a contract for 2011. How much is he worth? Baltimore's Chris Carr is one free-agent cornerback with ties to the 49ers' staff. He and Fangio were together in Baltimore.

Top five free agents: Smith, Franklin, outside linebacker Manny Lawson, center David Baas, linebacker Takeo Spikes.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's recent column in the Wall Street Journal warned of impending doom if players' attorneys prevail in ongoing court battles.

The column invited strong criticism from various quarters, and then there was this: veteran guard Chester Pitts, player rep for the Seattle Seahawks, agreeing with characterizations of Goodell as "Fraud-ger" instead of Roger, and comparing league attorney Jeff Pash to something best flushed down a toilet.

Pitts made the remarks during a segment Wednesday with Mike Salk and Brock Huard on 710ESPN Seattle. Salk characterized Goodell as fraudulent and asked Pitts for thoughts on the commissioner. The Pash characterization was unsolicited. Pitts:
"[Goodell] has tried to find in the media’s eyes and the people’s eyes a middle ground where he is not seen as an employee of the owners, when everyone in the world knows he is. But I think if he would just own up to that and say, 'Everything I’m going to do, I’m going to back what my owners tell me to do,' then I think that he wouldn’t be a fraud any more. We may not like him, the same way I don’t like Jeff Pash, but Jeff Pash is consistent. He’s a consistent turd, but he is consistent. He is what he is."

This is the first time I can recall one person labeling another person a "turd" and meaning it as a compliment. Makes a fan want to run out and purchase season tickets, no?

Pitts' less personal points, including that player are gaining ground as more becomes known, are worth a listen. You might want to plug your nose just to be safe.
Alex Smith and Matt HasselbeckGetty ImagesAlex Smith and Matt Hasselbeck are both eligible for free agency this offseason.
It is possible, even likely, that the NFL and its players will continue their staring contest through the 2011 draft -- even with a ruling from U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson.

The appeals process could take weeks or longer, during which time it's unlikely the league would open for business. We're probably doomed to status quo, in other words.

But if ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson is correct, Judge Nelson will most likely end the lockout, leading to an immediate appeal -- a scenario I think would lead, eventually, to the league opening for business under 2010 rules while the sides continued their battle in the courts.

Those 2010 rules set the bar high for free agency. Only players with six accrued seasons would qualify for the unrestricted market. Starters such as Arizona's Steve Breaston, San Francisco's Dashon Goldson and Seattle's Brandon Mebane would lose leverage and most likely return to their teams under relatively modest one-year deals.

The players listed in the chart -- those with at least six accrued seasons and no contracts for 2011 -- would be free to explore opportunities elsewhere.

Options and implications for this type of free agency in the NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals

Overview: The Cardinals suffered more personnel losses than they could weather last offseason. They would benefit from a return to 2010 rules, however, because the restrictions would keep multiple starters off the market. Their list of potential free agents with six-plus seasons features no front-line players. The Cardinals would be better off focusing on a new deal with Larry Fitzgerald, who is entering the final year of his contract.

Top priority: Finding a veteran quarterback. Derek Anderson isn't expected back. Marc Bulger's name is heard most frequently in connection with the Cardinals. He turned 34 this week and did not attempt a pass in a regular-season game while with Baltimore last season. Bulger struggled during his final seasons with the Rams, but the team was falling apart around him. He last finished an NFL season with more touchdowns than interceptions in 2006. The down year has surely helped him get healthy.

Players in flux: Breaston, starting guard Deuce Lutui and starting center Lyle Sendlein wouldn't have enough accrued seasons to become unrestricted under 2010 rules. The situation is particularly difficult for Breaston, who has battled through knee problems without getting a long-term deal.

Veteran variable: Starting left guard Alan Faneca has considered retirement. The Cardinals invested in veteran guard Rex Hadnot for depth last offseason. The team lacks young depth on the line, but if Lutui and Sendlein return, the Cardinals have some flexibility.

Name to keep in mind: Ike Taylor, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cardinals are hoping Greg Toler can build upon an up-and-down 2010 season. Taylor would give the team options. He played under new Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

St. Louis Rams

Overview: The Rams' most important players tend to be younger starters under contract for the long term (Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Rodger Saffold, Sam Bradford, Jason Smith). Most of their top veterans are also under contract (Steven Jackson, Fred Robbins, James Hall). Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is out of the picture after signing with the Washington Redskins following his salary-related release.

Top priority: The Rams could use a veteran guard with some nastiness. The team has invested heavily in its line, but this group could use more of an edge. Bringing back receiver Mark Clayton should be another consideration even though Clayton is coming off a serious knee injury. The rapport Clayton had with Bradford was strong.

Players in flux: Defensive tackles Gary Gibson and Clifton Ryan would remain property of the Rams under 2010 rules, as would cornerback Kevin Dockery and receiver Laurent Robinson. Gibson was the only full-time starter of the group last season. The Rams are expected to seek an upgrade at that position even with Gibson coming back.

Veteran variable: Adam Goldberg started all 16 games on the offensive line last season. The Rams could stand to upgrade, but I see value in bringing back Goldberg as a backup. He can play every position on the line but center. Goldberg has also taken an interest in mentoring younger players. His value off the field is a consideration.

Name to keep in mind: Daniel Graham, TE, Denver Broncos. Graham could make sense for the Rams in free agency. He played under the Rams' new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, and could help upgrade the run blocking. Seattle has connections to Graham as well.

San Francisco 49ers

Overview: The 49ers signed some of their better young players to long-term contracts well before labor pains became so severe. Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley come to mind. The lockout has made it tougher for the 49ers' new coaches to get a feel for players. The 49ers like their talent overall and haven't been big players in free agency over the past couple of seasons. That isn't likely to change.

Top priority: Finding a starting quarterback trumps everything else. Alex Smith can become a free agent. Backups David Carr and Troy Smith are not expected back. The 49ers aren't expected to use the seventh overall choice to select or acquire a quarterback. Coach Jim Harbaugh prides himself in coaching up quarterbacks, but he needs quarterbacks to coach.

Players in flux: Goldson, outside linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive lineman Ray McDonald are among the 49ers players that would fall short of the six-season requirement for unrestricted free agency.

Veteran variable: Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin played last season under a one-year franchise deal. The price tag for re-franchising Franklin appears prohibitive. The 49ers took a wait-and-see approach with Franklin because they hadn't seen him perform at a high level over the long term. They'll need a new nose tackle if Franklin departs.

Name to keep in mind: The 49ers' staff is coming mostly from the college ranks, so there aren't obvious connections to players from other NFL rosters. I expect the 49ers to focus more on re-signing some of their own players, from Spikes to David Baas and beyond.

Seattle Seahawks

Overview: The Seahawks have a long list of players without contracts for 2011. That was mostly be design. The team would like to continue turning over its roster without investing too much in older players such as Matt Hasselbeck, Raheem Brock and Olindo Mare.

Top priority: Figuring out the quarterback situation. Hasselbeck is headed for free agency and could leave if another team gives him some of the longer-term assurances Seattle has resisted. The Seahawks have shown some interest in Philadelphia Eagles backup Kevin Kolb, a player they inquired about last offseason. They still have Charlie Whitehurst. They could draft a quarterback early.

Players in flux: Defensive tackle Mebane heads the list of Seattle players who would not reach free agency under the rules used in 2010. General manager John Schneider called Mebane a "steady pro" when asked about him at the combine. That sounded like faint praise and an indication the Seahawks are not yet prepared to pay top dollar for Mebane if, and when, he hits the market.

Veteran variable: The Seahawks have a few of them, including Mare and Brock. But let's focus on offensive linemen Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer. They combined for 31 starts, but neither appears to be a priority for re-signing. Stacy Andrews is a candidate to step in for Locklear at right tackle. Max Unger could replace Spencer. Coach Pete Carroll thinks the team has upgraded its young depth on the line.

Name to keep in mind: Robert Gallery, guard, Oakland Raiders. Tom Cable's addition as offensive line coach makes Seattle a logical destination for Gallery, who has declared his intention to leave the Raiders.
Lately, it's tough following the NFL labor dispute without hearing from players linked to current NFC West franchises.

Receiver Sean Morey, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals and briefly the Seattle Seahawks, is on the attack after the league proposed new safety-related rules.

"At the end of the day, why should we be negotiating for our own health and safety? It's unfortunate," Morey said. "We've had to provide every solution to their problem."

Retired guard Pete Kendall, who began his NFL career with Seattle and later played for the Arizona Cardinals, recently spent three weeks in Washington, D.C., as part of the NFL Players Association contingent.

Veteran kicker Jay Feely, player rep for the Cardinals, has provided one of the strongest and most prominent public voices for players throughout negotiations.

Meanwhile, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes fears the worst for veteran players. He emerged Friday as a widely quoted figure from the ongoing players' meetings in Marco Island, Fla.

Friday morning, current Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy re-tweeted former Seahawks fullback Heath Evans' accusation that commissioner Roger Goodell's recent letter to players was an attempt to divide and conquer them.

Veteran guard Chester Pitts, who spent last season with Seattle and is without a contract for 2011, has fired off some of the angriest sounding missives. Most recently, he took offense to the letter from Goodell.

"I've told my guys to take the letter and set it on fire," Pitts said. "We're not that stupid."

Seldom does incendiary rhetoric call for the actual setting of fires.

The players will be fascinating to follow as this lockout continues. More than ever, they have the ability to speak out as individuals and without the media or NFL public-relations apparatus to serve as filters. That is liberating, but also potentially dangerous for players as they seek to promote a reasonable, unified message to the public.

Their empowerment, as championed by NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith, has brought a new level of emotion to the process, with sometimes regrettable results. I'm expecting more of the same as the NFL presses forward with its strategy of painting players as the ones unwilling to negotiate.
The NFC West is heading into a potential lockout with Chester Pitts, Adam Goldberg, Takeo Spikes and Jay Feely as its player union reps.

A few notes on the 32 reps, as identified by the NFL Players Association:
  • Offensive linemen stress solidarity and teamwork in their on-field jobs. These ethics might make them suited for union duty. Twelve of the 32 reps are offensive linemen. That is 37.5 percent representation, about double the percentage of offensive linemen on the typical 53-man roster.
  • Vonnie Holliday (Washington) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (Detroit) are the only defensive linemen among reps.
  • Feely leads a contingent of three kickers, joining John Kasay (Carolina) and Robbie Gould (Chicago). No punters are reps.
  • Kasay is the oldest rep. He is 41. Oakland's Zach Miller is the youngest. He is 25. Average age: 31.6 years old. Teammates elect reps. Veterans command more respect. Their experience suits them for the role.
  • Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback on the rep list.
  • The list is sometimes in flux. For example, the union still lists Erik Coleman as the Atlanta Falcons' rep, but the team released him. Coleman subsequently signed with Detroit.

The chart breaks down union reps by position across divisions, counting Coleman.

Logan Mankins and the NFC West wish list

February, 14, 2011
Signing Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins away from New England has gone from unlikely to an even longer shot after the Patriots named Mankins their franchise player.

The NFL and NFL Players Association cannot agree upon whether the franchise tag even exists this offseason, but if it does, the tag will effectively take Mankins off the market.

It's unclear whether any NFC West team would make a strong push for Mankins given the expected price tag, but the thought had appeal for Seattle Seahawks fans still stinging over Steve Hutchinson's departure as a transition player following the 2005 season.

Floyd Womack, Chris Spencer, Rob Sims, Mike Wahle, Mansfield Wrotto, Steve Vallos, Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Tyler Polumbus have started at left guard for Seattle since Hutchinson got away. Trading away Sims last offseason proved unfortunate once Alex Gibbs retired as line coach and Seattle stopped favoring smaller guards.

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 16, Rams 6

January, 2, 2011
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams-Seattle Seahawks game Sunday night:

What it means: Seattle becomes the first team with a losing record to win its division. The Seahawks (7-9) face the New Orleans Saints in a wild-card game at Qwest Field. Kickoff is 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday. The Rams also finished with a 7-9 record, but Seattle held the tiebreaker based on a superior division record (4-2 to 3-3). The Seahawks have now won five NFC West titles in the last seven seasons.

What I liked: Seattle came out aggressively and found Ruvell Martin, an ex-Ram, for a 61-yard gain from a four-receiver grouping. That was about as aggressive as it got in the first half, but at least the Seahawks made one decisive strike. Martin was wide open. The Seahawks also got their running game going, particularly in the second half, and that allowed them to control the game.

What I didn't like: The Rams seemed to forget about Steven Jackson, their only Pro Bowl player, early in the game. They looked like a team with no confidence in their ground game even though Seattle has struggled against the run. They ran an end-around that lost 9 yards. They ran Jackson up the middle from a four-receiver grouping. They got cute with a quick inside handoff to fullback Mike Karney. Seattle, meanwhile, tried to run the ball early despite the sorry state of its ground game this season. Marshawn Lynch carried for minus-4, 12, minus-3, zero, minus-5 and minus-1 yards in the first half. That comes out to six carries for minus-1 yard.

Injurie(s) of note: Seattle lost left guard Chester Pitts to a concussion. Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung returned to the game after aggravating an ankle injury.

Tomorrow's talker: We'll surely hear more about whether the NFL should adjust its playoff seeding formula.

Big revelation: Matt Hasselbeck was healthy enough to serve as the No. 2 quarterback, but the Seahawks did not start him. That surprised me. I thought Seattle would start Hasselbeck if he were healthy enough to play, or else name him the third quarterback. Hasselbeck appeared to be moving and throwing as usual during warmups.

Goat: Rams quarterback Sam Bradford threw a crushing interception in the fourth quarter as St. Louis was driving toward what could have been the tying touchdown. I'm not sure whether Bradford or receiver Brandon Gibson erred on this one, but the results were costly for St. Louis.

What's next: The Rams hold the 14th overall choice in the 2011 NFL draft. The Seahawks advance to the wild-card round.

Seahawks without top receivers vs. 49ers

December, 12, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Seattle Seahawks named injured receivers Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu inactive Sunday.

Playing without Williams, in particular, puts the Seahawks at a significant deficit as they try to improve their NFC West record to 4-1 against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Williams' presence on third down, in particular, helps the Seahawks sustain drives. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has played at a higher level lately -- more confidently, more efficiently -- with Williams in the lineup.

Seattle might now need to rely more heavily on its ground game. The ground game showed improvement against Carolina last week. The 49ers are allowing 3.6 yards per carry on the ground, however. That is the third-best average for any defense in the NFL this season.

Also inactive for Seattle: guard Breno Giacomini, guard Chester Pitts, tackle William Robinson, defensive lineman Amon Gordon and defensive lineman Jay Richardson. J.P. Losman is the third quarterback.

The 49ers' inactive players: kicker Joe Nedney, cornerback Tramaine Brock, running back DeShawn Wynn, cornerback William James, linebacker Thaddeus Gibson, tackle Joe Staley and tackle Alex Boone. David Carr is the third quarterback.
SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs will play Sunday without a couple of their top offensive threats.

Seattle receiver Mike Williams and Kansas City receiver Dexter McCluster worked out at Qwest Field, but their teams named them inactive. Williams has been Matt Hasselbeck's go-to target for most of the season. Seattle's offense changes quite a bit without him.

Ben Obomanu, Brandon Stokley, Deon Butler, Golden Tate and Ruvell Martin are active at receiver for Seattle. Obomanu and Stokley played particularly well against New Orleans last week. Tate played well against Oakland before suffering an ankle injury. This is his first game back.

Butler will start in Williams' place, the Seahawks said.

McCluster has missed the Chiefs' last four games.

Also inactive for Seattle: fullback Michael Robinson, guard Chester Pitts, defensive end Clifton Geathers, tackle Will Robinson, nose tackle Colin Cole and defensive tackle Amon Gordon. J.P. Losman is the third quarterback.

Also inactive for Kansas City: cornerback Brandon Flowers, safety Donald Washington, running back Tim Castille, safety Jon McGraw, linebacker Charlie Anderson, linebacker Justin Cole and defensive tackle Anthony Toribio.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 34, Seahawks 19

November, 21, 2010

NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 34-19 loss against the New Orleans Saints in Week 11:

What it means: The Seahawks weren't good enough to go toe-to-toe against Drew Brees in the Superdome, but they looked like the best team in the NFC West on this day. Watching quarterback Matt Hasselbeck over the past two games should give the Seahawks hope heading into their final six games. The team remains atop the NFC West with a 5-5 record heading into consecutive home games. The second-place Rams (4-6) play their next three on the road.

What I liked: The Seahawks forced their offensive tempo upon the Saints and made big, timely plays in the passing game. Hasselbeck commanded the offense effectively in a hostile environment, silencing the Superdome crowd with accurate passes. He looked like a Pro Bowl quarterback while completing 32 of 44 passes for 366 yards, one touchdown and a 104.9 rating. His protection was outstanding (no sacks). Receivers Mike Williams, Brandon Stokley and Ben Obomanu exploited the Saints' secondary. Williams caught six passes for 109 yards before leaving the game with a toe injury.

What I didn't like: Seattle's tackling was too often horrendous. Defensive players were bouncing off Saints running back Chris Ivory and others, including receiver Marques Colston. On offense, running back Marshawn Lynch lost two fumbles in a game for the first time in his career. Those turnovers prevented Seattle from keeping this game closer. The Seahawks replaced him late in the game.

You make the call: Questionable officiating affected the game negatively. The Saints scored a touchdown late in the first half after referee Mike Carey's crew turned a third-and-3 incomplete pass into first down near midfield with a roughing penalty against Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock. The hit appeared clean. The play was pivotal and forced Seattle to play from behind.

Injuries of note: Seattle lost Williams, its leading receiver, and Marcus Trufant, its top cornerback, to injuries. Trufant suffered what the team described as a head injury. Left guard Chester Pitts was limping throughout the game.

What's next: The Seahawks return home to face Kansas City and Carolina over the next two weeks.

Okung, Polumbus, Mebane among inactives

November, 7, 2010
SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks' list of inactive players leaves them severely shorthanded on both lines.

Left tackles Russell Okung and Tyler Polumbus are inactive. Seattle's seven active offensive linemen: Chester Pitts, Mike Gibson, Chris Spencer, Stacy Andrews, Sean Locklear, Breno Giacomini and Allen Barbre.

On defense, starting tackles Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole are inactive. Mebane's status following a calf injury had been in question. Not having him against the New York Giants further diminishes a group already without defensive end Red Bryant, who landed on injured reserve during the week.

Seattle's inactive list: quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, fullback Michael Robinson, defensive tackle Frank Okam, Okung, Polumbus, receiver Golden Tate, Cole and Mebane.

Robinson had been the emergency quarterback behind Whitehurst and Zac Robinson, who was signed from the practice squad for this game.

I'm not sure what the Seahawks would do at quarterback if injuries felled Whitehurst and Robinson. Running back Leon Washington did complete a pass while with the New York Jets in 2007. I heard it was a beauty.

NFC West left tackles in Week 9 spotlight

November, 7, 2010
The last time Chester Pitts started at left tackle in a game at Qwest Field, injuries and other considerations prompted his Houston Texans to use four combinations on their offensive line.

In the first quarter.

"You have to do what you have to do," Pitts said after the Texans' 42-10 defeat in Seattle five years ago. "They aren't going to cancel the game just because of an injury."

Those words ring true for Pitts' Seahawks against the New York Giants in Week 9.

Pitts becomes the Seahawks' eighth player to start at left tackle over the team's last 29 regular-season games, an unnecessary reminder of the value Walter Jones provided as a perennial Pro Bowl choice at the position. Pitts will be facing Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who leads the NFL with seven forced fumbles while ranking tied for second in sacks with eight.

Teams can help offensive tackles in protection multiple ways. Tight ends and running backs can help with blocking. Coordinators can call designed rollouts, moving the pocket away from potential trouble. Running the ball directly at elite pass-rushers can also help. But almost any offense at least occasionally asks its left tackle to hold up on his own.

How well NFC West left tackles handle the job Sunday stands as an important storyline.

Arizona's Levi Brown is the Cardinals' third starting left tackle in the team's last 11 regular-season games, succeeding Mike Gandy and Jeremy Bridges at the position. He faces Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen when the Cardinals visit the Minnesota Vikings for an early game Sunday. Allen's sack production has lagged this season. Bridges largely contained him when the teams played last season.

Brown has been stronger at run blocking than pass protection throughout his career.

That seemed to be the case against Tampa Bay in Week 8. I watched the game again Saturday night and made four notes on Brown. Two pass-protection breakdowns killed plays in the first half. A strong run block freed Beanie Wells for an 11-yard gain. Strong pass protection helped Derek Anderson complete a 25-yard pass to Early Doucet in the third quarter.

Allen, meanwhile, ranks tied for 119th in the league this season with one sack.

"I'm looking for him to have a bust-out game," Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said this week.