Saturday, February 5, 2011

Looking Back on 2010, Part 4: Competition

Continuing a series of posts re-capturing the moods, debates, and plot twists of Pete Carroll's first year in Seattle. You can find Part 3 here.

The 12th Man's winter was short and soon ended by the "spring" of training camp. As always, we were debilitated from the endless circular discussions and desperate to see some resolution and answers to the ongoing storylines. Where was the QB situation headed? Who would emerge at wide receiver? Was Pete Carroll's vaunted "competition" really going to make something out of a scrum pool of camp-body defensive ends? We were tired of talking about it. We had to know.

The annual worry over signing our draft picks arrived as surely as spring flowers do, only to be silenced within a week once they all signed unremarkably - as surely as spring flowers do. Also signing was Chester Pitts, another well-reputed, scheme-fitting O-lineman recovering from an injury. Pitts was another attempt to compensate for the Sims trade and had more football ahead of him than Ben Hamilton, but was Carroll starting to push his luck with all the injury gambling? It was immediately clear that Pitts would be a while in returning to full form.

Toward the end of June, Seattle had named Scot McCloughan a senior personnel executive. Many merely peg him as "the guy who brought us Kentwan Balmer" a couple of weeks later. Balmer, a first-round almost-bust who publicly grumped his way off the 49ers, has had little impact in Seattle, therefore casting apathy upon McCloughan for some reason. But McCloughan was a respected figure in San Francisco whose role in Seattle's personnel decisions and scouting may be underrated, and probably has yet to have its biggest impact. San Francisco is certainly not lacking talent because of him. Keep him on your radar.

Training camp finally launched, sending swarms of informed reporters and uninformed unlookers upon the VMAC to watch Kelly Jennings' usual strong camp. I was looking forward to the gossip and breakdowns as much as anyone, but cynical nonetheless. Why do these affairs always seem to be little more than bullet lists of WR catches, as if that sums up the work being done? There's always so little about the linemen, the running backs, the mechanics. Or perhaps...observers are just kind of ignoring the things that aren't looking so good.

But hey...information!

   Preseason Week 1: Titans @ Seahawks

   Seattle's preseason arrived, supplying Whitehurst with a passable game that featured an impressive 51-yard catch-and-run TD for Mike Williams. It was the best work that Whitehurst would show in the preseason. Hard-nosed RB Quinton Ganther out-performed all the rushing competition on the roster - with 36 yards on 11 carries. CB Josh Wilson ended the Titans' second drive with a nice diving interception, while Kam Chancellor made his mark with a pick to seal the 20-18 victory.

   The following week, speaking of apathy, Seattle traded away DE Lawrence Jackson, the first-round pick from 2008. Like many fans, I found myself hard-pressed to get worked up. LoJack had never developed the pass-rush technique, hand-fighting, or mental fortitude. His few sacks had been mostly cheapies enabled by other teammates. Now that he was gone, it started coming out that Jackson wasn't a huge football guy, that his interests lay elsewhere, and Jackson's well-documented habit of quitting on plays only fed that image. But with Red Bryant emerging as a force on that side, Jackson's loss seemed tied off. No harm done.

   Did I mention Leroy Hill was still around? The beset linebacker was now dealing not just with legal troubles and a long-delayed disciplinary decision from the NFL, but injuries on top. The team started to distance itself from Hill and letting the league call the shots on him.

   Preseason Week 2: Packers @ Seahawks

   The Packers game was a sort of come-down. Aaron Rodgers dominated the Seahawks secondary, an apt preview of the regular season, starting with a 56-yard bomb to Greg Jennings that badly burned FS Earl Thomas, which was not an apt preview. DE Dexter Davis pulled off a sack and recovered the resulting fumble, but otherwise, the defense's night was long. Josh Wilson returned a kickoff 56 yards to set up Seattle's first touchdown. Whitehurst followed up his hopeful Week 1 showing with two interceptions, while Hasselbeck gained ground in the competition with a couple of impressive, albeit typically risky, tosses to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

   Also serving as a preview of the season was Russell Okung's first ankle injury.

Preseason Week 3: Seahawks @ Vikings

   A bleh offensive showing against the Vikings in this "most significant of preseason games" was offset by a tremendous performance from Seattle's defense - on the road, no less.

   It started in the second quarter with Josh Wilson breaking up a pass that landed in the hands of Earl Thomas. The resulting 86-yard pick-six helped establish Thomas as a fan favorite, as pick-sixes often do. Seattle's defensive line responded with great pressure all night on Brett Favre, who promptly blamed his offensive line. Chris Clemons recorded two sacks, one on a brilliant inside move on Minnesota Pro Bowl left tackle Bryant McKinnie, the other forcing a fumble Seattle recovered. This was also the game that newly-redeployed Red Bryant started to make noise as a run-stopping, npredictable-in-a-good-way defensive end.

   When given time, however, Favre continued to dissect Seattle's coverage like any other QB. Who says that preseasons are irrelevant? Seems pretty prescient to me.

   The offense continued to flounder like a wet fish, but Seattle mostly avoided turnovers and got more consistency from Mike Williams, who now led Seattle's receivers by a fair margin. WR Deion Branch kept up his pattern of being valuable only when coverages let him go. Questions begin to emerge about the relevance of TE John Carlson, who did not seem to have a huge receiving role in Bates' two-TE scheme up to this point.

80-man roster day arrived. Amongst the fan favorites cut this week included DE Ricky Foley, WR Kole Heckendorf, G Gregg Peat, CB Josh Wilson, K Clint Stitser, and...


Wait, what? Josh Wilson?


In two years on a bottom-five pass defense, CB Josh Wilson had six interceptions, three returned for touchdowns, and three forced fumbles. He was an excellent open-field tackler, a fast run-sniffer, and decent in the blitz. He had potential as a terrific nickelback, tight-end blankets, and Bandit defender, if only the Seahawks could have afforded to keep him at nickelback by finding an adequate #2 corner. He was also cheap as Western Family to keep on the roster for 2010.

Evidently, none of this was a scheme fit. Instead, Wilson was shipped to Baltimore for a fifth-round pick whose abstract value Wilson had already exceeded and which is just as likely to produce the next Jeb Huckeba as the next Will Herring.

To make it plain that I do not overvalue Wilson - he is not a perfect #2 corner. He gave up massive coverage cushions and the occasional big play. It is only because of that coverage mediocrity that his trade does not, for me, deserve a place on John's excellent Top 3 Mistakes of 2010 list. He was not a world-beater. The Seahawks can still, in fact, make up for the trade in a couple of ways.

But just like Brandon Mebane, just like Deon Grant, Seattle was playing Wilson out of position and ignoring his best talents. At nickelback, he could have excelled as a faster Jordan Babineaux, alternating difficult plays with badly-needed big ones. Those who criticize Wilson for his height are ignoring the success that Wilson had on a defense filled with non-factors. Don't tell me that anyone on this defense provides the kind of game-changing benefits that Wilson did. It's not even close.

   Preseason Week 4: Seahawks @ Raiders

   With Hasselbeck sitting out the final exhibition contest, Whitehurst settled down and had another Whitehurst game - safe and mostly mistake-free, but not showing a whole lot of stand-out either. He did flash promise with a couple of precise sideline bombs, one to WR Deon Butler, mostly quiet up to this point but with 101 yards and a nice slip-and-run touchdown that day. The defense, for its part, continued to make passing games and backup QB's look better than they were.

And finally, here we stood on the brink of the regular season itself.

Sweet answers at last. Mike Williams had completed his comeback and earned a starting spot. Red Bryant was working on a comeback of his own. The "Leo" rotation, despite all the promises of competition, had fallen out pretty much as it would have under Mike Holmgren - by draft order, with Chris Clemons as the starter. And Matt Hasselbeck, also unsurprisingly, had been once again named the starter at quarterback.

But there were looming concerns. Premiere left tackle Russell Okung and hoped-for LG savior Chester Pitts were starting their Seahawk careers on the injury list. Seattle's tight end game had vanished. Little had been done about the defense. And the first game of the season was against the ominous San Francisco 49ers, who were threatening a run at the division title and were stocked with talent on both sides of the ball.

Seattle fans still weren't convinced of any radical transformation of their team. The low-level anxiety from the football winter was still there. And as the Seahawks stepped out onto Qwest Field on September 12 to open the 2010 campaign against the 49ers, the entire nation was predicting a blowout of Seattle at the hands of their division rivals.

Even back then, nobody was giving us a chance.

To be continued...


  1. Your recall is good, except we didn't play the Packers 3 times in he preseason.

  2. Thanks. Cut and paste is not friend to the blogger.

  3. As much as anyone can find fault with the dealing of Wilson, how does it not correlate with any other franchise cutting loose a free agent to be and getting something in return? I will never argue that getting rid of Wilson was a good idea, but the compensation pick received for him wouldn't be as high as the five we received.

  4. I'll be putting up a separate post about Wilson at some point, but basically, I feel that Wilson already exceeded the value of any draft pick we could get for him, in trade or compensatory.