Friday, April 8, 2011

More Than Just a QB Away: Offense

I don't blame national football pundits for not knowing much about the Seahawks. It's not as if they don't have time for anything but studying Seattle's roster. They've got 32 teams to cover, and believe me, researching and writing articles on pro football is a time-consuming job.

So when's Steve Wyche slapped a pic of Matt Hasselbeck onto an article entitled "QB all that's missing from these teams", I didn't immediately spit out my Mountain Dew. Despite the fact that the Seahawks are hurting immoderately at almost every position and that a quarterback will not solve everything, I just decided to give the guy a break. I'm not insecure about my team; I don't need sportswriters to give the Seahawks their deserved diligence in order to feel good about them. Their defeat of New Orleans gave me two years' worth of punk-headed confidence to coast on. And besides, it's just too easy to mock sportswriters. Picking on easy targets makes you look the worse.

Nevertheless, I knew Wyche was wrong without even reading the article. For all my rants about the QB position and how its importance justifies no other draft pick at #25 if a top-four QB remains, the Seahawks have dire needs all over the roster.

So here's my shot at a position-by position assessment of Seattle's roster. Just to be different, I'll assess each position on a scale of one to ten - ten indicating a well-filled position, one meaning a bleeding hole.

Quarterback: 2

This rating falls short of a 3 because of its enormous importance. It escapes a 1 only by virtue of Matt Hasselbeck retaining schematic and familiarity value to the Seahawks and Charlie Whitehurst not being a definitive bust yet. Both caveats may eventually land on the bad side. This team is desperate for a non-backup QB for whom nobody has to make excuses, and Seattle has had no such QB on its roster for three years.

Running back: 7

Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, and Leon Washington could be a terrific stable. Lynch has the power and effort to make defenses work to tackle him; Forsett continues to dart through holes and break off big runs when the rare opportunity opens up; and a healthy Washington proved his worth as a major offensive weapon a long time ago. I actually think this particular running back committee could have a high ceiling with a good offensive li...wait, shoot.

Offensive tackle: 7

This is an average between Russell Okung and Sean Locklear, with Stacy Andrews as the wild card. The best thing about Lock in 2010: the swollen blister that was his contract finally got punctured and drained by John Schneider. Other than that, he was routinely beaten for pressure and couldn't stay disciplined in the red zone, contributing to a number of lost touchdowns.

Andrews, a prototypical right tackle with a history of success at that position in Cincinnati, will finally be playing that position again for the first time in years. Contrary to popular belief, not all tackles can just slide over to guard as if it's the easiest thing in the world. That's generally a phenomenon reserved for top-tier tackles, which Andrews is not, but he is solid and could be a convenient in-house answer. It would be economical, in my opinion, for Carroll to settle for Andrews right now and address needs that exist for sure, rather than maybe.

Tyler Polumbus provides great depth, should he be re-signed. I personally expect him to find a better offer elsewhere after redeeming himself from his disappointing Denver career.

Offensive guard: 3

Chester Pitts was supposed to get healthy. Instead, he couldn't stay on the field and gave way to Polumbus, who was serviceable but proves the difference between a good tackle and a good guard. Incumbent Max Unger wound up on injury reserve after one game and may not be NFL-strong enough to man the interior anyway, judging from the time he logged in his own backfield in 2009. Mike Gibson improved from camp body to good depth since the Mora days but doesn't lock the position down.

With a running game pivotal to Seattle's offensive plans (and with tight ends needed to catch passes and not block all the time), neither guard position can afford to be left as it is.

Center: 7

Chris Spencer is not the first-round Pro Bowler some hoped he would be, but neither is he the first-round bust some paint him as. He has steadily improved each year since 2007 and, even through his requisite yearly injury, was Seattle's most consistent lineman in 2010. Where have we heard that label before? Rob Sims, whom Carroll promptly dumped for chump change.

For me, the Spencer question isn't just about the player's talent - it's about making progress. Spencer isn't a world-beater, but he doesn't have to be in order to prevent a hole from existing. Letting him walk would be taking a step backwards to take another one forwards, and that's if Spencer's replacement passes muster. Again, Unger looks more like roving depth than a starter.

Wide receiver: 5

The Seahawks, in my likely-unpopular judgment, have Mike Williams as a #2 with as-yet-unreached #1 potential; Brandon Stokley, the durable veteran whose chemistry extends past the QB to the football itself but who is rapidly approaching Bobby Engram territory in terms of age; and Ben Obomanu, the one-year wonder(?) who provides a nice #4 option and gunner. Still proving themselves are Deon Butler and Golden Tate, both of whom lack crucial tools that could keep them from exceeding the value of Obomanu.

I am honestly not very optimistic on Butler and Tate. I read a telling snippet of how Butler has tried to put on weight and become a heftier player to jam, and it didn't work out:

His slight size was an issue, along with his inexperience running routes. Listed at 5-foot-10, 182 pounds, but more likely 5 to 10 pounds lighter, Butler says it’s a battle to keep weight on during camp.

“Me and Kelly Jennings talk every day in the training room,” Butler said. “We’re like ‘Dude, we just can’t do it. We’re maxed out.’ Probably during the season both of us play like at 178-ish.”

I do not want to see any of my team's receivers being compared to Kelly Jennings in any way. Maybe I'm reading into this too much, but if Butler is fully fleshed out already, he's going to be hampered by his inability to overcome jams at the line of scrimmage his entire career. No matter how offenses try to use Butler, he can always be jammed. As worried as I am that Carroll over-values size at certain positions, he's correct in that you can't get along without it unless your other tools compensate amazingly. I'm not sure Butler fits that profile.

As far as Tate, the biggest waves he created as a rookie were in training camp and at a donut shop. He flashed a few amazing almost-catches against Oakland in between disturbing bouts of total cluelessness on the field. Lining up in the wrong places, performing a completely unnecessary mid-air somersault catch, and then brooding in celebration and forgetting to hand the ball back to the ref with less than thirty seconds on the clock. Tate's route-running is primitive and he appears to be having difficulty adjusting to the speed of the pro game. Again, there are some things that schematic usage just can't overcome.

I'm open to disagreement, but the truth is, you can never have too many wide receivers. It would not be difficult to part with most of Seattle's incumbent wideouts to welcome a new prospect from the top four rounds. However, with Carroll trying out a variety of unconventional offensive weapons, who knows what he'll do.

Fullback: 7

For all the dismissal that Michael Robinson gets from some folks, I did see him land some awful nice blocks and spring Marshawn Lynch for some awful nice runs late in the season, once he finally returned. He's functional as a Wildcat quarterback. He also brings such immense value on special-teams that 49ers fans were gnashing their teeth over our signing of him. Carroll's trick playbook may give Robinson a place on the team despite the desire of some for a traditional fullback that's quickly disappearing anyway. I'd much rather use late-round picks on other positions, and I suspect that Schneider may still be looking for high-impact picks that low anyway.


  1. I did a piece on this as well - i'll be posting it tomorrow and linking to this so it might be a good discussion starter.

  2. Great minds think alike. And so do ours! ;)

  3. I don't really get why you included Hasselbeck, Spencer, Locklear, Stokley, etc.

  4. Their not on the roster now. Including them assumes they'll resign.

  5. Great article Brandon, agree with the assessment that QB isn't the solution to our glaring holes everywhere else.

    I honestly think Whitehurst (don't get me wrong, would love another alternate to compete or sub but he's all we got under contract for now) could be serviceable with the right talent surrounding him. If we got the run game going, of the possible 60 snaps, 30 to 40 snaps could go to Lynch/Force/Washington and Charlie doesn't have to be pressured to be the focal point nor be the driver of the offense. Let the run game dictate the game and have Whitehurst, aka Barry Gibbs, kind of game manage ala Neil O'Donnell.

    The both rocked the beard too, by the by.

  6. Oh...shoot.

    TIGHT ENDS: 5.

    Who knows.

  7. I don't share your opinion of Butler. He's not supposed to be much more, both literally and figuratively, than he already is. He's polished and fast and showed at least a bit more determination catching the ball last year. 40 catches. That's what he was at Penn State and that's what he is in the pros. Butler is valuable so long as he remains consistent and is still fast (broken leg pending).

  8. I might look foolish for this later, but I'm sold on Ben Obomanu as a quality starting WR. He looked like a totally different guy in the 2nd half of 2010. He's kind of morphed into Greg Jennings-lite: at least in terms of his presence down-field.

    Seattle could use more depth and talent at WR, but I'd probably rate the position a 7.5 with some very good upside.

  9. Yeah, I wondered why you included free agents as filling roster holes too, but '11 is just a weird year isn't it? Normally by now, free agent season would be 80% finished, with most teams having solidified their strengths and weaknesses. If Hass goes, that 3 becomes a .5, and if Spencer goes that 7 becomes a 2. Maybe we can steal my one true love, Rodney Hudson in the 2nd?

    I have been repeating to myself for the last month that free agency and the draft are only in reverse order this year, so don't freak out if the draft doesn't fall in an order that fills every hole on the roster. Free agents are gonna have some clout this year if things stay the way they look now, won't they?

  10. Hard to know, but this is indeed a weird year. I guess I left Hass, Lock, Spencer, etc. here because they're close at hand and might very well be re-signed already were free agency available.

  11. Pretty good write up, not as in depth as some of your other stuff, but I agreed with most of it.

    Spencer is one that really makes me scratch my head. About the only thing I saw from him this year was the ability to fight through injuries and stay on the field and that would be good if it wasn't his FA year, but I think you have to factor that in because he had an ulterior motive.

    As for him not being a first round bust, I agree, but only because I consider him a 3rd round bust that happened to be taken in the first round. He was originally given a late second to early third round projection and compared mostly to Jason Brown who was projected to go in the mid 3rd.

    Ruskell in all his wisdom and not wanting to miss out on Tobecks potential replacement jumped the gun in 05 taking Spencer with Seattle's 26th pick of the first round while his only competition sat until the forth. The difference was brown actually had a good rookie contract and was signed away from the Ravens in FA when the Rams went under new management and aggressively addressed one of the Rams glaring weakness's, they went on to draft two LT's in the next two drafts.

    The problem with reviewing Spencer's play is he is the captain or QB of the O-line and his play doesn't just get evaluated by his performance. The center position is a thinking mans position and Spencer doesn't appear to me to have the ability to lead. The guard play has been atrocious on both sides of him since he took over as center and that has been through way to many guards to not stop and question why. Chris Simms has had the most success of any guard to have played next to Spencer and that is by a long shot and his best year was his rookie year when he played next to Tobeck.

    The offensive line has not been able to form a pocket since Solari was brought in at the beginning of the 2008 season and the overall line play has suffered from it. Granted we went from Solari being forced to teach Holmgrens man system to changing to a zone when Mora took over and last year again Spencer was learning from a new coach and new scheme, but so far he hasn't shown the ability to grasp the position. Remember in his early years, Chris Gray was making his line calls for him because he didn't get it then, well he still hasn't and that may be affiliated with the coaching and scheme changes, but either way, giving Spencer a grade higher than 2 is ignoring the responsibly that comes with being a center and instead grading by being optimistic that he may one day figure it out.

    Beyond all the cerebral parts that come with being a center, I have went back and watched games for the purpose of focusing on Spencer's individual performance and a couple of the games I paid close attention to, Spencer seemed to be the least effective and most often out of position. The short yardage game was horrific and at times Spencer found himself on the defensive side of the ball facing back towards the play in progress, having been beaten so bad he was an absolute non factor or in reality a negative to the play in progress. Even on the QB sneak that Matt's hand got stepped on, Spencer was pushed backwards and stepped on Matt's shoe, causing Matt to fall short of the LOS and landing in the scrum where Matt's hand was stepped on and broken.

    Good overall write up, I am just one of those guys that doesn't think just because Spencer was drafted in the first round and played all year last year, that he deserves to be graded out better than he has actually played.