Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chris Spencer, Sean Locklear Finished in Seattle?

A PFW article had this to say today:

Word out of Seattle is that free-agent O-linemen Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer have, in effect, been told to look elsewhere. First-round draft pick James Carpenter, who already has been handed the starting RT role that Locklear filled the majority of last season, apparently has been given Locklear's number (No. 75). Spencer, a former first-round draft pick who has had as many downs as ups as the team's starting center, has been replaced by third-year pro Max Unger, who suffered a season-ending toe injury in Week One last season as the starting right guard.

Nobody's going to miss Locklear. The last relic of Seattle's historic offensive line from 2005 was never the same after his Pro Bowl cohorts disappeared. His last two years have been defined by red-zone penalties and getting wiped out by basic bull rushes.

Spencer is an interesting case. Some will remember his constant injuries and his overblown struggles with line calls and hail the departure of one of Tim Ruskell's first-round "busts". Others will cite his steady improvement in 2007 and see just another hole being opened on the line.

Part of the equation is who's replacing them. Locklear will be succeeded by first-rounder James Carpenter, so that's all good. The center position will be manned by Max Unger, who spent all last year on injured reserve and spent his rookie year getting blasted backward into his own running back several times a game.

I believe that player replacement should first be approached with this question: "Is the status quo really that bad?" Some impatient fans hailed the departure of the consistent but unremarkable Rob Sims last March. Those who protested the move got dismissed because apparently it's silly to criticize the pruning of a merely average player. It was just Sims, right? Not worth getting worked up over. As it turned out, his replacements were worse. Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts failed to nail down the position despite being perfect "scheme fits". An average left guard would have been a really nice thing to have on this team in 2010.

Likewise, when Julian Peterson was traded two years ago, people cited his "disappearing for stretches of games" and got excited about the #4 linebacker being brought in to replace him. No way a fresh Top-5 pick could be worse than an aging veteran with holes in his game, right?

Curry vs. Peterson, 2009-2010
PlayerTacklesSacksPasses DefensedFumbles Forced
Julian Peterson1595.595
Aaron Curry1345.574

(That's not so much affirming of Peterson as it is critical of Curry.)

There's this tendency amongst us to approve of the departure of a steady, underappreciated player, or at least accept it, because it theoretically shouldn't affect a team and certainly shouldn't worsen it. In this case, I'm not so sure. Unger's rookie year wasn't promising at all. He was a second-round pick from a former Seattle GM notorious for his inability to judge line talent. His strength issues are a serious concern.

I was glad Chris Spencer got re-signed in 2010 and hoped it would happen again in 2011, because while he wasn't the world-beater everyone wanted Robbie Tobeck's successor to be, he wasn't a hole on the line either. Even decent players can serve a purpose.

Should a rebuilding team continue tearing down even as it's rebuilding? Does "scheme" make that necessary? At what point are "scheme" considerations superseded by the simple need for good football players? I asked these questions when Sims was traded, and I'm still asking them now. "Scheme" gets blamed all the time when justifying unpopular player moves, by all kinds of GM's. It's a stock excuse all over the league. We all know how the Ben Hamilton "scheme" decision turned out.

Unger has fundamental red flags of his own, although at least Seattle had him as an option before letting Spencer walk. But should Unger struggle, he may negate some of the expected improvement on the line, which will already be modest (or, honestly, non-existent) due to starting two rookies whose development time is being cut short by the lockout. Revamping doesn't automatically equate to better times.

Not the end of the world, I suppose. Let's see where this goes. Maybe Unger will rebound. Maybe Seattle will bring in Samson Satele. Maybe this is more fake-news from Mike Florio and neither is going anywhere. But Tom Cable seems to be getting name-checked in an awful lot of Seattle draft philosophy these days. I hope he earns it.


  1. Do you think it's possible that Unger has bulked up quite a bit? I mean he has had an offseason, all of last season, and this offseason to get bigger and stronger. I know he was on IR last season, but for a toe injury, which should allow him to workout, just not play football.

    I mean, think of it this way, PC and JS did not draft Unger, so when they came in, all they had on Unger was his rookie tape, which obviously was not flattering. He must have done something or shown something in the offseason or during last season, after being put on IR, that impressed PC and JS.

    Also, playing at Oregen, do you think he was asked to play light becuase of their fast paced offense? Now being in the NFL for two years, maybe it has allowed him to gain some bulk.

  2. This is what I'm telling myself to avoid a Brandon-Adams-we-didn't-draft-Ryan-Mallett sized emotional meltdown the day Spencer leaves:

    JC/PS have made fuck-ups before, but they owned up to them quickly. A few examples:

    Whitehurst. Its rumored that they now regret making that trade privately (duh!) and are clearly trying their hardest to explore superior options to CW next season (mostly by trade). Pretty big mistake- but they aren't being stubborn- they are moving on quickly.

    The insistence of sticking with Gus Bradley's zone coverage early in the year. They should have seen this coming, as Seattle had been using zone the previous two years and got torched doing it. The decision to use soft zones got them absolutely killed for much of last year, even though they were somehow winning games despite it. Seattle didn't have the personnel to run zone, and by the end of the year, Seattle mixed in more man coverages with some baby steps of progress. Its now said that the team is trying to implement press cover much more in 2011 and beyond. Again, good move after adapting to a foolish mistake.

    So with Unger, I'm calming myself down by telling myself two things.

    (1) Maybe, just maybe, they've seen Unger make real strides off the field that we haven't. Maybe he's bulked up. Maybe he's kicking ass in practices. Maybe he just needed a technique tweak. I'm skeptical of all of this, because Carroll was a fan of Unger the day he walked in the door last year, but it could be true. No reason to rule it out 100%.

    (2) Unger sucks royal ass, but Carroll follows through with his established track record of correcting mistakes very quickly, cuts bait with Unger, and then signs/drafts a new center next year. Its not like we're winning the Superbowl in 2011, so why not give Unger 1 last audition and then getting the next guy? Ultimately, just sticking with Spencer is the smartest bet, but if 2 years from now, Seattle has a competent center and a line that is at least average, I don't care if its Spencer, Unger, or a 3rd guy (although I'd really hope the 3rd guy isn't a 1st rounder!).

  3. One step forward, one step back cha cha cha does not get us to the big dance. Unless he has major health issues, Spencer is the right choice.

  4. There's still Kristopher Dowd for center in the UDFA ranks. If he can stay healthy, he could be good.

  5. Unger:
    What Carroll and Co. like about Unger is his IQ. He should be able to master the line calls. Tobeck was a decent blocker, but a good center because he could lead the o-line. Spencer was not able to make the line calls. The lack of leadership on the o-line was a huge part of the problem. Spencer also didn't perform well when given the chance to play guard.

    If Unger can become the leader of the O-Line, then this will be a solid upgrade.

  6. You and I have no idea how good Spencer is with line calls right now. He was bad in his first few years, and so that became his impenetrable reputation. Most fans since then have just assumed that there's been no improvement, and so every screwup by the O-line three years later still gets blamed on the unteachable neanderthal Chris Spencer. That stumps me.

  7. Moffitt played Center for a college season, and he is closer to ideal size for it than Unger. He also got reps at center in the Senior Bowl.

    I don't get the Curry/Peterson analogy. Peterson has sucked it up since he was dealt, proving the administration was at least justified in thinking he had peaked and was in decline. Spencer has likely reached his full potential, and should remain there a while, while Unger is not a rookie as Curry was. I know why you chose it, but I don't think it fits. If you want to use stats to decide why Unger is less a fit at Center than Spencer, look at one alone. Unger is 6'5", which is taller than ideal for a center. I just don't think he is built to take on the 0 techniques and 1 techniques, you know, the squatty nose tackle type players whose one job is to get low and push the pocket back.

  8. Micah, Kris O'Dowd has a weaker anchor than Unger ever did. He was absolutely mauled at the Senior Bowl by everyone he battled in drills.

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