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NFL team preview: Seattle Seahawks

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INSIDE SLANT

Since taking over as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in January, Pete Carroll has worked to put his imprint on this organization, from the fast-paced way the team practices to the tightly packed schedule the players adhere to when they are on the road.

And from the looks of things, the players have bought what Carroll is selling as the Seahawks try to bounce back from a disappointing 5-11 campaign a year ago.

The way Carroll has grabbed his players' attention is letting them know that no one is irreplaceable and everyone is competing for a job, even veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

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Carroll made that clear by trading for San Diego restricted free agent Charlie Whitehurst.

"The most critical position in this game is quarterback, and we're trying to make that position as strong as possible," Carroll said. "And we felt like we needed to do some things. It's not like we didn't trust Matt (Hasselbeck) -- not at all. We love the way Matt plays for us. But we still needed to upgrade and try to make it as good as a position as possible for this season and the long haul."

The former USC coach has put his philosophy in motion with a whirlwind of roster moves -- 130-plus in counting -- to create a young, competitive roster as his team heads toward a regular-season opener at home against NFC West division rival San Francisco.

"We're just getting warmed up," Carroll joked when discussing the constant roster changes. "It's really about competition, and creating a competitive environment in the position groups on the field.

"We don't have to be younger to do that. But right now we're trying to create a team that's really deep with guys, and get them hungry, fast and athletic."

Will it work? That remains to be seen. Most NFL observers consider the Seahawks the third best team in the division behind San Francisco and Arizona.

Seattle still has talent issues on both offensive and defensive lines, and will try to scheme their way around weaknesses there. The Seahawks still have yet to determine who will be the leader runner in a three-way battle between Julius Jones, Leon Washington and Justin Forsett.

But they do have the most experienced quarterback in the division in Hasselbeck and a relatively easy schedule, so Carroll could be ahead of the curve in his return to the NFL, as he tries to prove skeptics he can get it done at the highest level of football.

COACHING: Pete Carroll, 5th year (34-33), 1st with Seahawks.
REMEMBERING: 2009 record: 5-11 (3rd in NFC West).
PREDICTING: 2010 regular-season record: 7-9 (3rd in NFC West).

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Seahawks continue to remake the roster by recently trading cornerback Josh Wilson to Baltimore for a conditional 2011 pick that could potentially turn into a fourth rounder. Seattle also traded a late-round, 2012 pick to Detroit for offensive tackle Tyler Polumbus to add depth at that position.

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Josh Pinkard was placed on the non-football injured list. Pinkard, an undrafted free agent, is coming back from knee surgery.

--DE James Wyche, a five-year veteran recently released by Houston, was signed to the team's 80-man roster.

--TE Anthony McCoy suffered an ankle injury against Minnesota and remains out.

--TE Chris Baker has a lingering hamstring injury that has kept him out of the last two preseason games.

--LB Leroy Hill remains out with a sprained knee and is expected to miss the first part of the regular season.

--OT Russell Okung is recuperating from a high-ankle sprain and is hopeful to return in time for the team's season opener against San Francisco.

DRAFT PICKS TO STICK

Rd. 1/6, OT Russell Okung, Oklahoma State -- Played solid in the first preseason game but suffered a high-ankle sprain on the first play of the team's second preseason game against Green Bay. Okung is questionable for the team's opener against San Francisco.

Rd. 1/14, FS Earl Thomas, Texas -- Flashed his play-making ability with an 86-yard interception return for a touchdown against Minnesota.

Rd. 2/60, WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame -- Tate has shown flashes during camp, but overall is struggling with learning route running and the details of a pro offense.

Rd. 4/111, CB Walter Thurmond, Oregon -- Has made a remarkable recovery after major knee surgery just 11 months ago, and is expected to compete for a starting job opposite Marcus Trufant.

Rd. 4/127, DE E.J. Wilson, North Carolina -- A run-stopping defensive end on the edge of the defense who also has shown some ability as a pass rusher.

Rd. 5/133, S Kam Chancellor, Virginia Tech -- The coaching staff likes his athletic ability. He'll be expected to play behind veteran Lawyer Milloy and learn the pro game.

Rd. 6/185, TE Anthony McCoy, USC -- McCoy has all the tools, but consistency has been an issue, with several dropped balls during training camp.

Rd. 7/236, DE Dexter Davis, Arizona State -- Notched two sacks during preseason play and could be a rotational guy as an edge pass rusher. Davis is considered one of the pleasant surprises of training camp.

UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Matt Hasselbeck. Backups -- Charlie Whitehurst, J.P. Losman.

Hasselbeck's performance in the preseason put to rest any talk about a quarterback controversy. And although he has been inconsistent, Whitehurst is the clear No. 2. Carroll firmly believes in Whitehurst as a potential quarterback of the future for this franchise.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Leon Washington, FB Quinton Ganther. Backups -- Justin Forsett, Julius Jones, Louis Rankin, FB Owen Schmitt.

All three potential starters in Jones, Forsett and Washington have struggled to gain yards while running behind a make-shift offensive line with the first unit. Because of that, Carroll still has not settled on a starter for the regular season. Ganther offers versatility with the ability to play both running back and fullback.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- John Carlson. Backups -- Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy, Cameron Morrah.

Carlson has yet to settle into his role as a pass-catching tight end because the team still needs him to stay and help pass protect to keep the quarterback clean. Seattle could keep four tight ends because offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates likes to run two-tight end sets, but that seems unlikely. Morrah has looked better catching the ball, and would be a good fill-in for Carlson if he suffered an injury. McCoy is probably the better overall prospect, but his play has been inconsistent.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch. Backups -- Mike Williams, Deion Butler, Golden Tate, Ben Obomanu, Ruvell Martin.

Williams has been the best player in camp so far, showing an impressive ability to create plays after the catch. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound receiver also should be an effective target near the end zone. Butler, in his second season, also has had a good camp and should see more time in the slot this season. Houshmandzadeh and Branch remain effective targets that help move the chains.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Russell Okung, LG Ben Hamilton, C Chris Spencer, RG Max Unger, RT Sean Spencer. Backups -- T Chester Pitts, T Ray Willis, T Tyler Polumbus, T Mansfield Wrotto, G Mike Gibson, G/C Steve Vallos.

Seattle started six different offensive line combinations last season, so this unit needs to do a better job of staying healthy. After losing his job at the end of the season because of a broken thumb on his snapping hand, Spencer has played better and seemed to benefit from the arrival of veteran offensive line coach Alex Gibbs.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Red Bryant, NT Colin Cole, DT Brandon Mebane, RE, Chris Clemons. Backups -- DE Nick Reed, DE E.J. Wilson, DE Kentwan Balmer, DE Dexter Davis, DE Rob Rose, DT Craig Terrill, DT Kevin Vickerson, DT Quinn Pitcock.

Having a healthy Brandon Mebane in the middle of the line should improve the run defense. But Seattle really needs to get more pressure rushing the passer to help the back end of the defense. Both Clemons and Mebane are expected to carry the load in that regard. Reed and Davis could prove to be effective rusher in third-down situations.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB David Hawthorne, SLB Aaron Curry, MLB Lofa Tatupu. Backups -- WLB Leroy Hill, WLB Tyjuan Hagler, SLB Will Herring. MLB Matt McCoy, MLB Joe Pawelek.

The linebackers unit remains the strength of the defense, with veteran Lofa Tatupu the heart of the defense. However, Tatupu has had struggles staying healthy. Curry needs to improve from a disappointing rookie campaign. The Seahawks expect him to rush the passer more this season. Hawthorne should prove to be an able backup with Hill starting out the season unavailable because of a one-game suspension and a sprained knee.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Marcus Trufant, RCB Kelly Jennings, SS Lawyer Milloy, FS Earl Thomas. Backups -- CB Walter Thurmond, CB Roy Lewis, S Kam Chancellor, S Jordan Babineaux, S Jamar Adams.

This could be the most improved unit on the team. Trufant is back playing at a Pro Bowl level after struggling with a back injury last season. And rookie Walter Thurmond has shown flashes of becoming a physical presence on the perimeter of the defense only 11 months after having major knee surgery. Two issues will be 15-year veteran Milloy staying healthy and rookie Thomas not making too many mistakes.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Olindo Mare, P Jon Ryan, LS Clint Gresham, KOR Leon Washington, PR Golden Tate.

These are probably the most settled positions heading into the regular season, with Ryan and Mare playing at a Pro Bowl level last year. There will be some pressure on new long snapper Gresham to look sharp during the regular season. And Seattle is hoping to get some big plays in the return game from Washington and Tate.
 

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