2009 team preview: Seattle Seahawks

Inside Slant

When the Seattle Seahawks opened camp on July 31, staying healthy was a key issue heading into the 2009 season.

The Seahawks finished among the league leaders with players on injured reserve last season. Team cornerstones Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones and Patrick Kerney all completed the season on the shelf.

Fast forward to the beginning of this season, and injuries remain a concern for this team. Hasselbeck, who missed nine games last season, appears healthy and rejuvenated after working with a back specialist on strengthening his core muscles around his back.

Kerney, who had season-ending shoulder surgery for a second straight year, appears healthy again and has been moved from right end to left end to better capitalize on his pass-rushing skills.

But two of the team’s top players remain uncertainties for this season. Top cover corner Marcus Trufant will likely begin the season on the physically unable to perform list with what head coach Jim Mora characterized as a “disk issue.”

Trufant has not worked out with the team since the beginning of camp, as the Seahawks have taken a cautious approach with the 29-year-old’s back after going through a similar experience with Hasselbeck last season.

Trufant will miss the first six weeks of the regular season if he starts the season on the PUP list.

Offensive tackle Walter Jones needed arthroscopic surgery on his surgically repaired left knee after experiencing pain during practice at training camp. Jones had season-ending microfracture surgery in December, and only participated in practice three times during training camp.

However, a spokesperson for the team said Jones is experiencing no pain in his knee after having loose bodies and scar tissue removed. Jones is expected to return sometime this season.

With Jones out, along with veteran center Chris Spencer, who suffered a torn quad in the team’s second preseason game against Denver, the Seahawks will rely on a young offensive line to protect Hasselbeck and create enough running lanes for tailback Julius Jones to move the chains.

Hasselbeck has been sacked four times during preseason action, but seemed to take the hits OK and bounce back up.

But Mora would like to see better protection for his quarterback.

“You never like to see your quarterback on the ground,” Mora said. “You protect him just like the end zone on defense; you protect him with a passion. I mean, he’s the point guard. I guess Matt had to take a hit sooner or later, and he took a couple and jumped right back up, so that’s good. But that’s enough. He’s shown that he can do that.”

On defense, Seattle will rely on a revamped line to create a consistent pass rush to protect a vulnerable secondary with Trufant likely out for an extended period.

COACHING: Jim L. Mora, 4th year as a head coach, first as head coach with the Seahawks (26-22).

REMEMBERING: 2008 record: 4-12 (3rd in NFC West); missed playoffs for first time in five years.

PREDICTING: 2009 regular season record 9-7 (2nd in NFC West); lose in NFC wildcard game.

Notes and Quotes

–In a surprising move, the Seahawks terminated the contract of running back T.J. Duckett late in training camp and signed veteran running back Edgerrin James. The team apparently did not believe Duckett would excel in his expanded role as Julius Jones‘ backup, and wanted a little more insurance if Jones should fall injured.

James, who bristled when the Arizona Cardinals used him in a reserve role last season, understands that the team brought him in to be a complementary player to Jones.

“In this day and age in the NFL everything is pretty much two backs,” James said. “With two backs, I am not here to compete with Julius. I am here to complement and come in here for us to work together. Do whatever we have to do. I just want to win.”

–Defensive line coach Dan Quinn is preaching versatility to his position group, training them to play different positions in order to create flexibility on the roster.

Players like Cory Redding, Michael Bennett, Derek Walker and Craig Terrell are being taught to play two to three different positions along the line as Quinn tries to create depth across his defensive front.

“When you can create position flexibility for yourself you add more opportunities for yourself,” Quinn said. “So sometimes there’s three techniques (pass rushing defensive tackles) who can move outside, or D-ends who can move inside.”

–Second-year fullback Owen Schmitt is expected to start after the Seahawks let last year’s starter, Leonard Weaver, go to Philadelphia in free agency.

However, Schmitt is being pushed by veteran fullback Justin Griffith. The 29-year old Mississippi native is familiar with the team’s new zone blocking scheme, having played for offensive coordinator Greg Knapp in Atlanta and Oakland.

And he provides good mentorship for Schmitt and the rest of the running back group.

Griffith said it helps that he reads the zone play like a lead runner, with the tailback following closely behind.

“The thing is, the fullback should read it like a runner,” Griffith said. “If you read it like a runner, the runner will follow you. That’s my whole thing about getting up in there: Once you get up in there, think where you think the running back is going to go and then hit it.

“And hit it hard.”

–The Seahawks appeared to have settled on an offensive line for the start of the regular season, with Sean Locklear at left tackle, Rob Sims at left guard, Steve Vallos at center, rookie Max Unger at right guard and Ray Willis at right tackle.

However, with starters Walter Jones and Chris Spencer out with injuries for an extended period, Seattle may carry an extra lineman or two on the active roster.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 — The number of different receivers Seattle used in 2008.

9 — The number of different receivers who started for Seattle in 2008

5 — The number of projected starting linemen who finished on the injured reserve list for Seattle in 2008.

122 — The number of yards Edgerrin James (12,121) needs to pass Marcus Allen (12,243) as the 10th highest rusher of all-time in the NFL.

23 — With 507 receptions, T.J. Houshmandzadeh ranks No. 23 on the active career receptions list.

109 — Punter Jon Ryan has the longest reception of any Seahawk in college, with a 109-yard touchdown catch — his first career touchdown catch — as a sophomore flanker for the Regina (Saskatchewan) Rams.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s easy to see why he’s caught so many balls. He’s physical and he runs tremendous routes. He’s got glue hands. He’s a team player and a physical presence. He’s a very good acquisition for this football team.” — Head coach Jim Mora on wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Strategy and Personnel

The Seahawks cut LB Shane Simmons, FB Dan Curran, TE John Tereshinski, WR Michael Bumpus and DT Kevin Brown to get down to 75 players by the Sept. 1 deadline. Seattle also recently terminated the contract of running back T.J. Duckett and added Edgerrin James to bolster the team’s running game.


–DT Michael Bennett has impressed coaches so far during the preseason, and the rookie free agent could find his way onto the final roster.

–QB Seneca Wallace suffered a groin strain against the Kansas City Chiefs in the third preseason game and likely will not play in the team’s final exhibition game against Oakland

–DE Baraka Atkins could be the odd man out when Seattle makes its final roster cuts on Sept. 5. The third-year pro is competing for the team’s fifth defensive end spot with rookie Nick Reed.

–TE John Owens, a free agent pickup from Detroit during the offseason, has proved a valuable cog to the team as a blocking tight end, with Seattle running a lot of two tight end sets.

–CB Kelly Jennings is finally living up to his first-round draft status after struggling last season. With Marcus Trufant out Jennings will see a lot of time in the team’s nickel package.

–P Jon Ryan leads the NFL in punting average in the preseason at 49.2 yards per kick.

PLAYER TO WATCH: DT Colin Cole – Picked up from Green Bay as a free agent during the offseason, the 6-foot-1, 330 pounder will play an important role in keeping the interior offensive line off of middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu so he can roam the field and make plays.


Rd. 1/4, OLB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest – Will start at strong-side, outside backer and is expected to make an impact with his size and speed pursuing the ball.

Rd. 2/49, OL Max Unger, Oregon – The versatile interior offensive lineman can play guard or center, but is expected to start at right guard for Seattle.

Rd. 3/91, WR Deon Butler, Penn State – Butler has speed to burn and should help the Seahawks‘ passing game by stretching the field on the perimeter.

Rd. 6/178, QB Mike Teel, Rutgers – Teel showed good poise in preseason action and is expected to serve as the team’s third quarterback.


QUARTERBACK: Starter – Matt Hasselbeck. Backups – Seneca Wallace, Mike Teel.

The team has good, overall depth here if Hasselbeck stays healthy. The Seahawks would like to see Teel continue to develop so that they feel comfortable using Wallace as an athlete in other roles on the field.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters – RB Julius Jones. FB Owen Schmitt. Backups – RB Edgerrin James, RB Justin Forsett. FB Justin Griffith.

The Seahawks believe they are better served having James back up Jones, and want to run the ball to create balance offensively. Griffith could overtake Schmitt at fullback because of his experience in the zone running scheme.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter – John Carlson. Backups – John Owens, Joe Newton.

Notre Dame products Carlson and Owens provide a good, 1-2 punch for Seattle. Carlson needs to continue to improve on his run blocking.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters – T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Nate Burleson. Backups – Deion Branch, Deon Butler, Courtney Taylor and Ben Obomanu.

The Seahawks don’t use too many three- or four-receiver sets and may choose to keep five wide receivers here. However, the team did experience a rash of injuries here last season and may want to keep extra depth because of that.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters – LT Sean Locklear, LG Rob Sims, C Steve Vallos, RG Max Unger, RT Ray Willis. Backups – T Walter Jones, C Chris Spencer, G Mansfield Wrotto, T Kyle Williams.

Jones and Spencer will start when they are healthy. The Seahawks might keep another lineman with those two out for the regular season. If they do, Na’Shan Goddard likely would be the guy because he can play guard and tackle.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters – LDE Cory Redding, LDT Brandon Mebane, RDT Colin Cole, RDE Patrick Kerney. Backups – DE Darryl Tapp DE Lawrence Jackson, DT Craig Terrell DT Red Bryant DE Nick Reed.

The starting front four is more stout up front than last year’s crew. The team expects to get a more consistent pass rush up front, and young players like Tapp, Bryant and Reed should serve as pass rush specialists on third down, creating more depth at the position.

LINEBACKERS: Starters – WLB Leroy Hill, SLB Aaron Curry, MLB Lofa Tatupu. Backups – SLB Will Herring, WLB D.D. Lewis, MLB David Hawthorne, WLB Lance Laury.

Linebacker is the deepest and most talented position group of the team. With Hill, Curry and Tatupu, the Seahawks have one of the fastest and more talented linebacker trios in the league.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters – LCB Josh Wilson, RCB Ken Lucas, SS Deon Grant, FS Brian Russell. Backups – CB Kelly Jennings, S Jordan Babineaux, S C.J. Wallace, S/CB Jamar Adams.

Seattle finished last in the league in pass defense and gave up 59 plays of 20-or-more yards through the air, also last in the league. An improved pass rush should help shore up things in the secondary. However, the team will have to get by without its best cover corner, Marcus Trufant, who is out with a back issue for the first part of the regular season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Olindo Mare, P Jon Ryan, LS Kevin Houser, KOR Josh Wilson, Deon Butler, PR Justin Forsett.

Veteran Olindo Mare and second-year player Brandon Coutu are competing for the kicking job. Mare won it last season, but the Seahawks kept Coutu around on the active roster for the entire season. Hawks GM Tim Ruskell said he will not keep two kickers this season.