Seahawks: Protect the blind side

  • Wed Apr 21st, 2010 10:03am
  • Sports

By John Boyle Herald Writer

While there is still a slight chance that Walter Jones will come back this season, the Seattle Seahawks will go into this week’s draft assuming the future Hall of Fame left tackle is headed for retirement.

A year ago, the Seahawks approached the draft hopeful that Jones would come back from knee surgery. He never did, leading to a revolving door at one of football’s most important positions after backup Sean Locklear suffered an injury. Jones, 36, has not played since Dec. of 2008, and has had two surgeries on his knee in that time, so the Seahawks know they can’t count on his return.

And because of that, there is a very good chance the Seahawks will take a tackle in the first round, quite possibly with their first pick at No. 6.

“We would approach it like Walter’s not going to be here, quite frankly,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said. “And if he is here, that’s just kind of an added bonus.”

This year’s draft may not have a tackle that projects to be a perennial Pro Bowler, but there is exceptional depth at the position, and three players that are expected to go early in the first round. Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung is viewed as the safest pick, and could be the first tackle taken. Trent Williams of Oklahoma is more athletic and viewed to have more upside, especially in a zone-blocking scheme that Washington, which picks fourth, and Seattle both use. Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga is also among the top tackles, and depending on which draft expert you ask, the trio could be arranged in any order.

Any of those tackles, Schneider says, could work in Seattle’s new offense.

“I would say this group in particular, this year, they would all fit at left tackle,” he said. “There’s a strong group in there and they’re all athletic enough to play the position. Because no matter what happens, you still need a guy to hunker down at left tackle and be able to play against big people, but you also have to have a guy that can play against the (DeMarcus) Wares of this world, the guys that can move.”

Seattle has a lot of needs, so there is no guarantee that Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll will decide to take a tackle, but that certainly looks to be the most likely choice.

“That is the most likely thing,” said NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang, who has the Seahawks picking Okung at No. 6. “That’s the most pressing area of need, and that’s the position where it looks like the most value will be at six.”

Another indicator that a tackle will be added in this draft was on display during last week’s minicamp. Locklear, a right tackle when Jones was healthy, but Seattle’s best option on the left last season, spent all three days on the right, while Ray Willis played left tackle.

The presumption has always been that Willis’ balky knees make him too immobile to play left tackle, so the fact that he was there during last week’s minicamp says one of two things: either the current coaching staff sees something in him that neither of the previous two did, or he was just filling a space on the line until the Seahawks could draft somebody a week later. The latter, it would seem, is the much more likely scenario.

Alex Gibbs, Seattle’s new offensive line coach, is known for getting quality line play without stockpiling first- and second-round picks on the line, but even in a zone scheme, a talented left tackle is a must to protect the quarterback.

Schneider agreed that the Seahawks might be able to find linemen to fit their system in the later rounds. But what about when it comes to the need for a top-tier left tackle?

“That’s the same,” he said. “That really ends up being the same.”

If the Seahawks don’t pick a tackle early, however, they could still find a quality left tackle with their second first-round pick. This tackle class is, according to Rang, exceptionally deep, so it is not an absolute must for Seattle to find Jones’ replacement at No. 6. Anthony Davis of Rutgers, Bruce Campbell of Maryland and Charles Brown of USC could all be options later in the first round.

Whatever happens this week, expect somebody new to be protecting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s blind side come September.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog