RENTON — Was the dismal 2008 season an injury-riddled anomaly, or are tough times ahead for the Seahawks?
Can Seattle, the class of the NFC West for most of this decade, regain its dominance, or have the Arizona Cardinals surpassed the Seahawks atop the division?
With training camp set to begin today, we attempt to answer those questions with, well, six more questions. If Seattle is going to bounce back in 2009, these are some questions the Seahawks will have to answer:
1) How will the team respond to new head coach Jim Mora?
For the first time since Mike Holmgren took over in 1999, the Seahawks open training camp under a new coach, and how this team adjusts to Mora will go a long ways towards determining its success in 2009.
Two good signs for the Seahawks are the energy the team showed during minicamps, which many observers likened to that of a college practice, and the turnout at those minicamps, which included nearly every healthy player. It will also help that Mora is much more familiar with the roster than a typical first-year head coach having worked on Holmgren’s staff as the defensive backs coach the past two seasons.
Mora also has a good track record in his first year, albeit with a sample size of one. In his previous head coaching job, he took over an Atlanta Falcons team that had gone 5-11 the previous year, good for last place in the NFC South. In 2004, Mora’s first year in Atlanta, he led the Falcons to an 11-5 regular season record and a trip to the NFC Championship game.
2) An unusual amount of injures, especially on offense, killed the Seahawks last year. How is their health heading into camp?
For the most part, the Seahawks are entering training camp healthy, but the offensive line, which was a mess last year, still has some question marks. Starting left guard Mike Wahle, who is coming off of shoulder surgery, won’t be ready at the start of camp, but the rest of the players should be on the field. Defensive end Patrick Kerney (shoulder) and left tackle Walter Jones (knee) are both expected to be available today, but will begin camp in limited roles.
The best news for the Seahawks and their hopes for an ’09 turnaround are the reports on Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck, who was limited to seven games last year with a back injury, has maintained throughout the offseason that he feels great. Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell backed that opinion up Thursday.
“Matt’s been absolutely great,” he said. “He’s in the best shape of his life, he feels great, strong, and ready to go full.”
The reality is that a back injury to a player who turns 34 in Sept. has to be of some concern, but if Hasselbeck really is able to stay healthy this season, Seattle’s chances of getting back to the playoffs will improve quite a bit.
3) But the defense was relatively healthy and still ranked 30th in the league, how can it avoid another bad showing?
Another big “if” here, but if Patrick Kerney can stay healthy and provide the pass rushing threat that was missing for much of last season, that alone will help. The Seahawks also made some changes in personnel that they think will help.
Aaron Curry, the No. 4 overall pick, will take over for Julian Peterson at strong side linebacker. Peterson was traded to the lions for Cory Redding, a versatile defensive lineman who is expected to contribute at tackle and end. The Seahawks also added bulk on the line by signing defensive tackle Colin Cole. Cole will help anchor the line, and in doing so should also free up Brandon Mebane to be a more disruptive force in the backfield.
The Seahawks also brought cornerback Ken Lucas back for a second stint in Seattle. Lucas will give the Seahawks some much-needed size to contend with some of the big receivers in the division.
4) How about the offense, what will be different under new coordinator Greg Knapp?
The biggest changes to the offense will come in the running game. Knapp has had success running the ball everywhere he’s been, leading offenses that finished in the top ten in rushing in each of his eight seasons as a coordinator.
Knapp relies on a zone-blocking scheme which asks running backs to change their style a bit. Rather than sit back and read a defense, backs are expected to make one cut then get up field in a hurry. That’s a style that seems to suit both Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett, and early reports are that second-year back Justin Forsett is adjusting well too.
5) What rookies will make an immediate impact this season?
Curry isn’t under contract yet, but assuming he gets into camp sometime soon, he will be a starter and seems poised to be an impact player from Day 1. Along with Leroy Hill and Lofa Tatupu, Curry will be a part of one of the best linebacking units in the league.
Second-round pick Max Unger, who signed with the team Wednesday, could also get on the field soon. A center in college, Unger worked mostly at left guard during minicamps, and with Wahle potentially out for a while, Unger could end up battling Mansfield Wrotto for the starting job at that position.
Receiver Deon Butler, a third-round pick, will be a weapon with his speed, and should get on the field as a receiver and possibly as a returner as well.
6) What about free agents and trades? What other new Seahawks will be difference makers?
The biggest free-agent signing for the Seahawks, and one of the biggest in the NFL this offseason, was that of receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Houshmandzadeh has more catches over the past three seasons than any receiver in the league, and adds much-needed production and depth to a position that was decimated by injuries last season.
“He brings toughness and veteran leadership to the football team at a position where we need that,” Ruskell said. “The chemistry between he and Matt so far has been great, and I think that will continue.”
As mentioned earlier, Cole, Redding and Lucas should all help shore up a defense that struggled last season.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog