In 2011, the Seattle Seahawks seemed like a solid bet to finally bottom out after "earning" an improbable playoff spot with a 7-9 record the year prior.
Oddly enough, though, the team managed to take a step forward by going backwards, given they didn't win the division while ending up with the same exact record.
For 'Hawks fans that can look past the end result, it turned out the team actually made progress following a rough start with a young and feisty defense and running game led by a rejuvenated Marshawn Lynch.
While some of the key issues that plagued the team last season have yet to be addressed, the re-signing of several key players, namely Lynch and defensive tackle Red Bryant, along with the signing of quarterback Matt Flynn, could have the team poised for bigger and better things.
However, not everyone performed to expectations in 2011, and in turn, will need to turn things around this season in order to contribute.
At the end of the day, this is a short list in my opinion, given how so many players either met or exceeded expectations, not to mention players that fail to fit within Pete Carroll's plans are often shown the door in short time.
That said, here are six of the biggest underperforming Seahawks that will really need to step up in 2012 in order for the team to make headway within the NFC West and beyond.
In 2010, Mike Williams was a revelation.
In 2011, Mike Williams was invisible.
In 2012, Mike Williams will...???
It's a big question with no real answer. Perhaps more than any other player on the Seahawks' current roster, Williams was an enigma last year.
Was he complacent with a big contract?
Incapable of connecting with Tarvaris Jackson?
Out of shape? Out of mind? Out of gas?
You get the point...
Beyond the over-the-shoulder catch made in St. Louis on the opening play of the game thrown by Sidney Rice midseason, can anyone else really remember Williams making a big play in the past 12 months?
When plugged in, he's a solid No. 2 option at wideout, a big target who can make the big catch who worked well in his first year in Seattle to lead the team in receptions and yardage with Matt Hasselbeck at the controls.
This past year, with Tarvaris Jackson under center, Williams couldn't even make the box score. Week after week, we all hoped and waited for something until we eventually realized Williams wasn't even the team's third or fourth-best option behind the likes of Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and perhaps Ben Obomanu.
This year, with Matt Flynn likely to be named the 'Hawks starting trigger-man (Do you honestly think he's going to lose out to T-Jack in camp?), Williams will be working with his third QB in as many years.
Will he return to 2010 form or continue to drift closer to the door? If both he and the 'Hawks plan on taking a step forward this year, they will have to work together. I'd like to believe it's possible, but don't expect head coach Pete Carroll to wait forever...
Opposite Mike Williams, Sidney Rice is a phenomenal talent...when on the field.
Together, when healthy and motivated, the two can help just about any quarterback look like a star.
Unfortunately, the problem is that Rice might as well be made out of pipe-cleaners given his wiry build.
Rice came to the Seahawks last year as the biggest prize among several free-agent signings on the offensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, he started the season hurt and finished it injured while showing flashes of talent in between.
One has to wonder whether Rice will ever be able to perform consistently given his frame. With his current build, he's susceptible to injury. Yet if he adds some bulk, will he lose his speed and hops?
If he can ever figure it out, the 'Hawks could have one of the league's elite wideouts. Otherwise, he might just join the list of Seahawk elite flameouts...
Speaking of big-name free-agent disappointments...beileve it or not, here is actual photographic proof of Zach Miller making a catch.
Honestly, though, it's not his fault he had a statistically insignificant year.
Before the ink had dried on his contract, John Carlson was out for the season, the offensive line was in shambles, Tarvaris Jackson was scrambling for his life and Miller was saddled with the thankless task of serving as an "extra" lineman for virtually the entire season.
Unfortunately, it still remains unclear whether or not Miller's role/fortunes will change next season. With Carlson having bolted to the Minnesota Vikings during free agency, the hopes of having a dual tight end attack would seem slim to none now. Coupled with the offensive line's questionable durability, the odds are that Miller will remain an under-utilized weapon in the 'Hawks arsenal.
However, if Matt Flynn can use him as a fail-safe option underneath, it could open a new wrinkle to the 'Hawks offense that benefits all parties.
As for the aforementioned offensive line, at some point they—and by extension, the 'Hawks—are really going to need this guy to show up consistently.
Russell Okung is a large man with a little bit of a mean streak that can make things happen when healthy, but like Sidney Rice, he can't stay on the field.
Perhaps more than anyone on this list, Okung needs to step up next season, as the 'Hawks line could turn a corner with him leading the way while protecting the likes of this year's big-ticket players, Matt Flynn and Marshawn Lynch, while manning the ever-important left tackle position.
On the opposite side of the line, James Carpenter was another young big man who endured an up-and-down season.
When the 'Hawks drafted Carpenter No. 1 last year, it left a lot of fans shaking their heads, and his early showing on the field didn't help change any perceptions.
Yet over time, Carpenter began to make some strides before he too was injured for the remainder of the season a short time after Okung went down just as the team was making a late push for the postseason. Whether Carpenter will ever be on par with the rest of the 'Hawks 2011 draft class that followed remains to be seen, but next year, one can only hope he will start to make some headway as the offensive line comes together.
Last but not least...T-Jack.
On some levels, Tarvaris Jackson exceeded expectations last season, but at the end of the day, he was still prone to making mistakes at critical times, and ultimately, the team didn't make the playoffs.
Going into this season, what can anyone expect given Matt Flynn, in all likelihood, is going to end up the starter?
Even if there is an "open competition," expect Flynn to get the nod; nevertheless, T-Jack will need to be ready if and when the time comes.
Not sure why, but I almost feel sorry for Jackson given how hard he fought last year, battling through injuries, dealing with the constant pressure both on and off the field and for the most part, owning up to his mistakes and taking his lumps like a man.
It's easy to criticize Jackson for all his faults and perhaps foolish to praise him for his strengths, but it's not so hard to root for someone who took his one chance so seriously. Deep down, you could almost tell Jackson knew this was his last shot at legitimacy, and that's what drove him to go out there week after week sometimes winning, sometimes not. It's a quality worth noting, and one that may come in handy if the opportunity presents itself.
If Flynn isn't cut out for the task by whatever circumstance, the 'Hawks could be a lot worse off than to turn over the keys to T-Jack.
Just something to think about...