The Seattle Seahawks are either an aging team that's seen better days or an unlucky squad that can still contend in the NFC.
Which one is it?
Which one is it?
The debate between age and fortune is an important one for the Seahawks. If the team is indeed getting old, it may be time to be rebuild. If they simply ran into a spot of bad luck last year, they'll have all the pieces in place to win in 2007.
The truth won't be known until the season starts, which should make for an interesting autumn in Seattle.
In 2006, injuries to several stars and poor play at several positions dropped the defending NFC champions to 9-7. The Hawks did win their first playoff game before giving the Bears all they could handle in the divisional round, but the truncated season left more questions than answers.
Fortunately, this year's model doesn't look so very different from the talented Seahawks teams of seasons past. Most importantly, Seattle still has Walter Jones, Shaun Alexander, and Matt Hasselbeck—which is more than a lot of teams can say.
Alexander and Hasselbeck were limited by injuries last year. Each had his moments upon returning to the lineup (Hasselbeck against Arizona and Alexander against San Diego), but the pair never approached their level of play from recent seasons.
Alexander is just one year removed from his NFL MVP, and should have plenty left in the tank. When he was on in '06, he ran with conviction. Alexander has deceptive speed and is hard to bring down when he's at his best.
Hasselbeck, meanwhile, has been one of the NFC's finest quarterbacks over the past few years. It's obvious that he knows Mike Holmgren's offense inside and out, and he's confident using audibles and working in the two-minute drill.
On the bright side, the tumultuous season gave many young Seahawks invaluable game experience. Offensively, WR D.J. Hackett and G Rob Sims proved themselves to be reliable contributors. In the secondary, rookie CB Kelly Jennings performed admirably after Marcus Trufant and Kelly Herndon went down with injuries, and looks to be a starter come September.
Elsewhere on defense, Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson, and LeRoy Hill form the best linebacking corps in the conference. Their brilliance was often overshadowed by underwhelming performances around them, but that could change with the additions of DE Patrick Kerney and safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell.
Despite the optimism, though, things could easily go south for the 2007 Seahawks. There are, after all, plenty of things to be concerned about in Seattle.
The offensive line never recovered from the free agent loss of G Steve Hutchinson. Pork Chop Womack proved he wasn't the answer, and it wasn't until Sims emerged late in the season that the 'Hawks had even an adequate replacement for their departed star.
The line as a whole fell far short of the standard set in Seattle's run to the Super Bowl—and the retirement of veteran C Robbie Tobeck means the Seahawks will have their work cut out for them again this year.
The troubles on the line can be blamed for some of Alexander's struggles, but Alexander himself was also at fault. His foot injury left him timid and unsure, which only highlighted his usual aversion to contact.
He'll need to be better in 2007.
By the same token, Hasselbeck's health wasn't the only reason for his subpar performance. His decision-making, for example, was particularly bad throughout the season—which obviously had nothing to do with his sprained knee.
The secondary was awful against deep balls, which explains the new look in 2007. The defensive line wasn't anything to write home about either.
Whether those units will be improved this year is anyone's guess.
Speaking of guessing—that's the only way I can project a finish for the '07 Seahawks. So much depends on the play of Hasselbeck and Alexander...to say nothing of the myriad other questions that need answering.
The Seahawks have what it takes to be a major player in the NFC. They also have what it takes to finish below .500 for the first time since 2002.
Which way will they go?
I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Projected finish: 9-7, 2nd NFC West
Keep your eyes on: LB LeRroy Hill—Better than Tatupu, but not as fun to pronounce.
Take your eyes off: WR Deion Branch—Like a remote control: handy, but with a knack for disappearing.