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Seahawks' Offensive Outlook by Position Group

Cameron Van TilContributor IIIOctober 15, 2016

Seahawks' Offensive Outlook by Position Group

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    Never has there been more anticipation and hype surrounding the Seahawks, and the transformation of their offense is a major reason why. Seattle's defense was already Super Bowl-caliber at the beginning of last season, but for the first portion of the year it felt as if the team's struggle to score was holding it back.

    That's certainly not the case anymore.

    The Seahawks' offense evolved into one of the league's most high-powered attacks last year, averaging 28.9 points per game during the second half of the regular season and the playoffs. The catalyst?

    Two words: Russell Wilson.

    The more experience and familiarity he gained—and the more Pete Carroll opened up the playbook and loosened the reins on his rookie quarterback—the more effective the Seahawks became.

    The offense already possessed a punishing run game and a good deal of talent across the field, but like all teams, Seattle needed a capable quarterback to fully take advantage of what they had. They got that in Wilson, who's turned out to be far more than simply capable.

    Once Wilson took off, the passing game meshed with one of the league’s top rushing attacks to form an incredibly potent and balanced offense that scored 122 points over a three-game stretch late last season and was a major reason the Seahawks were able to do something no other NFL team had done in over half a century—score at least 50 points in consecutive games.

    In addition to their balance, Wilson’s remarkable ability to use his feet to avoid pressure and extend plays made the Seahawks even more difficult to defend, especially considering that Wilson often appears most comfortable and at his best while improvising.

    Seattle’s attack became even more unpredictable last year when they began incorporating the read-option, which was a very successful wrinkle in their offense that fit in perfectly with Wilson’s skill-set and their physical running game.

    When the Seahawks followed up their emergence as a dynamic offense with the offseason acquistion of one of the league’s most lethal playmakers in Percy Harvin, expectations for this unit rose to even greater heights.

    They fell when news broke in late July that Harvin needed hip surgery and would miss three to four months, but with a healthy Doug Baldwin, a (hopefully) healthy James Carpenter, even more talent in the backfield and Russell Wilson coming off his first full offseason, the Seahawks’ offense is still very capable of being even more effective this year than last—even without Harvin.

    Here’s a breakdown by position group.

Quarterback

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    For quite some time, the Seahawks have been on the lookout for their next franchise quarterback.

    There’s no doubt they found him in Russell Wilson.

    With his pinpoint accuracy and Houdini-like escapability, Wilson ignited the Seattle offense with a rookie season for the ages. His 26 touchdown passes tied Peyton Manning’s NFL record for the most ever by a rookie and his 100.0 passer rating was fourth-best in the league, higher than that of premier quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.

    One of the many things that stand out with Wilson’s play is a sense of poise well beyond his years, a quality that was perhaps never more evident than during the final two drives of Seattle’s overtime victory over the Bears on Dec. 2 at Soldier Field—maybe the most remarkable performance of Wilson’s stellar rookie campaign.

    In a game that at the time felt like a must-win for the Seahawks and their playoff chances, Seattle trailed 14-10 with under four minutes to play and the ball at their own 3. Undeterred by the moment, Wilson marched the team 97 yards down the field—converting a 4th down along the way—for the go-ahead score with less than a minute remaining.

    It would’ve been the game-winner, but an improbable defensive letdown by the Seahawks in the final 24 seconds sent the game to overtime. After battling so hard for the go-ahead score, such a sudden, disheartening turn of events could have the potential to negatively affect many young quarterbacks.

    But Wilson didn’t miss a beat, immediately responding with an 80-yard game-winning drive that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown pass.

    Yet the 24-year-old phenom not only resembles a seasoned veteran in his ability to handle pressure and adversity, but also in his decision-making.

    One of Pete Carroll’s primary philosophies is that “it’s all about the ball,” and Wilson’s mere two interceptions in the final eight games of the regular season embodied that mantra perfectly.

    However, it’s certainly not as if Wilson was playing conservative—he tossed 16 touchdown passes over that stretch and made countless big-time plays.

    Rather, it’s that Wilson almost always seems to make the right play and has a remarkable feel for and understanding of the game.

    But with the Seahawks’ extremely balanced offense and dedication to the run, Wilson gets significantly fewer pass attempts than most of the league’s top quarterbacks, and thus his play can’t always best be summed up with statistics.

    So perhaps it’s fitting that one of his greatest qualities—his work ethic—isn’t something that’s easily quantifiable.

    Even at the sport’s highest level, where professional athletes left and right are working their tails off, Wilson’s dedication to his craft stands out from the pack and is already becoming legendary in Seattle.

    Teammates joke that Wilson lives at the team’s practice facility due to the hours he puts in. He’s the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave in the evening, often registering 13-hour work days.

    Wilson’s habits even led general manager John Schneider to joke this past February that the one thing Wilson needs to work on is “taking a vacation.”

    Some have predicted a sophomore setback for Seattle’s breakout star, but with this relentless preparation, Wilson doesn’t appear to fit the bill of a second-year letdown.

    Regardless of whether he knows he’s the starter going into the season—as he does this year—or whether he’s in the midst of a three-way battle for the starting job like he was last offseason, Wilson works with the same undying intensity.

    And while some would argue that defenses have now had an offseason to devise how to slow him down, Wilson’s had an entire offseason as well. Considering just how hard he works to improve, prepare and gain an edge—and how he progressed with experience last season—the net benefit of this offseason should swing the way of Wilson, not opposing defenses.

    If anything, expect Wilson to be even more successful this year.

    Competing to back Wilson up are quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Brady Quinn, but Jackson appears to have the clear advantage.

    Not only did he play lights-out in the first preseason contest against San Diego, but Jackson has familiarity with the team and is one of the most well-liked players in the locker room.

    Jackson earned a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates as the Seahawks’ starting quarterback in 2011, playing through much of the season with a torn pectoral muscle on his throwing side.

Running Back / Fullback

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    With the emergence of Seattle's passing attack late last season, some have predicted the Seahawks to throw the ball way more often this year. 

    That probably won't entirely be the case.

    Although one should expect Russell Wilson's pass attempts to increase from his roughly 25 per game last season, Pete Carroll and John Schneider built this team as one with a run-first identity, and a major part of what makes this offense so deadly is its incredible balance. Their run-pass ratio will probably be somewhere around 50-50; expect them to remain very committed to pounding the ball.

    Football fans everywhere know about Marshawn Lynch—he’s one of the league’s best backs and epitomizes the physical brand of football Carroll has created with this team.

    But not many outside of Seattle know yet about Christine Michael, the team's second-round draft pick in April out of Texas A&M.

    Some were questioning why Carroll & Co. used their first pick of the draft on a position that was already such a strength with Lynch and second-year pro Robert Turbin out of Utah State. 

    Likely a major part of the answer is that great front offices don't wait for needs to surface before addressing them—they anticipate them in advance. 

    Unfortunately, the 27-year-old Lynch probably only has a couple more years left in him. That's simply the reality for running backs, and especially for Beast Mode, given his very physical running style.

    So what did the Seahawks do? They drafted a back in Michael who has the potential to be almost like a Beast Mode 2.0. 

    Michael very much resembles Lynch's physicality in that he often finishes plays by embracing contact and lowering his shoulder to pick up extra yardage. 

    The difference between the two is that Michael appears to possess more breakaway speed and a more fluid running style, which may make him more adept than Lynch at making defenders miss. There's a legitimate possibility that Michael evolves into an even better running back than Lynch—the former Aggie is that talented and has that much potential. 

    But Michael certainly isn't only for the future. The rookie has shined in practice and could make a tangible impact this season. 

    It will be interesting to see who wins the backup job behind Lynch—Michael or Turbin, the incumbent No. 2 back. Turbin is another prototypical Seahawks running back like both Lynch and Michael—big and physical. Michael has more upside than Turbin, but Turbin was solid last year and his experience could land him the backup role initially. Expect both of them to get their fair share of touches this season.

    The Michael selection illustrates the beauty of Carroll and Schneider being able to enter the draft without any pressing needs, as that way they can pick the best available players, without regard to position. With a loaded roster and talent dispersed all over the field—and their slew of offseason free agent signings—the Seahawks were able to approach the draft in this manner, which resulted in them picking up quite possibly one of the two most gifted running backs in the entire class (the 49ers' Marcus Lattimore being the other).

    The Seahawks also selected another very hard-nosed, physical rusher in the draft, running back Spencer Ware out of LSU. Ware isn't the quickest back, but he's an absolute bruiser—he'll fit right in with the rest of the Seahawks' backfield.

    There's been talk that Seattle's considering moving Ware to fullback due to starter Michael Robinson's contract situation. Robinson is set to earn $2.5 million this season in the final year of his contract, and with so many young stars on the team due for much larger deals in the new future, it's unclear whether the Seahawks will be able to afford Robinson after this year. 

    However, Robinson, a Pro Bowler in 2012, has a lot of value to this team. He is a tremendous leader and works extremely well with Lynch as his lead blocker. What to do with Robinson in the future figures to be one of several difficult decisions Carroll and Schneider will have to make.

    The Seahawks are loaded in the backfield at present, but a vital part of sustaining greatness is preparing for the future. Lynch could be heading into his last couple of years, but with a potential three-headed monster in Michael, Turbin and Ware, the Seattle rushing attack looks like it'll be able to keep on rolling for quite some time.

Wide Receiver

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    There's no doubt that Percy Harvin's hip injury, which at a minimum will likely cause him to miss most of the regular season, is a blow to the Seahawks. 

    Harvin is one of the league's most dangerous players and was an MVP candidate for much of last year. There's a very good chance his playmaking ability would've catapulted this group into one of the league's best.

    But the Seahawks' receiving corps are certainly more than capable of withstanding the loss of their prized offseason acquisition. After all, they fared pretty well last season without Harvin on the roster and figure to only improve as they build more and more of a rapport with Russell Wilson.

    Another major reason for improvement from this group is the health of Doug Baldwin. After a breakout rookie season in 2011, Baldwin was burdened by injuries last year and his production declined. However, Baldwin appears healthy again and poised for another potentially big season. Baldwin stands at just 5-foot-10, but is a tremendous athlete and a definite big-play threat.

    Keeping with the theme of health, there was a minor scare when news surfaced in late July that Sidney Rice was off in Switzerland to get his knee treated, but the non-surgical procedure he underwent was merely preventative and the team's leading receiver from last year recently returned to the practice field.

    Rice isn't the most explosive wideout, but there's no denying his importance to this team, especially considering Rice's 6'4" frame in comparison to Seattle's other top receivers—Baldwin and Golden Tate, who are both under six-feet.

    But just because Tate's shorter certainly doesn't mean he can't go up and get passes. 

    Tate has a tremendous knack for coming down with passes that are more of the jump-ball variety, and no, that statement has nothing to do with that final play on Monday Night Football against the Packers. There were several times last year where Wilson would see Tate in man-to-man coverage and loft it up to him, with Tate utilizing his vertical ability and strong hands to win the ball in the air.

    Yet Tate showed last season that he may be at his best on underneath routes that allow him to take advantage of his playmaking skills in the open field. Tate led the Seahawks with 272 yards after catch, frequently breaking tackles and eluding defenders following a reception.

    There's a definite gap between Seattle's top three receivers and Jermaine Kearse at No. 4 on the depth chart, but Kearse has also separated himself from the rest of the receivers on the roster as well.

    Some may remember Kearse and his infamous dropped passes while playing down the road at the University of Washington, but the second-year pro seems to have resolved those issues. Kearse has impressed the organization this offseason and has appeared to develop a connection with Wilson.

    The battle for the remaining spot—or spots if they elect to take six receivers—will be very competitive and is likely between Stephen Williams, Chris Harper, Phil Bates and Bryan Walters.

    Williams and Harper are two especially interesting ones to keep an eye on. John Schneider was ecstatic when the Seahawks acquired Williams in January, and it's easy to see why—the tall, lanky receiver has really stood out during training camp and in preseason games for his speed and athleticism.

    Meanwhile, Harper, the team's fourth-round draft pick this year, could down the road be the type of big, physical red-zone receiver that Seattle lacks. But he's more of a developmental project and may not figure greatly into the team's plans this season.

    Obviously the big question mark with this unit is Harvin. The typical recovery time for his injury is three to four months, which would likely put him back sometime around the latter half of November. That'd be an ideal time for him to return, as it would give him and the offense time to get accustomed to one another before the playoffs. A return later than that may not give them enough time to mesh before January comes. Without a doubt, people will be following Harvin's progress very closely.

    This receiving corps can certainly survive the loss of Harvin. Rice, Baldwin and Tate are all strong targets and the latter two probably have their best years ahead, Wilson is building a trust with Kearse and a player like Williams could emerge as a threat.

    But Harvin would certainly take this unit to a whole new level.

Tight End

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    Tight end is a position to monitor with a particularly close eye.

    At the top of the depth chart is the ever-reliable Zach Miller, a Pro Bowler during his time with the Raiders. Miller's numbers in Seattle haven't resembled those he put up in Oakland, but that's largely been due to increased blocking responsibilities within the Seahawks' offense. 

    However, Miller emerged as a major threat in the team's passing game late last season. He was their leading receiver in Seattle's two playoff games, which included an eight-reception, 142-yard performance against Atlanta.

    It will be interesting to see if Miller continues to become a more regular target of Wilson's within the Seahawks' offense this year. One thing for sure is that whatever Miller is called upon to do—whether that be blocking or receiving—he seems to always get the job done.

    Miller had been nursing an injured foot during training camp, but recently returned to practice and should be completely ready for the season opener. Assuming that's the case, the Seahawks have one of the league's best at tight end.

    Yet with last year's No. 2 tight end Anthony McCoy out on an injury waiver after tearing his Achilles this offseason, the rest of the depth chart at this position is unproven. Neither of the likely candidates to fill that spot—Luke Willson and Sean McGrath—have an NFL reception. 

    But while Willson lacks experience, his athleticism stood out so much to the Seahawks that John Schneider said they "really, really would have been disappointed" had they not picked up the speedy tight end out of Rice in April's NFL draft. Willson has the potential to be a major addition to this offense, as his quickness and ability to stretch the field provides a unique dimension Seattle wouldn't otherwise have at tight end.

    And then there's McGrath, the second-year pro out of Henderson State who has worked his way up from the practice squad. With a thick beard and white-taped knuckles instead of receiver's gloves, McGrath is like a blast from the past. Run-blocking is his strength and he figures to get snaps this year as well.

    Losing McCoy is a blow, but as is typical Seahawks fashion, it’s “next man up.” Willson and McGrath are being thrown under the fire, but the team is counting on them to help fill the void created by McCoy’s injury.

Offensive Line

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    Although there’s still some uncertainty on Seattle’s offensive line, this unit also has the potential to be a real strength for the Seahawks.

    As always, one has to begin with center, and Seattle’s is as good as they get.

    Coming off a first-team All-Pro season, Max Unger is everything you want in a center—he’s big, tough, intelligent and a good leader. Offensive line coach Tom Cable credited Unger as a major reason why the offense was able to have so much success with the read-option last season, pointing to Unger’s smarts and read-option background at the University of Oregon.

    At tackle, the starters are set. Pro Bowler Russell Okung will be protecting Russell Wilson’s blind side while Breno Giacomini—a former Packers practice squad player who has found success in Seattle—will start on the right side.

    Converted defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy won the battle for right guard after his competitor, 2011 third-rounder John Moffitt, was recently traded to the Broncos.

    Sweezy, a 2012 seventh-round selection who played defensive tackle at North Carolina State, surprised many last offseason with his remarkably rapid transition to right guard and earned the Week 1 starting job. But Sweezy struggled at times as a rookie last year and ended up splitting snaps with Moffitt.

    The two competed this offseason for the starting job, but Sweezy came out on top.

    Trading Moffitt appears to be more about disappointment in him than anything else. But it also may be a vote of confidence for some of the backup linemen on the roster, should anything happen to Sweezy.

    On the other side of the line, right guard hinges on James Carpenter’s health. The 25th overall pick in the 2011 draft has finished the past two seasons on the injured reserve with knee injuries and underwent arthoscopic knee surgery this spring. Carpenter entered training camp healthy but is currently sitting out with a foot strain.

    If Carpenter continues to battle injuries, the Seahawks do have a luxury in Paul McQuistan, an experienced veteran who can play every position on the line except center.

    Yet there’s no doubt that a healthy Carpenter would be the ideal option.

    At 6’5”, 321 pounds, the University of Alabama product is an absolute behemoth and has the potential to tremendously elevate Seattle’s offensive line. Paired with Okung, the two could eventually form a dominant left side, one that could even stir up a few faint memories among Seahawks fans of the legendary Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson duo.

    Okung, a healthy Carpenter and Unger all lining up side-by-side could become a nightmarish combination for opposing defenses to deal with.

    However, Carpenter must be able to remain healthy before any of this can even begin to become a reality.

    Yes, Seattle’s offensive line can be good without him. But with Carpenter this unit has the potential to develop into one of the strongest on the team—a team that’s already loaded with talent all over the field.

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