As the Seahawks finish up their last mandatory mini-camp practice today, the long, dark month until training camp leaves plenty of time to speculate on what to expect in the coming year.
With the Seahawks in particular, there is plenty to speculate about after the exit of 10 year Head Coach Mike Holmgren and the entrance of new Head Coach Jim L. Mora.
Holmgren is well known in Seattle for bringing his offensive-minded West Coast style of play to the Pacific Northwest. That style lit up the scoreboard, his team winning five division titles (one AFC West and four consecutive NFC West titles) and six playoff appearances, including the Conference Championship in 2005. Lofty expectations to live up to for sure.
Enter Jim Mora in his third year with the team and first as Head Coach. Widely known as a defensively minded coach, he has brought with him his former Offensive Coordinator from his Atlanta Falcons days, Gregg Knapp.
Knapp is a disciple of the West Coast Offense, and had his most successful years as an OC while with the San Francisco 49ers from 2001-2003, and again in 2004 with Jim Mora and the Atlanta Falcons.
In that four year span, Knapp's teams made the playoffs three times, including the Falcons' run to the NFC Championship game in 2004. However, his recent stint as OC of the Oakland Raiders should be concerning.
The Seahawks bring back Julius Jones and TJ Duckett as the primary ball carriers for the 2009 squad. Julius Jones has plenty of critics out there, and most think this was a terrible signing by the Seahawks last offseason, but take a closer look at his numbers and some of the situations.
After three weeks of the 2008 season, the Seahawks ranked in the top 10 in rushing behind stellar performances by Jones against the 49ers (26 att, 127 yds) and the Rams (22 att, 140 yds).
Sure, it was against the 49ers and the Rams, but it showed he has potential.
Jones' subsequent weeks showcased him in less than stellar performances, and he was taken off the field more and more in favor of spell back Maurice Morris. Jones eventually lost the starting job to him, and had 12 carries per a game twice after the bye week in Week Four.
It's still unclear why Jones fell out of favor with Holmgren, but it was obvious that he had. Nonetheless, Jones returned to camp looking as strong as ever, and should fit nicely into the zone blocking scheme set by Knapp. This scheme features Jones as primarily a one-cut downhill runner with Duckett suited perfectly for short yardage and goal line running.
The third spot on the depth chart is still a mystery, but will likely go to 2nd year back Justin Forsett who has Special Teams advantages and could serve well as a change of pace back.
All signs point to the Seahawks relying on a run first policy, single back formations.
The two most widely cited in relation to Knapp are two Reciever, two tight end sets and three Reciever, one tight end sets. In a theoretical scenario, imagine a three reciever, one tight end set.
While none of the Seattle recievers strike fear into opposing cornerbacks, they are good enough to command putting a nickel defender in the game and committing your SAM to shadow Carlson, since he is a huge threat at tight end.
That commits four defenders outside with one safety and six in the box. If this offensive line can play up to the lofty expectations of this run first offense (which they are better on paper than the Oakland Raiders starting five), 4.3 yards a carry is not an unattainable goal.
The running game (despite supposed personnel deficiency) should not be the focus of worry in the coming season for Seahawks fans; it's the passing game.
Last year as OC of the Raiders, Knapp's offense ranked last, passing for a mere 148 yards per game and allowing JaMarcus Russell to be sacked 39 times during the season.
Russell is still a young player, and that was his first full season as a starter. So much of that can be attributed to his lack of experience and the steep learning curve of becoming an NFL quarterback.
The truth is, the Seahawks didn't fare much better in the passing game last year either, putting up only 163 yards a game and allowing quarterbacks to be sacked 36 times. Health was obviously the biggest factor last year with a revolving door of receivers (who ever thought Koren Robinson would sport a Seahawks Jersey ever again?).
Matt Hasselbeck, if he can stay healthy, should improve those numbers dramatically, that is, if he can attain the protection he needs from his line and a blocking back (truth is, any back should be a more capable blocker than Shaun Alexander ever was).
The passing game involving the two sets that Knapp is said to be relying heavily on this season in the playbook provides good leverage for Hasselbeck to make plays all over the field.
New receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh has proven to be a threat in the middle for his entire career, runs clean routes, will fight for the ball, and offers a bigger target than Bobby Engram.
If Nate Burleson returns to health, he should see extended looks as Hasselbeck's number one option, using his size and speed to make plays on the outside. Behind that, it will be hard to figure if Branch or Rookie Deon Butler (or Taylor, Obomanu or Kent) figure into the three receiver sets.
Additionally, John Carlson, the team's leading receiver in 2008, should become even better in his second year, and command more attention from opposing defenses. Add in a check down option at running back and the possibilities seem endless.
The passing game will continue to be the biggest question mark as Knapp has remained fairly tight lipped about his intentions.
Training camp begins at the end of July, and with practices opening to the public, a more realistic grasp on the Knapp passing game should emerge, but for the next month, the speculation still runs high for myself and all Seahawks fans alike.
*stats courtesy of NFL.com