I've recently heard a lot of hype about the expectations of the 2009 - 2010 Seattle Seahawks... but not a lot of realism about the state of the offensive line. These two issues are directly related, and in taking a look at the state of the present and future state of the offensive line I will foreshadow the expectations for the upcoming season.
We can all remember hearing about the, "battles in the trenches" and how important they are to a teams success. The offensive line is responsible for blocking to open up plays in the run or allowing a run to be stopped in the backfield, allowing the QB time to let the play develop or getting sacked for a loss, and acting as the glue that will cement an offense or allow it to crumble.
When NFL fans think about the best teams in recent memory like the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, the recently ascended New York Giants, and even unexpected turnarounds like the Miami Dolphins there is an underlying similarity... they all have superb play at the offensive line. So lets see what the Seahawks are bringing to the table for now, and where they will be just 3yrs from now.
At the LT position...
At the LT position we have long time incumbent Walter Jones. Walter is not only a pro-bowl caliber player, but eventually a Hall of Fame 1st ballot kind of talent. Walt has been the bookend LT with the Seahawks for over a decade, and with his recent micro-fracture surgery his productivity is in question.
At 35yrs old Jones is by no means a rookie, and thus coming back from a knee surgery can be more concerning than if he were a younger player. I get the feeling the he has about 2 - 3yrs maximum left before he will retire or leave from injury. This is a hopeful prediction, mainly because 13yrs of wear and tear on a body in this league can do some serious damage.
In another year or so the team will need to find a replacement for the aging Walter Jones and hopefully avoid a drop-off in productivity at the position. The options are Sean Locklear (who SHOULD play RT considering his talent level is better suited to RT than LT and that would mean a downgrade at LT and at RT), the draft (there are several viable candidates coming out of college in this upcoming draft), free agency (this is doubtful considering that no team in is right mind would let a young LT with pro-bowl talent become a free agent), or a trade (this is not a bad option, considering we have the an extra 1st rounder next year. however, I just don't see the front office going this direction).
The LT grade is... B- / B mainly because of the uncertainty in the level of production for this year, and for the lack of maneuvers to find a replacement (who is not Sean Locklear) to step up and play LT without a drop off in production... thus eliminating Sean Locklear from contention.
At the LG position...
At the LG position we have another seasoned veteran in Mike Wahle. Wahle has played 12 seasons in this league already, and has been a lackluster replacement of Steve Hutchinson in terms of production. At this point in his career, Mike Wahle's best years are behind him and soon enough he will join Walter Jones in the retired pool.
I forsee Wahle having another average season, and being a solid contributor to the O Line that was rampaged by injuries last year. This is not a bad short-term option, but considering the long-term... a replacement will be needed.
Wahle is rumored to be replaced by Max Unger... which is a possibility. If the front office really wants to commit to running the ball, I see things happening a little differently. Max Unger will take over at the C or the RG position, where there will be a need as well.
I will feel a lot more comfortable bringing in a free-agent to fill this void, but this should not even be a problem. Not when the option presented itself to get a younger and more talented Alen Faneca instead. The market should be decent this upcoming year for guards who can play at a high level. The draft for guards is not only shallow, but not very talented either... so this might not be the best option.
The LG grade is... C+ / B- because the current position is filled by an average player, and the options are there in free-agency but the team may or may not bite on someone. Age is also factored into this grade, along with past performance.
At the C position...
At the C position we have a slew of options, the current incumbent is Chris Spencer. Spencer is a younger player at 27yrs of age, and has not yet lived up to the hype of being one of the best O Line prospects to come of the SEC in quite a while. This is a contract year for Spencer and we will see what he's made of.
The fact that new O Coordinator Greg Knapp has come into town gives me hope about the future of Chris Spencer, mainly because he fits Knapp's scheme so well. I'd like to see Spencer take over and be the dominant player he can be at the C or possibly move to RG. Either way, with a system that caters to his athleticism Spencer has a much higher ceiling than he had before.
Rookie Max Unger was brought in this year and has some promise as well. He will be a good asset to this team, and has a similar game to that of Chris Spencer. Unger will challenge for a position but will not win... at least not his year. I would like to see a good backup role for Unger this year, and possibly filling in if injury strikes again.
Unger will play (or at least should play) the C or the RG. Because the C position is more important than the RG the more talented of the two (Spencer / Unger) should play C and the other should play RG. This will not be an issue though for a little while.
Considering the future, this position has good options in house and should be alright. If Chris Spencer can earn that 1st round tag he came with, this will give the O Line a nice boost. However, because it is still uncertain... I am wary.
The C grade is... B / B+ because with options and zone blocking scheme in place, this looks like one of the more solid spots on the O Line and the sky is the limit.
At the RG position...
At the RG position we have Rob Sims in his 4th year out of Ohio State. Sims is an athletic type of player, and lacks the physicality to be a dominant force. He is, however, a solid player who contributes as a role player. Like some of the other positions on the O Line this year, there are options.
Chris Spencer may very well be out of the starting role at center, and his skill level still may be high enough to push Sims out of his staring job. Only time will tell if this is the case, but it is certainly a possibility with a hodge-podge of players who seem to be in limbo... designated to a position but never really solid.
The other option would be if Max Unger does not work out at center. Becasue the team used a 2nd round draft pick on him they will not be happy to let him go for nothing and have "wasted" that pick... so he might be an option here. Again, only time will tell who ends up where.
As we all know, rosters during the OTA's, Mini Camp, and Training Camp are not final... so I don't want to hear about how someone is working out at LG so they are going to play LG for the rest of their career no matter what. Ok? Good.
Moving on, there is not a lot of talk about Sims outside of his lack of significant production and underachieving ways. This is another weak point on the team, but the potential (in Unger and Spencer) to fill this position in the case that Sims continues to falter. So short-term is bleak, but there is hope on the horizon.
The RG grade is... C- / C because of the poor performance out of Rob Sims since a decent rookie year. after his potential was seen, the kid has been a disappointment. however, this is another position we can make in house improvements on in the near future. which is why the grade was not in the D range.
At the RT position...
At the RT position we have Sean Locklear. I cannot say enough about this guy, he is a great player and has done an excellent job getting better in the 6yrs he has been in the league. He has been a solid player across from Walter Jones and has done a nice job suring up the right side.
Locklear is a consistent producer, and has been a solid part of the Seahawks success. This is not to say he is a pro-bowl caliber player, but that he is in the upper portion of players around the league (top 10 / top 15) and has done a nice job protecting Matt's right side while doing a good job in the running game as well.
This is called ending the story on a high note, because Locklear is one of the teams more solid producers and is proven at his position. The front office is rumored to be preparing Sean to play the LT upon Walter Jones retirement... this is a mistake. As the old adage goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" so why would they move Sean from a position he is doing well in to another position that he is not physically suited for. I don't know either.
Another upside to Sean Locklear at the RT is that he is relatively young at 28yrs old he should have another 5 - 7yrs left in the tank before a replacement is needed. This is a good place to be for the short-term and the long, so this grade will be higher than most. So don't be surprised if the grade seems disproportionate.
The RT grade is... B+ / A- because of the relative security at the position and the ability (if Sean Lockear remains at this position) to get good / great production for the immediate future and the long term as well.
These ratings are an indicator of how well the offense will preform, and prediction is that we will remain around the 15 - 17th in league rankings. This should translate into an 8-8 or a 9-7 record depending on variables like injury (etc...) and will be an improvement on last year, but should not get us into the playoffs. I believe that if the right moves are made next year will be the year for a playoff run.
So how is everyone feeling about this rating... too low? too high? just right? I am open to any and all suggestions... feel free to leave your comments.