For the first time in 10 seasons, there is a breath of fresh air and a different, fiery passion resonating within the Seahawks' gorgeous practice facility
This last season saw the departure of the Seahawks' most beloved head coach, Mike Holmgren. As was decided long before he left, Jim Mora was to be given the reins to the franchise.
Mora was the former Atlanta Falcons head coach from 2004-2006 and led them to a 26-22 record with one NFC Championship game appearance.
Instead, he became Seattle’s defensive backs/assistant head coach in 2007. He cited the privilege of working under future HOF coach Mike Holmgren as the deciding factor. His arrival led to speculation he was Holmgren's heir apparent.
Before the 2008 season, he also spurned an offer for the head coaching position in Washington to remain in Seattle. It appears as though he was hell-bent on eventually becoming the Seahawks' head coach, and he got his wish.
He is known as a player’s coach; the rapport he has with his players is a good, unifying quality. Even before he became Seattle’s head coach he was doing things like taking CB Marcus Trufant and DE Patrick Kerney on runs up a three-mile trail called Tiger Mountain. Those types of “one-on-one” activities promote more than just a good workout.
Ever since his interview on KJR 950 with Hugh Millen in 2006, you just knew it was fate he would end up being a head coach in the Northwest. While the Falcons were still in playoff contention, he went on live radio and said that if the Washington Huskies' coaching job was made available, he would take it.
Now later on he retracts that statement and said he was only joking, but the damage was done. The media, owner Arthur Blank, as well as the Falcons fan base, strongly disapproved of the remarks with the team in the playoff hunt.
Growing up in the Northwest, and playing for the Huskies, can you really fault someone for declaring that they would take their dream job? The timing was inappropriate, but the remarks were not way out of line.
After the disappointing 7-9 finish in 2006, Mora was fired. Perhaps that radio interview had some factor in the decision?
That is not to say he was a poor coach, or did not succeed during his tenure in Atlanta. He enjoyed tremendous success running the ball. With Greg Knapp at his side as offensive coordinator (same role currently in Seattle), they led the league in rushing three straight years from 2004-2006.
His team featured a dynamic offense with QB Michael Vick at the helm leading the three-headed monster of a rushing game alongside RB’s Warrick Dunn, and current Seahawk TJ Duckett.
His defense featured some prominent players in their prime, like DE Patrick Kerney, LB Keith Brooking, LB Demarrio Williams, and DT Rod Coleman. They could run the ball, and keep opposing offenses off of the field, especially in 2004.
That is a great formula for winning.
He brings the same strategy with him to Seattle, and has a similar, perhaps upgraded, unit to work with.
Under the new coaching regime the team is transitioning to a zone blocking scheme. This seems to be a better fit with Seattle’s smaller, more athletic offensive line anchored by future HOF T Walter Jones.
Mora and offensive coordinator Knapp also ran this scheme in Atlanta. Knapp helped them post three straight No. 1 rushing attacks from 2004-2006 while employing it.
The Seahawks have a Warrick Dunn-type back in current feature back Julius Jones. After arriving in 2008, Jones looks to take over the bulk of the rushing load after longtime back Maurice Morris departed to Detroit during the off-season. Jones is the one-cut type RB that thrives in the zone system, and should benefit from the coaching and scheme changes.
Mora inherits the best passer he has had an opportunity to work with as a head coach, and one of the best in the league in QB Matt Hasselbeck. Vick was never a terrific passer, although he did post a marginal 75.6 QB Rating while playing under Mora in Atlanta.
Hasselbeck headlines what is a superior passing attack in contrast to what Mora had to work with in Atlanta. Hasselbeck has a career 84.6 QBR along with 23,589 yards, 147 TD’s, and 94 INT’s.
The passing game in Atlanta featured TE Alge Crumpler, whose best output was when he hauled in 65 catches for 877 yards and 5 TD’s in 2005.
The Seahawks also feature a great TE with second-year pro Jon Carlson, who caught 55 balls for 627 yards and 5 TD’s. 2008 was the first time in awhile the Seahawks had a TE lead the team in receptions (The seven WR injuries had nothing to do with that right?).
In contrast, the WR corps in Atlanta did not feature a WR who went over 611 yards in his time there, with Brian Finneran snagging 50 balls for 611 yards and two TD’s during the 2005 season.
Mora was beaming at the press conference on March 3 of this year introducing marquee free agent WR TJ Houshmandzadeh to the Seattle media. The Seahawks snared him during the off-season and Mora was thrilled to have the opportunity to add him.
He is one of the best WR’s in the NFL, and gives Mora a pair of the best passing weapons he has ever had. Houshmandzadeh has caught more passes then anyone the past three seasons averaging 98 catches, 1,043 yards, and 8 TD’s per season in that span.
The passing game also features receivers Deion Branch and Nate Burleson, rounding out a deep trio of proven pass catchers.
Having little to do with an offense that he is leaving in Knapp's hands, Mora should feel comfortable with the weapons in the passing game.
The running game will also rank in the top 10 as Knapp has never led a rushing attack lower then 10th in his coaching tenure. He even turned Oakland into a great rushing team leading them to sixth and 10th rankings in the 2007-2008 seasons.
Turning over to the defensive side, Mora should be pleased with the arsenal at his disposal.
Mora will be employing the Tampa-2 scheme, along with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley will get to casually watch and smile while Mora runs the Seahawks defensive unit.
In a nutshell, the Tampa-2 relies on fast players who generate pressure, while the secondary sits back in zone coverage as ball-hawks.
After a very productive off-season the Seahawks have brought in four potential new starters that can thrive in the Tampa-2 defense.
They went out and hooked a much needed run stuffer in Green Bay NT Colin Cole. He fills the void left by former starter Rocky Bernard.
Cole is massive, weighing in at 6”1 330 lbs. He commands consistent double teams, which opens up the rest of the DL, and keeps bodies off of Seattle’s play-making LB’s.
Adding a “big” player to the Tampa-2 really changes the dynamics of the scheme and allows additional flexibility to blitz the LB’s more often.
They swapped Pro Bowl LB Julian Peterson to Detroit for DE Cory Redding, and a fifth round pick, effectively filling another DL need. Redding will take over for disappointing DE Lawrence Jackson, who only tallied two sacks in 14 starts during his rookie year.
They got the top prospect in the 2009 draft by nabbing Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry with the No. 4 pick. Drafting him was the full circle completion of the Julian Peterson trade. Curry is slated to start in Julian Peterson's spot at the strongside OLB position.
They also brought back CB Ken Lucas to be the No. 2 CB. He is the big physical presence (6'1", 205 lbs) the Seahawks have sorely lacked opposite of Pro Bowl CB Marcus Trufant. Lucas and can match up with bigger, physical WR’s like division rival Arizona Cardinals' WR Larry Fitzgerald.
Adding Lucas allows Seattle to bump smaller CB’s Josh Wilson and Kelly Jennings to the third and fourth slots, respectively. They round out what now looks to be an impressive CB unit for Seattle.
Mora loves to attack the QB, and now he has a perfect defense to match his passion.
Seattle boasts the leagues top LB unit with Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, and promising rookie Aaron Curry.
All are freakish athletes with incredible speed and Mora will unleash them to attack offenses from every angle. They can also sit back and cover WR’s adequately to take pressure off the DB’s on occasion.
The DL is revamped with the Cole and Redding acquisitions. Seattle also boats Pro Bowl DE Patrick Kerney (played under Mora in Atlanta), who has a relentless drive and knows how to get consistent pressure on the QB.
He has averaged nine sacks the two seasons he has been with the team, and that’s with missing nine games in 2008.
In the secondary, a healthy Marcus Trufant (Broken wrist in 2008) and Deon Grant (Torn hamstring) should revitalize the NFL’s worst pass defense season. They gave up 259.3 passing yards per game.
This is the same unit that in contrast, when healthy, gave up the leagues fewest passing TD’s with 15 in 2007.
If they can fall somewhere in the middle, it will regenerate this defense. By applying pressure, and forcing turnovers, it allows the offense more opportunities to score.
Mora has inherited a wide variety of talent on both sides of the ball. The Seahawks are going to feature some new elements that should mesh seamlessly together.
On the offensive side, adding Houshmandzadeh and rookie WR Deon Butler gives them a big physical WR, and a blazing speed complement (4.32 40 time at NFL Combine) to go with the Seahawks new No. 1 WR.
On defense adding size to the DL by bringing in Cole and Redding will mix well with the athletic and quick incumbents Brandon Mebane and Patrick Kerney.
How Mora's scheme changes pan out will dictate his legacy in Seattle. Replacing a future HOF coach like Holmgren is a very challenging task.
He spoke of an image of a Super Bowl parade ranging from the Space Needle to Qwest Field. Realizing that vision would certainly retain his legacy as Seattle’s most successful coach.
Let’s see if he can get it done in the lime green city and translate Seattle’s successful 2009 offseason into a playoff berth.
(Last article for awhile, suffered third degree burns on hand) :(