New-Look Seahawks Have Something To Prove
Expectations are surprisingly high for a team that finished 4-12 last year, but such is the situation in which the Seattle Seahawks find themselves.
While the neutral opinion is very much lukewarm toward a potential return to the postseason, closer to home there's a bit more pressure.
Is there a point to prove, that last year was a one-off?
Is it pure necessity to start a new regime with Jim Mora as head coach on a positive note?
Or maybe it's the frustration of watching a division rival waltz into the Super Bowl with a distinctive swagger and come so close to winning what remains an elusive world championship in the Northwest?
Whatever the reason, the pressure is certainly there.
The simple fact is, the 12th man has got used to seeing a winning team.
Seattle boasted a 51-29 record during a five-year reign in the playoffs (2003-07). It won four straight NFC West titles in the process and made an infamous visit to Super Bowl XL.
It's to the 12th man's credit that no major overreactions were made when the slump arrived last season.
A combination of injuries, a departing legend, inconsistency, and injuries led to the team's fall from grace—but the mood remains positive heading into the new era.
However, one imagines that understanding among the fan base will change very quickly if 2008 becomes the norm rather than the exception.
That in itself just adds to pressure already placed on the shoulders of new head coach Jim Mora.
He's enjoying something of a honeymoon period right now. The fans are excited to see what the future holds under his leadership; he's yet to suffer any major setbacks on or off the field, and there's a sense of excitement as we head toward the team's first preseason game (away at San Diego) this weekend.
But a bad start to the season, with NFC West rivals St. Louis and San Francisco first up, would put a distinct dampener on the enthusiasm currently witnessed in Seattle.
He'll carry the weight of expectations and certainly has the kind of savvy and personable character to carry the load.
It remains, however, a thankless task that he has demons to slay on a personal level while righting the wrongs of a previous regime.
Mora himself left the Atlanta Falcons under a cloud.
An impressive start earned him the reputation as one of the NFL's brightest young coaches, as he turned a 5-11 wobble into an 11-5 division title. Mora's Falcons eventually reached the NFC Championship game in 2004. What he'd give for such a dramatic change of fortunes for his current employers.
The subsequent 8-8 and 7-9 campaigns that followed and eventual departure took the edge off that impressive debut.
Older, wiser, albeit no less energetic, Mora will be looking to prove the plaudits he received early in his career were justified.
It stretches into the playing staff, too.
Raise Matt Hasselbeck's name in conversation these days and you'll probably end up discussing the merits of his back injury.
Talk about Walter Jones' future in the league is a hot topic after microfracture surgery.
When you reach your mid-30s (Hasselbeck is 34 in September, while Jones hits 36 in January), people start to talk in the past tense when you collect serious injuries.
Both veterans have been working out at training camp, and the reviews have been favorable—particularly in Hasselbeck's case.
It might sound peculiar that two guys with 12 Pro-Bowls between them have anything to prove in the NFL. But for two men used to being featured in the limelight, they'll be hoping to show the injuries are a thing of the past.
Finally, there's one man on the Seahawks roster who possibly has more convincing to do than anyone else.
A year on from a surprise move to Seattle, Jones is likely to earn the majority of carries in Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp's balanced system.
The same was expected last year, when Jones competed with the now-departed Maurice Morris.
Despite a bright opening with 312 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games, Jones struggled thereafter to a season total of 698 yards while failing to register another score.
With only T.J. Duckett and Justin Forsett for competition this year, a certain degree of pressure will be placed on Jones in 2009.
The newly deployed zone-blocking scheme should help, as will another year of camp with his new team. However, Jones must know that he won't get many more chances in his career to be a starting running back.
He needs to literally hit the ground running and find a level of consistency absent in the past.
He'll start the season against the two teams he performed against the best last year, rushing for 140 yards against St. Louis and 127 yards at home to the Niners.
His solitary two TDs came in those games.
If he needs any further inspiration, he should look at his brother Thomas' surprise 2008 campaign in New York.
Not many people predicted 1,312 yards, 15 total TDs, and a Pro-Bowl selection.
The younger Jones can only dream of such an impact next year, but don't be surprised if, with the Seahawks turning over a new page, Julius Jones is able to write a fresh chapter himself.
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