Seattle Seahawks' Rewind: Jobs on the Line

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Seattle Seahawks' Rewind: Jobs on the Line
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On the Seahawks’ first offensive play against Houston, Sean Locklear let Matt Hasselbeck get sacked. On the second play, Ray Willis had a false start, and then Chris Spencer botched the snap.

Yeah, the Seahawks’ offensive line still stinks, and coach Jim Mora has finally joined the rest of us in being fed up with it. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp inexplicably has not done anything to fix the unit, so Mora apparently has decided to make some executive decisions.

The result: Spencer is most likely headed to the bench—finally. As we have written many times already, Spencer is a complete bust. He showed it again against Houston, as he was consistently unable to get the snap to the quarterback—whether it was Hasselbeck or Seneca Wallace—and didn’t seem to recognize a single blitz as Hasselbeck was pummeled over and over by the Texans.

It really is an indictment on Knapp that he hasn’t taken more control of his offensive personnel. He should know that Spencer is horrible. The guy can’t stay healthy, he can’t read defenses, he can’t make the right blocking calls, he can’t run block, he can’t pass block. Simply put, he’s a first-round bust.

Apparently, Mora just figured that out, telling reporters after the 34-7 blowout loss to Houston: “We’ve got a center that’s trying to snap with his left hand because he’s got a cast on his right hand. He’s had that on for what seems like forever. I’m not quite sure why he still has a cast on his hand—but he does. That is a factor. We see it affecting our shotgun snaps, affecting a lot of our running plays. The timing on offense has to be crisp, and when you can’t get the snap to the quarterback you’ve got no chance in getting a successful play.”

It's amazing it has taken this long to figure out how bad Spencer is. It is well past time to move Max Unger to center, where he figures to start next year anyway. This season is lost, and the Hawks should have moved Unger weeks ago .

Mora has to be disappointed that Knapp didn’t deal with the issue earlier. Now the head coach is going to force the move, which isn’t a good sign for Knapp. It’s also not a good sign for line coach Mike Solari, who has not been able to get this group of linemen to adjust to Knapp’s preferred zone blocking scheme. The Hawks should scrap that system and go back to the man-power blocking they had practiced for so many years before this group of coaches arrived.

“I’m not happy at all with the way our offensive line is playing,” Mora said. “And we’re going to take an extremely hard look at that in the next two days, and…if there are changes to be made, we’ll make them even at this late stage of the season.”

These changes should be made right now.

1) Move Unger to center and bench Spencer. Unger is the future of the position and can use the remaining three games to get used to playing center in the NFL. He should have been moved there a month ago.

2) Move Locklear to right tackle. That is his best spot. He has not been good at left tackle. On the first play against Houston, he stood there as rookie linebacker Brian Cushing charged right past him and sacked Hasselbeck. Locklear has been beaten far too much and needs to be replaced. For now, that means putting Damion McIntosh back at left tackle.

3) Move Willis inside to right guard, where he has played in the past and is probably better suited. He has been very inconsistent at right tackle this season. He had three false starts against Houston.

Next weekend against Tampa Bay, the line should look like this: LT McIntosh, LG Rob Sims, C Unger, RG Willis, RT Locklear. That configuration would surely perform better than the one that has been letting Hasselbeck get his butt kicked ever since Locklear returned to left tackle. Heck, any line without Spencer will naturally be better.

LINING UP REPLACEMENTS

As for the future of this unit, it’s time to rebuild around Unger. The Seahawks MUST use one of their first-round picks on a new left tackle. They also should add another lineman, either in the first or second round. And they need to try to add a guard in free agency.

On the surface, it looks like there will be a good class of free-agent linemen. But before everyone gets excited about the 2010 free-agent prospects, let’s understand the rules.

First of all, it looks very much like there will be no new collective-bargaining agreement within the next three months. Among other things, that means players would need six years of service to qualify for unrestricted free agency. And teams would be allowed to designate two franchise players. Add all of that up, and it means there would be very few good free agents available.

The top six-year free agents the Hawks might be interested in if they aren’t franchised: OG Stephen Neal (New England), OG Bobbie Williams (Cincinnati), OG Eugene Amano (Tennessee), RT Cornell Green (Oakland).

Some of the notable guys who are scheduled to be restricted free agents: OG Jahri Evans (New Orleans), OG Logan Mankins (New England), LT Jared Gaither (Baltimore), OG Evan Mathis (Cincinnati), OG Chris Chester (Baltimore), RT Jeromey Clary (San Diego), OG Deuce Lutui (Arizona).

Most of those guys figure to get high-level tenders, meaning the player would cost first- and third-round picks in addition to the big contract. The Seahawks don’t have a third-round pick (they used it to get Deon Butler in the last draft), so they aren’t going to be in the market unless they can swing a trade for one of those linemen instead.

However the Hawks do it, the line next year should look like this:

LT: First-round pick

LG: Sims, free agent or rookie

C: Unger

RG: Willis, free agent or rookie

RT: Locklear

DO WE TRUST GUS?

Gus Bradley has not had a good rookie year as a defensive coordinator. The high-energy coach came to Seattle on the recommendation of highly respected defensive guru Monte Kiffin, but Bradley has struggled to put his players in positions to make impact plays.

The Seahawks have been respectable against the run, but they are one of the worst pass defense teams in the league. Yes, they need a quality pass rusher who can beat single blocking, and they need a playmaking safety. But in the absence of those things, Bradley has failed to find ways to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

He had to be mortified that his defense surrendered 336 yards passing to Matt Schaub in the first half. His defense also has been incredibly undisciplined; the unit’s 87 penalties going into Week 14 were the fourth most in the NFL. And the defense’s 18 takeaways were in the bottom third of the league.

Another indictment of Mora’s defensive staff: Rookie Aaron Curry is regressing. He got burned by the 49ers’ tight ends last week, and this week he had just four tackles, plus penalties for unnecessary roughness and offsides. And then he got hurt.

The guy has so much promise, but it’s up to the coaches to get it out of him. They asked him to do far too much earlier in the season, partly because of injuries to Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill. But the coaches obviously were too ambitious with him.

CAUGHT KNAPPING

After a week in which there was plenty of talk about tight end John Carlson’s lack of involvement in the passing game, he scored Seattle’s only touchdown against Houston. After catching just four passes in his past four games, he caught three against Houston.

Mora said last week that Carlson was not getting clean releases off the line, but his lack of production is probably more a result of poor blocking that disrupts timing and the fact that he has been called on to help protect more often.

In Week 13 against San Francisco, Knapp said, two of the first four passes were supposed to go to Carlson, but blocking breakdowns messed up the plays.

“We’re trying to get him involved more, but I never want to get to the point where we’re forcing the issue,” Knapp said last week. “So we can only do so much by game plan, but if the quarterback doesn’t have it, I don’t want him to force the throw and get a turnover.”

The Seahawks are not only playing the wrong center right now, they are playing the wrong De(i)on at receiver. Deion Branch continues to get more chances than rookie Butler, an NFL-ready wideout who should be getting more time.

It’s hard to imagine Branch being back next year—unless he takes a big pay cut. But Butler figures prominently in the passing game’s future and should be playing more now – just like Unger. Another personnel mistake by Knapp.

With both of his coordinators struggling this year, Mora needs to evaluate them in the offseason and decide whether they are the right guys to help this team win. So far, neither has been impressive.

 

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