Depending on which offensive linemen you talk to, the evolution of sports reporting over the last 15+ years is either the best or the worst thing to happen to them. Thanks to the internet, sports talk radio, 24/7 sports channels and increased television coverage, people are more aware than ever of the importance of the front five.
You can have top-notch talent at each of the skill positions, but if the line isn’t worth a lick, the offense will not produce, period. The 12th man is just as aware of this fact as anyone.
During the previous decade, the Seahawks had one of the best offensive lines in football, including the likes of Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, and Robbie Tobeck. This was reflected in the statistics, which saw the offense gain 347.06 yards per contest, while winning 60 percent of the time.
However, since the end of the 2005 season, the quality of the line play has slowly deteriorated. This was not helped by Hutchinson's defection to the Minnesota Vikings, Tobeck's retirement, and Jones finally following suit after ongoing struggles with injuries.
As with the good times, the drop in quality of the offensive line is again mirrored in the statistics, with an average of just 312.73 yards a game and a decline in the win column to 44 percent.
Thankfully, after the poor line-play of the previous four seasons there is light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps the most important decision in attempting to resurrect the front five was the hiring of offensive line guru, Alex Gibbs.
Everyone knows what Gibbs has done at previous stops, including the likes of the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and, most famously, the Denver Broncos, who could put anyone behind the line and watch them churn out 1,000 yards. Now he gets to work his magic on the Seahawks.
One of the first major moves made by Pete Carroll was to sign unrestricted free agent, Ben Hamilton, who played nine seasons with the Broncos. Hamilton started 104 of 111 games and is used to playing the same zone-blocking system that will be employed by Gibbs in Seattle. The 2001 fourth round pick will also provide a steadying veteran presence at left guard.
Next Carroll gave Gibbs a new ‘toy’ to play with by selecting left tackle Russell Okung. As the replacement for living legend Jones, Okung has a lot to live up to, but he couldn’t ask for a better teacher than Gibbs. Okung’s ‘live and breathe football’ attitude will no doubt help him in his quest to produce as Matt Hasselbeck’s blindside protection.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to Gibbs coaching skills will come from center Chris Spencer. Widely regarded as one of the best center’s available heading into the 2005 NFL Draft, the former first round pick has failed to live up to the potential others saw in him. It will be up to Gibbs and the rest of the revamped coaching staff to get the best out of Spencer, but the talent is definitely there.
One player who hasn’t under-produced is right guard Max Unger. After being picked in the second round of the 2009 draft, he started on opening day as a result of an impressive pre-season.
Unger went on to start every game last season, and proved his versatility with some playing time at center. Look for the former Oregon Duck to continue his improvement in 2010.
Finally, arguably the least profile member of the starting unit is right tackle Sean Locklear. In his defense though, Locklear has enjoyed a decent career since being drafted by the team.
People sometimes forget that he started every game on the Seahawks run to the Super Bowl in 2005 and has been a regular contributor ever since. Like everyone else, the 2004 third round pick figures to benefit from the presence of Gibbs.
It will be a tough road for the Seahawks in their quest to once again be considered one of the elite teams in the NFL. And however long it takes, the front five will need to be at the forefront of any improvement.
Fortunately, after the nightmare of the two previous seasons, things appear headed in the right direction for both the offensive line and the team as a whole.