Seattle Seahawks 2010 Preview: Offensive Line
The success of the 2010 Seattle Seahawks’ offense will directly correlate with the strength and effectiveness of the offensive line. This very well may be true for all teams, but one year removed from a season in which ten different Seahawks started on the line, the microscope is on the front-men.
Many changes have been made to this team, none more important than the revisions of the offensive line.
There’s a new coach in charge of the line’s operation. The first round draft pick was used to select Walter Jones’ replacement. A couple solid veterans were brought in to mentor the young guys, the team shed some unnecessary weight and, suddenly the situation doesn’t look quite so meager.
So let’s take a look at the 2010 Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line.
Alex Gibbs - Offensive Line Coach
Let's start at the top.
Alex Gibbs joins the Seahawks to implement his specialty, the zone blocking scheme.
Gibbs, “The Godfather of Zone Blocking,” as the Seahawks' official site calls him, has coached numerous teams to an elite level on the offensive line.
What stands out on Gibbs’ resume are the years he spent in Denver where the line was so good, it seemed like Betty White could step in at tail back and rush for 1,000 yards. His stellar line helped the Broncos win consecutive championships in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII, blocking for Terrell Davis and protecting John Elway.
His other recent coaching stints include Atlanta and Houston, where Gibbs built successful zone blocking offensive lines. Atlanta led the NFL in rushing yards for three consecutive seasons under him.
Pete Carroll is also fond of zone blocking and did what he could to make Gibbs part of his staff. Carroll says Gibbs "gives us the running game emphasis that we want.”
And that he does. Gibbs will breathe air into a deflated Seahawks running game which ranked 26th in yards in 2009. Running backs Justin Forsett, Julius Jones and Leon Washington, among others, are hoping he has the same effect on Seattle's rushers as he had on Terrell Davis, Warrick Dunn and Steve Slaton. Gibbs has coached 14 offensive lines that produced 1,000-plus-yard rushers.
Gibbs is a very credible offensive line coach, to say the least. There is no better place to put your line than in the hands of this man.
Russell Okung - Left Tackle
Walter Jones 2.0… or at least we hope so.
That’s probably something Russell Okung gets tired of hearing. Taking over for arguably the greatest left tackle of all time is no easy task (though his agent seems to think he should be paid like he is better than Walter Jones).
This season, Okung will not reach the upper echelons of left tackle godliness. Maybe next year (fingers crossed). For now the Seahawks will have to settle for letting the 6-foot-5, 302-pounder learn as he goes.
He does present a lot of hope in this Seattle system. He fits Sandra Bullock’s description of the perfect left tackle - good height, wingspan, thick lower body, etc...
But, let’s face it. He is a rookie!
Okung has potential to work very well in the zone blocking scheme as he can maneuver and slide, but doesn’t have great range or run well. He played man coverage well in college but he is better suited for zone blocking at the pro level. He understands how to block different defenders in different ways, and he almost always makes a quick and accurate first step on the snap.
As he showed at Oklahoma State, if he can get his long arms on a defender he can absolutely shut him down, but will struggle against the better NFL defenses he faces this season because the more athletic defensive linemen will be able to avoid contact. Some defenses will be able to stand him up and expose his weak upper body strength, leaving the backfield vulnerable.
Okung will be valuable in the run game if he can push past the defensive line and pick up blocks on linebackers, something else he did very well in college.
Russell has the athleticism, patience and work ethic to evolve into a dominant player. He will build strength and hone his skills to become a Pro Bowl caliber tackle, possibly by 2012.
In 2010 the Seahawks will get the best you can expect out of a rookie starting on the blind side from the very beginning. Overall the left tackle position is highly improved relative to 2009. Okung will at least start throughout the season... assuming he signs a contract in the not-too-distant future.
Ben Hamilton - Left Guard
Ben Hamilton is a lock at left guard, barring injury.
The former First-Team All-American (Minnesota, 1999-2000) comes to Seattle after a nine year stay with the Broncos, where he was part of a potent zone blocking line. Hamilton’s first three NFL seasons were played under Alex Gibbs (2001-2003), presumably part of the reason the guard was linked to the Seahawks.
The Seahawks’ interest in Hamilton is the veteran mentorship he will provide to rookie tackle, Russell Okung. Ben will guide Okung to maturity and teach him how to play with chemistry in the pros, particularly in the zone blocking scheme.
Hamilton isn’t the most athletic guard in the league but he is one of the smartest. At 33 years old (when the season starts) he is, by professional sports standards, “seasoned” but, the guy can still play some football.
He is not very big for a lineman but he possesses the strength to make up for it. You’d think he was a bigger guy with the way he can block and dominate a defender in the phone booth—something he needs to teach Okung. He has shown excellent endurance throughout his career, his only absences stemming from a concussion.
Ben Hamilton may not be the beast he was in his 20s but he is still a quality player and an ideal companion playing next to Okung.
Hamilton has experience playing center but with Max Unger and Chris Spencer on the roster, I doubt he will see any time in the middle in 2010. He is more valuable at guard.
In 2010, Ben Hamilton will inspire the offensive line to do something they didn’t do last year: be effective.
To say the left guard spot will be better this year isn’t saying much. Actually it is the understatement of the preseason. Hamilton is a huge upgrade - as a player and a leader.
Max Unger - Center
Max Unger, the second-year player out of Oregon spent a lot of time at center and right guard last season. He is a versatile lineman; he can actually play any of the three interior positions well. He could play tackle in an emergency but generally, he is too slow to play outside.
Unger is intelligent, has great agility, hands and good size at 6-foot-5, 305lbs.
One of Unger's greatest strengths is his ability to make pre-play reads and adjustments. He also picks up the blitz pretty well—something the Seahawks can use with how badly they need to protect aging quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck.
He isn’t very fast but he knows how to position himself well against defenders up the middle and he can move to the next level at times, something he will only improve on. Picking up linebacker assignments in the second level will be more common and forceful as time goes on and Unger improves as a run blocker. He will be an asset to a cut-and-go rushing attack, a style Seahawk coaches are keen on.
One thing he needs to work on is building lower body strength so he can be a more effective run blocker. He is pushed backwards on running plays too often. If he can add muscle to his legs he has the potential to be a main cog in this offensive line for a very long time to come.
With the new strength and conditioning enthusiasts on the Seattle staff it stands to reason that Unger puts on some leg muscle and really steps up this season. By next year he will be one of the no-brainers on the line.
The Seahawks used a second round pick on Unger for a reason. They saw something they liked in a lineman who was projected to go in the third or fourth round (or you can chalk it up to a bad judgment call by the dismal front office of 2009, but let’s hope not).
In 2010, Max Unger will prove during training camp that he is the best option at center. Chris Spencer is good, but Unger is smarter and more consistent. Unger should start or have significant playing time in all 16 (maybe more) games this season. He might see some time at right guard with three or four players sharing time between C and RG, but Unger will get the bulk of Seattle’s snaps at center.
Ray Willis - Right Guard
Ray Willis is the only Seahawk to start all 16 games on the offensive line in 2009. All 16 games at the same position no less.
The 6-foot-6, 315lbs. right tackle proved that he can handle the full-time load on the outside as he was a lone bright spot on a grim line. He transitioned well into the zone blocking format as a quality, power-side blocker.
Once he is playing on a line with developed chemistry, Willis will be a standout tackle. If it weren’t for newcomer Russell Okung, Willis would probably be moving to the left side some time soon (if not now) because he has flashed some ability to dominate on the outside and Sean Locklear had troubles last year. The only reason Willis didn’t play the left side last year was for lack of experience relative to Locklear. Had Locklear been injured late in the year instead of early, Willis probably would have earned time on the left side.
He is a coveted young talent; many teams went after him in free agency following the 2008 season and the Seahawks should thank their lucky stars he decided to return to Seattle. With how awful the line was last year, it’s hard to imagine how bad it would have been without this guy.
Don’t be surprised if Okung-Willis is a commonly known, lethal duo on a strong offensive line in the near future. He will only be 28 when the season starts. That would be considered a little old to be expecting an upcoming blossom, but consider he has only played in 38 career NFL games, and 28-years-old isn’t too bad. He should last well into his thirties.
The Seahawks will go one of two directions with Willis.
Option 1: They will keep Willis at right tackle like he deserves and he'll start all 16 games.
Option 2: They will put Willis at right guard because Sean Locklear makes too much money to play inside.
They should go with option one because Willis will stay healthy and remain at the same position all season.
They should not go with option two because, even though Willis at guard and Locklear at tackle is a good option, Locklear probably won't stay healthy. An injury to Locklear at tackle leaves only one viable option to take over - Ray Willis. To avoid having Willis bounce around positions just put him at tackle all year. He has proven that he is a solid power-side blocker.
The best bet, however, is that the sexier position goes to the bigger contract in 2010.
Once Locklear is gone, Willis will go back to the fulltime right tackle position. For now he will serve as one helluva right guard.
Sean Locklear - Right Tackle
Much of Sean Locklear's situation was discussed on the previous slide.
He should start at right guard, but he will probably take on right tackle because he is paid too much to move inside permanently.
It may be pessimistic to speak of Locklear as if it's a given that he will re-injure himself this season, but high ankle sprains tend to have that effect on players.
He is a good guy to have at tackle, perhaps as good or better than Ray Willis. Locklear's ten missed games in the last two seasons foreshadow more of the same this season.
While he may be good at tackle, it is sacrificing the games when he won't play tackle. Other players have to adjust to other positions. Willis will have to readjust outside because he is the only other right tackle option. Then someone with little playing time will have to fill in at right guard.
It's better to already have Willis on the outside so when Locklear goes down, only one player will have to adjust.
But, again, this is not a large enough issue to put the big contract on the inside line.
The bright side of having Locklear outside is that he has plenty of experience. In 2005, he started every game on the outside and helped the best offense in franchise history go to Super Bowl XL. He also started every game in 2007. After missing six games in 2009, he came back and started in the final eight.
No matter what happens this season, Locklear probably will not be on this team much longer. He may be valuable trade material as many teams would be able to use him at tackle.
While he provides good depth on the line, the team has too many needs to keep that much money tied up in Locklear. With Russell Okung on the roster, the Hawks simply cannot afford to pay two left tackle salaries for any serious length of time.
Chester Pitts - Reserve Guard
Chester Pitts is a welcomed player in Seattle.
Seattle had been openly pursuing Pitts over the last couple weeks, but after passing up the opportunity to watch his workout in Arizona on July 20, it appeared the team’s interest had faded.
Not so, apparently, as the eight-year veteran signed on with the Seahawks in a deal worth $2 million.
Pitts, 31, worked under Seahawks’ offensive line coach Alex Gibbs when he held the same title for the Houston Texans (2008-2009).
Beginning in his 2002 rookie season, Pitts started 114 consecutive games before a knee injury sidelined him after week two of 2009. Pitts appears to be going through a successful recovery from the micro-fracture surgery which kept him out for the remainder of the season. Whether he can return to his old form is yet to be seen. Even if he doesn’t, he still has a good shot at starting on a Seattle team that needs all the help it can get up front. He just may have to wait a couple months before assuming the role.
Pitts started his career as Houston’s franchise left tackle, protecting David Carr’s blind side, after being drafted 50th overall in 2002. He moved to left guard in 2006 where he remained until his week-two injury last season.
If he fully recovers he will make a serious push for a starting job... but when will that be and where does he fit in?
Following up with the prediction that Sean Locklear will go down injured, we could say Pitts will slide in at right guard and Willis moves to tackle.
Otherwise, Pitts will stand as a great backup to this line, possibly serving as a platoon left guard. Ben Hamilton could use some rest with concerns about the outlook on his health from this point in the 33-year-old's career. And Pitts may not be able to handle a nearly-every-down role - or the coaches won't let him take on that kind of role as a precaution.
As for when he will be fully recovered from his micro-fracture surgery, there is no set timetable at the moment. Pitts' injury is similar to the ailment leading to Walter Jones' prolonged absence and eventual retirement, though Jones was a few years older.
According to Seahawks.com and Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Pete Carroll does not anticipate Pitts participating in football activities for a while.
Pitts is a tough guy and still has some football left in him. If he shows some promise toward the end of the year look for the Seahawks to offer a one-year contract for 2011.
In 2010, look for Pitts to serve as one of the best backups in the league once he is healthy.
Chris Spencer - Reserve C/G
Chris Spencer is a talented center who makes too many mistakes.
Unfortunately for Spencer, that means he is crowded out of the offensive line as the guard positions are spoken for.
Spencer has good feet, strength and decent blocking ability. He did well in the first year of the zone blocking format with a good slide step or plantation and position on the snap, but he made a few mental mistakes, giving the edge to Unger.
No more false starts, bad snaps or missed assignments for this guy and he could give Unger a run for his money, but that is unlikely. If Locklear leaves the team next year, there is a definite possibility that Spencer moves back into the starting lineup at center or guard, whichever position the Seahawks don't fill with Unger - probably guard.
In 2010, Spencer will provide excellent depth at center and guard as he is still good at both and will probably go in fighting when given the chance, reducing fluster and mental mistakes.
Mansfield Wrotto and Steve Vallos - Reserves
Mansfield Wrotto and Steve Vallos are the players on the line we can safely pencil in as reserves.
Spencer and Pitts have a good shot at making some starts, but if Wrotto or Vallos make any starts it's because the line has suffered more than one key injury.
These guys are decent backups. They don't do any one thing particularly well but they get the job done. They are both fairly quick... because they're both relatively small for linemen and Wrotto has lost weight in the offseason. Their quickness is not very valuable as their lack of bulk counters the speed.
These guys will serve the team well with some depth this year. But, no offence, fellas... Seahawks fans hope to see you sparingly in 2010.
Gregg Peat is featured in this slide show because he was just added to the roster.
The Seahawks waived/injured April's seventh round draft pick, tight end Jameson Konz. The move confused some people at first but the Seahawks just needed to put him through waivers before re-claiming Konz and placing him on injured reserve. Konz is out for the season with a hip injury.
Peat is now on the roster to bolster the competition on the offensive line. The Oregon State alumni was an All Pac-10 guard in his senior year.
The consensus scouting report indicates Peat is adequate at best, and he does not stand out in any areas.
Some day Peat may be a decent backup. In 2010, he'll either land on the practice squad or back on the waiver wire.
Rob Sims - Lion
"Now this is a football town ... it's not like that out in Seattle," said Rob Sims of his new team, the Detroit Lions.
Average attendance of Qwest Field in 2009: 67,392 (100.6% capacity)
Average attendance of Ford Field in 2009: 49,395 (76.6% capacity)
Rob, all the Seahawks fans are hoping you get that contract extention you're hoping for. Stay in that real football town for as long as you want. Have fun striving for mediocrity while dwelling in the cellar of the NFC North. Seattle will miss you while their fake football town finds its way back to the playoffs.
Bye bye, Rob! Say hi to Nate... we'll actually miss him.
Your 2010 Seattle Seahawks Offensive Line
LT Russell Okung
LG Ben Hamilton
C Max Unger
RG Ray Willis
RT Sean Locklear
Other good formations:
C Chris Spencer
RG Chester Pitts
RT Ray Willis
... to name a few.
Overall, the Seahawks are vastly improved on the offensive line. Seattle has a lot to get excited about in 2010 and a few years to come. The good ol' days of elite rushing, and the quarterback spending all day in the pocket are soon to return.