NFL Combine 2011: It's All On The Line For The Seattle Seahawks

Chris CluffCorrespondent IIFebruary 24, 2011

NFL Combine 2011: It's All On The Line For The Seattle Seahawks

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    At the NFL Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis, the Seattle Seahawks figure to be very focused on two positions in particular—and they both end with “line.”

    Head coach Pete Carroll said it himself after the Seahawks were eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs: “It’s really important for us…to make sure that we elevate the play of our guys up front on both sides of the ball—and their depth.”

    The offensive line was horrible again in 2010, failing to launch a 1,000-yard rusher for the fifth straight year. Just like 2009, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck then had to try too hard in December to make up for it.

    The defensive line started strong with Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Colin Cole and Chris Clemons. They shut down the run for the first six weeks—until the Raiders game came along and wiped them out. The Seahawks lost Bryant for the season and Cole for over a month. With Mebane also injured, the Hawks were run over for the remainder of the season.

    Plenty of fans and media types are all gung-ho for the Seahawks to draft Jake Locker as the heir apparent to Matt Hasselbeck. This will tell you why that isn’t a good idea.

    Others want them to draft a cornerback, because their secondary got torched for much of last season.

    What neither of those factions apparently understands is that football games are won up front by the big men. If you have an offensive line, a defensive line and a quarterback, you’re going to the playoffs. If you have a few more players around them, you could win it all.

    This is the year of the lineman in the NFL, with deep pockets of offensive and defensive big men—and that’s just what the Seahawks need.

Time to Rebuild the Offensive Line

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    Wisconsin tackle Gabe CarimiAl Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Carroll has made upgrading the offensive line a priority. This is evidenced by his hiring of line expert Tom Cable to be his assistant head coach and pick up where Alex Gibbs left off last summer.

    Cable will be charged with rebuilding a line that's been allowed to deteriorate for five years now—and been nothing but rags for the last three. It’s well past time to revamp it.

    The drafting of Russell Okung last April was hopefully a big step in the right direction, but we won’t know until next season because he was never healthy in his rookie year (that’s what happens to guys who hold out).

    Beyond him, every position needs upgrading.

    Chris Spencer, Sean Locklear, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus and Ray Willis will all be free agents. The Seahawks apparently have also decided to get rid of Stacy Andrews, who was benched late in the season for the unheralded Mike Gibson.

    Spencer is (and always has been) horrible, particularly in the run game. Hamilton and Pitts are washed up as starters. Locklear, Polumbus and Willis (if he’s healthy in 2011) are second-tier options at right tackle.

    The Hawks need to add at least three starters through the draft and free agency. 

    Their best line ever—the 2001-05 group—was made up of two Pro Bowl players on the left side and savvy veterans at center and right guard (in addition to random right tackles).

    That unit played together for two years before the Seahawks made the playoffs and it was at its best in the fourth and fifth years—and that’s what the Seahawks need to strive for again. That is, with the hope of hastening the maturation and gelling process.

    Spencer is not the answer at center, so the Hawks either need to put Max Unger there or sign a veteran if possible. They also need to draft a guard to put next to Okung and find another guard and/or right tackle. They can re-sign Locklear, Polumbus and/or Willis to be backups.

    “Just in a general sense we need to get better,” Carrol told KJR-AM recently. “We want to get a lot better up front—for the running game first, and then of course to help protect the quarterback.”

    The Seahawks should have plenty of options along the offensive line with the 25th-pick overall, including tackles Anthony Castonzo of Boston College, Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin, Nate Solder of Colorado, Tyron Smith of USC and Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State. Guards Mike Pouncey of Florida and Danny Watkins of Baylor should also be available.

Fortify the Defensive Line With Some Interior Push

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    Oregon State D-tackle Stephen PaeaChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    If the Seahawks go defense with their first pick, a lot of people think they should draft a cornerback or find a stud pass rusher for Carroll’s Leo position.

    Forget the cornerback. Those guys are only as good as the scheme and pass rush. They get too much blame most of the time.

    The pass rusher is not a horrible idea, but a better one would be to find a two-way player in the middle of the defense—a tackle who can rush the passer and stop the run, who can take pressure off the rest of the linemen and who can bolster depth so the line doesn’t experience the same kind of falloff when a guy gets hurt.

    With Bryant rejoining Mebane (assuming he re-signs) and Cole, the run defense should power up again. But the Hawks still really lack depth and desperately need a pass-rushing presence in the middle that can alleviate the pressure on Clemons, who did better than expected (11 sacks) without a lot of help.

    Clemons and Raheem Brock combined for 20 sacks, but the tackles (Mebane and Cole) had just two.

    Again, the team needs more interior push.

    The top candidates for help in the middle are Corey Liuget of Illinois, Stephen Paea of Oregon State, Phil Taylor of Baylor and Muhammad Wilkerson of Temple. Liuget and Wilkerson are apparently the best two-way players of the quartet.

No. 25 Is the Perfect Spot for Trading Down

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    Nate BurlesonGregory Shamus/Getty Images

    After seeing how much John Schneider moved around the draft last year, it’s a really good bet that the Seahawks will strongly consider trading down from the No. 25 pick to pick up more choices—especially if there’s an early run that takes four or five offensive linemen that the Hawks might want. Conversely, if the opposite happens and a bunch of linemen are still there at No. 25, they could again consider trading down.

    It shouldn’t be hard to find someone who wants to move up at that point. There’s typically a lot of trading at the bottom of the first round. In fact, the 25th pick has been traded in four of the last six years, with teams jumping from 28th, 32nd, 43rdand 76th. In the two years that the 25thpick wasn’t traded, the 26th pickwas.

    In the best-case scenario, the Seahawks would net a third-round pick for a move down to the bottom of the first (or to the top of the second). They could still snag a lineman, but also use the extra pick and possibly one of their third-day choices to move up in the second round and grab another lineman.

    If they did that, they could possibly end up with a starting offensive lineman in the first round and Wilkerson or Paea in the second.

    Of course, the Hawks don’t have a third-round pick—having given it up for Charlie Whitehurst last year. However, they do have two in the fifth and figure to end up with another fourth or fifth-rounder when/if compensatory picks are handed out.

    The Seahawks lost two qualifying free agents, receiver Nate Burleson and defensive lineman Cory Redding. Then they signed two, Hamilton and special-teams ace Sean Morey. But Morey retired before camp. So they ended up with a net loss of one. With Burleson hauling in $5 million per year in Detroit, the Hawks should be in line for another fourth or fifth.

    That being said, they wouldn’t be able to trade the compensatory pick, but they could use their other fourths—including the valuable second pick in the round (from Denver through New England in the Deion Branch trade)—and fifths to move around in the second.

    Fans should not have any thoughts of trading high draft picks for quarterbacks Carson Palmer or Kevin Kolb.

    Even if the Bengals are willing to trade Palmer, he simply wouldn’t make sense for the Seahawks. He’s only four years younger than Hasselbeck, so he wouldn’t be the future, and the Bengals would surely want too much for him anyway.

    The same applies for Kolb, who would surely cost a first-round pick to pry from the Eagles. Plus, the Seahawks would then have to pay him a large contract on top of that.

    The Seahawks went down that road last year with Whitehurst, who cost them 20 spots in the second round plus this year’s third-rounder.

    The Seahawks’ best plan is to re-sign Hasselbeck and beef up the offensive and defensive lines.

Still Prefer Jake Locker?

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    If you still think the Seahawks should skip the linemen and draft hometown Huskies quarterback Jake Locker at No. 25, find out why that wouldn't be a wise first-round gamble...Outside The Press Box.