12 Signed Seahawks to Watch in 2011
The Seattle Seahawks surprised many by winning the NFC West in 2010, battling through significant injuries in what was tagged as a “rebuilding” year. Pete Carroll’s refined philosophy, his "rah rah" approach to getting players to “buy in” and “always compete” worked.
Maybe "rah rah" is no longer the correct tag for Carroll, nearly 13 years and two National Championships removed from his days in New England.
Depth was tested at all positions, some replacements more successful than others, as the team continually mixed and matched personnel.
All of this while enduring the inherent struggles of having a new head coach and essentially a new team (nearly half the 2009 roster gone on 2010 opening Sunday).
The Seahawks were 4-2 until the Raiders pirated the 'Hawks health on Halloween, Week 8 in Oakland.
Starting Guards Ben Hamilton and Max Unger along with defensive centerpiece Red Bryant were placed on IR by Week 9. Special Teams Captain Roy Lewis and improving receiver Deon Butler joined the list by Week 15.
Starters Lofa Tatupu, Marcus Trufant, Matt Hasselbeck, Michael Robinson, Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane played the majority of the season with injuries or missed 4-plus games.
The Seahawks started 11 different offensive line combinations, and at one point, were without three of four starting defensive lineman. But backup Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst did win the week 17 game for the division title.
The team goes into 2011 in an awkward transition with as many as 27 free agents and restrictions on coach to player contact due to the potential lockout.
The team is hoping for a young core of players to mature into team leaders. Many of these players struggled with injuries or had limited playing time last year. Who can step up in 2011?
Justin Forsett, RB
He started the 2010 season as the primary back, getting 20-plus touches in Weeks 3 and 4. After the acquisition of Marshawn Lynch, Forsett had only one game with more than ten carries and ten touches in four of 14 games.
By contrast, Lynch had six games of 17-plus touches, three games of 20-plus carries.
Forsett averaged 5.5 carries per game versus Lynch at 13.8 in 12 games together.
Forsett often found creases in a patchwork offensive line and gained positive yards. Lynch consistently fought through piles for tough yards, but his effort was often ineffective. He lost a career-high three fumbles.
Including games played before the trade, they tied with five 20-plus yard runs, Lynch gained four more first downs, but Forsett gained first downs at a higher rate. Lynch averaged 3.5 yards per carry as a Seahawk compared to 4.4 on the season for Forsett.
An underrated, tough inside runner and good receiver out of the backfield, Forsett has proven since his days at Cal that he is a capable all around back. Good vision, acceleration, a relentless motor and a compact, sturdy frame make him difficult to tackle.
He was more durable than Lynch in college—concerns that have continued in Lynch’s pro career. While the Beastquake run is the hallmark of Lynch’s career, Lynch fought an uphill battle this season. Meanwhile, Forsett consistently made big plays in very limited playing time.
2011 Outlook: In 2009, Forsett had five games of 4-plus catches, but only one such game in 2010. New Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell utilized Chester Taylor as the primary receiving back in Minnesota from 2007-2009, but his carries reduced as Adrian Peterson flourished.
Pete Carroll has preached balance as a primary goal for the offense, and 12-15 touches a game for Forsett in 2011 should bring balance to the offensive play calling. It'll also create a more versatile rushing attack, while the screen game could become a primary part of this offense—a welcome change to many Seahawks fans.
Forsett can become a leader on this offense if given the opportunity for a larger role, and is an early priority for the 2012 offseason.
Russell Okung, OT
The rookie left tackle held out on signing his contract into training camp, leading to a season of playing on two high ankle sprains. Okung worked his way through a particularly tough injury for a lineman, finding a way to play consistently as the year progressed.
The coaching staff worked with Okung to keep his mindset in the right place through his injuries. Last year’s No. 6 pick is expected to be the franchise left tackle and the organization has publicly spoken of their confidence in his abilities.
He showed toughness and a strong work ethic in year one, and he was able to compete one-on-one with upper level defensive ends, notably Julius Peppers.
2011 Outlook: Tom Cable is a mentor that will teach Okung attitude, and will focus on strengthening his motor, building that edge into his blocking style.
Carroll was adamant during his postseason presser about the positive effect Cable’s attitude and tenacity will have on the entire team, a mindset similar to the departed Alex Gibbs. Okung will be among the most exposed to Cable’s coaching mindset.
Okung needs to prove he is durable and continue to improve as expected. The Seahawks obviously need stability on the offensive line, and he is expected to become the next franchise left tackle.
Mike Williams, WR
It was an up and down 2010 for Williams, as 32 of his 65 catches came in three of the 13 games he played past the first quarter. Though he was slowed by several injures the entire season, he worked himself into position to become a 80-plus catch receiver if he can stay healthy in 2011.
176 catches and 30 touchdowns under Pete Carroll at USC made me a believer last March that the former top 10 pick, truly determined to reignite his career, could succeed as a Seahawk with Carroll.
Early in the season, he dropped balls, especially early in games, and was often tackled at the one-yard line. Two 10-catch, 100-plus yard receiving games showed how reliable and overpowering he can be as a healthy possession receiver. Four catches on 13 targets with multiple drops, but two touchdowns, in the playoffs at Chicago exemplifies the uneven nature to his season.
2011 Outlook: Williams has a $1.35 million dollar workout bonus in his third year, $11.2 Million dollar deal. A savvy move by John Schneider in making sure Williams maintains his commitment, especially as a player with a history of weight problems.
A player that consistently stretches the field will create opportunities for Williams to gain first downs, as 40 of his 65 catches in 2010 were of such nature.
Ideally, Williams would assume a role similar to Marques Colston as a big-bodied, reliable receiver that works the whole field and excels in the red zone.
Williams has a chance to elevate the possession passing game and become a major factor scoring touchdowns.
Walter Thurmond, CB
Year two should prove to be a more accurate representation of Thurmond’s NFL potential, as an ACL injury his senior season at Oregon caused his stock to drop from a first or second-round talent to ultimately being chosen in the fourth round.
Thurmond should have full explosiveness back in his knee and is expected to challenge for the No. 2 corner position. A four-year player at Oregon, Thurmond is more polished than most young corners. He has good read and react skills, but lacks punch in press coverage and needs to rely less on athleticism.
He is a good tackler who shows a rare willingness in run support, which suggests he has the ability to progress as a press corner.
2011 Outlook: Ideally, Thurmond will replace Kelly Jennings in 2011, notwithstanding the Seahawks are very likely to upgrade the position in the draft or free agency. I’m watching to see if Thurmond’s big-play ability returns in 2011.
He had three consecutive seasons at Oregon with a pick six and two straight five-interception seasons before his 2009 knee injury. He still scored two touchdowns in three games, one on a punt return.
The Seahawks need a fully recovered Thurmond to make an impact in 2011, showing he can play in a press coverage scheme.
Cameron Morrah, TE
The 6’3'', 250-pound, second-year pro out of Cal displayed playmaking potential as a reserve tight end during the last third of the 2010 season. He clocked in with receptions of 30-plus yards against Carolina and New Orleans in the playoffs and showed his big-play ability.
Early involvement in the horizontal screen game in the loss to Atlanta showed his athleticism and ball skills for a player his size. He had two catches for 14 yards on TE screen plays on one of the most efficient drives of the season.
The deflating drop in Chicago, a major opportunity after Carlson got hurt, equalizes the impressive double move against New Orleans—a touchdown, by the way. He showed potential as a pass-catching, backup tight end that needs more experience with a high ceiling.
2011 Outlook: Morrah proved his athleticism and versatility can create a strong 1-2 punch with starter John Carlson.
Carlson encountered criticism as his production suffered in 2010 largely due to injuries at fullback and on the offensive line. Those struggles created the need for extra blockers on offense, and Matt Hasselbeck acknowledged that losing Carlson in Chicago was a big loss for the game plan.
Darell Bevell will likely showcase Morrah’s athleticism in 2011. I expect Morrah to be involved in the screen game and downfield passing game, complementing Carlson’s ability to work the field with crisp route running and his high football IQ.
Morrah’s versatility needs to be explored, and 30-plus receptions would provide legitimate production from the backup tight end position.
David Hawthorne, LB
Hawthorne has proven the past two seasons he is more than just a capable backup linebacker. He sturdily filled in for Lofa Tatupu in 2009 and continued his fine play in 2010. He has a nose for the ball, one of the team’s most aware and consistent tacklers (nicknamed “The Heater” for his intensity).
He plays stout on the goal line, exemplified by an interception on Drew Brees against New Orleans in Week 11 and the stonewalling of running back Jamal Charles in Week 12.
A 100-tackle, four-sack, three-interception season at middle linebacker in 2009 matches Tatupu’s best campaign in his 2005 rookie season. Another 100-tackle season in 2010 raises the question: Can Hawthorne replace Tatupu?
2011 Outlook: The Seahawks should evaluate restructuring Tatupu’s 2011 $4.35 million salary, and two injury-plagued seasons in a row justifies the change. Furthermore, the Seahawks have a potential replacement in Hawthorne signed at only $1.4 million into 2011.
Free agent Will Herring has the endorsement of position coach Ken Norton Jr. as a potential starting outside linebacker and should be resigned. That puts the team in position to open competition in the middle, and I expect the Seahawks to let Hawthorne compete for the starting job in 2011.
Golden Tate, WR
Tate showed promise during the 2010 preseason but was active only 11 games due to injury and inconsistent play. He has the physical tools as a strong, inside receiver that consistently gains yards after catch, 125 of his 227 receiving yards were of after the catch on all areas of the field.
He had a knack for making extra effort plays in the red zone (e.g. Week 3 against San Diego). However, raw route running and inability to finish the catch downfield overshadowed some of his effort.
Week 8 in Oakland sums up Tate’s season. Often lined up against Nnamdi Asumghoa, Tate was physical and generally impressive releasing off the line of scrimmage but was constantly out of position to make the catch downfield.
Seven targets, two catches, and no downfield catch, ultimately saw him finish the game on an injured ankle that would keep him out for three weeks.
He displayed talent, but ultimately showed it wasn’t enough to earn him playing time in 2010.
2011 Outlook: Tate needs to ignore the CBA uncertainty and spend the offseason preparing like a professional—no more donut incidents. Deon Butler’s health is questionable for 2011 and, though he doesn’t have the same speed, Tate will have the opportunity to assume part of the downfield role.
Tate is talented enough to assume a version of the Percy Harvin package that Bevell used in Minnesota where Harvin had 75 touches his rookie season. Tate had 93 catches and 25 carries with a 7.4 yards per carry average and two touchdowns in his senior season at Notre Dame.
Tate is more physical, not as quick as Harvin, but showed in college he was a capable downfield threat. 46-plus offensive touches for Tate in 2011, would double his 2010 regular season total and result in a more explosive offense in 2011.
Red Bryant, DE
Pete Carroll’s surprising decision to build the defense around Red Bryant resulted in the NFL’s second-ranked run defense during the six games Bryant played in 2010; the defense finished 21st against the run.
ESPN Football Outsiders uncovered two telling statistics: the Seahawks allowed 3.4 yards per carry (YPC) with a healthy Bryant, as opposed to 4.9 YPC after his injury. 94 percent of Bryant’s “run tackles” prevented a meaningful gain, with an average gain of 1.4 YPC, while replacement Kentwan Balmer was able to convert only 61 percent, with an average gain of 3.1 YPC.
Bryant not only had an effect on the entire defense, but the specialization of his position became increasingly evident. His unusual quickness for his size and brute strength made him a player that proved nearly impossible to fully replace.
2011 Outlook: A full recovery is expected after tearing his MCL on Halloween, but how much explosiveness returns in his first year back? The Seahawks will look for depth at the position, as the team struggled to find a solid replacement at the defensive end position.
Bryant was impressive as the anchor of the run defense from the beginning of the new regime under Carroll, who was confident in Bryant’s abilities from day one.
A full recovery for Bryant would yield stability against the run and on the line of scrimmage. Will it come in 2011?
Mike Gibson, OG
The fourth-year lineman out of Cal had an upcoming season in 2010. He saw time at left guard in Weeks 1, 8 and 9 before ousting the veteran Stacy Andrews in Week 15 at right guard.
His insertion onto the right side paid dividends for a struggling running game, as the right side showed power in Week 15 against Atlanta. It also showed consistency during “championship football” period (the 2-1 stretch of elimination games played by Seattle at the end of the season).
His relationship with Forsett and Marshawn Lynch dates back to Cal, and I believe that link is a factor in Gibson’s ability to help the Seahawks' run game. Also, realize he played with pro bowl center Alex Mack at Cal; they were good friends and trained hard together.
2011 Outlook: He is undersized at less than 300 pounds, but he is mobile, smart, plays with low leverage angles and good technique. He has the motor and tenacity to play under Tom Cable, who may have some familiarity with Gibson, as both have been East Bay residents in the past six years.
Gibson continues to fly under the radar, but he is in the final year of his rookie contract, competing for playing time at guard. Stacy Andrews cap number is currently $5.75 Million—not the salary he will make if he remains a Seahawk into 2011. Gibson should transition smoothly into the Cable mindset and is a certainly a factor for playing time, possibly a starting job, at guard in 2011.
Contributors in 2011?
I previously identified practice squad DB Josh Pinkard and 2010 seventh-round pick FB/TE Jameson Konz as players that could make an impact in 2011. Here are three players, two recently signed to “futures” contracts, which could surprise in 2011.
Dexter Davis, OLB: Davis collected 31 sacks in his collegiate career at Arizona State and is now a developmental prospect at the Leo position.
At 6’2'' and 244 his size is questionable for a primary edge rusher. He has a high motor, is strong off the ball penetrating the backfield, and has good hand technique as a rusher.
He is only useful as a rusher however, as his cover skills are easily exploitable and he is only an average athlete. He contributed in 2010 on special teams with 13 tackles and added a sack. A strong offseason in 2011 will put Davis in position for more defensive playing time. A seventh-round pick in 2010, he should push in camp be used as a rotational rusher.
Brandon Browner, DB: A three-time CFL All Star at Defensive Back, and listed at 6’3'', 210 pounds with the Calgary Stampeders.
Coming out of Oregon State (Note: then listed at 6’4'', 220 pounds), he was raw, but a potential ball-hawking corner that could be physical in run support and press coverage. He refined his game into one of the CFL’s elite cornerbacks.
A Calgary teammate said Browner would be “a perfect fit out there in Seattle with Pete Carroll,” due to press-man coverage being further implemented and the need for physical corners in run support.
This is among the organization’s most savvy offseason signings, as it is one that exemplifies the scope of Schneider’s personnel pool this offseason. Browner’s size, and initial projection as a safety coming out of college, means he could be very versatile for this defense. He could steal a roster spot.
Jay Alford, DT: A 2007 third-round pick, taken four picks before Brandon Mebane, Alford registered a sack in the closing minute of the Giants' Super Bowl victory as a rookie.
An improving interior rusher with a strong, effective jump off the line, he spent two years as a defensive tackle on a premiere defensive line.
Unfortunately, he spent 2009 on IR with a knee injury and only four games with the Raiders in 2010. He should have more explosiveness back and could compete for a roster spot at the “under” tackle position if healthy.
Alford is a signing that provides a potential complement to Brandon Mebane, but also an early and clear sign the organization is going to make changes at the position. As a former Super Bowl winner, he represents the type of character the Seahawks continually look for in new talent.
His 25 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks in his final two seasons in college suggest that, if finally healthy, he could contribute in 2011. His progress in his first two NFL seasons is reason to give him an opportunity at a minimum price.