2011 NFL Preview: 7 Bold Predictions for the Seattle Seahawks
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year—new head coach moving up from a college job, quarterback competition between a decrepit vet and an unproven youngster, revolving door at running back, a break-but-don't-shatter defense, injuries across the board—the Seahawks endured a midseason stretch where they lost seven of nine games to not only win the NFC West, but also knock off the defending Super Bowl champions in the wild card playoff round.
So now what? The Seahawks have become one of those teams that exceed expectations one year, then after the expectations rise and the roster doesn't necessarily upgrade, are now in danger of falling short of expectations that may be unrealistic. They are the overachievers being set up to underachieve.
With the ongoing NFL lockout adding another layer of uncertainty for the Seahawks, here are seven predictions for an unpredictable season:
7. You're Going to Miss Matt Hasselbeck
Right up there with undecided voters and high school couples, sports fans may be the most fickle group of people on Earth. Your team won a championship this year? You'll be complaining about them five games into next year. Your coach has a solid track record of success? Two years of sub-.500 and see how many fans want him fired. That villain on the other team that you hate? Suddenly not so bad when he's on your team.
That said, it's not so easy to get over a 10-year relationship with a quarterback who took your team to the Super Bowl, made three Pro Bowls, and owns several franchise passing records. So as the Matt Hasselbeck era in Seattle likely comes to a close, this season will be one for reminiscing.
The Seahawks aren't replacing Hasselbeck with an All-Pro QB in his prime. So whether it's Charlie Whitehurst, Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Kevin Kolb or somebody else taking the snaps, there will be plenty of rub-your-forehead and roll-your-eyes moments where No. 8 will be missed.
And if Hasselbeck does end up re-signing with Seattle? The 36-year-old version will still make you miss the Hasselbeck of old.
6. James Carpenter Will Be the Steal of the 1st Round
After the Seahawks chose Carpenter with the 25th pick of the NFL Draft, the Alabama O-lineman was quoted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "I was so shocked. I thought I was going to go in the second round."
So did everyone else. Carpenter wasn't just a surprise pick to go in the first round, he was a surprise pick for a team that most observers presumed would draft a skill position player—a quarterback, in particular—with their first choice.
But it's not as if the Seahawks are taking a chance on a high-risk, high-reward player. They landed a proven player who just happened to slip under the radar of the NFL Draft's hype specialists.
At 6-4, 320 pounds, Carpenter anchored an Alabama line that paved the way for Heisman-winning RB Mark Ingram and pushed the Crimson Tide to a 2009-10 BCS National Championship; then he helped his team finish in the top 25 nationally in rushing touchdowns in 2010-11.
Carpenter was All-SEC Second Team as a junior, and All-SEC First Team as a senior. He's a quick learner who immediately earned a starting spot at Alabama after transferring from a junior college.
And he impressed pro scouts at the Senior Bowl with his ability to play multiple positions on the line, a big plus for a Seattle team whose offensive line has been plagued with injuries.
Carpenter is expected to start at right tackle in 2011, a crucial role as the Seahawks plan to implement a power running game and protect—depending on what happens this offseason—possibly an inexperienced or an aging quarterback.
He won't contend for Rookie of the Year playing such a non-glory position, but Carpenter will be a pleasant surprise.
5. Kam Chancellor Will Knock Somebody out
Chancellor understandably had some issues in coverage and picking up schemes as a rookie last season, but there's one thing he can do while he's still learning: crack some heads.
The 6-3, 230-pound safety is a product of the Virginia Tech assembly line, where Frank Beamer has been like Saruman building the Hokies defense/special teams into his army of Uruk-hai. Chancellor was one of the hardest hitters on the VA-Tech squad during his tenure, and going into his second pro season, he is first in line to replace Lawyer Milloy in Seattle's starting lineup.
Chancellor could provide an across-the-middle sledgehammer threat the Seahawks haven't had since Ken Hamlin.
4. Justin Forsett Will Make You Forget Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush is available. Pete Carroll once recruited Reggie Bush and coached him to his greatest football success. And Pete Carroll's current team isn't exactly loaded with noted big-time running backs. Seems like an easy fit, right?
The rumors matching Bush to the Seahawks have some legitimacy. But while it's appealing to add a Super Bowl champion and one of the most dangerous open-field runners in the NFL to the roster, missing out on the high-priced Bush wouldn't be a disastrous loss, because the Seahawks still have Justin Forsett.
Going into his fourth pro season, Forsett is settling into a comfort zone with Seattle. He's been helping organize informal workouts during the lockout, and he will be sharing the backfield for a full campaign with college teammate Marshawn Lynch, a late-season pickup in 2010. He is ready to break out.
In Seattle's eight wins last season (including the playoffs), Forsett averaged 48.2 rushing yards per game, 5.9 yards per carry, 19.1 receiving yards per game, and 9.0 yards per catch. In the team's 10 losses, Forsett averaged 16.6 rushing yards per game, 2.7 yards per carry, 13.6 receiving yards per game, and 6.4 yards per catch.
Lynch will be the featured back in Seattle's desired ball-control offense, with Forsett as the change-of-pace No. 2 option—similar to the role Bush played in New Orleans. If the Seahawks use him, Forsett will produce.
3. Aaron Curry Will Remain a Mystery
All anybody knows for sure is that Curry is talented enough to be a star outside linebacker in the NFL. Whether he will actually become that is, going into his third pro season, still up for debate.
Curry hasn't been a bust of a No. 4 overall draft pick, but he hasn't been as good as advertised either. In between the good moments—like the 8-tackle, 2-sack, forced-fumble effort against Arizona in Week 10—he has spells where he's undisciplined and seemingly wandering on the field. His 110 tackles and 5.5 sacks over two years are solid, but don't look so hot next to 2009 Draft classmates Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, certified Pro Bowl linebackers whom the Seahawks passed up in favor of Curry.
Defensive coordinator Casey Bradley and linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. know they have a potential star in Curry, and surely they're working on schemes and packages that allow Curry's strengths to shine. But at some point, the 25-year-old will be expected to learn the ropes and become a dominant force on his own.
He's getting there, but Curry still seems one year away.
2. Mike Williams Will Play Like a Top-10 Pick
The best part of Mike Williams' 65-catch, 751-yard debut season with the Seahawks is that it didn't satisfy him. Williams nearly doubled the production of Seattle's second-leading receiver (Deon Butler), but it wasn't good enough for the man who had previously been out of pro football for about three years.
"The first go-around, it was about getting back and showing up and making up," Williams told ESPN.com. "Now, it is about taking it to another level.
"The reality is, it is a wonderful story, but when you talk football, I am still looking at a 60-catch, 700-yard season," he said. "You get past the Oprah part of it, the feel-good part of it, you are looking at a player who has to do better."
First on the to-do list: Find the end zone more often. Williams caught two touchdowns last season, and tacked on another score in the wild-card playoff win over New Orleans. Three of Seattle's first four games next season are against the 49ers, Cardinals and Falcons, all teams against which Williams had good games in 2010. Expect a solid start to lead to a Pro Bowl-caliber campaign.
1. The Seahawks Will Make the Playoffs
Significant turnover on the coaching staff, uncertainty at quarterback, questions on defense, health concerns. If the setup doesn't sound familiar, the end result will be. In other words, the Seahawks are going to the playoffs.
With some consistency and time to gel for the offensive line, Seattle will be better running the ball and at protecting the quarterback (whoever that is). Mike Williams is ready to be a prime-time No. 1 receiving target. Defensive lynchpin Lofa Tatupu should have another solid year, and with even minimal progress from youngsters Aaron Curry and David Hawthorne, the linebacking corps and a deeper secondary will lead an improved defense.
Throw in Justin Forsett, kick returner Leon Washington, and second-year receiver/returner Golden Tate as game-breaking X-factors, and the Seahawks have enough in the toolbox to defend their NFC West title and make a return trip to the postseason.