NFL Draft 2011: Have Seattle Seahawks Exorcised Curse of Hutch?May 2, 2011
We might question the way the Seahawks did it—reaching in the first round and trading out of the second round—but we have to be very happy that the Hawks are finally focusing on ending the Curse of Hutch and rebuilding an offensive line that in five years has gone from the best in the league to one of the very worst.
The fall has been fast and infuriating, as the Hawks have gone from a unit that included All-Pros Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson and grizzled vets Robbie Tobeck and Chris Gray to a motley crew that has seen 24 combinations over the last three years, including 10 last year.
At their peak in the 2005 Super Bowl season, Jones, Hutch, Tobeck and Gray led the league’s best offense and made Shaun Alexander the league MVP by paving the way for 1,880 rushing yards. The Seahawks haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since, and they haven’t had a winning season over the last three years.
But with four good, young linemen acquired over the last three drafts, they might finally be on the way to fixing a unit that has been on a continuous downward spiral since Tim Ruskell let Hutchinson leave in 2006.
“Our intentions are clear,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters Friday after the team drafted guard John Moffitt in the third round to go with first-round tackle James Carpenter.
The intentions are to end the Curse of Hutch.
“The Seattle Seahawks, as we all know, if you look back just a few years ago, they had a tremendous offensive line,” new line coach Tom Cable told reporters. “It was really a real strength and backbone of this football team, and I think it was a reason they went to all those playoff games and ultimately the Super Bowl. I think if you’re going to be that kind of team, you’ve got to get back to that.”
That parrots what Cable’s former mentor, Alex Gibbs, said last year after the Hawks drafted left tackle Russell Okung sixth overall: “I’ve only got a couple more things I’ve got to get done to get to where we can go back to being what they were three, four, five years ago. It was a tightly knit group that understood each other, that communicated, and they lost that. We’ve got to get it back....”
Well, even though Gibbs left the Hawks before last season even started, the team got a couple more things done in this draft, and the Hawks hopefully are poised to put together a unit that is as strong as the 2001-05 group of Jones, Hutch, Tobeck and Gray.
Ruskell had a horrible philosophy about the offensive line, thinking he could meld a unit out of a bunch of mid-round picks. Ruskell’s only high line pick, Chris Spencer, has been a major bust—unable to make line calls, block well in the second level or stay healthy.
The fact that he was the most consistent member of last season’s line is all you need to know about how truly horrible that unit was—and what a freaking miracle it was that the Hawks advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
After three years of using middling picks on linemen—Rob Sims in the fourth, Mansfield Wrotto in the fourth, Steve Vallos in the sixth—Ruskell finally went high again in 2009, when he traded back into the second round to pick Max Unger. Carroll and John Schneider have gone even higher, using first-rounders on Okung and Carpenter, and then they got Moffitt in the third round.
Okung, Unger, Carpenter and Moffitt will be expected to end the Curse of Hutch, which has afflicted the Seahawks since Ruskell made the colossally stupid decision to let the All-Pro leave in 2006.
From 2001 until 2005, Jones, Hutch, Tobeck and Gray started 66 games together—the only significant missed time when Hutch sat out the final 12 games of 2002 with an injury. The right tackle position was never quite settled, but those four were the core of the line for five years.
In 2005, they were unquestionably the best front five in football, leading the way for Alexander to rush for a league-best 1,880 yards and set the NFL record with 27 rushing touchdowns.
But then Ruskell made one of the worst personnel decisions in franchise history, letting Hutchinson go.
The Seahawks made the playoffs the next two years, but the foundation was already cracking.
The last time they fielded the same starting line all season was in 2007, with Jones, Sims, Spencer, Gray and Sean Locklear. Not so coincidentally, Matt Hasselbeck had the most prolific passing season of his career, and the Seahawks won the NFC West for the fourth straight year and reached the playoffs for the fifth straight time.
But the unit was already on the decline. Tobeck was already retired, 2007 was Gray’s final season, and Jones lasted only most of one more year. Sims, Spencer and Locklear—supposedly the Hawks’ next-generation line—could never stay healthy and didn’t start a single game together in 2008, when the Hawks ran through eight line configurations and Jones’ body finally quit on him after 11-plus seasons.
Seattle went through six more combinations in 2009 and 10 last year. That’s 24 lineups in 48 games, a different group every other week. There’s no way an offense can be successful doing that.
In October 2009, as the team was preparing for its fourth quintet in the first six games, then-line coach Mike Solari told The Seattle Times: “It’s a problem. Your offense doesn’t have any consistency. ... You don’t have that communication. You don’t have that sense or that feel of the lineman next to you. You just don’t.”
The Hawks haven’t had any stability in line coaches either. After replacing Bill Laveroni in 2007, Solari lasted two seasons. Gibbs didn’t even make it to the start of last season, leaving Art Valero and Pat Ruel to run the show.
Next up is Thug King Tom Cable, the always angry former Raider coach, and it will be up to Cable to connect Okung, Unger, Carpenter and Moffitt so they become a cohesive unit.
The Hawks don’t have a lot of bodies behind those guys, and they still need to find a couple of veteran guards—a starting left guard and a guy to push Moffitt at right guard.
It remains to be seen what becomes of Stacy Andrews, who started 12 games at right guard after Unger was hurt last season but ended up benched for the final three games in favor of Mike Gibson.
Andrews is due $5.25 million this year, and the Hawks are unlikely to want to pay him that much. But if he’ll take a pay cut, he would be good depth.
Gibson is also still on the roster, and Tyler Polumbus, who started seven games, is a restricted free agent. Both of those guys are serviceable backups.
The rest are free agents: Spencer, Locklear, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Ray Willis. Pitts and Hamilton are washed up (and Pitts has talked way too much during all of this labor strife). Spencer and Locklear have failed to impress for six years now; it’s time to move on from them. Willis might be worth bringing back as a backup if he’s healthy.
Beyond those guys, the Hawks have a few young guys who could develop: Breno Giacomini, William Robinson, Chris White, Paul Fanaika and Lemuel Jeanpierre.
But the Hawks are going to need to add at least one starting guard in free agency.
With Cable coming up from Oakland, speculation is rampant that Robert Gallery will be that guard. Well, not if the former first-round bust doesn’t lower his financial expectations.
Before the lockout, the Raiders say he turned down their offer of $2.5 million per year, wanting $8 million. But the former amount is certainly closer to what a failed left tackle turned serviceable left guard is worth, especially when he has played only 18 games over the past two years.
The Hawks would be better off looking at someone like Daryn Colledge, a five-year starter for Green Bay who could step right in at left guard and also has the ability to play right tackle.
The Seahawks built their Super Bowl line with three draft picks and two veterans. Two of the draft picks, Jones and Hutch, turned into All-Pros, and the Hawks went to the playoffs in the third year of the Jones-Hutch-Tobeck-Gray quartet.
Okung already looks like he will be a great player (his performance against Chicago in the regular season last year showed that), and if Unger, Carpenter and Moffitt develop, this unit could be very good by 2013.
We hope they are, because it’s about time they exorcised the Curse of Hutch.