Posted July 09, 2012

Offseason Breakdown: Seattle Seahawks

Offseason Breakdown, Seattle Seahawks

With NFL training camps just around the corner, we’re taking a team-by-team look at how the offseason played out and what you can expect in 2012. Click here to read them all.

Here’s what we can say about Pete Carroll’s second season at the helm in Seattle: It could have been worse.

The Seahawks started off 1-3 and were 2-6 at the midway point. But things started clicking in a surprising Week 10 upset of Baltimore, which launched a 5-1 stretch that put the Seahawks back on the fringes of the wild-card race. They closed the year by losing to San Francisco and Arizona, but there was enough positive momentum generated to feel good about 2012.

Seattle kept the ball rolling in the offseason, too, by winning the Matt Flynn sweepstakes and upgrading on defense by signing DT Jason Jones and LB Barrett Ruud, both of whom look like probable starters.

The expectations will be higher in Carroll’s third year, and this team might be ready for a big step forward.

2011 Record: 7-9 (third in NFC West)
Key Additions: QB Matt Flynn, DE/OLB Bruce Irvin, DT Jason Jones, G Deuce Lutui, G/T Frank Omiyale, LB Barrett Ruud, LB Bobby Wagner, TE Kellen Winslow, QB Russell Wilson
Key Subtractions: S Atari Bigby, TE John Carlson, G Robert Gallery, LB David Hawthorne, QB Charlie Whitehurst
Team Strengths:
RB, TE, CB, DE, S
Team Weaknesses: WR, LB

Three Things to Watch

1. Will Matt Flynn be the starting quarterback?: This seemed like an obvious “yes” after the Seahawks plucked the former Packer off the free-agent market with a three-year, $26 million deal. Flynn generated a ton of buzz — probably way too much buzz, in fact — with a Week 17 dismantling of Detroit’s secondary while he filled in for Aaron Rodgers.

But that effort was just the second start of Flynn’s career. Tarvaris Jackson, meanwhile, posted a 7-7 record in 14 starts for Seattle last season, and Pete Carroll stressed that the QB competition would stay open. Add in rookie Russell Wilson, whom the Seahawks plucked in Round 3 of April’s draft, and it appears that Seattle’s No. 1 quarterback race could be unsettled deep into the preseason.

Wilson may wind up being the wild card here, despite making the jump from college to the pros. The undersized ex-Wisconsin (and N.C. State) star has the type of athleticism that Seattle loves in Jackson, and he played extremely well in the Badgers’ run-first, pro-style offense.

The Seahawks also are not going to turn to Flynn simply because of his contract, which is actually a very reasonable one with a mere $10 million in guaranteed money.

That said, Flynn has a higher upside than Jackson — we more or less know what the latter can do at this point in his career — and has the experience edge on Wilson. He should be favored to win the job.

2. Is the offensive line healthy?: This unit was decimated by injuries last season. Franchise left tackle Russell Okung, the No. 6 overall pick in 2010, missed the last few weeks of the year with a torn pectoral muscle; right guard John Moffitt missed almost half the year with a torn MCL and PCL; ditto for right tackle James Carpenter, who tore an ACL.

Seattle has at least two of those three — Okung and Moffitt — penciled into the starting lineup right now, assuming they’ll be close to 100 percent for Week 1. Breno Giacomini, who took over for Carpenter at right tackle, might keep that spot, while Paul McQuistan and the underrated Max Unger return at left guard and center, respectively.

The Seahawks also added some depth by signing veteran linemen Deuce Lutui and Frank Omiyale this offseason, and converted seventh-round pick J.R. Sweezy from defensive tackle to guard.

But none of that will matter if guys start dropping like flies again. The line helped Marshawn Lynch top 1,200 yards rushing last season, but the Seahawks still finished just 21st in the league in the run game and allowed 50 sacks (fourth-worst in the NFL). Especially if Carroll opts to go with the less-mobile Flynn at QB, the blocking up front must be better.

3. So, about that Bruce Irvin pick … : It was one of the stunners of this year’s NFL Draft. The Seahawks dealt the No. 12 pick to Philadelphia (which selected DT Fletcher Cox) for the 15th, 114th and 172nd slots. And at No. 15, Seattle reached for West Virginia DE/OLB Bruce Irvin, a pass-rushing specialist with major red flags on and off the field.

A little rationale for the pick: Seattle tried and failed throughout 2011 to find someone to help Chris Clemons get to the quarterback. Clemons recorded 11 sacks last season, exactly a third of the team’s total.

In theory, the Seahawks can use Irvin as a rush end on passing downs in place of Red Bryant, a run-stopper extraordinaire. Whether or not Irvin can actually get the job done in those situations is another matter. He did have 14 sacks for the Moutaineers in 2010 and 8.5 last year, but he’ll be 25 in November and has a shaky background.

For this pick to avoid going down as one of those all-time head-scratchers, Irvin has to develop into a formidable rusher in a hurry. The Seahawks have a talented secondary, which sent three players to the Pro Bowl last season. If they can come up with a consistent pass-rush, opponents will have a hard time moving the ball.

Outlook

Because the Seahawks were more or less out of the playoff picture by the 2011 season’s midpoint, they kind of flew under the radar late. Which means that a lot of people now fail to grasp how close this team was to contending.

Assuming one of the QBs steps up, the offensive line stays upright and someone — anyone — breaks through at wide receiver (don’t count Seattle out as a player for WR Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft), the offense could be pretty solid. The defense has question marks at linebacker with Ruud, K.J. Wright and Leroy Hill expected to start, but the front four and secondary are stout.

Carroll may need one more year to fully implement his plan, but Seattle is on the upswing.

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