Questioning The Competition
Sitting Down With The Enemy – Seattle Seahawks
This week I talked with Mathew Heuett of seahawkaddicts.com to discuss the upcoming pre-season game involving the Vikings and the Seahawks. Mathew discusses the departure of Hasselbeck, signing Jackson and Rice and much much more. On to the interview…
What was the general fan reaction to not resigning Matt Hasselbeck and then going out and paying an 8 million dollar deal to Tarvaris Jackson?
The fan reaction to Hasselbeck going elsewhere was decidedly mixed. Simply put, Matt Hasselbeck is the best quarterback in Seahawks history. Among other things, he helped Mike Holmgren make the team relevant again after a long, awful stretch of futility in the 90s, and he quarterbacked the team to its only Super Bowl appearance — those are hard things for fans to let go. On the other hand, his last three seasons in Seattle have been sub-par (age, injury, etc.), and many fans have been wanting the team to get rid of him since mid-2009, so not everyone is upset at seeing him leave.
I think most of us were a bit surprised to see the team sign Tarvaris Jackson, but his contract numbers didn’t raise many eyebrows. Charlie Whitehurst signed an almost identical contract last year to come in and compete for the starting QB gig (maybe $4 mil/year is just the going rate for QB auditions?). And regardless of what Pete Carroll may say to the press, the competition at QB is wide open. Jackson currently has a leg up because of his familiarity with Bevell’s offense, but he’s going to have to play much better this preseason to prove he should get the nod over Whitehurst.
With a “surprise” run in the playoffs last year, would you say that expectations are even higher this season? Do you believe the off season acquisitions have better suited this team to be even more competitive?
Expectations are very high this year, yes. The Seahawks’ problems through the second half of last season were largely due to a lack of quality depth at several key positions, but the team looks much improved in that regard. For example, the o-line has been an injury-plagued liability since 2008, but now the line is full of young talent (4 out of 5 starters were drafted in the last three years) and coached by another key offseason acquisition, Tom Cable. The secondary was also a problem last year, but with the talent they’ve rounded up to compete in training camp this year the debate among fans has suddenly gone from “Oh man, do we really not have anyone better to start?” to “Oh man, do we really have to cut any of these guys?” The future looks awesome.
The Seahawks signed Sidney Rice to a monster 41 million dollar deal this offseason. Rice has only one proven season (In 2009) and was mainly sidelined with injuries for the rest of his tenure in Minnesota. Does this worry Seahawks fans?
Oh definitely, it worries us a lot. The Seahawks don’t have the greatest track record with free agent wide receivers. The previous GM Tim Ruskell seemed to operate under the assumption that if you pay a guy #1 wideout money that he’ll magically start playing like one, but that approach didn’t pan out for Nate Burleson, Deion Branch (see http://www.seahawkaddicts.com/2010-articles/december/on-deion-branch-and-distortion-in-sports-journalism.html and http://www.seahawkaddicts.com/2010-articles/december/on-deion-branch-and-distortion-in-sports-journalism-part-2.html), or TJ Houshmandzadeh. Granted, Sidney Rice is a more intriguing prospect and a better fit for the offense than any of those three ever were, but the team is still taking a big risk here, and Seahawks fans are tired of seeing WRs get paid big money for average production.
With the season just a couple weeks away are there any glaring ‘holes’ that you worried about? Do you see anymore opportunities to sign additional free agents to plug these holes?
Overall, the Seahawks have done a good job restocking the roster this year, but there are still three positions that concern me. First up, the team still seems to lack a defensive tackle who can excel as a 3-tech. They’re hoping right now that free agent pickup Alan Branch can handle the job, but so far he’s not wowing anyone with his pass rush moves. Kentwan Balmer is also a possibility here, but he doesn’t inspire any more confidence than Branch does.
Secondly, the team has an opening at the outside linebacker spot vacated by David Hawthorne, who moved inside to middle linebacker to replace Lofa Tatupu. Leroy Hill and Malcolm Smith appear to be the top candidates for the job but Hill has a history of off the field problems and both are injury concerns. Both players are talented enough to fill the position, but neither one looks to be durable enough to last a full season.
Lastly, the team lacks a clear leader on defense. Lofa Tatupu has been the heart and soul of the defense since he joined the team in ’05, but now that he’s gone (along with Lawyer Milloy, another vocal defensive leader) who takes his place? This is a young roster, and the veterans who are left are mostly quiet guys like Marcus Trufant and Brandon Mebane. Someone needs to emerge and take charge, but that hasn’t happened yet.
For us ‘non Seahawk’ fans, what player(s) should we keep an eye out for? Maybe the player doesn’t get the recognition that he truly deserves or is only a couple big games away from ‘breaking out’.
Oh man, I could go on for a while here, but I’ll limit myself to five names. First up are two veterans, DT Brandon Mebane and WR Golden Tate. Mebane got a little recognition in free agency this year, but not nearly as much as he deserves because he’s one of the best young d-linemen in the league. He’s strong, disruptive, and has a knack for getting inhumanly, freakishly low leverage against o-linemen. After a two year experiment at the 3-tech spot, he’s been moved back to the 1-tech position, where he’s proven he can command double teams on nearly every down and still collapse the pocket. Tate, on the other hand, had a disappointing rookie year and has yet to prove himself, but his potential is off the charts. Every time he touched the ball last season he came within a hair’s breadth of doing something game-breakingly awesome, and if his route running has improved (which was his main problem in ’10) he could be looking at a breakout sophomore year.
Next are two undrafted free agents, S Jeron Johnson and WR Doug Baldwin. Johnson had a great career at Boise State and was projected as a mid-round pick, but ended up going undrafted due to concerns about his coverage abilities. But after breaking up some key passes against the Chargers, including one in the end zone, those concerns are starting to look unfounded. He’s still in an uphill battle to make the roster, especially with the recent signing of Atari Bigby, but a lot of fans are rooting for him. Baldwin projected as just another camp body, but he’s impressed everyone with his ability to play slot receiver. He’s quick, he’s got reliable hands, and he has a nose for finding soft spots in zone defenses. In other words, Seattle may have finally found an heir apparent to Bobby Engram, who made his living as Hasselbeck’s security blanket over the middle of the field.
The final name is Brandon Browner, a 6’4″ cornerback who’s been a CFL all-star for three years running. The NFC West is full of tall receiving threats like Larry Fitzgerald and Braylon Edwards, and Browner may very well be the answer Seattle has been looking for. He has a reputation for being a little too hands-on in coverage, but he looked great against the Chargers last week. It also felt strange watching a CB for the Seahawks tower over the receiver he’s covering, but I think I could get used to it very easily.
Thank you Mathew for participating in the interview with me. Let’s hope for an entertaining (as entertaining as pre-season can be) game with no injuries to either team. I know I’m not the only Vikings fan eager to see how both Jackson and Rice play this weekend. It’s hard to believe they won’t have a chip on their shoulder. I’m sure the Vikings are just as eager to prove that they made the right decision by letting them go. I am extremely interested in watching Rice lineup opposite Antoine Winfeild. What an exciting matchup!