Since their Super Bowl season of 2005, the Seattle Seahawks have run down an icy hill of personnel inefficiency, and paid for it with several losing seasons. Even the playoff season of 2010 saw the team with several major holes despite the franchises best draft in half a decade.
With former Team President Tim Ruskell out of the picture and a new regime in place, season two of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider rebuilding plan starts now, with the 2011 Senior Bowl. Looking at specific talent gaps in the current roster, heres where the Seahawks current personnel evaluation team may find solutions in Mobile, AL.
The Seahawks need more options at cornerback. Marcus Trufant is a serviceable defender when healthy, but the loss to Tampa Bay showed as did most of the 2009 season that when his back is acting up, Trufant is a liability when dealing with receivers. Kelly Jennings possesses decent trail and recovery speed, but he isnt physical enough to take on the play-by-play rigors of the position. There arent any clear star cornerbacks in this Senior Bowl, but a few sleepers: Colorados Jalil Brown, Louisvilles Johnny Patrick, and Texas Curtis Brown, could rise up and become points of interest to the Seahawks.
Tim Ruskells longstanding neglect of the quarterback position left the Seahawks between the proverbial rock and hard place in 2011, they could be dependent on an aging Matt Hasselbeck, or a nowhere-near-ready Charlie Whitehurst. Unless Carroll and Schneider decide that free agency is the path for the teams next franchise quarterback, the answer will come in this years draft. Andrew Lucks decision to stay at Stanford leaves a hodgepodge of less-than-perfect quarterback prospects, but there are a few options that could provide a quarterback solution, especially with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in place.
Florida States Christian Ponder possesses the understanding of short-to-intermediate routes required of any West Coast Offense quarterback, but injuries hes suffered the last two seasons have affected his accuracy and leave him as a question. Local boy Jake Locker is an even bigger question should the Seahawks take a flier on Lockers raw ability with the knowledge that hes further away from running an NFL offense than most anyone in his draft class? Or, will Nevadas Colin Kaepernick (who impressed everybody who saw him practice Monday) raise his stock enough as he transitions from the Pistol offense to more pro-style?
The Seahawks havent had a dominant running game since 2005, which was just before Tim Ruskell lost Steve Hutchinson to the Minnesota Vikings and the vagaries of the transition tag. Then Mike Holmgren declared that Pork Chop Womack would be an able replacement. Going in to the 2011 season, the need is obvious. New assistant head coach Tom Cable may look to fill one of two guard needs with Robert Gallery from his Oakland days. Still, and unless the decision is made to retain Chris Spencer and put either Spencer or Max Unger at right guard (and Unger seems like a better center choice in a Cable blocking scheme), there will be a need at one guard position, and perhaps both.
One player who is impressing at tackle and guard is Baylors Danny Watkins. Though he replaced current St. Louis Rams star Jason Smith as Baylors left tackle, you may see more of Watkins inside at guard through Senior Bowl practice week. A former small-college star and firefighter, the Vancouver, BC, native turned down a chance to go into the 2010 Canadian Football League draft to get a better shot at the NFL. He has the kind of nasty streak and excellent technique that would look nice in Seattles refurbished offensive line.
Like Earl Thomas, left tackle Russell Okung proved the value of Seattles 2010 draft by providing key option that could be in place for years. But between Sean Locklear and Stacy Andrews, the right tackle spot is anything but defined, and Okungs repeated ankle issues show an increased need for depth.
There are several tackles in this senior draft class. So far, Wisconsins Game Carimi has been the most impressive. Carimi occasionally played too upright to be an effective pass blocker during his collegiate career, but work in that area has been evident. Colorados Nate Solder must transcend many technique issues, but theres potential there. Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State and Anthony Constanzo of Boston College are also worth watching this week.
Chris Clemons was the sackmaster the Seahawks needed, but theres always room for more when it comes to quarterback pressure. Raheem Brock enjoyed a career year in Carrolls multiple fronts, but hes a free agent, and age 32 is past ancient for most speed rushers. The real problem is at the five-technique position, occupied by the player on Clemons opposite side. When Red Bryant was healthy, Seattle had one of the leagues best run defenses. But when Bryant was felled for the season in a Week 8 loss to Oakland, Seattle was gashed the rest of the year. Neither Bryant nor Junior Siavii could provide reliable run defense, though Siavii did add some penetration and pass rush.
Two players who unfortunately dropped out of Senior Bowl week could be interesting five-tech prospects. Ohio States Cameron Heyward and Iowas Adrian Clayborn both possess the kind of length, pursuit ability, and inside toughness to add depth to Seattles run-stopping concerns, as well as the ability to play other positions along the line.
With all the money Ruskell spent at this position, youd think it would be locked up. But the linebacker threesome imagined by the former Seahawks GM never appeared. By the time Aaron Curry had been drafted, Leroy Hill was dealing with injuries and off-field issues, and Lofa Tatupu was looking a bit lost in pass coverage. Curry is still learning, Hill is a free agent and may not be back, and for the last two seasons, the undrafted David Hawthorne has probably been the teams best linebacker.
It would be a slight longshot to imagine this team adding a versatile linebacker like Boston Colleges Mark Herzlich or Washingtons Mason Foster in the early rounds, but stranger things have happened.