As fans begin assuming the cringe position for the fake-game finale at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Clink between the Seahawks and Oakland Raiders, a point apparently overlooked about the greusome play of the Seahawks’ new offensive line should be mentioned now.
This has been the plan since the end of the 2010 season. It is not an accident.
While losing tight end John Carlson to injury for the season wasn’t in the plan, nor was the poor conditioning of first-round draft pick James Carpenter written down anywhere, and Russell Okung finding more ankles to sprain seemed implausible. But the general theme is unfolding as outlined by coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider.
After a mediocre, injury-pickled team lucked into the playoffs at 7-9, they vowed to remake the roster with younger, stronger, faster, cheaper players, figuring that after a lockout-shortened year that brought in new payroll rules, older, weaker, slower and expensive wasn’t going to work.
That they have done. What is undecided is whether the plan is a good one, at least for 2011.
Unloading vets such as Matt Hasselbeck, Lofa Tatupu, Sean Locklear and Kelly Jennings, and giving pay cuts to vets such as Marcus Trufant and Aaron Curry, has helped create space under the salary cap to bring in prime-timers such as TE Zach Miller and WR Sidney Rice, and they still have more than $15 million to spend. The risk: Starting players who have little idea what they’re doing.
With so many of the clueless populating the offensive line, the pressbox over-under on new quarterback Tarvaris Jackson’s season-ending injury is Week 3. And dropping.
Carroll knows how it looks.
“People think we’re stupid,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter, “but we don’t care what people think. We believe in what we’re doing. It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be a challenge, but these guys are going to fight you every step of the way, which is why we think we can get this done right away.”
He didn’t elaborate on what “right away” meant, but presumably sometime before the sun turns supernova on us.
What Carroll is counting on, at least a little, is that thanks to the missed practice time during the lockout, every team is additionally vulnerable in ways visible and unforeseen. That said, someone will win the Super Bowl, and it isn’t going to be the Seahawks. So why use all the powder now when the real fight is a year away?
That plan will, of course, require patience on the part of the fan base, which in the time of shortening attention spans, shrinking wallets and growing gambling debts, is unlikely. But this is year two for Carroll, not year five. He’s ready for the hectoring.
Besides, a virtue of a 3-13 season is that it put the Seahawks in position to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, known in scouting circles as the next John Elway. Hence the nascent social media campaign, “Suck for Luck.”
But for this season, new assistant head coach Tom Cable told media and fans on draft day that Carpenter was going to start at right tackle and third-round choice John Moffitt was going to start at right guard. What he didn’t say, but was confident of, was that Robert Gallery, whom he coached in Oakland, would join Seattle via free agency at left guard.
With Okung presumed to return at left tackle, and returnee Max Unger moving from guard to center, the makings were there for a solid line. He just never said when.
How’s it going from the inside? Only one guy, Gallery, with 91 career NFL starts, can answer with any cred.
“It’s not easy to get on the same page, especially for an entire group that has never been together,” he said after practice this week. “But it’s the only way to go. The coaches have to find out now what each guy’s limits are, then coach and plan with that in mind.”
In other words, don’t have Jackson run a bootleg to the right side of the line for about, oh, eight weeks.
“This is a tough league,” he said, “and the only way to learn is to put them out there. In college, these guys didn’t see 90 percent of the blitzes they’re seeing so far.”
Cable lamented that three of the five sacks given up in the previous game against Denver were the result of mis-communication. That was, Gallery said, a simple case of young players not reading the defense well enough to know whom to block.
“Whether it a down lineman up the middle, or a corner coming off the edge, it just takes awhile to get the information to one other,” Gallery said. “It’s easy to coach it up after the play. It’s part of the growing pains.”
Carroll was asked whether much can truly be done in practice that is a substitute for game experience.
“Sure,” he said after practice this week. “There was an increased urgency about our preparation this week. Thats what happens when you move some guys around, and some other guys are playing positions and they sense the competition is there. Its a great motivator.”
That was coach-speak for putting the right tackle position into competition. Journeyman vet Breno Giacomini started getting snaps with the starters instead of Carpenter in the Denver game as well as practice. The rookie has been put on notice to get his behemoth behind in gear.
“Weve done a lot of good things (in practice this week) and now we need to be calm, settle down and trust the preparation so we can perform like were capable,” Carroll said. “We didnt do that last week. So everybody is determined to get that done.”
Lots of righteous words, but so far no delivery. That’s why the games are called exhibitions, even if it is not reflected in the ticket price.
The Seahawks plan has not changed since the end of last season. So feel free to assume the cringe position for another night, and perhaps several more Sundays. Carroll is looking at the horizon. If he weren’t, then he truly would be stupid.