Many fans and pundits assumed that since the Seahawks’ ground game in 2017 worked with all the effectiveness of square bowling balls, the offensive line would be forced into a circular firing squad. But now that the roster/coaching tumult has mostly passed, it returns nearly intact.
A part of the rationale was that the notion of year-to-year stability was the only thing left untried to fix the franchise’s gnarliest problem. Another part was that it was easier to fire the O-line coach, Tom Cable, whose decisions on talent and passions for the zone-blocking scheme were no longer working. Another part was that the unit’s most accomplished player, LT Duane Brown, didn’t arrive until midseason, meaning that time for assimilation was required before rendering further harsh judgments.
The Seahawks can only hope that the desperation of a mid-season trade works out as well for them as it has for the Mariners’ starting rotation. Few baseball fans in 2017 thought much about the arrivals of Marco Gonzales and Mike Leake. But with the Mariners now 37-22 and in first place in the American League West, many observers have heaved themselves aboard the bandwagon exclaiming they saw greatness in the pitchers from the git-go.
With the Seahawks, such a presumption was easier regarding Brown, because he was a four-time Pro Bowl selection with the Houston Texans and, at 32, remained among the most well-regarded O-linemen in the game.
Nevertheless, the trade was a hallmark of one of the most misbegotten episodes of the Pete Carroll era.
The Seahawks were so befouled that they had to go outside the roster at midseason to take on a big veteran contract (nearly $10 million for 2018), at a steep cost of second- and third-round draft picks, to fill an important position whose requirements included precision movements with teammates that can be developed only over countless repetitions in practice.
Two words: Hot mess.
“Yeah, it was a shock,” Brown said Monday of the October trade from the only team he’s known. “Definitely, stepping in was a mile a minute, something I hadn’t been able to do before. They got a glimpse at what I could do.
“But being able to work day-in and day-out, I’m able to learn them more, they’re able to learn me more. I feel more a part of the group and being able to lead more. I’m very excited to get this opportunity to work this time of year.”
That last statement has to be an NFL first: An 11-year veteran saying he’s fired up about organized team activities, that tedious portion of the NFL calendar devoted to padless cavorting in pantomime of NFL action.
His sunnier outlook contrasted starkly with the darkness of the fall, when QB Russell Wilson was not only the No. 1 passer but the No. 1 rusher on a team whose most productive running back, Mike Davis, gained 240 yards for the season. Marshawn Lynch picked up that much shopping for Skittles at Costco.
“We definitely want to be better in the running game to take the pressure off Russ having to drop back a lot,” Brown said. “The lack of a run game, as a competitor and a professional . . . you don’t want to see that.
“The front office did a great job of bringing on guys to assist.”
The reference was to the acquisitions of two blocking tight ends, Ed Dickson and Will Dissly, the use of the No. 1 draft choice on RB Rashaad Penny, and the hire of D.J. Fluker, the mountainous newcomer who seems destined to start at right guard — the only major personnel change to the O-line.
The emphasis, as you may have heard, is restoration of the ground game. No one is expecting a return to beastmodian level, but the ouster of Cable means the leastmodian results were unacceptable.
The plan is to reduce the use of Cable’s zone-blocking scheme in favor of a power game, or as the fellas like to say, downhill.
“Zone gets defenses moving sideways, but to switch it up and run downhill, it might get them on their heels,” Brown said. “There’s no greater feeling for an offensive lineman to put your guy five or six yards off the line of scrimmage.
“If you can do that repeatedly, it demoralizes the defense.”
The new line coach, Mike Solari, probably liked the set-up for a return to Seattle (he coached here under Mike Holmgren in 2008 and Jim Mora in 2009) because Brown solves a lot of problems just by standing there at left tackle.
“Duane Brown’s awesome,” Solari said. “Duane Brown is a pro, and when I say he’s a pro, the way he goes about his business off the field also is a great example. He’s a great guy to emulate in the sense of his fundamentals. It’s exciting to work with him.
“You can lean on him as an example of how to do things properly.”
Brown was similarly all warm and fuzzy about Solari.
“I feel like there’s things I need to sharpen up to continue to play at a high level, and he’s definitely hammering down points for me,” he said. “I think he’s going to be great for the younger guys too. He coaches everyone the same; no favorites. If you mess up, you’re doing it over. I got a lot of respect for that.
“We’re going to be a sharp O-line, very technically sound.”
Some similar sentiments were expressed a year ago by Mariners management about the rotation newbies, prompting the ritual rolling of eyes by fans. Some of the same thing is going on with the Seahawks and the purported O-line fixes.
The key is confining the problem to a mere hot mess, instead of the endless tire fire.