2010 NFL Question Marks: Seattle Seahawks

Russell Okung, tackle from Oklahoma State, stands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after Okung was picked by the Seattle Seahawks as the number 6 overall choice during the 2010 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York on April 22, 2010. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg Photo via Newscom

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Seahawks and whether or not their restricted offensive line will hold them back this season.

It’s difficult to size up the Seahawks at this point in the season because nobody (not even their fans) quite knows what to expect out of this team in 2010. It appears as though fans are generally excited about the Pete Carroll hiring (how could they not after getting a taste of Jim Mora last year?), but they must be skeptical, too. Does Matt Hasselbeck have one more good season left in him? Can Leon Washington and Justin Forsett handle the rushing responsibilities? Does the defense have enough quality depth? Is Lawyer Milloy really the starting strong safety?

Nobody can say with any certainty that this will be a bad team this year, but it’s unlikely that anyone is ready to anoint them NFC West champions either. It’s just a hard team to figure out right now.

I had a difficult time deciding whether or not to go with the Seahawks’ offensive line or defensive line for this series. I view both as question marks, but in the end, the defensive line should get by as long as Brandon Mebane doesn’t take a step back and the unit gets solid contributions from new addition Chris Clemons and tackle-turned-end Red Bryant, who replaces the ultra-disappointing Lawrence Jackson.

But the offensive line may be a different story.

This offseason, the Hawks hired zone-blocking guru Alex Gibbs to transform their O-line into a lighter, quicker unit that will hopefully mesh well with the running styles of Washington and Forsett. Gibbs was the mastermind behind the Broncos success in the mid 90s and early 00s, as well as the Falcons’ ground success from 2004 to 2006. But does he have the right pieces in Seattle to make the Hawks successful this season?

Assuming his brief holdout didn’t hurt his chances of starting, rookie Russell Okung should open the season at left tackle this year. Highly regarded as the safest tackle prospect in this year’s draft, Okung certainly has the talent to turn in a Joe Thomas-like rookie campaign. But does he fit Gibbs’ zone-blocking scheme?

The good thing for Okung is that he’ll be able to learn from zone-blocking veteran Ben Hamilton, whom Seattle signed as a free agent this offseason. Hamilton is coming off a horrid ’09, but he also wasn’t a fit for Josh McDaniels’ power-blocking scheme in Denver. If he has a resurgence in Seattle, he could be a valuable commodity at left guard. But at 32, we’re not talking about an elite player at this point in his career.

The rest of the O-line is comprised of Chris Spencer, Max Unger and Sean Locklear. Spencer will move back to the center position after finishing ’09 at guard (he also missed several games due to a torn quadriceps), while Locklear was adequate in pass protection but struggled with penalties. Unger flashed a lot of potential as a rookie last season – especially as a pass blocker – but he’ll have to improve his run blocking if he’s going to be successful over the long haul.

Can this unit surprise this season? Absolutely, especially with Gibbs running the show. The three years he was in Atlanta, the Falcons led the league in rushing every season (albeit with Michael Vick at quarterback, but still) and everyone remembers the success Gibbs had in Denver with Terrell Davis and the slew of running backs the Broncos had.

But Seattle’s success this season depends on how well the five starters can adapt to Gibbs’ zone-blocking scheme. Only Hamilton is familiar with the system and Okung also has some huge shoes to fill replacing long-time left tackle Walter Jones. As previously noted, it’s hard to tell what the Hawks have right now on the offensive line, so predicting their success is difficult. Things could really go either way.

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