Dave Boling: Keeping Wilson upright should be Seahawks’ focus in draft

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comMay 5, 2014 

As the Seattle Seahawks head into the NFL draft this week, they are spared the anxiety of having to shop for that rarest of commodities — the elusive franchise quarterback.

Russell Wilson took them to the Super Bowl in just his second season, and at 25 years old, could have another dozen years ahead of him.

So the Seahawks must focus their resources on conscripting players to protect him.

They’ve only got six picks this draft, and having won the Super Bowl, aren’t picking until the end of the first round.

Wilson has been stunningly reliable. Although he weighs only 209 pounds, he’s stayed undented and vertical by being extraordinarily deft at avoiding big hits.

He’s never missed a game and never been so much as listed on an injury report.

But how long can he be put at risk?

Last season, he absorbed 51 sacks — 44 in the regular season and seven more in the playoffs.

Against San Francisco in the NFC title game, he was sacked four times and hit 10 times — somewhat savagely, at that. Certain teams make a clear commitment to laying hits on him. St. Louis sacked him 11 times with 18 hits in two games in 2013.

In the first San Francisco game last year, linebacker NaVorro Bowman decked Wilson with a hit that should have sent him to the locker room. Versus Tampa Bay, Wilson was obviously shaken up by a hit, which was later revealed to have caused a mild shoulder injury.

Actually, there are no mild injuries to a franchise quarterback; every one has the capacity to change the fortunes of a season.

Looking back at the 2013 stats, the Seahawks were the worst in the NFL in sacks per pass play.

On the list of most-sacked quarterbacks, Wilson was tied for third (44) with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Only Miami’s Ryan Tannehill (58) and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco had more (48).

Most indicting about the Seahawks’ protection is that those sack numbers have to be considered in light of the fact that Wilson had 244 fewer passing attempts than Ryan and 171 fewer than Tannehill.

Football Outsiders listed Wilson with league-highs in scrambles (51) and scrambles under heavy pressure (33). And all those are with the fewest pass attempts of any regular starter in the league.

Since then, action in the offseason has only weakened the manpower at offensive line, as starters Breno Giacomini (right tackle) and Paul McQuistan (left guard) left via free agency.

That leaves two bankable linemen with Pro Bowl credentials: left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger.

As it stands, they have left guard James Carpenter, a former first-rounder who missed 16 games with injury his first two seasons. Although he played in every game in 2013, he never took control of the position the way a first-round pick could be expected, and his dubious future was highlighted last week when the Hawks declined to pick up the option for the fifth season (2015) on his rookie contract.

At right guard, they’ve got J.R. Sweezy, a converted defensive lineman who started 15 games last season and had the look of a guy with potential who is still learning the position.

At right tackle, who knows? Michael Bowie, a seventh-rounder last season has the physical tools and temperament, and started seven games when Giacomini was hurt.

The other promising young lineman is Alvin Bailey, an undrafted free-agent rookie last season whom the Seahawks liked so well they started him in the Super Bowl as a jumbo tight end on run downs.

But that leaves Seattle with a projected lineup of three mostly unproven young guys, with left tackle Russell Okung entering the last year of his rookie contract.

So, Seattle needs to be drafting linemen for both now and years down the road.

Other options to fill the void? It’s almost impossible to go out and get a productive veteran lineman anymore. There aren’t enough good linemen to fill 32 rosters. So, if they’re good, teams are keeping them.

Maybe there’s a chance some high-priced veteran becomes a salary-cap casualty. But the Seahawks haven’t done well with free-agent linemen, at times spending too much for players past their prime.

Yes, they’ll look for a wide receiver, and depth at positions across the board, projecting needs for 2015 and beyond.

Certainly, everything is made easier by having the franchise quarterback on hand.

As long as he’s healthy, that is.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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