With the Seattle Seahawks first minicamp with new head coach Jim Mora beginning on Tuesday, I thought we should pose 10 questions the Seahawks need answered this season. Throughout the year we'll keep tabs on how the Seahawks go about answering these questions.
1.) How much gas does quarterback Matt Hasselbeck have left in the tank?
After missing nine games last season due to a bulging disk in his back that caused instability in his leg, Hasselbeck says he's healthy and ready to go. An offseason training regimen that included working on his core muscles should help. However, Hasselbeck will be 34 when the season starts, and the Seahawks are mulling over whether to draft a quarterback to groom for the future, with Hasselbeck's health an issue. Whether or not Hasselbeck can stay healthy in 2009 will go a long way in determining how the Seahawks rebound from a 4-12 season.
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2.) Can Seattle's offensive line stay healthy?
The answer to the first question will largely hinge on the answer to this question. With all five projected starters at the beginning of the 2008 season finishing on the injured reserve list, the Seahawks must do a better job of staying healthy in 2009. Seattle anticipates Walter Jones returning to Pro Bowl form after season-ending microfracture knee surgery, and next week will be the first opportunity to evaluate where he's at in his rehabilitation. Left guard Mike Wahle is recovering from shoulder surgery, while center Chris Spencer is recovering from a bad back and shoulder. Both Rob Sims (torn pectoral muscle) and Sean Locklear (toe) also are coming off injuries as well.
Along with staying on the field, the line also has to continue to improve on the team's move to more of a zone-blocking scheme. Seattle has some depth, with guys like Ray Willis, Kyle Williams, Mansfield Wrotto and Steve Vallos playing well at the end of the season. However, Seattle still could use more depth here in case the injury bugs strikes again in 2009.
3.) How will Seattle get pressure on the quarterback?
Without the team's best pass rusher in Patrick Kerney for most of the season, Seattle struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. The team addressed that issue by signing Colin Cole to play inside alongside Brandon Mebane, and trading Julian Peterson to Detroit for defensive lineman Cory Redding and a fifth round draft pick. They also anticipate an improved Lawrence Jackson next season, and expect new defensive line coach Dan Quinn to coach this unit up. Many of Seattle's problems defensively start with the inability to get pressure, both in regular, four-man rush and blitz situations up front, which left the secondary vulnerable in pass situations. The Seahawks need better defensive line play in both pass and run situations to take some pressure off the back end of the defense and to help their talented linebackers make plays.
4.) Who will replace Julian Peterson?
Although his play may have slipped a notch last season, Peterson still made the Pro Bowl and offered a veteran presence in the locker room. D.D. Lewis is the most likely replacement for Peterson at this point, according to defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, but Seattle could take Aaron Curry in the draft. Curry would likely come in and fill the void at outside linebacker. Overall, Seattle just needs better play from a linebackers unit that underachieved last season.
5.) Will running backs step up?
With Maurice Morris gone and Seattle committing itself to running the ball more, there's no reason why the Seahawks shouldn't be a better running team in 2009. Julius Jones is out of the dog house, does not have Morris looking over his shoulder and should play with more confidence. T.J. Duckett performed well in a limited role and will get more opportunities to shoulder the load. Justin Forsett likely will get a chance to contribute. But Seattle likely needs another back here to add some explosiveness to the offense. Having a solid running game also will take some of the pressure off of Hasselbeck and the passing game.
6.) Houshmandzadeh time in Emerald City?
The Seahawks signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh to a $40 million deal be the focal point of the passing game, and if he puts up the same numbers that he has during his career, there should be no problems here. Houshmandzadeh should take pressure off of guys like Deion Branch, Nate Burleson and tight end John Carlson because of his presence inside. And that also will have an affect on the team's running game, keeping defenses from stacking the box.
7.) Improved play at safety in future?
Defensively, everyone struggled last season, including at the safety position, where poor tackling and bad angles led to some big plays. Deon Grant and Brian Russell need to get back to the way they played in 2007, when Seattle allowed a league-low nine touchdowns through the air. A change in scheme should help, with the Seahawks going to more of a cover-2 scheme. Bradley said Seattle will not play as much trail technique in coverage, with the defense keying more on the quarterback and rallying to the ball. Keeping things in front of them and reacting to the ball should play to Grant and Russell's strengths. However, if the play does not get better from both safeties, look for Bradley to make a change sooner rather than later.
8.) Josh Wilson's time to shine?
He came on late in the season and earned the starting job opposite of Marcus Trufant at cornerback, but will Josh Wilson get a chance to keep it? A lot has been talked about in terms of Wilson's 5-foot-9 frame, and whether or not he can compete against the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in jump ball situations. The Seahawks are looking at bigger cornerbacks in the draft, and might consider signing Ken Lucas after bringing him in for a visit. Whatever the team decides, the Seahawks need to continue to put Wilson in situations where he can flourish and continue to get better.
9.) How will Mora handle the limelight?
Mora will get his first chance to be the guy on the field. It should be an interesting change to the quiet intensity of Mike Holmgren, with the energetic Mora expected to take more of a hands-on approach in team drills. Mora, along with the five new assistants brought in, will offer a different voice that should serve as motivational factor for the team, at least early on. It will be interesting to see how Mora handles being the man in charge on the field again, and how the new coaching staff works together to get the Seahawks ready for the upcoming season. There appears to be a nice mix of experience and youth among the coaching staff, but we won't know the results until the games are played.
10.)How will GM Ruskell lead the charge?
With Holmgren's long shadow gone, this is team president and general manager Tim Ruskell's team now. And whether or not the team rebounds from a lackluster season largely falls on his shoulders. If the Seattle returns to its playoff form, he likely will get a lot of the credit. However, if the Seahawks continue their slide, Ruskell, who makes the personnel decisions, probably will get the lion's share of the blame with Holmgren now gone. So this season is an important one for Ruskell.