Seahawks Insider Blog

Hawk bites: Can Mare do it again?

He finished 24-of-27 on field goal attempts with a long of 51 yards. He made every extra point attempt. And he finished tied for second in the league in touchbacks, kicking the ball in the end zone 31 percent of the time.

Teams only averaged 25.6 yards a return on kicks against Seattle, good enough for second in the league.

Pretty good stats, huh? And particularly not the numbers you would expect from a kicker competing for his job heading into training camp. But that's the position Olindo Mare finds himself in heading into Seattle's 2009 training camp.

Part of the reason for the position battle is the competition. Brandon Coutu, a seventh round draft choice by Seattle last season, also is a talented kicker. Coutu was consistent during the preseason last year, making 7-of-7 field goals, including a long of 48 yards.

The difference between the two is on kickoffs, where Mare is much more consistent at putting the ball in the end zone.

There's also a difference in age and compensation. Coutu turns 25 on Sept. 29, and is in the second year of a four-year, $1.75 million deal that would pay him $385,000 in 2009, $470,000 in 2010 and $555,000 in 2011.

Mare is 36, and in the second year of a two-year deal that pays him $1.5 million this season. Mare would like an extension. The Seahawks held onto Coutu last season and kept two kickers on the roster. I don't expect that to happen this season.

There also may be concerns about Mare's health. He was placed on the injured reserve by New Orleans in 2007 with a hip injury and struggled during that year, making only 10 of 17 field goal attempts. But he appears to have rebounded from that injury. And when healthy, Mare has been one of the more consistent kickers in the league, making an average of 80 percent of his field goal attempts over a 13-year career in the league.

After a nightmarish start of the regular season against Buffalo, where the Seahawks allowed a fake field goal for a touchdown, gave up another touchdown on a punt return and fumbled kickoff that led to another touchdown, special teams coach Bruce DeHaven smoothed things out, and Seattle's special teams played solid the rest of the way.

Josh Wilson finished first in the league in return yards with 1,753, which was partly due to his talent as a returner and mostly due to the amount of points Seattle gave up in 2008. Wilson had the most returns (69) of anyone in the league last season (14 more than the next return man), and averaged 25.4 yards per return.

Because of injuries and inconsistent play, punter Ryan Plackemeier was released early in the year and replaced with Jon Ryan. And after a shaky start, Ryan finished the season averaging 45.6 yards a punt, good enough for ninth overall in the league. However, the Seahawks gave up a net of 37.9 yards per punt, which put them at 14th overall. That number probably is partly due to Ryan not consistently getting enough hang time in his punts, and also the need for improved coverage by the punt unit.

The Seahawks had a punt blocked this season. Ryan had 22 punts downed inside the 20-yard-line, compared to 12 touchbacks. This isn't a great ratio and should be improved this season.

Justin Forsett did a solid job returning punts for the first time in his football career, averaging 9.9 yards a return. Forsett had a long of 50 yards, with three returns of 20 yards or more. He had nine fair catches, but most important, Forsett didn't cough up any fumbles to the other team.

Bryan Pittman and Ryan Senser will compete for the long snapper job, replacing veteran Jeff Robinson. Pittman is a veteran who, if he earns the job, would give Seattle some stability at that position again.

Head coach Jim Mora has said they'd like to give Deon Butler an opportunity to return punts, giving Seattle someone back there with a little more explosiveness. We'll see how Butler does. He did not return punts regularly in college at Penn State, and I believe ball security is the most important thing in returning punts – you don't want to cough up the rock deep in your own territory and give points away with the parity in the NFL. I believe Forsett, as a running back, does a good job of making the first guy miss, and may be better at shedding tackles than someone like Butler who is lighter.

As always, special teams will be important to the Seahawks performance this season. And as a coach who learned the game under longtime Husky head coach Don James, Mora understands the importance the kicking game plays to winning on Sundays.