The Seahawks under now third-year head coach Pete Carroll have shown an ability to maximize talent. Carroll wasn’t dealt the richest hand when he took over the franchise in 2010, but has still produced two 7-9 seasons and one unlikely 2011 playoff upset of the New Orleans Saints.
And slowly but steadily, Seattle’s talent base has grown through the guidance of G.M. John Schneider.
The Seahawks won five of their final eight games last season, and each of the three losses were by six points or fewer. Coming off an aggressive, addition-filled spring, the Seahawks look like the best bet in the NFC West to challenge reigning champion San Francisco for the division’s top spot.
Seattle’s running game took off after a slow start in 2011, as tailback Marshawn Lynch turned in a career season in a contract year. Lynch reeled off touchdowns in 11 consecutive games from Week Five on, also churning out six 100-yard rushing efforts in the last nine games. Lynch is a ferocious power back with as much natural tackle-breaking ability as any runner in the game. The Seahawks rewarded him after the season with a new four-year, $31 million commitment.
Defensively, the Seahawks are among the league’s better run-stuffing teams, and their secondary has as much promise as any group in football. Ball-hawking free safety Earl Thomas, 23, headlines a young unit that also includes 24-year-old enforcer strong safety Kam Chancellor, promising 24-year-old left cornerback Richard Sherman, and right corner Brandon Browner, who turns 28 in August. Thomas, Chancellor, Sherman, and Browner combined for 16 interceptions in 2011.
Defensive end Chris Clemons has been Seattle’s top pass rusher during the Carroll era, though he wants a new contract and didn’t show for mandatory minicamp in June. The Seahawks did draft a potential heir apparent in first-rounder Bruce Irvin, who is incredibly explosive off the edge.
The Seahawks have invested heavily in their offensive line — particularly via the draft — but the picks have yet to pay consistent dividends. While position coach Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme really took hold during Lynch’s dominant three months of rushing last year, Seattle needs better durability from the likes of left tackle Russell Okung and right guard John Moffitt. James Carpenter, the Seahawks’ first-round pick in 2011, is a question mark for Week One after tearing his ACL late last November. Carpenter struggled at right tackle before the year-ending injury.
Quarterback play has been shaky at best under Carroll’s watch, although the Seahawks believe they have upgraded the position by signing Matt Flynn and drafting Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin. An ardent promoter of competition for every starting job, Carroll claims incumbent Tarvaris Jackson will get a fair shake in the forthcoming camp battle.
Wide receiver is another big question mark, probably even more so than quarterback. Projected No. 1 wideout Sidney Rice is attempting to return from double offseason shoulder surgeries. Rice also ended last season on injured reserve after suffering three concussions over an 11-month span. The receiver job opposite Rice is wide open.
Flynn was Seattle’s biggest offseason addition, inking a three-year, $19.5 million contract after spending four seasons as a backup in Green Bay. This year’s draft netted the aforementioned Wilson, Irvin, second-rounder Bobby Wagner, and physical tailback Robert Turbin in the first four rounds.
The Seahawks have continuity throughout the coaching staff and front office.
Seattle’s defensive line was already a strength, and it added pass-rushing interior tackle Jason Jones to the mix on a cost-effective, one-year contract. Jones will team with Clemons, Irvin, run-stopping end Red Bryant, do-it-all tackle Brandon Mebane, and 330-pound reserve Alan Branch to give the Seahawks one of the league’s most unsung but effective front-four groupings.
Gone is middle linebacker David Hawthorne, with Wagner and emerging journeyman Barrett Ruud competing to replace him. The other two linebacker jobs are set.
Although it’d be a fairly big upset if Flynn didn’t win the Week One quarterback job, Jackson and Wilson will compete hard in an August camp battle sure to produce plenty of headlines.
The Seahawks would probably like for Golden Tate to secure the No. 2 receiver spot opposite Rice, but Kris Durham, Ben Obomanu, and second-year speedster Ricardo Lockette will receive long looks. Doug Baldwin should be entrenched as Seattle’s slot receiver.
On the offensive line, left guard and right tackle will be hotly contested. Carpenter — if healthy — will push Breno Giacomini opposite Okung. The open guard spot could go to Lemuel Jeanpierre, Frank Omiyale, or Paul McQuistan.
The Seahawks seem to be a team on the rise, but they’ve yet to exceed seven regular-season wins through two years of the Carroll/Schneider regime. In order to instill confidence in the minds of observers, Seattle needs to take a significant step forward in on-the-field performance.
Seattle’s 2012 schedule includes a brutal stretch from Weeks Two through Eight. They’ll square off with four returning playoff teams — the Packers, Patriots, 49ers, and Lions. During the seven-game run, the Seahawks also face the explosive offenses of Dallas and Carolina. We’ll have a very good feel for what kind of team the 2012 Seahawks are following that tough run.
Ultimately, we ranked Seattle as the second best team in the NFC West. We like them better than the Cardinals and Rams, but much less than the Niners. The Seahawks are a club that certainly could surprise, especially if they emerge from the aforementioned seven-game stretch with four solid wins.
Our guess is they’re probably still a year away from serious title contention.