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Two-A-Days: Seattle Seahawks 2011 Season Preview

The Sports Network

9/1/2011 2:38:32 PM

(Sports Network) - With a few stiff-arms and even more broken tackles, Marshawn Lynch secured the Seattle Seahawks' victory over New Orleans in last January's NFC Wild Card Playoffs, giving the franchise a bit of vindication after becoming the first division winner ever to post a losing record during the regular season.

But what goes up ultimately comes down, and an ugly loss to the Chicago Bears the following week ushered the Seahawks out of the postseason. If their hosting of a first-round playoff matchup was the biggest surprise of the year, than the 'Hawks not-so-shocking exit in Chicago stood at the other end of the spectrum.

While Seattle certainly wasn't expected to make a deep playoff run, don't think head coach Pete Carroll will simply just rest after getting the Seahawks to the postseason for the seventh time in 12 seasons. Carroll and general manager John Schneider pulled off an incredible 284 transactions in their first year together, and the team may have as many as 11 new starters between both sides of the ball in addition to a new kicker in 2011.

But while Carroll tried to mold new piece after new piece together throughout the 2010 season, his first at the helm of the Seahawks following a successful college tenure with USC, he's taken a slightly altered approach for year two.

For starters, he brought in former Raiders head coach Tom Cable to be his assistant head coach and oversee the offensive line. That will help a pair of new starters in tight end Zach Miller and left guard Robert Gallery, who both played under Cable in Oakland, fit in quicker.

Even bigger is the addition of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who figured to be a step behind because of the lockout's shortening of offseason preparation time. However, Jackson will be working under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who comes to the Seahawks after spending his previous five years in that position with the Minnesota Vikings, the team that just happens to be the recent home of both Jackson and another free-agent addition, wide receiver Sidney Rice.

See a theme here?

"The unusual circumstances of the lockout allowed us to think and revisit what our opportunities and our chances were," said Carroll. "The more we saw it coming, the more we realized that we needed continuity and we needed continuity that we could generate in a very short amount of time.

"Without question, in the minds of the staff and across the board, we realized that because of our background on our offense -- with Tom and Darrell coming together -- we could capture Tarvaris in this thing, who's been with Darrell for five years. We could hit it running full speed."

Jackson will need any extra help he can get as the Seahawks attempt to defend their fifth NFC West title in seven seasons, but Rice feels that Seattle is a good situation for the quarterback to start earning some respect around the league.

"It's going to be great for Tarvaris," Rice said. "I felt like in Minnesota, he was never let loose. He was never allowed to play comfortably like I know he can play, and I feel like he'll get that opportunity out here to prove all those guys that think he's not an NFL quarterback wrong."

Jackson won't be the only one under the microscope, as returning defensive coordinator Gus Bradley tries to solve a unit that ranked second in the league versus the run at midseason, but ended the year 21st in that category and 27th overall.

Bradley's initial plan is to be more aggressive and use different looks to create confusion.

First, Seattle may have to solve confusion in its own huddles, as just 16 players remain from the team Carroll took over prior to last season. That includes just two players -- linebacker Leroy Hill and cornerback Marcus Trufant -- who were on the Seahawks' 2005 Super Bowl team.

Make no mistake, this is Carroll's team through and through now.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2011 edition of the Seattle Seahawks, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2010 RECORD: 7-9 (1st, NFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to Chicago in NFC Divisional Playoff

COACH (RECORD): Pete Carroll (7-9 in one season with Seahawks, 40-40 in five seasons overall)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Darrell Bevell (first season with Seahawks)

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gus Bradley (third season)

OFFENSIVE STAR: Sidney Rice, WR (17 receptions, 2 TD with Vikings)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Chris Clemons, DE (49 tackles, 11 sacks)

2010 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 28th overall (31st rushing, 19th passing), 23rd scoring (19.4 ppg)

2010 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 27th overall (21st rushing, 27th passing), 25th scoring (25.4 ppg)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Tarvaris Jackson (from Vikings), WR Sidney Rice (from Vikings), TE Zach Miller (from Raiders), OG Robert Gallery (from Raiders), OG John Moffitt (3rd Round, Wisconsin), OT James Carpenter (1st Round, Alabama), DT Alan Branch (from Cardinals), K Jeff Reed (from 49ers), DE Jimmy Wilkerson (from Saints), DT Clinton McDonald (from Bengals), OLB David Vobora (from Rams), S Atari Bigby (from Packers), K Jeff Reed (from 49ers),

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Matt Hasselbeck (to Titans), TE Chris Baker (released), C Chris Spencer (to Bears), OT Sean Locklear (to Redskins), MLB Lofa Tatupu (released), CB Kelly Jennings (to Bengals), SS Lawyer Milloy (not tendered), K Olindo Mare (to Panthers), WR Brandon Stokley (not tendered), WR Ruvell Martin (to Bills), C Chris White (to Giants), OG Chester Pitts (not tendered), OG Stacy Andrews (to Giants), OT Ray Willis (to Dolphins), DE Jay Richardson (not tendered), DT Kentwan Balmer (to Panthers), DT Craig Terrill (not tendered), DT Amon Gordon (to Chiefs), OLB Will Herring (to Saints), S Jordan Babineaux (to Titans)

QB: After parting ways with Matt Hasselbeck and ending the team's all-time leader in wins' 10-year stay in Seattle, Carroll wasted no time handing the keys to the castle to Jackson (341 passing yards, 3 TD, 4 INT in 2010). The 28-year-old has made 20 starts in his career, including 12 in 2007 with the Vikings, but just one came last year as he slowly drifted into an afterthought as Brett Favre's backup in Minnesota. He now takes his arm and mobility to the West Coast and will hope his familiarity with Bevell will pay off quickly. Carroll made the decision to go with Jackson over Charlie Whitehurst (507 passing yards, 2 TD, 3 INT), Hasselbeck's backup from last year. Seattle gave up a pair of draft picks to get Whitehurst from the Chargers in March of 2010, so Carroll won't hesitate to go to the Clemson product if Jackson struggles. Rookie free agent Josh Portis is the third quarterback.

RB: Lynch became an instant favorite in the Emerald City when his 67-yard touchdown run against the Saints literally shook the earth and helped the Seahawks knock off the defending world champions. One of Carroll's many in- season pickups, Lynch ended up making 11 starts with the Seahawks after beginning the year with Buffalo and led the club with 573 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 165 attempts. His acquisition knocked former college teammate Justin Forsett (523 rushing yards, 2 TD) down the depth chart, but the latter still got 118 carries and was third on the team with 33 receptions. Expect both backs to get their playing time in 2011. Leon Washington also contributed after coming back from a horrific leg injury, but his true value is in the return game. The 240-pound Michael Robinson is a fullback who can make plays with the ball if the chances come.

WR/TE: Carroll had high praise for the signing of Miller (60 receptions, 5 TD), and the move became even bigger when fellow tight end John Carlson (31 receptions, 1 TD) was lost for the year due to a torn labrum he suffered during the preseason that required surgery. While the Seahawks lost depth, they still have a true No. 1 at the spot in Miller, a Pro Bowl selection last year. Mike Williams got his stalled NFL career back on track under his former college coach last year, with the 6-foot-5 wideout topping the Seahawks with 65 catches and 751 receiving yards to go along with a pair of touchdowns. Jackson shouldn't have much problem finding the tall receiver given his history with the 6-foot-4 Rice (17 receptions, 2 TD with Vikings), who was limited to just six games last year due to a hip injury but is healthy and ready to go in Seattle. Ben Obomanu (30 receptions, 4 TD) showed his big-play ability with an 87-yard touchdown grab a season ago and is an underrated target, while 2010 second-round choice Golden Tate (21 receptions) will look to build off his rookie season. The club is also waiting for Deon Butler (36 receptions, 4 TD), to return from a broken leg suffered late last season, but it is unknown when he will be back.

OL: Gallery won't be the only new face on Carroll's revamped offensive line. Seattle's first two picks in the 2011 draft, first-rounder James Carpenter and third-round selection John Moffitt, will also claim starting jobs. The 6- foot-7 Gallery will take over at a left guard spot where three different players made starts last year, while the 321-pound Carpenter will step in at right tackle opposite 2010 first-round pick Russell Okung. Carpenter has size and solid run-blocking ability, as he paved paths for former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram at Alabama, while Moffitt brings a mean streak to the right guard position. Both Sean Locklear and Stacy Andrews, both of whom got the bulk of the starts on the right side last year, are gone, as are center Chris Spencer and reserve guard Chris White. Spencer started all 16 games last year and will be replaced by Max Unger, who missed all but one game of last year with a toe injury. Okung, meanwhile, made 10 starts while battling injuries and also suffered a sprained left ankle during the preseason. Tyler Polumbus stepped in for him at left tackle last year and will do so when needed again. Mike Gibson is also an option off the bench after he made starts at both guard positions last year.

DL: Thanks in part to the 323-pound Red Bryant's successful shift to the right end spot, the Seahawks dominated opposing ground games early on before Bryant (18 tackles, 1 sack) went down with a knee injury after seven games. He returns to that position this year, with Brandon Mebane (31 tackles, 1 sack) shifting to nose tackle while Colin Cole (44 tackles, 1 sack) recovers from an ankle injury. Seattle signed Alan Branch (35 tackles, 2 sacks with Cardinals) to line up at the three-technique spot after he spent his first four seasons with division-rival Arizona in a reserve role. Chris Clemons (49 tackles) was acquired from the Eagles before the start of last year to play the roaming "Leo" end spot and excelled, recording a team and career-high 11 sacks. Veteran backup Raheem Brock (32 tackles) added another nine sacks even though he didn't make a start. Seattle looked outside of the locker room for reserve help, signing Jimmy Wilkerson (16 tackles, 2 sacks with Saints) and trading with the Bengals for tackle Clinton McDonald.

LB: Though the Seahawks did not allow many sacks last year, they did have their own struggles with getting to the quarterback, posting just 37 sacks of their own. The bulk of that came from Clemons and Brock, so Bradley will look to get his linebackers more involved. The release of the respected Lofa Tatupu opens up the middle spot for 2010 leading tackler David Hawthorne (106 tackles, 1 INT), who made 16 starts on the outside a year ago. Taking his place will be Hill, who re-signed with Seattle after spending last season on injured reserve. While those two settle into familiar positions, the fourth overall pick of the 2009 draft, Aaron Curry (73 tackles, 3.5 sacks), will likely get some more shots at being a disruptive presence as a blitzer. Seattle does have one veteran backup in Matt McCoy (19 tackles), but the other expected options off the bench are fourth-round pick K.J. Wright (Mississippi State) and fellow rookie Malcolm Smith, a seventh-round choice who played under Carroll at USC.

DB: The trade of cornerback Kelly Jennings to the Bengals for McDonald leaves Seattle looking for a starter opposite of Trufant (80 tackles, 1 INT), who is now the longest-tenured Seahawk after getting selected 11th overall in 2003. Trufant was second on the team in tackles last year and will see either second-year Walter Thurmond (37 tackles), 6-foot-4 former CFL corner Brandon Browner or 2011 fifth-round pick Richard Sherman (Stanford) start on the opposite right side. While Trufant may be the "old guy" in the secondary, he has a talented youth watching his back in free safety Earl Thomas (76 tackles). The University Texas product started all 16 games last year after being selected 14th overall in the draft and led the club with five interceptions. Veteran Lawyer Milloy started opposite of Thomas last year, but his job now belongs to Kam Chancellor (23 tackles, 1 sack), a 6-foot-3 second- year man out of Virginia Tech. Veteran Atari Bigby, who played in just four games with the Packers last year due to ankle surgery, was signed to be Chancellor's backup, while rookie Mark LeGree (4th Round, Appalachian State) is listed behind Thomas on the depth chart.

SPECIAL TEAMS: After enduring the brutal cold and winds of Pittsburgh for most of his career, kicker Jeff Reed fell out of favor with the Steelers and finished up the 2010 season with the 49ers. He'll now stay on the West Coast after signing with Seattle in the offseason. Reed missed seven of his 22 field goal tries with Pittsburgh, but hit on all but one of his 10 kicks with the Niners. Punter Jon Ryan (37.3 net avg.) enters his fourth season as Seattle's punter and is coming off a solid season. Washington showed that he recovered from his compound leg fracture suffered in 2009 by racking up 1,461 kick return yards on 57 attempts while racing to the end zone three times. That along with averaging 11.3 yards per punt return earned him a new multi-year contract over the summer.

PROGNOSIS: Given the turnover with Seattle's starting lineup and just how close the weak NFC West was a year ago, logic would say the Seahawks will have trouble defending their title in 2011. However, Carroll and his coaching staff seem to have a plan on how to move ahead of the learning curve with all the new faces, and it just might be crazy enough to work. Of course, crazy is exactly how many people might describe Carroll if he thinks Jackson is the answer at the quarterback position, but the former Viking castoff will get a chance to prove doubters wrong and has some solid help in Williams, Rice, Miller and Lynch to do so. Jackson's mobility will also give the offensive line time to mold together, but the Seattle defense must be the ones to first find a way to stay consistent all year long.