Sunday, April 29, 2012

Another odd draft

Once again, Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider pursued an unconventional draft strategy.

I approve of their general tactic of trading back to obtain additional picks.

However, their penchant for quirky picks--selecting players earlier than other teams and draft analysts deem wise--is thus far largely unproven.

Where the stakes are highest--in the first and second rounds--the Great Collaborators have found mixed results. Consider their first two efforts:

1. Russell Okung
1. Earl Thomas
2. Golden Tate

1. James Carpenter
2. John Moffitt

Stellar play and Pro Bowl honors have fully vindicated their selection of Earl Thomas.

Golden Tate has shown intriguing flashes of usefulness, but on balance he must be judged a bust thus far.

Injuries have prevented definitive analysis of the wisdom of drafting Okung, Carpenter and Moffitt. When healthy, Okung has played well, Carpenter has struggled, and Moffitt has performed adequately. However, the ability of all three to stay healthy enough to play a full season remains an open question of urgent significance.

In this context, it is far from clear whether this year's high-round picks will pay off. Both played in two of the NCAA's weaker athletic conferences.

The Great Collaborators embraced conventional wisdom in selecting Utah State's Bobby Wagner to fortify our linebacker corps in the second round. 

However, picking West Virginia pass rusher Bruce Irvin in the first round was widely considered a reach. An impressive physical specimen who played well in college, Irvin has a troubled past.

He and two later picks with rap sheets show that Carroll & Schneider continue to undervalue character, or--at best--to have strong faith in their ability to encourage troubled athletes to stay on the straight and narrow.

Perhaps their faith is justified. Marshawn Lynch had several scrapes with the law before he came to Seattle, but none since arriving here.

If the same formula can keep Irvin on the straight and narrow, then we'll get to see what he can do on the professional gridiron.

One way or another, the 2012 season will produce a verdict on the Great Collaborators' quirky early-round selections in the last three drafts. We need to see more evidence that the approach works before the franchise lets Carroll & Schneider roll the dice in the first two rounds in future drafts.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reservations about the new uniforms

The new Nike uniforms have gotten mixed reviews. According to a recent Seattle Times poll, most fans like the modern, Oregon Duck-inspired look. Others are less thrilled; a vocal minority has expressed horror at the change.

I neither love nor hate the new look. I like some elements and dislike others. I know I'll get used to them eventually.

However, here are my concerns:

1) All of my Seahawks gear is now obsolete or, at best, "classic." I'm sure Nike is voting for "obsolete" in the hope that I'll mindlessly dash out and pay through the beak to buy new jerseys, T-shirts, hoodies, etc. I won't, both because I like the old look better and because I am not a tool.

2) Seattle overhauled their jerseys more thoroughly than any other team in the league. The Seahawks' willingness to do that betrays both a lack of confidence and an impious refusal to honor the franchise's past achievements.

Long-established teams with distinguished histories retained their classic look, whether that look was excellent (Chicago, Pittsburgh), uninspired (Indianapolis, both New York teams), or downright ugly (Green Bay). Even teams with recent histories of sustained futility, like St. Louis and Oakland, have clung close to the look of their glory days.

The jerseys Seattle just ditched were worn by the greatest teams in franchise history. They adorned the athletes who won a conference championship and five division championships in seven years.

In their two years with the team, Pete Carroll and John Schneider indiscriminately and perversely purged the roster of players from Seattle's Golden Age. They sought not just to upgrade the talent on the field, but--in the spirit of Mao Zedong--to kill off the old team culture and usher in Pete Carroll's Cultural Revolution

Most of the athletes they cut needed to go to make way for younger and better players, but the Great Collaborators erred when they replaced leaders like Hasselbeck and Burleson with inferior players with inferior leadership skills. Moreover, the Cultural Revolutionaries were wrong to assume that there was nothing of value in the team traditions of the Golden Age.

Wise reformers preserve what is good and improve what is deficient, instead of burning an institution to the ground and starting from scratch.

What do we have to show after two years of wholesale roster churn and a clean break with Seattle's past? Two 7-9 seasons, and a team that may be ready to compete seriously next year.

A less radical approach would have yielded success faster. Seattle would have posted a winning record and made the playoffs last year if Carroll and Schneider had simply retained the services of Matt Hasselbeck.

The radical decision to ditch the Golden Age uniforms reflects the same Maoist mentality that has tainted the team's recent personnel decisions.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider could learn a lot about football, life and being a good human being by studying the examples of past Seahawk greats like Dave Brown, Steve Largent, Chuck Knox, Curt Warner, Dave Krieg, John L. Williams, Cortez Kennedy, Walter Jones, Mack Strong and Mike Holmgren.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Getting better at linebacker

Losing the Heater hurt, but yesterday's re-signing of veterans Leroy Hill and Matt McCoy increase confidence in our linebacker corps.

Hill is a solid defender. It is disappointing that he has never managed to match the promise he showed in 2005, when he and fellow rookie Lofa Tatupu won Pro Bowl honors. (Injuries prevented Hill from playing  in Honolulu that year.)

I blame the indiscipline evinced by his frequent off-the-field character lapses for Hill's failure to establish himself as one of the league's best players at his position.

Nevertheless, his return brings needed veteran skills to a linebacker corps looking for an identity after losing Lofa Tatupu and David Hawthorne--the unit's best players and strongest leaders--in a span of less than a year.

Like Hill, journeyman Matt McCoy entered the league in 2005. A perennial reserve and special teams kamikaze, McCoy hits hard, playing with a ferocity, hunger and reckless abandon that all backups should emulate, capitalizing upon every opportunity to make the case for a promotion. When pressed into the starting lineup, he has acquitted himself admirably.

The veteran talents of Hill, McCoy, KJ Wright and Barrett Ruud strengthen Seattle's position in the draft. We don't need to reach to find a linebacker.

In fact, we don't need to reach for anything. At this point, there are no holes in Seattle's roster so gaping that desperation will force us to make bad decisions on draft day. We can choose the best player available every time our turn comes, instead of making the kinds of risky gambles and forced choices that teams make when they're trying to shore up glaring personnel weaknesses.

GM John Schneider and Coach Pete Carroll have done well to maneuver the team into this enviable position entering the draft.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tru returns

Finding little love on the free agent market, Marcus Trufant signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks.

Tru's recent history of season-ending back injuries overshadowed his Pro Bowl credentials, compromising his appeal to NFL teams searching for a quality cornerback.

Even if healthy, Trufant might not start. That's how good our secondary has become.

If Tru does beat out Richard Sherman, then all four members of our starting secondary will have had Pro Bowl experience: Trufant, plus fellow cornerback Brandon Browner and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.

Even if Sherman relegates the senior Seahawk corner to the nickelback slot, that still gives us one of the league's best and deepest secondaries.

Welcome back, Tru.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Shades of Tim Ruskell

Seattle snagged three free agents today, signing all of them to low-risk one-year deals.

First, the Seahawks wisely secured the continued services of valued reserve safety Roy Lewis, a hard-hitting defender, and distinguished alumnus of the University of a Thousand Years, the University of Washington, to which all should humbly bow down.

In their signees, if not in their durations, the other two contracts seemed more characteristic of former GM Tim Ruskell than of the Great Collaborators (GM John Schneider/Pete Carroll/Tom Cable). Many Seahawks fans came to revile Ruskell because--among other things--he signed too many fading, over-the-hill veterans to overlong and overgenerous contracts. (The financial terms of today's deals are not public, yet.)

After passing on the stalwart David Hawthorne, the Great Collaborators secured the services of a different middle linebacker, Barrett Ruud, an ex-Buc and ex-Titan.

Ruud resembles the Heater in that both men average 100+ tackles when they start a full season, and both capably cover receivers, defending several passes and intercepting a few every year. Both missed games due to injury for the first time in their careers last season.

So, how do Ruud and Hawthorne differ? Ruud is a little older (28) than Hawthorne (26), but has logged much more mileage: the Heater just finished his third starting season, while Ruud has started the equivalent of five full campaigns.

Moreover, Ruud's recent injury history is significantly more alarming than Hawthorne's. The Heater sat for just one game last year, though his knee hampered and slowed him for much of the season. Ruud, on the other hand, missed 9 games with a pulled groin (by far my least favorite injury; so he certainly has my sympathy).

Perhaps Ruud was simply less lucky than Hawthorne last year, but linebackers dish out and absorb huge doses of punishment, so Ruud's greater age and (possible) greater susceptibility to injury render him a less desirable signing than the Heater.

However, Hawthorne wanted, deserved, and received a five-year deal (from New Orleans), while Ruud settled for a single year with Seattle.

Offensive guard Deuce Lutui presents an even more uncertain prospect.

My first reflexes were favorable. I dig it anytime we beef up the O-Line, and the sentimentalist in me approves of perpetuating the proud tradition of Pacific Islanders playing for the Seahawks. Like Lutui, I've lived in Arizona for a while, and I can't blame him wanting to relocate to Seattle's ideal climate.

Perennially a key cog in the Cardinals' offense until last year, the Tongan titan signed with the Bengals after the lockout ended, but failed his physical when he reported to Cincinnati too fat to play, pushing 400 pounds. The big man bounced back to Arizona, where he continued to struggle with his weight throughout the 2011 season. He never started, seeing only spot duty, playing a mere 45 snaps in 16 games..

Perhaps Pete Carroll--the Tongan's old college coach--can motivate him to become the team's Biggest Loser. I'm a big man myself, so I sympathize with Lutui's battle of the bulge. However, if keeping fit were my job, and if I were earning NFL money to manage my weight, then...

If the player can't drop the weight by training camp, then the Seahawks need to drop a Deuce.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sad day for Seattle

The new uniforms are hideous, and the Heater signed with New Orleans.

I'll probably get used to the uniforms eventually, but David Hawthorne is a versatile athlete, a solid leader, and a real loss for the organization. I'm officially worried about our linebacker corps.