> This teamcould be more talented than the one that lost (got robbed, most Seattle fansstill say) in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Other than the drop-off at leftguard, from All-Pro Steve Hutchinson in '05 to untested Rob Sims, everyoffensive position is as good or better than that NFC-champion lineup; inparticular, tight end has been upgraded, with sure-handed Marcus Pollard,signed as a free agent from Indianapolis, replacing butterfingered JerramyStevens. Two free-agent pickups on defense are also upgrades: former Falconsleft end Patrick Kerney and former Jaguars safety Deon Grant. "We'rehealthier than we were all last year on offense," says coach Mike Holmgren,"and what I'm really excited about is, we're a lot better on defense."They'd better be. The Seahawks limped into last year's playoffs after allowing20 or more points in 12 of the last 14 regular-season games.
> Unless, at30, he shows signs of slowing down, Kerney will give opposing offensivecoordinators more to worry about when they prepare for Seattle than justpremier pass rusher Julian Peterson. "Whenever we played Atlanta,"Holmgren says, "Kerney was the guy we said we needed to stop. He'srelentless." In addition, defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, returning fromNovember knee surgery, provides much-needed juice to a run defense that allowed4.6 yards per attempt, 30th in the league. At safety, Grant and Brian Russelloffer veteran leadership to an otherwise young secondary. So let's assume thedefense will be competitive for 16 games.
In the meantime,it will be up to the offense to return to its 2005 form, when it scored threeor more touchdowns in 12 of 16 games; last year the Seahawks scored as manyonly nine times. It was easy to blame injuries for the drop-off. QuarterbackMatt Hasselbeck and running back Shaun Alexander combined to miss 10 startswith shoulder and foot injuries, respectively; ace receiver Darrell Jacksonmissed three to a bad toe and was week-to-week after that.
In April, Jacksonwas traded to the 49ers for a fourth-round draft pick--a highly questionablemove, dealing your best receiver to a burgeoning division rival that beat youtwice last year--leaving Deion Branch to fill the franchise-receiver role. Intruth, it's about time he did; the Seahawks traded a first-round pick to thePatriots to get him last season, and they're paying him $6.5 million ayear.
Hasselbeck hadoff-season surgery on his nonthrowing shoulder and looked fine in camp, but theplayer who has the fate of the Seahawks in his hands is Alexander. He's thekind of runner who, when healthy and in sync with his line, looks like he'sgalloping downhill; in the Super Bowl season he averaged 5.1 yards per carryand scored 28 touchdowns. That's what Seattle missed last year. He started thefirst three games, then sat out half a dozen and finished with a 3.6-yardaverage and just seven touchdowns. Overall, comparing 2005 with '06, theSeahawks' per-game production dropped by 7.3 points and 58.6 yards.
What you have towonder about Alexander, who just turned 30, is whether his average of 367combined rushes and receptions per season from 2001 through '05 will hasten hisdecline from greatness. His uncharacteristic performance last year gave himreason to beg off the banquet circuit in the off-season and rededicate himselfto getting into what he says is the best football shape of his life. "Iwant to do something spectacular this year," he says. "I'm shooting forEric Dickerson's rushing record and LT's touchdown record."
That's 2,105yards and 31 touchdowns. Is he serious?
"It's alwayspossible when you're like I am now--with new blood and new energy,"Alexander says. "A couple of years ago, when I had 28 [touchdowns], Ididn't play in nine quarters, and we were [so far] ahead a few times that wereally weren't trying to score. Thirty-two is possible if you get in the kindof groove I know I can get in."
There's one othertwist to making this year's offense better than 2005's. Alexander, who had 27receptions in his last 26 regular-season games, will have to become a biggerpart of the aerial game. "A major point of emphasis on offense thisoff-season has been throwing the checkdowns to the back," Hasselbeck says.In other words, instead of forcing the ball into small spaces to wideouts,Hasselbeck will dump it off to Alexander. If Alexander can't do the job, don'tbe surprised to see Holmgren occasionally sub for him on third down, maybe withstaff favorite Leonard Weaver, a 242-pounder out of Carson-Newman in 2005 whohad an impressive training camp.
"I'm ready tobe more active in the passing game," Alexander says. "Let's do it."From his lips to Holmgren's ears.--P.K.
WITH 2006 STATISTICS
COACH MIKE HOLMGREN (147-93 in NFL), ninth season with Seahawks
HT 6' 3"
HT 6' 3"
HT 6' 3"
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 5"
SACKS 4 1/2
SACKS 3 1/2
SACKS 3 1/2
SACKS 1 1/2
> 2006 RECORD9-7 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 14/20/19 DEFENSE 22/16/19
9 TAMPA BAY
16 at Arizona
30 at San Francisco
7 at Pittsburgh
14 NEW ORLEANS
21 ST. LOUIS
4 at Cleveland
12 SAN FRANCISCO (M)
25 at St. Louis
2 at Philadelphia
16 at Carolina
30 at Atlanta
NFL rank 24
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .488
Games against playoff teams 4
Instant access to the latest and best Seahawks stories, stats and blogs fromacross the Web, handpicked by SI's editors.
THE KING 500
> DEFENSIVE END
He looks and talks like someone who went to prep school in Connecticut andplayed lacrosse at Virginia--both of which Kerney did--but on a football fieldhe's as down and dirty as anyone. Recovered from a torn pectoral muscle, Kerneyleft the Falcons after eight seasons, 58 sacks and one Pro Bowl (2004)."I'm in a different system, out of my comfort zone," he says, "andI think it's going to be great for my career."
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE SEAHAWKS
> I'm not sure who has the most talented roster inthe conference, but it's either Seattle or Chicago. . . . Sean Locklear's thesecond-best guy on that line, a rising star at tackle who can fend off mostgood pass rushers thanks to his quick feet. No team in the league has twobetter tackles playing together than him and Walter Jones. . . . DarrellJackson was never going to get with coach Mike Holmgren's program after he felthe got jobbed on his contract. They had to get rid of him. . . . They're notmissing much in losing Jerramy Stevens, either. Troublemaker, and not worth thehassle. They've got better character guys now, like Deion Branch, PatrickKerney and Deon Grant.
better reception Alexander wants to make a run at history but can't neglect receiver duty.