3 Seattle Seahawks
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His roster overhauled, Mike Holmgren now needs to follow up with wins
By Jeffri Chadiha
In April, Marcus Robertson sat in general manager-coach Mike Holmgren's office and asked the question that, if he got the answer he wanted, would result in his signing with the Seahawks. Why me? Robertson wanted to know. Why not Brock Marion or Kim Herring or some other talented free-agent free safety with less wear on his body?
"Mike looked right at me and said I was the kind of guy he wanted," says Robertson, an 11-year veteran who had spent his entire career with the Oilers-Titans before being waived this off-season for salary-cap reasons. "He said if he could get players like me and the other guys he brought in here, he wouldn't have any more problems with his defense."
Robertson, who got a three-year, $3.9 million deal, wasn't the only one who bought Holmgren's sales pitch. Also signing on were two former All-Pros: 32-year-old middle linebacker Levon Kirkland, his pride aching after the Steelers whacked him in a salary-cap move, received a three-year, $7.5 million package; and defensive tackle John Randle, 33, accepted a five-year, $25 million offer after getting the same treatment from the Vikings that Kirkland received from Pittsburgh. Those players -- along with free-agent tackle Chad Eaton, late of the Patriots -- form the foundation of a new-look defense.
Lord knows the Seahawks needed a change. Upon ending the 2000 season with a 6-10 record, Seattle ranked last in the AFC in average yards allowed per rush (4.9) and in third-down stops (opponents made a first down 44.3% of the time). It stood 15th in the conference in sacks (27) and in average yards allowed per completion (13.2). "We did everything a bad defense could do," says defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell.
The free-agent additions should provide the Seahawks with stability in the area they need it most -- up the middle. Kirkland should have the biggest impact because he's still an effective run defender. His play will enable outside linebackers Chad Brown and Anthony Simmons to focus more on their own responsibilities. Robertson brings savvy to the secondary, while Randle and Eaton, 29, will anchor the line.
Holmgren understands the risk of signing three prominent free agents whose best years may be behind them, but he thinks he can get two productive years out of each. The attribute he values most about the three is their positive influence on younger players. During training camp it wasn't uncommon to see Kirkland riding a stationary bike after a full-pads workout or Randle and Robertson running wind sprints. "I've been here two years, and I expected some leaders to emerge," Holmgren says. "It didn't happen as fast I'd hoped, so I had to go out and pick some up."
Adds Brown, "All these guys have played for winners, so they know what it takes. You don't play as long as they have without being professional and understanding the little things. Sometimes it's as simple as coming to practice and not complaining. A lot of guys complained last year or worried about where they were going out that night. We need people focused on what's happening on the field."
Holmgren's moves weren't restricted to defense. The offense also has its share of new faces, notably 25-year-old quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was acquired in a March trade with the Packers. After attempting only 29 regular-season passes in two seasons as one of Brett Favre's backups in Green Bay, Hasselbeck is eager to prove his mettle.
When he joined the Packers in 1999, Hasselbeck got a crash course in the West Coast offense. He watched as Favre improvised, often turning a disaster into a big play. In Seattle, however, Hasselbeck is working with wide receivers who have a combined 88 career receptions and are still trying to grasp the offense. So for now the Seahawks are keeping things simple.
"I know I can throw a touchdown in this offense," Hasselbeck says, "but Mike has told me to worry less about touchdowns and more about first downs. It's hard because in Green Bay, Brett's attitude was to take a shot downfield whenever possible. Here, we're trying to set things up with shorter completions."
Holmgren was impressed enough during camp that last week the team signed Hasselbeck to a five-year extension, through 2006. Among other things, the coach loves the energy his new quarterback has shown. In fact, Holmgren is excited about the team of gung-ho types he has assembled. At week's end, only 15 players remained from the roster he inherited when he took over. "This organization has had a lot to learn about what it takes to win," says Brown, a Seahawk since 1997. "We're still learning those things, but now that Mike has his guys, I think things are going to change for the better."
Issue date: September 3, 2001