Coach Mike Holmgren is more relaxed now that former front office nemesis Bob Whitsitt is no longer president. A frustrated Holmgren came close to leaving after the 2004. "I really came to Seattle thinking it was something else," Holmgren says. "Having said that, I don't regret my decision at all. We love Seattle, (wife) Kathy and I do. I think we've gotten better on the football field. I think we play an exciting brand of football. The fans are coming back. There is some good stuff that has happened. I just got the feeling for a while that I was fighting too many battles."
The return of salary-cap ace Mike Reinfeldt was the key to re-signing quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and tackle Walter Jones. The organization parlayed that momentum to avoid a potentially disastrous offseason. "It just creates a real solid situation with contract negotiation and salary-cap analysis," Holmgren says, "not to mention the fact that he played a lot of football and he has good ideas about personnel as well."
The Prophecy: "Defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes is convinced (Michael Boulware) will make an outstanding strong safety in the NFL."
The Lie: "The defense, having already made gains under Rhodes, should move into the top 15."
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Another first-round playoff loss cost the Seahawks’ top man his job. Not coach Mike Holmgren, but president Bob Whitsitt, whose firing triggered a flurry of stories about front office bickering. Whitsitt’s surprising removal left the franchise with a more cohesive front office, but no more excuses.
Holmgren is entering his seventh season in Seattle, and the Seahawks still haven’t won a playoff game since 1984. His original eight-year contract is entering the home stretch. Now would be a good time for the Seahawks to start living up to expectations.
The league’s eighth-ranked offense returns mostly intact. It’s the defense that threatens to prevent the Seahawks from taking the next step. Seattle was effective in adding role players to the defense, but landing an impact pass rusher has proved difficult. The Seahawks couldn’t get pressure in 2004, and they appear vulnerable to the same problem this season.
Matt Hasselbeck’s second full season as an NFL starter was a bit of a disappointment. His receivers continued to drop passes, and Hasselbeck struggled to play well when injured. He was at his worst in a couple of division games, something he’ll look to rectify this season.
The security of a new contract is one difference for Hasselbeck, after wondering last season whether the organization was serious about re-signing him. Those feelings changed dramatically when Seattle stepped up with a six-year, $48 million contract.
“You really feel like you can pour out your heart and soul and give everything to this organization,” Hasselbeck says. “There is nothing in the back of your mind saying, ‘OK, am I going to be playing against this guy next year or am I going to be playing with him?’
“This is your team, this is your home, this is your family.”
Hasselbeck lost his closest friend on the team when highly respected backup Trent Dilfer landed as the starter in Cleveland. The timing might be right, however, because Seattle needs Hasselbeck to become more of a leader in his own right.
Shaun Alexander is coming off a 1,696-yard rushing performance that marked his NFL-record fourth in a row with at least 15 touchdowns. He also remains without a long-term contract, and the Seahawks aren’t sure whether he will return as their featured back. Alexander initially balked at signing the one-year tender for franchise players, an indication he might remain on the trading block for some time to come.
Seattle’s options beyond Alexander aren’t nearly as appealing. Backup Maurice Morris is a good fit for the offense, but he might be too small to hold up as the starter for a full season. Fullback Mack Strong is plenty big, but he turns 34 on Sept. 11.
The Seahawks released troubled wide receiver Koren Robinson and added veterans Jerome Pathon and Joe Jurevicius in free agency. Darrell Jackson returns after setting a franchise record with 87 receptions. He again appears to be the top target for Hasselbeck, even if some don’t consider him a prototypical No. 1 receiver. Seattle could use a bounce-back year from third receiver Bobby Engram, who battled injuries last season and dropped the potential game-tying touchdown in the first-round playoff loss to the Rams.
At tight end, first-round disappointment Jerramy Stevens showed signs of becoming more diligent in the offseason, but Itula Mili will push to keep his starting job.
Seattle finally found a way to re-sign Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones. The signing means Jones will attend training camp for the first time since 2001. His presence will allow Floyd Womack and others to concentrate on their intended positions, strengthening overall depth on a line that was already pretty strong.
Question marks remain at right tackle after troubled former starter Chris Terry received his release. Womack is probably the favorite, but Sean Locklear, Wayne Hunter and rookie Ray Willis could be factors.
Robbie Tobeck is entering his final season as the starting center. Seattle invested a first-round pick in Chris Spencer, and it’s only a matter of time before the Mississippi center lines up next to Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson.
The line has pretty good depth but no real stars. The pass rush was a concern even before Seattle parted ways with starting left end Chike Okeafor (8.5 sacks) and Chad Brown, the linebacker who played end on obvious passing downs.
The Seahawks badly need 2004 first-round pick Marcus Tubbs to emerge as a force inside. His rookie year was an injury-plagued disaster. The line will benefit from a healthy Grant Wistrom at right end. Left end Bryce Fisher, signed from the Rams in free agency, has not been a dynamic player despite a career-high 8.5 sacks last season.
Coaches think fifth-round pick Jeb Huckeba has the potential to become an effective pass rusher. He spent two years as a linebacker at Arkansas and only recently emerged as a rush end.
Brown and Anthony Simmons are gone. Both had become overpriced given recent problems with injuries. Their absence will be felt unless newly signed Jamie Sharper gets help from 2005 draft choices Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill. Both could start as rookies, and that might not be a bad thing given the energy infusion this unit needs.
D.D. Lewis is another strong candidate to start after a shoulder injury kept him sidelined last season. Lewis lacks top-flight athletic ability, but he’s instinctive and makes plays. The same scouting report applies to Tatupu, the middle linebacker from USC who many considered a reach in the second round.
This might be the strongest position on the team. Michael Boulware played like a Pro Bowler as a rookie. With his natural ability and study habits, he should only get better. No one else on the defense possesses his knack for making big plays in clutch situations.
Losing Ken Lucas in free agency hurt for awhile, but Seattle might be better with free-agent additions Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon competing for the starting spot on the right side. Talented former first-round choice Marcus Trufant locks down the left side.
Third-year free safety Ken Hamlin is a bit of an enigma. A phenom as a rookie starter, Hamlin was virtually invisible until finishing strong last season. Offseason shoulder surgery will keep Hamlin out until training camp. The Seahawks need him to provide an intimidating presence.
Bob Casullo is the new special-teams coach. He can’t fare any worse than Mark Michaels, who was fired after one disastrous season.
Seattle is taking a gamble by expecting Donnie Jones to suddenly become dependable. The former practice-squadder punted like one when injuries forced him into the lineup last season. The Seahawks have all but handed him the job this offseason after relying on steadier veterans (Tom Rouen, Jeff Feagles) in recent years.
Will Alexander be back? Can the defense stay reasonably healthy? Can Seattle stay ahead of an improving Arizona team in the NFC West? Those are the variables as Seattle strives for its third consecutive playoff appearance, a feat the organization has never accomplished.
The offense should again rank among the NFL’s top 10. The defense will probably improve upon its No. 26 ranking. But the absence of a consistent pass rush could again prevent the Seahawks from taking the next step.