Alexander wants to make a run at history but can't neglect receiver duty.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO (M)
at St. Louis
at San Francisco
The King 500
162Patrick Kerney, Defensive end
He looks and talks like someone who went to prep school in Connecticut and played lacrosse at Virginia -- both of which Kerney did -- but on a football field he's as down and dirty as anyone. Recovered from a torn pectoral muscle, Kerney left 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, "and I think it's going to be great for my career."
Front-office moves and good news on the medical front point to better things -- possibly even a return to Super Bowl form
This team could be more talented than the one that lost (got robbed, most
Seattle fans still say) in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Other than the
drop-off at left guard, from All-Pro Steve Hutchinson in '05 to untested Rob
Sims, every offensive position is as good or better than that NFC-champion
lineup; in particular, tight end has been upgraded, with sure-handed Marcus
Pollard, signed as a free agent from Indianapolis, replacing butterfingered
Jerramy Stevens. Two free-agent pickups on defense are also upgrades: former
Falcons left end Patrick Kerney and former Jaguars safety Deon Grant. "We're
healthier 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 allowing 20 or more
points in 12 of the last 14 regular-season games.
WHERE THEY'RE HEADED
Unless, at 30, he shows signs of slowing down, Kerney will give opposing
offensive coordinators more to worry about when they prepare for Seattle than
just premier pass rusher Julian Peterson. "Whenever we played Atlanta," Holmgren
says, "Kerney was the guy we said we needed to stop. He's relentless." In
addition, defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, returning from November knee surgery,
provides much-needed juice to a run defense that allowed 4.6 yards per attempt,
30th in the league. At safety, Grant and Brian Russell offer veteran leadership
to an otherwise young secondary. So let's assume the defense 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 three or more touchdowns in 12 of 16 games; last year the
Seahawks scored as many only nine times. It was easy to blame injuries for the
drop-off. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and running back Shaun Alexander combined
to miss 10 starts with shoulder and foot injuries, respectively; ace receiver
Darrell Jackson missed three to a bad toe and was week-to-week after that.
In April, Jackson was traded to the 49ers for a fourth-round draft pick -- a
highly questionable move, dealing your best receiver to a burgeoning division
rival that beat you twice last year -- leaving Deion Branch to fill the
franchise-receiver role. In truth, it's about time he did; the Seahawks traded a
first-round pick to the Patriots to get him last season, and they're paying him
$6.5 million a year.
Hasselbeck had off-season surgery on his nonthrowing shoulder and looked fine
in camp, but the player who has the fate of the Seahawks in his hands is
Alexander. He's the kind of runner who, when healthy and in sync with his line,
looks like he's galloping downhill; in the Super Bowl season he averaged 5.1
yards per carry and scored 28 touchdowns. That's what Seattle missed last year.
He started the first three games, then sat out half a dozen and finished with a
3.6-yard average and just seven touchdowns. Overall, comparing 2005 with '06,
the Seahawks' per-game production dropped by 7.3 points and 58.6 yards.
What you have to wonder about Alexander, who just turned 30, is whether his
average of 367 combined rushes and receptions per season from 2001 through '05
will hasten his decline from greatness. His uncharacteristic performance last
year gave him reason to beg off the banquet circuit in the off-season and
rededicate himself to getting into what he says is the best football shape of
his life. "I want to do something spectacular this year," he says. "I'm shooting
for Eric Dickerson's rushing record and LT's touchdown record."
That's 2,105 yards and 31 touchdowns. Is he serious?
"It's always possible 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], I
didn't play in nine quarters, and we were [so far] ahead a few times that we
really weren't trying to score. Thirty-two is possible if you get in the kind of
groove I know I can get in."
There's one other twist to making this year's offense better than 2005's.
Alexander, who had 27 receptions in his last 26 regular-season games, will have
to become a bigger part of the aerial game. "A major point of emphasis on
offense this off-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't be surprised to see Holmgren occasionally sub for him on third down,
maybe with staff favorite Leonard Weaver, a 242-pounder out of Carson-Newman in
2005 who had an impressive training camp.
"I'm ready to be more active in the passing game," Alexander says. "Let's do
it." From his lips to Holmgren's ears. -- Peter King