3 Seattle Seahawks A lot about the team is new, but is it improved? An early injury may serve as an omen

September 01, 2002

Seattle has a new stadium, new uniforms, a new conference and,
perhaps, a new identity. In the inaugural game at Seahawks
Stadium, an Aug. 10 exhibition against the Colts, coach Mike
Holmgren's offense was the model of efficiency. For 20 glorious
minutes the Seahawks and their skeptical fans, who've seen the
team go an NFL-worst 18 years without a playoff victory, were
allowed to dream the dream.

Then came the cruelest of wake-up calls, a high-low hit on
quarterback Trent Dilfer that sent him to the turf, where he
clutched his right knee and howled in pain. Dilfer feared his
season was over, as did many of his deflated teammates, who had
warmed to the veteran passer's upbeat leadership style during
last year's encouraging 9-7 campaign.

"For a two-minute period I was pretty devastated," Dilfer
recalls. "Then I calmed down and started to pray for perspective,
and as they took me off the field, I was strangely at peace."

It turned out that the football gods weren't completely sadistic:
Dilfer, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his
right knee, should return sometime before the end of September,
possibly even for the team's regular-season opener at Oakland. As
a result Seattle, the only team to switch conferences in this
year's realignment, still harbors high hopes for 2002 despite
joining a revamped NFC West that, in the Rams and 49ers, boasts
two of the league's more potent attacks.

"I think we can be the best team in our division, no doubt,"
Dilfer says. "I've never been around a great offense, so I'm no
authority, but we are an explosive, athletic group--excluding me,
of course--that's capable of outscoring anyone."

At once self-effacing and unerringly optimistic, Dilfer's
personality has become inextricably entwined with the Seahawks'
sense of self-worth. The twice-discarded veteran captured the
locker room last season when, after relieving injured and
ineffective starter Matt Hasselbeck, he won all four of his
starts, extending a two-year streak of victories to 15 (including
the Ravens' championship run in 2000).

With Dilfer's health in question, the team's early-season
fortunes may rest on Hasselbeck, who a year ago was being hailed
as the answer to the franchise's long-standing quarterback woes.
When Holmgren told him last March that the plan had changed,
Hasselbeck was mad enough to start throwing things--except that
most of his possessions were in boxes.

"The timing was kind of bad," Hasselbeck recalls, "because my
wife and daughter and I were moving into a new house in the
Seattle area. If they'd given me the news a couple of days
earlier we probably wouldn't have closed on the house. At one
point during the year Mike had come to me and said, 'Let's just
not turn the ball over and become a running team.' So I told him,
'Hey, I played the way you asked me to.' But in retrospect that
was just selfish talk on my part."

Hasselbeck and Dilfer have remained friends and supportive
teammates. "Our team's on the verge of doing some great things,"
Hasselbeck says, "and Trent gives us certainty and credibility at
quarterback."

Dilfer is determined not to let the knee injury derail this
golden opportunity. Finally he has a team that will let him chuck
the ball with abandon. Dilfer believes his once-suspect accuracy
will continue to improve, and with a premier running back in
Shaun Alexander, Seattle should be able to keep defenses
guessing.

"With all Trent's been through, to see him out here still smiling
and feeling positive, you can't do anything but just give him a
high five," says wideout Darrell Jackson, who had a breakout
season in 2001. "I think the dude's awesome in every respect. Now
it's up to us, as receivers, to prove our worth, because I think
we're going to open things up this year."

For all of the Seahawks' visions of aerial excellence, Dilfer
knows there's plenty of adversity to overcome and grunt work to
be done. He's also fairly certain that he'll eventually lose a
game, something he hasn't done in two years. "I've lost enough in
my career that it won't be a shock to my system," he says.

In Seattle the real jolt would come from a victory in January.
--M.S.

COLOR PHOTO: OTTO GREULE/GETTY IMAGES Once he's healthy, Dilfer will try to build on his 15-game winning streak as a starter. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS STEVENS

NEW TWIST

--With quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn moving up to the coaching
booth, Mike Holmgren now relates his plays directly to the
quarterback, which, says Trent Dilfer, "is a great change. Mike
coaches the game like he's playing it, and now we can get into
his head a little bit." Of course that means Holmgren's
unfiltered opinions could sting at times too.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Seahawks

"Mike Holmgren is a quarterback guru, and yet they've been
unsettled at that position since he arrived.... It'll be
interesting once Trent Dilfer comes back from his injury. This
will be the first time somebody will give him an offense to run
and say, 'Let him play.' His accuracy has improved, and he gives
his teammates confidence.... Darrell Jackson is vastly
underrated. He's different from the rest of those Florida
receivers--he doesn't have great speed, yet he makes a lot of
plays. Koren Robinson showed neither speed nor playmaking ability
as a rookie.... The key to this offense has always been the tight
end, and Holmgren's never had one who can block and catch well.
Maybe Jerramy Stevens is that guy. He's angular, so he should be
able to block, and he might do some damage as a receiver.... The
hole in Seattle is the offensive line. Chris McIntosh is a bust
no matter how you look at it. The inside guys are undersized, and
they struggle. Letting tackle Todd Weiner go really hurt....
Their secondary is shaky. They desperately need Shawn Springs to
stay healthy. Willie Williams couldn't hold up at corner, Doug
Evans can't run, Reggie Tongue missed a lot of tackles, and
Marcus Robertson is on his last legs.... On the pass rush, they
need John Randle to come back healthy. Two years ago I didn't
think Randle had much juice left in him, but he's still quick and
explosive. They need him."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 at Oakland
15 ARIZONA
22 at N.Y. Giants
29 MINNESOTA

Oct. 6 Open date
14 SAN FRANCISCO (Mon.)
20 at St. Louis
27 at Dallas

Nov. 3 WASHINGTON
10 at Arizona
17 DENVER
24 KANSAS CITY

Dec. 1 at San Francisco
8 PHILADELPHIA
15 at Atlanta
22 ST. LOUIS
29 at San Diego

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T4
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .539
Games against playoff teams: 6

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics

COACH: Mike Holmgren; fourth season with Seattle (99-61 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 9-7 (second in AFC West)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 9/27/25; defense 15/23/20

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Trent Dilfer 122
122 att. 73 comp. 59.8% 1,014 yds. 7 TDs 4 int. 92.0 rtg.

RB Shaun Alexander 5
309 att. 1,318 yds. 4.3 avg. 44 rec. 343 yds. 7.8 avg. 16 TDs

RB Maurice Morris (R) [N] 126
180 att. 1,049 yds. 5.8 avg. 12 rec. 99 yds. 8.3 avg. 10 TDs

FB Mack Strong 299
17 att. 55 yds. 3.2 avg. 17 rec. 141 yds. 8.3 avg. 0 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Darrell Jackson 65 70 rec. 1,081 yds. 8 TDs
WR Koren Robinson 99 39 rec. 536 yds. 1 TD
WR Bobby Engram 212 29 rec. 400 yds. 0 TDs
TE Jerramy Stevens (R) [N] 182 10 rec. 88 yds. 1 TD
K Rian Lindell 326 33/33 XPs 20/32 FGs 93 pts.
PR Bobby Engram 212 6 ret. 16.0 avg. 0 TDs
KR Maurice Morris (R) [N] 126 0 ret. no avg. 0 TDs

LT Walter Jones 6'5" 308 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Steve Hutchinson 6'5" 313 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Robbie Tobeck 6'4" 298 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Chris Gray 6'4" 308 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Chris McIntosh 6'6" 308 lbs. 10 games 3 starts

DEFENSE

LE Lamar King 14 tackles 0 sacks
LT Chad Eaton 44 tackles 1 sack
RT John Randle 26 tackles 11 sacks
RE Antonio Cochran 24 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
OLB Chad Brown 80 tackles 8 1/2 sacks
MLB Isaiah Kacyvenski 25 tackles 1 int.
OLB Anthony Simmons 101 tackles 2 sacks
CB Ken Lucas 44 tackles 1 int.
SS Reggie Tongue 61 tackles 3 int.
FS Marcus Robertson 48 tackles 2 int.
CB Shawn Springs 16 tackles 1 int.
P Jeff Feagles 85 punts 43.9 avg.

[N] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)

"The hole in Seattle is the offensive line. Chris McIntosh is a
bust no matter how you look at it."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)