1 Seattle Seahawks

Losing the league's best guard is a serious blow to the ground game-not serious enough to deny a third straight division title
September 03, 2006

THE BELIEF Playingin a weak division will help the Seahawks make the path to the Super Bowl gothrough their noisy house again. Though Seattle lost the game's best guard,Steve Hutchinson, in a costly free-agent gambit, premier left tackle WalterJones and a combination of guard replacements-Pork Chop Womack and ChrisSpencer, most likely-will continue to pave the rushing lanes for reigning NFLMVP Shaun Alexander. And pricey free agent Julian Peterson completes a terrificset of linebackers boasting Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill, who combined for 111/2sacks as rookies last year.

THE REALITY Thisseason will be a referendum on the importance of a guard to an NFL offense.With Hutchinson and Jones forming the league's most potent left-side wall,Seattle had a league-high 29 touchdowns on the ground, was second with 153.6rushing yards per game and tied for second with 4.7 yards per carry. Theoft-injured Womack and converted center Spencer will try to fill Hutchinson'sshoes, but the offense will miss his brain too. Hutchinson often suggestedplays for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to request from coach Mike Holmgren. SaysHasselbeck, "His calls were always smart."

Luckily for theSeahawks, Alexander has a devil-may-care attitude and doesn't sweat suchthings. One day in training camp, running a sideline route under coverage byTatupu, Alexander turned on the jets and started laughing, loudly. He gatheredin Hasselbeck's long spiral and was still chuckling as he scored. "We justdon't know who'll line up at left guard," says Alexander, who'd smile evenif you told him it would be the equipment man. "But it's not unrealistic tothink we can run the ball as well as we did last year."

Don't count on it.Seattle's ploy-putting the transition tag on Hutchinson rather than thefranchise tag, which would have made it more costly for another team to signhim-was penny-wise and pound-foolish. The Seahawks had the cap room to keepboth of their big free agents, Hutchinson and Alexander (whom they signed to a$62 million contract in March), and you just don't lose a top player in hisprime.

The off-season waskinder to the defense. Punishing safety Ken Hamlin recovered from a head injurysuffered in a nightclub fight last October, and Peterson signed a seven-year,$54 million contract. "It's like we got two major free agents, because Kenhas come back healthy," says Holmgren. "Our defense was fast last year,and now it should be much faster." Though Peterson didn't become theall-world pass rusher the 49ers hoped he would, he should make Seattle's frontseven, which combined for a league-high 43 sacks last year, even moreformidable. "Offenses game-plan for Julian because he's so hard to singleblock," says Tatupu. "Now, with LeRoy and Julian both coming off theedge, how are you going to figure who to concentrate on?"

And Qwest Fieldshould indeed help confound the visiting teams. Says Holmgren, "After webeat Carolina in the NFC Championship Game, I went out to dinner with [wife]Kathy downtown, and the maître d' and our waiter were totally hoarse. They'dbeen at the game and yelled themselves silly." Whether they'll be doingthat again come January depends on the outcome of the Hutchinsonreferendum.

2006 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

10 at Detroit

17 ARIZONA

24 N.Y. GIANTS

OCTOBER

1 at Chicago

8 Bye

15 at St.Louis

22 MINNESOTA

29 at KansasCity

NOVEMBER

6 OAKLAND (M)

12 ST. LOUIS

19 at SanFrancisco

27 GREEN BAY(M)

DECEMBER

3 at Denver

10 at Arizona

14 SAN FRANCISCO(T)

24 SAN DIEGO

31 at TampaBay

(M) Monday (T)Thursday

SCHEDULESTRENGTH

NFL rank T29

Opponents' 2005winning percentage .457

Games againstplayoff teams 4

ENEMY LINES

AN OPPOSING TEAM'SSCOUT SIZES UP THE SEAHAWKS

> I don't likeShaun Alexander's toughness, and without Steve Hutchinson, I wouldn't besurprised to see his rushing total drop 500 yards.

> There-signing of Rocky Bernard was essential to what they do defensively. Therearen't many 295-pound tackles who can get you nine sacks and neutralizepowerful guards.

> The marriageof Mike Holmgren and Matt Hasselbeck shows what happens when a smart coachmeets a determined quarterback. They could go to two more Super Bowls ifHolmgren hangs around.

> This team isin big trouble if Jerramy Stevens misses more than a couple weeks with the kneeinjury he suffered in camp. Forget those drops in the Super Bowl. This guy'severy bit the receiving threat that Baltimore's Todd Heap is.

I love LeroyHill's ability to rush and cover. He's strong and elusive-ask any tight end whohas to block him.

BREAKOUTPLAYER

Nate Burleson

WIDE RECEIVER

Signed in thetit-for-tat free-agent spat with the Vikings after Minnesota put acontract-guaranteeing clause in the $49 million deal for guard SteveHutchinson, Burleson should finally reach his potential with the Seahawks afterthree so-so seasons in Minnesota. He runs a 4.4 40 and will be a dangerous deeptarget for Matt Hasselbeck. "We didn't have a receiver like Nate when itcame to running after the catch," says Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren."He should be a difference-maker."

PROJECTED STARTINGLINEUP

WITH 2005STATISTICS

COACH MIKEHOLMGREN (138-86 in NFL), eighth season with Seattle

OFFENSE

DARRELLJACKSON
POS WR
REC 38
YARDS 482
TD 3

SHAUNALEXANDER
POS RB
RUSH 370
YARDS 1,880
TD 28

MATTHASSELBECK
POS QB
ATT 449
COMP 294
PCT 65.5
YARDS 3,459
TD 24
INT 9
RATING 98.2

MACK STRONG
POS FB
RUSH 17
YARDS 78
TD 0

NATE BURLESON --NEW ACQUISITION
POS WR
REC 30
YARDS 328
TD 1

JOSH BROWN
POS K
FG 18-25
POINTS 110

JERRAMYSTEVENS
POS TE
REC 45
YARDS 554
TD 5

WALTERJONES
POS LT
HT 6'5"
WT 315
G 15

FLOYDWOMACK
POS LG
HT 6'4"
WT 333
G 11

ROBBIETOBECK
POS C
HT 6'4"
WT 297
G 16

CHRIS GRAY
POS RG
HT 6'4"
WT 308
G 16

SEANLOCKLEAR
POS RT
HT 6'4"
WT 301
G 16

DEFENSE

LEROY HILL
POS WLB
TACKLES 72
SACKS 7 1/2
INT 0

BRYCEFISHER
POS LE
TACKLES 47
SACKS 9

CHARTRICDARBY
POS LT
TACKLES 30
SACKS 2 1/2

ROCKYBERNARD
POS RT
TACKLES 52
SACKS 8 1/2

GRANTWISTROM
POS RE
TACKLES 52
SACKS 4

JULIAN PETERSON-- NEW ACQUISITION
POS SLB
TACKLES 82
SACKS 3
INT 0

RYAN PLACKEMEIER(R) -- NEW ACQUISITION
POS P
PUNTS 67
AVG 47.2

MARCUSTRUFANT
POS CB
TACKLES 64
INT 1

MICHAELBOULWARE
POS SS
TACKLES 73
SACKS 2
INT 4

LOFA TATUPU
POS MLB
TACKLES 104
SACKS 4
INT 3

KEN HAMLIN
POS FS
TACKLES 26
SACKS 0
INT 0

KELLY JENNINGS(R) -- NEW ACQUISITION
POS CB
TACKLES 32
INT 3

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college statistics)

2005 RECORD13-3
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL)
OFFENSE 3/13/2
DEFENSE 5/25/T16

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PHOTOPETER READ MILLER ME WORRY? Alexander isn't fazed by the prospect of following new blockers or grinding out the tough yards. PHOTOPETER READ MILLER HILL PHOTOMICHAEL HICKEY/WIREIMAGE.COM PHOTOHELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BERKWITZ TWO PHOTOS

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)