End Of Season Position Analysis, Part Two: Offensive Line

by: William P. Tomisser

The Seahawks had more movement within their offensive line than any other position except possibly the receivers during the season just past. By season’s end, the entire starting line except for the tight end position was on injured reserve. Mike Holmgren said of the injuries that wiped out two entire starting squads for the Seahawks that he’d never seen the like of those kinds of injuries in his entire career coaching in the NFL.

The Seahawks started the season with one center, four tackles, four guards, and three tight ends on the roster for 2008. The practice squad became a turnstile, as offensive linemen were brought in and then moved up to the 53 man roster as our starting lineup moved to injured reserve.

Here’s the breakdown of the offensive line at the end of the season:

Center

  • Chris Spencer (injured reserve)

Guards

  • Mansfield Wrotto
  • Steve Vallos
  • Mike Wahle (injured reserve)
  • Rob Sims (injured reserve)
  • Pat Murray (practice squad)
  • Erik Robertson (practice squad)
  • Chris Gray (injured – retired)

Tackles

  • Goddard Na’Shan
  • Kyle Williams
  • Ray Willis
  • Floyd ‘Pork Chop’ Womack
  • Walter Jones (injured reserve)
  • Shaun Locklear (injured reserve)
  • William Robinson (injured reserve)
  • Samuel Gutekunst (practice squad)

Tight Ends

  • John Carlson
  • Will Heller
  • Joe Newton (practice squad)

18 offensive linemen are on the Seahawks’ roster as of the end of the season. Tight end Jeb Putzier was on the active squad for most of the season and released just before the season ended to protect other players the Seahawks didn’t want to release and risk losing to other clubs as the injuries mounted up and new players were added to the active roster.

Some things jump right out at you when you look at the offensive linemen. First, we only have one true center. Vallos is still listed as a guard and whether he remains a guard and backup center or the Seahawks acquire another true center remains to be seen. The other thing is that we started the season with twelve linemen, including the tight ends. We finished the season with just eight linemen on the 53 man roster, including two tight ends. That left six players covering the five starting spots other than tight end–that’s being down to it in any man’s book.

While we have fifteen linemen and three tight ends under contract now, two of our tackles (Willis and Womack) will be free agents. Also, quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality. We brought in quite a few guys looking for bodies to fill holes and I think most observers feel that Seattle is in need of quality linemen.

Tackles Jones and Locklear, guards Wrotto, Sims, and Vallos, tight ends Carlson and Heller, and Spencer at center figure to have a good shot at jobs next season going into training camp. Williams had a good showing coming from the practice squad as an undrafted rookie, and Wahle if he returns from injury able to play should be given a shot to compete too. Willis will probably be re-signed if he comes reasonable and Pork Chop could be re-signed as insurance if the club feels he can have another relatively healthy year and he’s cheap. Chop can play anywhere along the line except center.

Carlson and Heller will both be back at tight end but I have to believe that if Joe Newton doesn’t show enough improvement to come off the practice squad this year, he’ll be gone and we’ll be searching for a third tight end.

On the face of it, we seem to have a full stable with Jones, Locklear, Willis, and Pork Chop at the tackles with Williams challenging; Sims, Wahle, Wrotto, and Vallos at guard with Pat Murray challenging; Spencer at center with Vallos as backup; Carlson and Heller at tight end with Newton challenging whomever we pick up for the third tight end position; and some camp fodder and young challengers in William Robinson, Goddard Na’Shan, Erik Robertson, and our European exemption Samuel Gutekunst.

However, digging a little deeper tells a different story.

Sims looked very good as a rookie. He was thrust into the starting job and seemed to be catching on fast. Then in his second year at left guard, he looked lost and was unable to carry out his assignments consistently. Moved to right guard his third year, he didn’t play very well before being hit with a season ending injury and being placed on injured reserve. When Womack took over the right guard position, there was marked improvement from the offensive line play.

Wahle was going to be the guy who got us a significant way back to the play of Steve Hutchinson and allow Jones to play more freely at left tackle without having to worry about covering for the left guard. With Spencer slow to mend from off-season rehabilitation and Sims play at right guard, it was difficult to tell just how well Wahle was performing in the early season. Later, he starting have a perplexing propensity to jump offsides and he killed a few important plays at critical times in games we lost.

Wrotto, Willis, Vallos, and Williams all got significant playing time at the end of the season, which should help them to compete for starting and backup positions next season, but they are all still largely unproven. Willis when filling in for Locklear drew praise and in some cases was being touted as the better prospect at right tackle. Some people thought Locklear could become Jones’ replacement at LT when he retires.

John Carlson was the Seahawks’ most valuable player in 2008 in my opinion and should provide an impact at that position for years to come. Heller is a good third tight end. What the Seahawks need is a second option to use on two tight end sets and to spell Carlson when he needs it. I’m not sure Newton can be that guy. He should be given the chance to compete, but I feel sure the Seahawks will bring in at least one tight end prospect if not another to compete for the backup position.

Carlson also turned out to be as complete a tight end as we’ve seen in Seattle for quite awhile. He is taking his blocking role seriously and at times can function as an extra down linemen to keep pass rushers off the quarterback or to run block for our running backs. He’s a blue collar tight end who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, and as such I predict that he will become one of the premier tight ends in the league within a couple of years, coveted by all the teams who passed him by in the first round of the draft.

All in all, I think there are too many question marks on the offensive line. I think that Wahle and Sims are a poor substitutes for Hutchinson and Gray from the 2005 season and Spencer is nowhere near Tobeck’s ability yet. Jones isn’t the player he was in 2005, although he is still one hell of a left tackle.

The Seahawks need to get back to having a young and talented offensive line who can grow and learn together. The line of the 2005 Seahawks had been together several years before finally settling in as one of the best, if not the best, offensive line in the league at that time. We can’t keep playing musical chairs with our line and trying to get by with average quality linemen if we want our line to turn into one of the best again.

I think Sims and Wahle need to have some stiff competition at the guard spots and they need to earn those jobs if they can. Whether the competition is Wrotto and Vallos or a combination of a draftee and free agent, we need to get better at the guard spot before we can get our offensive line to play at the next level.

Locklear and Jones with Willis backing up are a pretty solid combination right now at the tackles, but it’s in the works that Jones will need to be replaced within a couple of years or so. Many observers feel that this is the year to get Jones’ replacement by grabbing a highly rated left tackle with our top pick in the draft and playing him at one of the guard spots until Jones retires. Actually, with the stated need for improvement at the guard position, that’s a pretty solid plan that kills two birds with one stone. That way, Walt’s replacement is on board and we get a good guard to play in the meanwhile and we can put off acquiring one of the needed guards to another year’s draft and free agency period.

Spencer is still having problems at center. Some feel that it takes a center awhile to become proficient in the NFL and Spencer should come around, but I still have the opinion that Spencer would be better suited to trying one of the guard positions and being the backup center while we look for a experienced player in free agency like Birk and draft a highly rated center to learn the trade behind him.

If we went after Birk in free agency and drafted a left tackle with the idea he would play guard for us at first, Spencer and the first round draft choice could man the guard spots with Locklear and Jones at the tackles and Birk at center with a young highly talented draft pick learning behind Birk. That would solve our offensive line woes for a long time.

The top offensive tackles in the draft are Michael Oher from Ole Miss, Andre Smith from Alabama, and Eugene Monroe from Virginia. Oher and Smith are projected as top five picks and Monroe as a top ten pick. The top center is Alex Mack from California, who is projected to go in the latter part of the first round or maybe slip into the second. The top guard is Duke Robinson from Oklahoma, who also figures to also go in the bottom of the first round or early in the second. Jermaine Gresham, also from Oklahoma, is the top rated tight end and like Mack and Robinson is slated to go in the bottom of the first or top of the second round.

Considering our offensive line as one of the most important components of our team, my dream draft would be to acquire Oher or Smith with our first pick and then have Alex Mack drop to us with our second pick. We pick up Birk in free agency and field the following offensive line: LT Jones, LG Oher or Smith, C Birk, RG Spencer, and RT Locklear with the best four or five from Willis, Wrotto, Vallos, Williams, Sims, Wahle, and Womack backing up the guards and tackles and Alex Mack working behind Birk. That would absolutely set our offensive line for years to come.

Ok Addicts, bring it on.

Hasta,

BillT

~END~

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