Commentary

Solari addition pivotal for Seahawks

The Seahawks believe the hiring of new offensive line coach Mike Solari could help them make a run toward the Super Bowl, writes Mike Sando.

Originally Published: March 19, 2008
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com

Julius JonesTom Hauck/Getty ImagesNew acquisition Julius Jones should benefit from a revamped Seahawks offensive line.
Sometimes the most significant offseason acquisitions never play a snap for their new NFL teams.

The New York Giants found one when they hired Philadelphia Eagles linebackers coach Steve Spagnuolo to run their defense last season.

The Seattle Seahawks think they have found one this offseason in Mike Solari, hired to coach their offensive line.

The issue for Seattle isn't whether Solari was miscast during a forgettable two-year run as the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive coordinator. The Seahawks possess a young, talented defense and a Pro Bowl quarterback in his prime. They think improved offensive line play could help them make a Super Bowl push, and they rank Solari among the most accomplished line coaches in the league.

[+] EnlargeMike Solari
Tim Umphrey/Getty ImagesNew O-line coach Mike Solari brings an impressive resume to Seattle.
The fit was natural after the Chiefs overhauled their offensive staff, firing Solari and three others. Solari had survived three coaching changes in Kansas City for a reason.

"It was a little bit of a coup when we were able to hire him," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said.

The Seahawks have won four consecutive NFC West titles, but their ground game has faltered in each of the last two seasons.

The dropoff was steeper than Holmgren and team president Tim Ruskell were willing to tolerate. They fired line coach Bill Laveroni, who broke into the league with Seattle in 2002 and lacked Solari's diverse résumé. They signed running backs Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett in free agency, casting doubt on Shaun Alexander's future with the team.

Solari's addition could prove pivotal as the Seahawks continue to shed the I formation identity that worked well when Alexander ran behind a dominant line in 2005.

"If you have the great line and the great runner, you can line up in the 'I' and do that," Holmgren said. "We've done that. If you get hurt, or you are inexperienced, or you make substitutions and you cannot quite be as dominant, then it becomes problematic and you have to do it with a little bit of deception and formation and things like that."

Things like … coaching.

"My job is to make sure the offensive line plays at a championship level," Solari said.

The Chiefs twice sent three offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl in the same season during Solari's nine-year run coaching the position under Marty Schottenheimer, Gunther Cunningham and Dick Vermeil.

Breaking them down
Nate Clements breaks down today's receivers across four categories.

Best hands: Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison and Hines Ward.

Fastest: Randy Moss, Roy Williams and Andre Johnson.

Best blockers: Hines Ward and Anquan Boldin.

Best route runners: Harrison, Holt.

Quote to note: "I've seen Marvin [Harrison] run a route I had never seen in my life. He ran a post, corner and post. Antoine Winfield stayed disciplined and stayed inside and ended up getting an interception on it." -- Clements

-- Mike Sando
But Solari's most powerful endorsement came from the man Holmgren ranked as the greatest offensive line coach in NFL history: the late Bobb McKittrick. The iconic San Francisco 49ers assistant won five Super Bowls during 21 seasons with the team before dying of cancer in 2000. Solari coached tight ends and served as assistant offensive line coach for the 49ers from 1992 to 1996.

"I went up to visit Bobb when he was sick, and he had worked closely with Mike on George Seifert's staff," Holmgren said. "He just said Mike's a special guy and he was really very impressed with Mike early on."

McKittrick armed smaller, quicker offensive linemen with cut-blocking tactics that opponents considered dangerous, even though the approach fell within the rules.

Holmgren and Solari met twice last week, but the Seahawks do not yet know precisely how their blocking schemes will change in 2008. With Solari, who broke into the league under Tom Landry in Dallas, they have options.

"One of the first things Coach Holmgren wanted was to go look at all the game film and evaluate the offensive linemen they've had here and the backup linemen, just to get a feel," Solari said. "I did that. The thing that stands out here is the athleticism of the tackles."

Right tackle Sean Locklear is back after signing a long-term contract. Left tackle Walter Jones, 34, remains a perennial Pro Bowl choice even though shoulder injuries have limited his strength at times. A recommitment to fundamentals might extend his career, according to scouts and coaches who have watched Jones closely in recent seasons. Linemen who get out of position wind up reaching, putting additional strain on their shoulders, the thinking goes.

"The key thing you do as a coach is make sure his technique is real sharp and help him along, give some reminders, maybe go back to some previous years when he was at the top of his game," Solari said. "And again, he is at the top. He is playing at a high level. You just keep working technique with him to stay sharp, and challenge him to keep improving and keep his game at the top." Jones might be the least of Solari's worries.

Center Chris Spencer, a first-round choice in 2005, has shown promise without realizing his full potential. The team added veteran guard Mike Wahle from Carolina after Rob Sims, a once-promising draft choice, seemed to regress last season. Ray Willis is another young, athletic prospect whose development has generated more offseason excitement than in-season results.

And while Chris Gray turns 38 in June, he still might be the best option at right guard -- unless Solari can turn Sims, Willis or another prospect into starting material.

"I haven't seen him on the field with us yet," Holmgren said of Solari, "but in talking to the players and in talking to the staff, they think he's special."

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.