Camp Confidential: End run for Holmgren regime
While all 11 starters return from a star-studded Seahawks defense, an offense in transition might hold the key to Mike Holmgren's swan song in Seattle, writes Mike Sando.
1. How much will Seattle miss Engram?
Holmgren hasn't named a starter, but Jones and Morris both will play extensively. Jones wants to prove he's an every-down back capable of carrying 20 or 25 times per game. The Seahawks set aside that many carries for Alexander during his MVP heyday, but the offense is different now. Holmgren wants to reestablish a pass-oriented attack that spreads the ball around.Jones was the primary back in Dallas during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Morris has been a career backup. Logic said Jones would become the starter in Seattle once the Seahawks signed him in free agency, but that might not be the case. Morris rushed for more yards than Jones last season despite 24 fewer carries. He also put up impressive numbers in the Seahawks' exhibition opener.
3. Will the Mora situation become a distraction? Mora's hiring as defensive backs coach in 2007 fueled speculation he one day would succeed Holmgren as head coach. The Seahawks removed any doubt when they named Mora their next head coach, starting in 2009.
The announcement left some coaches unsure whether their tenures with the team would extend beyond the Holmgren era. Several longtime Holmgren assistants bolted for jobs elsewhere, but quite a few remain. It's an awkward situation for some.
Holmgren is a strong enough personality and leader to maintain order. He has vowed emphatically to intercede if players or anyone else aligns themselves with Mora prematurely.
Mora, for his part, has kept a low profile. He is declining to speak publicly about matters beyond his immediate duties coaching the defensive backs. Holmgren and Mora appear determined to make this work.
Pro Bowl linebackers Tatupu and Peterson remain under contract for the long term, but emerging star Leroy Hill is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Hill can secure a lucrative payday by demonstrating better consistency. The 2005 third-round choice has been the Seahawks' best linebacker at times, notably in the playoffs, but he hasn't played to his potential for a full season.
Rookie first-round draft choice Lawrence Jackson has a chance to beat out incumbent defensive end Darryl Tapp for the starting job on the right side. Tapp might be the better pure pass-rusher, but Jackson could be better suited on early downs. The Seahawks needed better depth at the position because Patrick Kerney is 31 and coming off surgery for the second consecutive offseason.Second-year center Steve Vallos could emerge as a surprise starter this season because the Seahawks can't count on incumbent Chris Spencer's health. A back injury forced Spencer, a first-round choice in 2005, to miss nearly all of training camp. He remains sidelined indefinitely. A back injury already forced Spencer's backup, Chris Gray, into retirement. Vallos performed surprisingly well as the starter during the exhibition opener.
Newcomer to watch
Veteran guard Mike Wahle has restored personality and athleticism to the Seahawks' interior offensive line. Holmgren, who was with Green Bay when the Packers drafted Wahle in 1998, couldn't be happier with the free-agent addition from Carolina."I think the biggest thing in the offseason was [adding] Mike Wahle," Holmgren said. "That was huge. He's really a good football player, and you don't really get a chance to do that all that much in free agency with a player of his caliber. Normally, he winds up staying with his team." Injuries caught up with Wahle in Carolina. The Panthers also wanted more powerful linemen. Wahle is better suited for the Seahawks' offense, which values mobility over raw power. Carlson, the rookie tight end from Notre Dame, is another key addition. The Seahawks think his versatility will help the offense become less predictable. Past Seattle tight ends excelled at either blocking or receiving. Carlson has the potential to do both well. As a result, Holmgren won't have to limit his play calling based on personnel at tight end.
The offensive line will improve with Wahle at guard and two new line coaches, but continuity is a concern early. Spencer hasn't practiced since the first day of training camp. Shoulder surgery previously limited his work during the offseason. The team gave left tackle Walter Jones time off during camp to rest his surgically repaired shoulders. Seattle hasn't been able to put the same five players on the field and let them gell. The Seahawks appeared to lose quality depth when they let backup linebackers Niko Koutouvides and Kevin Bentley depart in free agency. That might be the case, but undrafted rookie middle linebacker David Hawthorne looks like a keeper. Teammates are calling him "The Heater" for the big hits he makes regularly. Rookie Brandon Coutu and veteran Olindo Mare continue to battle for the kicking job. Coutu probably has the edge in a close race because he's younger and the Seahawks invested a draft choice in him.
Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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