Jones has knee cleaned out
RENTON, Wash. -- The second knee surgery in eight months for Seahawks nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones has removed loose fragments, including scar tissue from the original surgery.
It hasn't removed doubt whether the man widely viewed as the pre-eminent left tackle of the last decade will be able to play in the first few games, if at all this season.
A team spokesman said Thursday morning that Jones' procedure earlier in the day "went well," and arthroscopic surgery found what an MRI this week indicated may be inside the left knee.
The Seahawks will re-evaluate the 35-year-old Jones in a couple of weeks to see if he can play in 2009. His rehabilitation will begin immediately.
Jones had microfracture knee surgery in December. The man against whom all other left tackles are measured practiced just three times in training camp while also hampered by back spasms.
So now the Seahawks begin life without Walter, whom former coach Mike Holmgren -- the molder of Brett Favre in Green Bay -- called the best offensive player he ever coached.
Seattle seems assured of Jones missing his first opener since 2003, when he stayed out all summer in a contract dispute.
"It's kind of hard to imagine the Seahawks without Walter Jones," understudy Ray Willis said in May, when Jones was rehabilitating in the training room. "He's a freak of nature."
Jones has been to eight consecutive Pro Bowls, passing Cortez Kennedy for the most in Seahawks history. He's been All-Pro four times at the most valued position on the line. Despite multiple shoulder surgeries and taking off practices to soothe more pains than he can remember, last season was the first time he missed games due to injury since his rookie year of 1997.
His 180 starts are second in franchise history to wide receiver Steve Largent, the first Seahawks player elected to the Hall of Fame.
"You can't really do it like he does," said Rob Sims, the starter at left guard, next to where Jones is supposed to be. "He's an unbelievable player, an unbelievable person. Walt, he's got a heart of a lion. When he gets back, we'll roll."
Until then, usual right tackle Sean Locklear will start for Jones. Willis, a brutish former fourth-round pick, will start at right tackle. Rookie Max Unger, a second-round draft choice and All-Pac-10 center last season at Oregon, will battle third-year reserve Mansfield Wrotto at right guard -- where Locklear had been scheduled to get time.
Wrotto is scheduled to start Saturday night's home preseason game against Denver.
And the "puzzle" new coach Jim Mora and new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp hoped to solve in training camp remains jumbled.
Yet team president Tim Ruskell says this is why he re-signed Locklear and Willis to new deals in the last 18 months. This is the Walter Jones succession plan.
It's just that the plan is coming to fruition sooner than Seattle expected. For now, anyway.
"At some point Walt is going to move on and wait his turn to go into the Hall of Fame, and Sean's going to be the left tackle ... and he's given us a chance to look at Unger more," Mora said.
"In the long run it's going to help us -- at least that's how I want to look at it."
Willis has started 10 games in four pro seasons, all in 2008 while Jones and the rest of the offensive line were ravaged by injuries.
"We always talk to players about opportunities," Knapp said. "So really, for a lot of these guys, it's a great opportunity."
Jones isn't the only Seahawks star ailing, as Seattle's 2009 already resembles last season's epidemic of injuries that contributed to a 4-12 season.
Cornerback Marcus Trufant, a Pro Bowl selection in 2008, may not play in the opener against St. Louis on Sept. 13. He's yet to practice this month because of what Mora has vaguely described as a "disc issue" in his back.
Undersized Josh Wilson, normally a nickel back in long-yardage situations, is currently starting for Trufant at left cornerback.
Fourth overall draft choice Aaron Curry missed his second consecutive practice Thursday morning with what Mora says is a minor groin strain. The $34 million rookie's status is iffy for Saturday night's game.
This week, linebackers coach Zerick Rollins said Seattle's new starter must play as much as he can in each of the last three preseason games because the team is asking him to do so much -- pass rush, cover receivers, stop the run, even drop into the secondary on passing downs.
Running back T.J. Duckett sustained a concussion in last weekend's exhibition victory at San Diego. Starting left guard Mike Wahle was forced to retire, forcing Sims to move over from right guard. Wide receiver Nate Burleson now has hamstring issues, after looking strong coming back from reconstructive knee surgery. And Olindo Mare has a sore kicking knee, cooling the expected competition with 2008 draft pick Brandon Coutu for his job.
Other than that, Mora's first camp as Seahawks coach went great.
"There's no panic," Mora said. "There's nobody moping. It's just what it is."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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