It was bound to happen sometime. Somehow my recording crapped out halfway into the second quarter. I have a backup so The Tape will return tomorrow. Since we have this unexpected open day, let's tackle a hot topic up for much debate: The Seattle Seahawks Core. The talent they will build their next great team upon.
I'll split this into a few simple categories.
Marcus Trufant: The soon to be 28 Trufant just makes the cut. He should hold his current level of play until roughly 2012. Peak Potential: All-Pro CB
Brandon Mebane: Just 23, Mebane is a year or two from entering his prime. He should still be valuable in 2016. Peak Potential: All-Pro DT
Lofa Tatupu: Tatupu turned 26 on Saturday. He's looked a little better as a blitzer this season, but for the most part, Tatupu has maxed out his talent. Improved contributions from Tatupu are dependent on surrounding talent, especially at DT. I love Tats and all, but I think we'll be hungering for a new MLB in 2013. Peak Potential: HOF MLB.
LeRoy Hill: Hill is also 26, but unlike Tatupu has some room for improvement. It's debatable whether Hill ever turns the corner as a cover linebacker, but skill improvements are possible throughout a player's career. Thanks to a little better quickness and agility, Hill could decline a bit more gracefully than Tatupu. Contingent on Seattle re-signing him. Peak Potential: Pro Bowl OLB.
Julian Peterson: Pete's 30, but three to four more years of top play is not unlikely. He won't make it, but I think in terms of pure contributions, Peterson has the potential peak value of a Hall of Famer. If this team is able to retool before he declines, don't be surprised if he pulls a career year at 31, 32 or 33. Peak Potential: All-Pro OLB
Current Role Players:
Darryl Tapp: Is this Tapp good enough? He's about a year from his peak (Tapp is 24), but it's unwise to think he's set to bust out. No, this is Tapp: Disruptive, a good pass rusher and capable of cutting into runs, but not great holding the point and not nearly an elite rusher. Tapp is a great situational player and better in space than most ends, but if Lawrence Jackson and Tapp are thought of as the ends of the future, Seattle might have to continuously insert hired-gun free agents to fill out their rotation. Peak Potential: Top 20 DE
Young Players with Great Potential:
John Carlson (24): Carlson slips to this list for two reasons: Poor hands in traffic and an unnerving injury history. It's not the severity of Carlson's injuries but the location: knee. Right now, he's played exceptionally for a first year tight end. Carlson could be a Pro Bowl player as soon as 2009. Peak Potential: Pro Bowl TE
Josh Wilson: I don't want to oversell one of my guys here, but Wilson is showing marvelous potential. Wilson has six career starts, but already has an excellent eye for jumping routes. Aggressiveness is not itself a weakness and until Wilson is actually beat guessing wrong, I'm not going to assume jumping routes makes him susceptible to being beat deep. Wilson does a great job of tracking the ball and still staying with his man, a combination Kelly Jennings has yet to master. Last week, his return yards exceeded Seattle's total offense (199 to 196). Wilson has had a hot run and is only 23 at a position notorious for a steep learning curve, but it's way too early to know he will be good. Corners who have much of their value tied to picks are often eventually exposed. Peak Potential: Top 10 CB
Chris Spencer (26): Ruskell's very first pick and very first project pick has the look of raw talent making good. Spencer's put together a nice string of games and without much stability or talent at guard. He's put some space between him and his last shoulder surgery and is finally looking like the athletic powerhouse Seattle drafted. Too few good games and too many bad makes Spencer's future still undecided, but it's nice to know that, finally, a reasonable return on 2005's first round pick is possible. Peak Value: Pro Bowl C
Talented Players that Currently Suck:
Kelly Jennings: Jennings is fresh off his best game of the season, but Trips will need more than three pass defenses to undue a season's worth of regression. Pure cover corner is a precarious career path. The second you cease to cover, you no longer have any value. Not as a tackler, not as an interception threat. Jennings is nearing 26 and if Ruskell expected him to fill out he might want to start sneaking weight gainer into his meals. That really good weight gainer with flax seed oil and stuff. I vigorously defended Jennings throughout 2007, and he's not to blame for Seattle's weakened pass rush and lack of safety help, but on his own merits, Jennings true potential is suddenly very uncertain. Peak Potential: Top 20 CB
Lawrence Jackson: The man with many nicknames, the man I'm tempted to refer to as Gomer Pyle until he stops sucking has been a huge part of Seattle's defensive decline. The team drafted Pyle expecting an able defensive end. It got a player yet to truly earn a single sack. I suspected Jackson might not be a pass rush terror to start, but my low end projection is already looking like a reach (4 sacks). He's played well enough against the run, but that's a fringe part of his game. A defensive tackle could hold the point. Jackson is getting off the snap pretty well, moving pretty well and tracking the ball carrier pretty well, but still has shown no ability to slip blockers. I've always said don't expect a player to develop new skills. Refinement, improvement, sure, but Jackson didn't just start playing football, pass rush tech should be old hat. It's not and I'm sincerely worried. Peak Potential: Unknowable.
Courtney Taylor: Depends a bit on his expected role, if we see the low end as Bobby Engram lite and top end as Darrell Jackson with RAC, then Engram lite is looking more attainable, but I still have faith in Taylor. The tools and skills are there, but Taylor has had trouble finding a role in this offense. The one great unknowable entering the season, Taylor's ability to get open, is not looking favorable right now. Way too early to tell. Peak Potential: Unknowable
Red Bryant: Bryant straddles a bunch of lists. He could be a current underachiever that soon makes an above average starter. He could max out as a great rotational defensive tackle. He could be eaten by injuries and never consistently contribute. Too little information to know. I'll say this, his talent is as good as anyone on this list. Peak Potential: Pro Bowl DT
Owen Schmitt: Beer Truck looks a little wide/pied eyed pass blocking. He's not quite in groove run blocking and I still don't love his athleticism, but you won't find a stronger kid so damned enamored busting heads. As a future lead blocker, Lorenzo Neal/Moran Norris is still a possibility and unlike those two, Schmitt's got a little quicks through the hole. Way too little information to know. Peak Potential: Pro Bowl FB (Presumably in 2020 - well after his best seasons)
Rob Sims: I still think Sims makes a good right guard, but kid will miss this development time. Here's hoping the spot's still open when he's healthy enough to play.
Ray Willis: His value depends a bit on his expected role. As a better Porkchop, Willis is very nice offensive line depth. If Seattle expects to construct a line with Sean Locklear at left tackle and Willis at right, I'm a little more concerned.
Justin Forsett: Good punt returner. Needs a single regular season snap before I make any bold predictions about his ability as a rusher. Probably makes a good scat back compliment to a regular rusher.
Jordan Kent: I oversold myself on Kent. I broke one of my cardinal rules, don't expect a player to acquire a new skill. Unfortunately for Kent, that "new skill" is playing football. Not sure where Kent stands anymore, but I fear the talent will never translate. He had a lot of snaps to achieve even a target, if you saw once since week one you'll have to phone me when.*
Mansfield Wrotto: Possibly Seattle's left guard of the future. One of the few truly talented players that still is too green and too underexposed to know much about. Guy is an athletic mauler with excellent run blocking potential. Now, if he can only see the blitz.
Steve Vallos: I championed Vallos spring of 2007. I now think he's months from being released. I don't think Vallos has the talent to cut it.
Jamar Adams: Complete crapshoot. No realistic way of knowing.
Baraka Atkins: Sort of the Wrotto of the defense, both are a young 24, both have great size and athleticism and both are players that have shown enough in the way of skill to think one day their athleticism could cause them to truly break out.
And that's your core. Looking at it, player by player, I would hope fans understand Seattle isn't likely to contend again in 2009. The core is thin on offense and the core of yore, Mike Holmgren's core, is on its way out. Matt Hasselbeck has entered an age and has a recent injury history such that 2008 does not portend a "return to form". As I often say, injury is a form of decline. Branch will be 30 before next season. Walter Jones looks to be finishing out his contract. Julius Jones and TJ Duckett are good players, but essentially hired guns at a non-premium position. I don't think Mike Wahle has a future with Seattle. Sean Locklear is either an overpaid serviceable right tackle or a left tackle in waiting. It wouldn't surprise me if he doesn't finish out his contract with Seattle.
But looking at it, I hope fans see roster construction with a purpose. I shun most sports clichés, but "window" is somewhat instructive here. Much of the talent that allowed Seattle to contend the past five seasons is gone or declining. That's Seattle's last window. The Seahawks have been at their best when Mike Holmgren's eye for offensive talent has overlapped with Tim Ruskell's smarts for roster building. Holmgren's talent is disappearing and Ruskell's talent is still developing. That's the transition phase that started this season and should continue at least through 2009. But unlike most teams whose window is rapidly closing, the Seattle Seahawks are already constructing the foundation for their next great team. With so many players entering or squarely within their prime as of 2010, the Seahawks have the core in place to compete and compete and contend for seasons to come.
*I'm aware he had two targets at San Francisco. This is hyperbole.