Every fan with a pulse wants a healthy, capable Walter Jones in week one, week 16 and the week of the Super Bowl. However I insist Jones is no longer the Jones that played a season without allowing a sack, is not the Jones that could wall out the sun on the left side, he is still a well above average left tackle and therefore one of the best players at one of the most valuable positions on the field. Left tackle many not be dramatically more important to stifling the pass-rush than a center or right tackle, but it is the most demanding position of the offensive line spectrum. Football analysis isn't there yet, but one day an established replacement level will be given for each position on the line, and a player that can play left tackle will have intrinsic value above guard, center and right tackle.
There's three conditions intrinsic in that opener: Will Walter Jones be healthy and capable for Seattle's opener? Will Walter Jones be healthy and capable for most of the season? And will Walter Jones be healthy and capable for a run into the playoffs? However you want to order them by importance and likelihood, each becomes less likely and more important in conjunction. Jones could be healthy for week one and gone by week six. He could be put on the PUP list but be healthy for most of the season. The permutations go on.
That's why heading into week one of the preseason, the line we see must be a good line. I know I am not alone fearing that might not be the case. Seattle's rookie right guard, Max Unger, is from the school that deemed Lawrence Jackson a safe pick. He's also a center. San Diego has a powerful in-the-box 3-4 defensive line that could present matchup problems for the athletic, but college-bodied Unger. Could, but won't. Starter and primary depth Jacques Cesaire and Ryan Bingham are most likely out and out, respectively. I don't know who is starting in their place, but I think we can define them as nebulous replacement 3-4 end. This is the kiddy pool for Unger and he needs make a wave and not just splash around.
There's matters of the cohesiveness of this line to be discussed, but setting a standard is unrealistic. Instead I will offer, this line needs to be able to work without full cohesion, because this is a line of interchangeable parts that is designed to perform even outside its starting personnel.
Sean Locklear gets a test from Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips and Jyles Tucker. Seattle is banking on Locklear being a capable tackle, and this is as good test as any to prove he can transition his excellent mirror slide from the right side to a capable mirror slide from the left. The first step is getting up and out of his stance fast enough to get between the rusher and the quarterback. Then he will need to prove elite rush linebackers like Merriman can't just bowl him over. Finally, he's going to need to adjust to better, faster moves than he's regularly seen and avoid getting clubbed down or swam away.
That group, along with the Chargers talented inside presence, Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett, will also challenge Chris Spencer should he start. I hope he does and I hope he gets a few drives in before Seattle refreezes him in carbonite. Steve Vallos, well, I hope Vallos takes to this system. The Seahawks need a center that can disengage the scrum and pick up free blitzers in space.
The other matter is seeing the team's progress zone blocking. Everyone matters, but I will pay special attention to Rob Sims, because he never looked good pulling in Mike Holmgren's system, and Ray Willis, because he has potential to be an elite run-blocking right tackle. Overall, the line must move and slide and block as a unit.
The goal is to be ready by week one. Adjusting to a new system, without its starting talent and against a very good San Diego front seven should lead to inconsistency - graphic failures. But looking good in spurts, like the potential is there, the potential for this unit to grow into through the preseason and even the season, is the goal this Saturday.