Quarterly Report: Seahawks Offensive Line

Leon Washington has two rushing attempts in the last two games, more or less killing any notion of a committee backfield. Too bad, because Leon looked like the back that could make this system work.

Left Tackle

Tyler Polumbus

Polumbus looked pretty good in his first three starts. He didn't fall on his face or find himself chasing free pass rushers, and for a replacement left tackle, those are achievements. Seattle didn't have to give him the full Wrotto treatment, but it did use seven blockers quite a bit and that makes life easier for the offensive line. When Russell Okung returned against the Rams, Polumbus moved back to the right. That should be an easier assignment, but Polumbus seemed to play worse. He played worse at right tackle and then continued to play worse at left tackle after substituting for Russell Okung.

The simpler explanation for Polumbus's perceived drop in play is that the Rams were the best defense the Seahawks have faced this season while trailing. Seattle ran away from the 49ers, got crushed by Denver but Denver lacks much talent in its front seven, played from ahead for most of the game against San Diego, a game that saw the end of Shawn Merriman's Chargers career, and, then, by the Rams of all teams, fell behind and was smothered by a halfway decent defense.

As Seahawks fans learned in 2009, a team can survive with a replacement level left tackle as long as that left tackle is facing relatively equal competition. Brandon Frye performed well enough against Chicago and Jacksonville. Damion McIntosh survived against the Lions. Kyle Williams was worked by Calais Campbell, but that matchup didn't prove decisive. All three players are out of the league now, and yet, except maybe Frye against Dwight Freeney or Williams against Campbell, Seattle's replacement left tackles were mostly forgettable like Polumbus.

This week's matchup, versus Julius Peppers, is the kind of matchup where you either have a left tackle that contributes or the passing offense is doomed to failure. I wouldn't want Polumbus starting at left tackle on Sunday.

From what I have seen, Polumbus has decent power, moves relatively well, isn't great at shadowing around the corner but hasn't be challenged too often, struggles sustaining a block, doesn't contribute much as a run blocker, and shouldn't be trusted to protect the blindside against an above average pass rusher. If Seattle builds a lead, can run, and is able to protect Polumbus on passing downs, he's ok. He doesn't kill you like McIntosh didn't kill the 2009 Seahawks. Even then though, there is no guarantee he will succeed against better competition.

Russell Okung

Very limited viewing mind you, but Okung is clearly much more powerful than Polumbus. He sustains blocks, can move a defender, is a bear as a run blocker, and has the high-stepping shadow to at least keep up with better edge rushers. He doesn't, however, seem to anticipate a pass rusher's moves very well and I think he will lose some guys to the inside and get beat outside when he's slow out of the blocks. Okung is grabby too and I wouldn't be surprised if Peppers forces a hold or two, but that's learning the position. Russell doesn't have to be great right away and if grabbing some jersey prevents a sack, that's a sacrifice I hope he makes.

Left Guard

Ben Hamilton

Hamilton doesn't hold the middle against interior pressure very well, but to his credit, he gets moved back rather than walked through like Max Unger. He combo blocks very well and releases and blocks in space equally well. That's Hamilton's best attribute: run blocking in a zone blocking scheme. He seemed to do better teaming to block 3-4 ends and nose tackles and worse single blocking 4-3 tackles.

Hamilton seems like a short term solution. Someone that might not make it through the season and almost certainly is not returning next season. He specializes in blocking on the move, and the more Seattle can shift the pocket, and the Seahawks quarterback can roll out, the better he can be expected to do. Hamilton is an athlete at a position that favors strongmen, but put him in space and he's a match for most defenders. Force him to hold ground in a phone booth and he is too tall and too slight to control the interior for very long.

Center

Chris Spencer

Spencer is what he's been for most of his career: a stout, powerful center that can hold off about any defensive tackle, that moves well despite his thick, squatty frame, but doesn't always do what's necessary to succeed. He isn't nasty in a Robbie Tobeck way. If it's possible for an offensive lineman to hold too infrequently, Spencer holds too infrequently. There is something to be said for the borderline legal block that springs a long run and isn't flagged, and I haven't seen Spencer wrestle too many defenders to the turf or grab a handful of jersey when the ref isn't looking. He sustains first level blocks but doesn't sustain second level blocks nearly as well. He doesn't always reach his assignment on zone blocks and thanks in part to the lousy batch of backs he's blocked for, he hasn't turned many of his better blocks into quality runs.

I hope Marshawn Lynch is good, because Spencer deserves the deflected recognition that comes from blocking for a successful rusher. When Spencer lands a second level block, and Justin Forsett stumbles cutting back, or Spencer teams to tear out the interior defensive line, and Julius Jones runs into a pile somewhere else, it frustrates me, but it's got to kill Chris Spencer. I can't always place a good Seahawk properly among the rest of the NFL. I do end up watching this team much more often than other teams and in much greater detail and that might warp my perspective, but I am pretty sure Spencer is already one of the better centers in the NFL. Now, what will it take for that to become apparent? And will it happen while Spencer is in Seattle?

Right Guard

Stacy Andrews

Andrews isn't much of a guard and he's not playing particularly well. Because he initially replaced Max Unger, and because Unger was so, so very bad, there was a honeymoon in which it was good enough that Seattle's right guard wasn't a travelator to the ball carrier. Andrews is very tall and not surprisingly given his height and length, best at defending against 3-4 type ends. Smaller, quicker defensive tackles that can win leverage on Andrews can work him over something good. A younger Tommie Harris would probably destroy Andrews, but that Harris is apparently gone forever.

He's not a bad athlete and the combination of his quickness and sheer size make him something of a valuable blocker on the second level. What he can't accomplish with actual blocking he somewhat accomplishes by being a huge dude that gets in the way. But size, some power, some surprising quickness and athleticism, is as good as it gets for Stacy. He loses blocks very quickly and that inability to sustain undercuts both his run blocking and pass blocking. If Seattle wanted to go this route, not actually embracing a zone blocking system proper but running some zone blocking principles with mismatched talent, it should have kept Rob Sims. But it didn't, and so it will probably keep Andrews for a season and then begin again the search for a long term solution.

Right Tackle

Sean Locklear

Lock is better than this. That's what it feels like, anyhow. He's a good athlete, has some power to hold ground, and moves pretty well, but he screws up big when he screws up, and the mistakes seem to be piling up. At this point, maybe Locklear is about to call it a career. Never know. You just don't expect a seven-year veteran to suffer mental lapses like Locklear does. Maybe he lost a step, though at 29 that seems unlikely. But maybe his injuries have taken something from his overall ability, but that isn't what it looks like. A few times a game, Locklear still does something that teases that he's capable of more: a graceful pull block, a cut, a shadow and clear on an edge rush.

Anyway, like Hamilton and Andrews, Locklear seems to be a on the short list for replacement. Maybe Polumbus can take over, but Polumbus didn't look very good against St. Louis and has never been known as a particularly good right tackle. Most likely, Okung is locked in at left, Spencer maybe, maybe sticks around at center, and left guard, right guard and right tackle are replaced.

It's weird to think that a unit that was in shambles last season, that signed Alex Gibbs to coach it up, that invested a sixth overall pick in a franchise left tackle, may very well be worse and more unstable than it was last season, but though Andrews is probably better than Unger, and Hamilton is a better run blocker than Sims, this isn't a very good offensive line, and few of its members have much of a future in Seattle.

Percuntory grade: D

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