Offensive line continuity is a dubious concept. The offensive line does work in concert more than any other unit. Most units do work together, though, even if it is less appreciated. Defensive lines must maintain gap integrity and that means discipline and teamwork. Any one lineman is overwhelmed or drops their assignment and passing or rushing lanes burst open, double teams can shift or linemen can pull cleanly into the second level, etc. It is a chain-reaction. The guy that gets pancaked might be the one best doing his job. Receivers help free each other and most modern offenses feature semi-legal picks built into route combinations. Routes cross or routes go high-low or one route baits the safety while the other curls underneath, etc. That is one reason it's so deadly when a receiver drops a route. I could go on, but the point is: most units work together to accomplish a joint goal and in most ways, the offensive line is not much more dependent on continuity than any other unit. Football is the ultimate team sport, as they say.
Offensive line continuity is a dubious concept because it depends on another more basic fact: reserves are not as good as starters. Continuity makes it sound like it is the integrity of the line rather than the total talent of the line that makes it work. Surely, you need to trust your partners in the trenches, but that trust is earned through quality play, not smelling each others' Old Spice for three seasons straight. It should go without saying that a team that is able to start the same five offensive linemen for a long period is blessed both with good health and good play. What is continuity but avoiding injury and performance-related benching?
So, when I say that Seattle should strive to develop offensive line continuity, I am not implying that starting the same five players will yield XL-like results. Rather, I am arguing that Seattle needs to lock in some starters and those starters need to stay healthy and play to their potential. This next series of posts is about simple but important goals for the 2010 season. We all want the playoffs. We all want a contender. But Seattle could make the playoffs thanks to a weak division and timely kicks and mask a crumbling foundation, like it did in 2006. Or Seattle can miss the playoffs but while establishing their starting line, their feature back, their young quarterback and parts of their receiving corps, like they did in 2002. Obviously, this isn't an either-or. Seattle could build towards the future while making a run. Seattle could spin its wheels while playing terrible football. Boy can it! My point is, the Seahawks have higher aspirations than a fluke playoff run.
This is simple. Russell Okung must start in week one and never look back. Seattle has invested huge resources into Okung and unlike a toolsy, high-potential player like Jason Smith, Okung should be able to start and stick at left tackle as a rookie. Any threat to his job is a setback. Any whispers about moving him to right tackle is a major setback. Injury is a setback. Walter Jones missed time due to injury his first season, and so let's not go overboard. But though that proved aberrant in Jones' exceptional career, it was not good at the time that Jones was injured his first season and it did not improve his long term potential. Jones was just that sort of gansta. We shouldn't use him as an exemplar for anything.
Goal: Simple enough, Okung should play 16 and should play 16 well -- best possible outcome. That is the standard. If Okung suffers some minor injury, we should not get too caught up with what it might mean, but it's still bad. If Okung struggles, that is a bit more worrisome. If Okung suffers a major injury, but not a career threatening injury, that is worse yet. If Okung is forecast to move to right tackle, that is a disaster.
And let us not even talk about career-threatening injury.