SEATTLE WA - JANUARY 08: Center Chris Spencer #65 of the Seattle Seahawks prepares to snap the football in the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints during the 2011 NFC wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field on January 8 2011 in Seattle Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
I feel for Chris Spencer. If football players produced an individual stat line of any accuracy, Spencer would be acknowledged as a good, largely anonymous player. Someone fans of a particular inclination love. Sort of a Detlef Schrempf. Football players do not produce meaningful stats, especially offensive linemen, and Spencer, who is unassuming, atypical, even a little meek, has become one of the more recognizable names associated with a consistently broken offensive line.
Spencer took over in 2006, perhaps before he was ready and definitely before Mike Holmgren was ready for him. Holmgren emphasized execution. Tim Ruskell provided him wave after wave of projects. Center had been manned by a nasty old veteran: Robbie Tobeck. Spencer was a green, almost shy seeming developmental talent. With his arrival came the unraveling of the Seahawks offense and specifically the Seahawks offensive line.
The Seahawks have endured constant turnover at guard. Spencer has started beside the very young: Max Unger, Mansfield Wrotto, Mike Gibson and Rob Sims; those near retirement: Chris Gray, Mike Wahle and Ben Hamilton; modest talented undermined by injury: Floyd Womack and Chester Pitts; and journeymen tackles playing out of position: Ray Willis, Tyler Polumbus and Stacy Andrews. Center, and especially a center in a zone blocking scheme, executes through combo blocks. Most runs involve a combo block. Apart from 2007, Spencer has had almost no opportunity to develop trust and communication with his adjacent linemates. And apart from Sims, his linemates have done little to earn that trust much less a continued opportunity to start.
So I feel for Chris Spencer. He was set up for failure. In the eyes of the public, he has failed. He hasn't though. That is why each season fans and the media speculate about his replacement--especially since his replacement is on the team--and each season Spencer is appointed as the starting center, holds the position and soldiers on in relative anonymity.
But whatever my sympathy for Spencer, the question is whether Seattle should attempt to re-sign him? He turns 29 next December. That's not old-old for an offensive lineman but it isn't young either. That should be considered. As should how much he will cost. The price for interior linemen has shot through the roof. Spencer will not command Jason Brown money, but anything in that vicinity is too much. Unger proved overmatched at guard, and Seattle might be inclined to at least see what he does at center. It wouldn't surprise me if Unger was named the center of the future and Spencer was allowed to walk. It wouldn't surprise me if Seattle re-signed Spencer and traded Unger. How does Cable grade out Spencer? How does Cable project Unger's potential? I don't know.
How does Spencer grade out to me? He is powerful at the point of attack and is seldom ever overmatched. He anchors very well as a pass blocker and rarely loses a guy once he's latched on. His biggest weakness as a pass blocker is recognition. However, awareness is a tough quality to evaluate. Is Spencer at fault? Are his linemates at fault? Is it, in fact, the combination of Spencer, his linemates and the lack of chemistry and trust between the two that leads to missed blocks? I would say most likely the latter.
As a run blocker, he's powerful, moves well and is, again, rarely overmatched. That said, Seattle doesn't create much interior push. Spencer? The guards? I think it's the guards. Spencer moves pretty well but does not line up blocks in the second level. He also doesn't sustain those blocks particularly well. I would guess that is something that can still develop with coaching. He doesn't lack for power, quickness or agility. He just doesn't flash a ton of skill in space. He also isn't very nasty, insomuch that Spencer doesn't finish blocks, doesn't scrap, and doesn't blindside guys.
After all these years, Spencer is still kind of raw. Seattle is not likely to add a player of his talent or potential through free agency. But Seattle could probably add someone that is approximately as good. Personally, I hope the Seahawks re-sign Spencer. Seattle needs to fill every position along its offensive line except for left tackle. It has holes throughout its depth chart. Finding a relatively cheap, relatively young and very talented player whose ability has been masked by coaching turnover, roster turnover and poor surrounding talent is exactly what a team in Seattle's position should be doing. But if the Seahawks do not, I hope Spencer overcomes perception and finds somewhere to start. In a sport as imprecise and speculative as football, perception has a way of dictating reality. Spencer isn't Tobeck, can not overcome the fall of the greater Seahawks offense, but is a talented, tough and valuable interior lineman with plenty left to prove and an outside shot at excellence.