Two years ago Pete Carroll and John Schneider inherited an aging team weak with talent. The Seahawks had a combined nine wins over the past two seasons and their momentum was continuing downward. There were several quality young
ish players on the roster but the overall talent level was embarrassingly thin. In 2010 Pete and the gang stopped the downward momentum. In 2011 they propelled it upward.
The influx of young talent has been nothing short of remarkable. Seattle played it's best football toward the end of 2011 despite losing multiple high-investment starters from three separate position groups.
Russell Okung, James Carpenter, and John Moffitt combine for 2535 draft trade value points according to their pick positions, just a Walter Thurmond short of theoretically acquiring the second pick in the draft. Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, and Marcus Trufant ate over $10 million in cap space for 2011. All of them finished the season on IR.
Yet the Seahawks continued to improve. Breno Giacomini, Lemuel Jeanpierre, Paul McQuistan, Doug Balwin, Golden Tate, and Richard Sherman all stepped up. The depth required to effectively absorb so many losses just wasn't possible in the Ruskell era. The churn system seems to be working wonderfully.
We know better than to think our team is fat and healthy in the wilderness of the NFL though. Linebacker is maybe the only other position group which could have lost multiple starter without the offense/defense suffering some type of collapse. Our ribs are still showing.
The Seahawks are on the upswing but it's worth noting just how perilous the realization of that title has been. We cannot expect to be so lucky with injuries as we were in 2011. Forget about losing multiple starters, losing just one of the following players would have been devastating for us last season.
QB - Tarvaris Jackson: As mediocre as Jackson was, we saw how much worse it could have been if that pectoral tear had required surgery. The Charlie Whitehurst experiment has failed. He is still a third string quarterback and may be playing in the AFL before too long.
Finding an eventual franchise QB is the primary concern but this guy could be needed sooner than later. Jackson might be a suitable stop gap but health issues make him an unreliable one. Do we pass on projects like Ryan Tannehill or Brock Osweiller since we know they may be forced into action in 2012? Has Josh Portis progressed enough to be relied upon as our back-up QB?
RB - Marshawn Lynch: Marshawn should be back next season and will of course be the starter if he is. His beastly running style has given our offense a much needed identity. But physical running backs are always injury prone, whether they know it yet or not. So far he's toughed it out but the questions about his back are concerning. Justin Forsett had a disappointing season and probably won't be back in 2012.
Leon Washington is a valuable piece but he can't handle the bulk of the carries. Would we retain our physical identity with UFA Vai Taua or recent Future Reserves signing Tyrell Sutton starting? Will we value backs like Doug Martin and Chris Polk, who seem better equipped for a full load, over backs like David Wilson and Lamar Miller, who are maybe more talented and possibly a better compliment to Marshawn's power?
LEO - Chris Clemons: Without Clemons we are down with the Bucs as the worst pass rushing teams in the league. We have been extremely fortunate with Clemons' health and consistency. Over the past two years he has played more snaps on defense than any other player besides Earl Thomas and I know that without even double checking. Clemons is over 30 now and cannot be relied upon for so many snaps every season.
Raheem Brock would have been a suitable fill-in in 2010 but he regressed dramatically in 2011. Dexter Davis gives us a little flexibility but is undersized and not ideal to start. How will our vision for the LEO position affect the grades we give Quinton Coples, Courtney Upshaw, and Melvin Ingram, since none are a clean fit for the position as it stands today? Will we sign a free agent or spend another draft pick on a more typical LEO fit?
FS - Earl Thomas: This is the depth concern which I feel deserves a lot more attention. Thomas is the key to our defense. Without him we would be forced into a lot more cover-2 and our defense would become so vanilla that you could say something witty about there being a lot of vanilla (if vanilla wasn't so boring and impossible to be witty with). Thomas can be reckless and is very physical. Given his small stature, there's ample reason to worry about injuries.
It's tough to imagine us going deep into the playoffs without ET but being capable of scrapping out some wins during a mid-season injury should be an attainable goal. Could Chris Maragos or Jeron Johnson keep our defense functioning? How much money or draft capital are we willing to commit to this insurance policy?
We all knew the importance the past two off-seasons and for the most part Pete and John have delivered. But this off-season doesn't feel any less essential. The next step is often where teams struggle. As the core of the roster is established, it becomes less likely that the BPA in the draft will be at a position of need. How will our front office adjust to this transition? Will we start seeing neglected positions? Misguided reaches? Both?
I have confidence in Pete Carroll and his conscience, John Schneider, but their ability to find talented depth will continue to be tested in the coming months. A lackluster draft class and some unfortunate injuries could easily leave Seattle back at square one entering 2013. The Carroll era is off to a strong start but the edge of depth is still too close for comfort.