There's been a lot of optimism around here lately and I aim to crush it. Well, I don't mean to dash all of your hopes and dreams, I am personally very hopeful for this season, but we also need to focus on what might not work and not just what will. Sometimes I focus so much on what I love about this team that I forget what should really worry me.
And there is plenty that we have to worry about.
Today I want to focus on what we're not sure we should worry about. Seattle is entering the season with some unknowns in key starting positions and therefore we're left to wonder and guess at what the results could be. Starting at the top where the Seahawks are going to probably be relying on an educated guess at quarterback rather than a proven commodity.
Let's assume that Tarvaris Jackson does not win the starting job, because we can already say that if he is named the starter that we'll all be pretty worried about it entering the season. I've said this many times before, but a team can win with Jackson as starter, but he's not going to be the guy that you win because of. Already we've pointed out a major concern about the Seahawks: That Jackson could be the starting quarterback. But let's say that he's not and that either Matt Flynn or Russell Wilson was named starter.
I find it highly unlikely at this point that Wilson can overtake Flynn and Jackson and be named starter at this point. It doesn't rule him out for week one and especially not for later in the year, but even if that were true, you should be very concerned about any rookie quarterback. They don't make the playoffs often and it's even rarer to see a guy come from the third round to starting in the playoffs less than a year later. I look forward to seeing what Wilson could do in 2013, but there's reason to be rightfully concerned if he's your starting quarterback this season. However, I still see it as unlikely so let's go back to Matt Flynn.
It's my belief that Flynn will be the starter in week one, that it's been an inevitable course to this, and even though we've had competitions and such in camp, that ultimately it had to be either Jackson or Wilson consistently being much better than Flynn in order for them to win the job over him. The team isn't in a Kevin Kolb-Cardinals position where they acquired this guy at such a price that he has to be the starter, but I believe that they signed him with the full intention that they'd give him a chance and that chance almost has to start now.
So, why is it a negative that Flynn could be the starter?
It doesn't have to be negative at all. In the grand scheme of things, it could turn out to be a great move and maybe Flynn is the next Matt Hasselbeck. Maybe Flynn comes in right away and puts up very solid numbers while not doing anything to hurt this team. Based on his NFL experience as a backup, his thousands of hours of learning the game and sitting behind one of the leagues best, and his skillset that has proven to work in the right conditions, Flynn could be a very good starter by week one. Despite the fact that the Darrell Bevell offense isn't exactly like the Packers offense, they signed him knowing that his knowledge of a certain offense and his ability to run it would be helpful to this team.
Rather than thinking of him as a backup switching teams and having to start from scratch like Matt Schaub or the other guys I mentioned, maybe we can instead think of him as a Matt Cassel who was able to step into the Patriots job with no experience and be well above-average. That could happen. So whats the problem?
The problem is the amount of times I have to say "maybe" and "could" and other words that imply that we just don't know enough about Flynn to make big sweeping judgments about how good he will be in 2012. He could also be bad. There's no viable proof that Flynn will be any good and the only proof we do have of his ability to run an NFL offense in a game situation is two games. Two of the best starts of all time come from Billy Volek. Even Philip Rivers was really bad to start last season and you'd be blessed to have Rivers as your starting quarterback.
What's to say that Flynn will be any better than Tarvaris Jackson? It wouldn't take much to convince me that it's likely, but there's a major difference between a likely outcome and an actual outcome, so you should definitely be concerned about the actual production Seattle gets out of its quarterback this season because we don't know how Flynn will perform and if he performs poorly, we're right back to Jackson or we're going with a third round rookie.
Not very many teams perform well with bad quarterback play, even if Seattle had an elite defense. Then there's the question of defense.
I will hit on one more unknown situation today and that sits in the middle of our defense. I believe that the Seahawks were a good defense last year, possibly great when you consider the ineptitude of the offense, and that they could be one of the top five defenses of this season. What do we base that assumption on?
Mostly on the secondary, which might be the best in the NFL, and the strength on the defensive line. Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, and Alan Branch provide Seattle with one of the most underrated d-lines in the league. They did not have anyone else besides Clemons that could rush the passer, but they form one of the top rush-defenses at the line of scrimmage and Clemons was also one of the most underrated pass rushers in the league last season. I had to be reminded of just how crucial he was at pivotal moments last season by re-watching the games, but he's exciting to watch.
However, they also masked the fact that Seattle was pretty weak in the linebacking corps and just like at quarterback, they're going into the season with unknowns.
I happen to think that Bobby Wagner is flying ridiculously low under the radar right now and that he'll be an above-average starter next year, which is great for a rookie. But we were also spoiled by Lofa Tatupu and maybe have forgotten that rookie middle linebackers don't always work out that fantastically. Wagner has to pick up a whole lot from the get-go and could have major responsibility on his shoulders next season. My feelings towards what Wagner will do this season are positive and I'm fine with him flying under the radar, but my feelings have a long way to go before they are a reality.
Additionally, we are hopeful that K.J. Wright will continue to get better and build off of his successful rookie campaign but we can't be sure yet. We are hopeful that Bruce Irvin and Korey Toomer could come in and contribute right away, but you can never be sure with rookies. It would also be nice to see LeRoy Hill and Barrett Ruud remain healthy and provide solid veteran leadership to a group of players that would need it, but we are able to see how fragile the linebacking corps could be.
I have never been concerned about the loss of David Hawthorne, but the Seahawks waited a long time before they started filling those particular holes on the roster and now we're left to wonder if they made the right moves in that respect. Linebacker isn't necessarily the heart of a defense in the way that Ray Lewis is the heart of the Ravens defense, and Seattle has built around that group so that they don't need to do as much, but the Hawks definitely need to have three guys that can play and not get burned over and over again otherwise the middle will be exposed again as it was at times last year.
Finally, the "Matt Flynn" of the defense is Jason Jones. I love the idea of Jason Jones and the idea of him could make put the defensive line right around the top of "Best in the NFL" because he's versatile and athletic and could be a run-stopper and a pass-rusher. However, there's a reason that he was a free agent, not retained by Tennessee, and signed on a one-year deal. Jason Jones has rarely ever been the "idea of Jason Jones."
Seattle is hopeful that he finally lives up to those expectations, but it's far from a guarantee. The defensive line has been elite at stopping the runs at times in each of the last two years but they've also faltered at times when they were either tired or injured or faced running backs that we are able to beat them to the outside like DeMarco Murray. The idea of Jason Jones could be a major boon to that problem, but right now all we have is that actual Jones. Until we see him actually go out there and do what we think he can do, we're only left with hope.
I'll end on that note. I'm very hopeful for this season. I'm probably more hopeful than most and think this year could be special, but we also have to take a look at the very real other side. The side where nothing goes right. The side where the quarterback position is still a problem, and where the defense has a hole in the middle, where Seattle gets burned and winds up 7-9 or worse again. That side very much exists right now because all we have right now is hope and assumptions.
We just need to see it play out on the field.