This will kick off a series of shorter articles analyzing the 2006 season for starters and key back-ups, plus what we might be able to expect from them in 2007.
Grant Wistrom: When Seattle signed Wistrom, he had almost every impossible to measure pedigree imaginable. He was a team leader, had Super Bowl experience and a high motor. More importantly, though, he had an excellent reputation against the run and good sack totals. Wistrom seemed like that rare complete defensive end.
Unfortunately, he signed as a 28 y/o with 6 full seasons of wear on his body. In 2004, he opened strongly. If you prorate his eight game totals, Wistrom's 2004 would have looked very much like his excellent 2003 with St. Louis: 7 sacks, 76 tackles, 6 Stuffs. His contribution against the run is also recognizable by seeing not only Seattle's improvement against runs behind left tackle, but also St. Louis's collapse against the same kind of runs. Tracking a line position does not always pinpoint a certain player, but given the parity and size of the shift--Seattle +19, St. Louis -17--coupled with the fact that both teams had reasonable consistency at WLB and left DT, certainly isolates Wistrom as an important cause.
His early dominance in 2003 was stalled by several knee injuries that cost him half the season. Those injuries may have been a turning point for Wistrom. Since returning in 2005 his tackle numbers have been down, his sacks have been down and Seattle has grown worse each year at defending runs behind left tackle. For a player like Wistrom, who uses strength, effort and field intelligence to compensate for middling quickness, a knee injury may have cost him that needed burst to convert sacks and track down running backs.
In 2006, Wistrom was still capable of collapsing the pocket, but quarterbacks were able to find an open receiver or check-down because Wistrom could not run them down in open space. Against rushing plays Wistrom could no longer move quickly enough to square up against the rusher, frequently allowing them to bounce outside or find cut back lanes. His decline was a little talked about, but important part of Seattle's defensive collapse.
Wistrom will enter 2007 31, but not back-breakingly expensive. $14 million of his $33 million six year deal was given as a signing bonus in 2004. I couldn't find any information on exactly what kind of knee injury Wistrom suffered, but certain knee injuries can be very slow to recover. He has the kind of work ethic and balls-out love for the game that makes you want to believe he can regain some of his early career form, but the history of post-30, non-legendary defensive ends is anything but promising. All this makes it painfully important that tomorrow's subject, 2005 second round pick Darryl Tapp, can stay healthy and step into a starting role.