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Sean Locklear's One-Month Window

Week 15 Inside the Numbers is up at the Seattle Times, though there seem to be some weird formatting things going on over there. Thanks as always to Danny O’Neil, who has been an ardent FO guy for a long time.

The game itself? It’s a yuk-fest that only six percent of the nation will be forced to watch – you can make the jokes about two donkeys running the Kentucky Derby and be absolutely correct, but there’s something interesting going on with Seattle’s offense that I mentioned in the linked blog post:

Seattle’s offense is in an intriguing position right now in that just about everyone playing down the stretch is doing so to prove a point. Sean Locklear and Seneca Wallace would like you to know that if necessary, they can replace Seahawks legends over a period of time. Deion Branch would like you to know that he was actually worth the first round pick, and all that money. Steve Vallos would like you to know that he has the potential to add a solid element to the middle of the line that hasn’t really been there since Robbie Tobeck retired. Mo Morris would like you to know that the agility and speed around end he’s showed lately isn’t a fluke, and that he shouldn’t be overlooked. Floyd Womack would like you to know that he’s going to stay healthy this season and capitalize on his performance against the Patriots (where he was, in this observer’s opinion, Seattle’s best offensive lineman on the field).Mansfield Wrotto and Ray Willis just hope you’ll remember their names when this season is over. There’s a lot to establish in a very short time, and this is the sub-drama that can make a bad team interesting as a lost year draws to a close.

Still, with all those factors, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the bull’s-eye is on Sean Locklear for the next three weeks. As John as already mentioned per Sando, Locklear has escalators in his contract that kick in based on his time at left tackle. And this contract was written before the 2008 season, when Ruskell was in full charge and Elvis had already half-left the building. This is a one-month audition for Locklear that will seriously impact the franchise’s focus in free agency, the draft – really, the next few years depend on how he does.

Last year, I did an Every Play Counts on the Cleveland offensive line, noting that it took GM Phil Savage two shots to get his new line right. He started by offering free agent Kevin Shaffer a seven-year, $36 million contact in March of 2006 to play left tackle. Shaffer led the NFL in holding penalties that season with seven, the Browns finished 31st in Adjusted Line Yards, and dead last in the NFL around left end. Savage responded in 2007 by selecting Joe Thomas third overall and signing left guard Eric Steinbach. Shaffer was moved to the right side, where his power was an advantage and his more basic technique wasn’t a liability. The Browns rose up to third in ALY and first in runs around left end, because they had a left tackle who was meant to be one.

Why am I bringing up Shaffer here? Because when I wrote about Locklear’s game at left tackle against the Pats last Sunday, my first thought was, "This guy reminds me of Kevin Shaffer." Same decent-but-not-great pass pro and backpedal, same good initial punch, same ability to get physical, same tendency to get beaten outside because he doesn’t really fan out all that well, I didn’t see the level of development in pass-blocking I would have liked of a player in his fifth season, and I’m not convinced that Locklear has the kind of high ceiling franchise left tackles must have.

However, I’m believing more and more that failing a disastrous turn on the left side over the next three weeks, Locklear’s going to be the Seahawks’ next long-term left tackle. It’s my theory, but here goes: Tim Ruskell and Jim Mora seem bent on turning the 2009 Seahawks into the 2004 Falcons. The 2004 Falcons’ left tackle? Kevin Shaffer. It was his third year in the NFL, and the Falcons led the NFL in rushing with a line that benefited greatly from the blocking schemes of Alex Gibbs. Is it Ruskell’s opinion, based on what I perceive as his preference to go for what he knows as opposed to finding new ways to win, that he can use more plug-in linemen in his new offense with the leadership of Mike Solari?

If draft time comes around, and Ruskell passes on a deep tackle class for the second straight year, we’ll have our answer. And I, for one, won’t be happy about it at all.