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The Offensive Line Part 1: Ruskell the Rookie

Normally I take this time to rewatch the game a few times and decide my storylines for the week. I have still yet to see the game. The bye week is on its way and there's plenty to discuss, but actual tape analysis might be a little slow coming.

I didn't need to see it to know that starting Kyle Williams beside Steve Vallos was going to be a problem. It was a not so subtle and not so brief reminder that football coaches can overvalue intelligence and intangibles. Vallos chemistry with Williams didn't make it off the practice field. The more important matter is how did Seattle's line get so bad? Could it be significantly better? And is there still hope for improvement?

From Caviar to Cat Food

Seattle started two future Hall of Fame talents on its Super Bowl bound 2005 team. Walter Jones was the best tackle of a historic class. The best tackle in the history of the NFL, according to some. No one currently associated with the Seahawks deserves credit for Jones success or Jones eventual decline. Three fifths of that historic 2005 line are retired or nearly so. The remaining two are paving the way to Canton for another back and injured, respectively. Knowing that so much of that talented line simply got old is cold comfort, but comfort.

Tim Ruskell bears some responsibility for the Seahawks losing Steve Hutchinson. As we know his style better, his fingerprints appear all over that botched attempt to save fifty bucks. The actual mistake was minor compared to the outcome. Ruskell was blindsided by a poison pill clause that introduced the world to the phrase "poison pill clause". He was backdoored by a wily GM and a guard that wanted out. If we can't ever fully excuse Ruskell from that mistake, I think we should at least maintain perspective.

The Seahawks line was in need of new blood as soon as Ruskell took over. The interior was comprised of two journeymen soon to retire and a free agent. The 2004 team, the team I affectionately call the Trader Bob Superfund, was bereft of promising offensive line talent. It was the principles, Chris Terry, Floyd Womack, Jerry Wunch and Wayne the Pain Hunter.

As has been Ruskell's lot, he was fixing the team at multiple positions during the offseason. He drafted Chris Spencer in the first, Ray Willis in the fourth and Doug Nienhuis in the seventh in a linemen- and linebacker-centric draft. Neinhuis was a pure bust, but Willis has developed into a cheap, talented right tackle. Seattle re-signed Willis this offseason and he's been a rock on an otherwise chalk line.

Spencer is a bit more controversial. He hasn't excelled and he hasn't been awful. He hasn't been healthy and he hasn't been wracked with injury. Spencer is only 27 and his potential is still strong, a potential that could mean eight more years of productive football, but he's a free agent or restricted free agent after this season and might not be worth his open market value.

Ruskell did invest in the offensive line. He did it at the right time and with some success. Willis was the first lineman selected in the fourth round and he has been the second most successful. I will give Jason Brown the benefit of the doubt, though I am not sure Brown is in fact more valuable than Willis. Seattle could have selected Logan Mankins or Michael Roos with its Spencer pick, but it didn't. Roos is a pure tackle and could have perhaps played right tackle for Seattle, allowing Locklear to move inside, but Seattle didn't see offensive tackle as a pressing need, or guard for that matter. Value for value, Willis has been a similar find to Roos. It's also notable that Chris Gray would play three more serviceable seasons at right guard, but Robbie Tobeck was out of the league the very next season. Ruskell added starter caliber talent at the right positions at the right time in his very first draft as a GM.