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The Offensive Line Part 3: The Healthy Year

Steve Hutchinson is an amazing talent. Seattle wasn't building a line of amazing talents. Chris Gray was sagging, Walter Jones in decline, Sean Locklear as serviceable as ever and Chris Spencer and Rob Sims still getting their feet wet. But it had a healthy line. Jones missed one game, the only game missed by Seattle's starting five, and he missed that game as a precaution. It's not well remembered today, but Seattle's 2007 offense was good, even with Shaun Alexander. It was a twelth ranked offense and a 9th ranked passing offense. The run game was solid outside of Alexander. Maurice Morris had his best season as a pro.

Seattle was healthy in 2007 and other than right guard, it did not seem to have pressing needs at offensive line. Jones was writing the book on modern dominance at left tackle and his historic peers at the position commonly played into their mid- to late-thirties. Sims and Spencer were the subject of Mike Holmgen's scorn, but neither player played that bad, and both were still very young at a position that historically peaks late.

The big flub happened in 2006 and hurt Seattle in the 2007 draft. Tim Ruskell traded the Seahawks first round pick for Deion Branch and then signed him to a six-year, $39 million. He desperately wanted out from Darrell Jacksons's contract, could not retain Joe Jurevicius after Vicious signed for less to play for his hometown Browns, had no interest in keeping Jeremy Stevens, was about to lose Bobby Engram to Graves Disease, and had signed Nate Burleson as a inexpensive project wide receiver and return man. Burleson has fulfilled both roles well. He has cost Seattle $2, $3.5 and $4 million against the cap his first three seasons.

Ruskell saw the Seahawks a contender and didn't see a better opportunity to add a wide receiver. He may have reached a bit, but the enormity of his decision is overblown. Late first round picks are seldom superstars and often outright busts. Had Seattle switched Branch for a generic, late-first round receiver, that receiver would have underperformed the disappointing Branch. It could have used that pick elsewhere however. It could have drafted Ben Grubbs, Arron Sears or Justin Blalock. All three have been solid, though Sears career may be over after a frightening concussion.

This marks the point where we can first say Ruskell was deemphasizing the offensive line. He didn't add significant talent in a significantly talented class, opting instead to draft project player, Mansfield Wrotto, in the fourth. The team made a run at Kris Dielman, but when Dielman frowned at Seattle's weather and went home to San Diego to sign for less, the Seahawks didn't have a plan ‘B'. Its good health at offensive line may have hidden a rotting foundation. Chris Gray started 16 but arguably shouldn't have started one. Excepting Jones, it wasn't very talented, and the youth movement Ruskell started with Spencer, Willis and Sims, was not added to or challenged. Tom Ashworth and Floyd Womack were still primary depth and the most promising successor to Jones was Locklear.

The year that Ruskell's plan was its most effective was also the year Ruskell's plan looked most ominous. Seattle didn't land one of that free agent class's big name guards and didn't acquire talent that could start in a pinch. Had the same injuries occurred that year as have this, Seattle was thinner and weaker and more likely to collapse with Tom Ashworth, Mansfield Wrotto and Steve Vallos thrust into action than even Kyle Williams, modern Wrotto and modern Vallos.

But it didn't and line depth didn't seem like such an awful big deal in 2007. What line could look good blocking Shaun Alexander? It had young parts, an ageless veteran and a defense that was starting to look like the future of the team.