After thoroughly demolishing the Chicago Bears in their own living room, the Seahawks have assured themselves at least a return to their 7-9 record last year, and are still clinging to an outside shot at a playoff berth. So far, they have ridden their defense and Marshawn Lynch to a 5-1 in the second half of the season (matching the Green Bay Packers). Their defense has allowed nine (9!) touchdowns in the last six (6!!) games, while scoring three (3!!!) of their own.
I'm pretty confident they will end up at or over .500 for the season, despite sustaining season-ending injuries to 3/5 of their starting offensive line, two of their starting cornerbacks, their #1 and #2 wide receivers (as of the beginning of the season), a starting tight end, a nickel linebacker, a backup linebacker, and a number of other depth players.
Their right-handed starting QB has played his last eight games with a torn right bicep and torn right pectoral muscle. Their leading receiver is an undrafted free agent. Their starting cornerbacks are a NFL-flunkie-turned-CFL-star-turned-NFL-borderline-star and a 5th-round CB who only started playing the position for his last two years in college to give him a better shot at being drafted. Their current starting left tackle was their backup right guard, a street free agent before the season.
Obviously, I could go on, but you guys know all of this as well as I do. This entire tale is simply a huge "kudos" to John Schneider's brilliant talent-evaluation and Pete Carroll's masterful ability to maximize production from the talent available to him. This odd couple is quickly proving themselves a shrewd and fearsome symbiotic duo that the rest of the NFL would do well to take seriously.
However, this team is far from perfect, and -- even in the words of Schneider himself -- needs at least one more solid draft and free agency before it can really begin to move forward as a dynastic force to be reckoned with.
For the second year in a row, our Seahawks have found themselves in an awkward tweener of a position. They have a good deal of talent and particular aspects of certain units are playing at a great-to-elite level, while other units are in clear need of help, help most easily obtained in the Draft. However, they've managed to play themselves low enough in the Draft that the help they need may not present itself ready and available.
Quarterback is the most glaringly-obvious need, though Tarvaris has done quite extraordinarily well, given the circumstances. But given the teams guaranteed to be drafting ahead of Seattle, drafting one of the top three QBs of this class will almost certainly require a trade up, a move that would likely prove costly in terms of draft capital. As Davis Hsu eloquently and studiously elucidated, Schneider's heritage rarely trades up, and tends to hoard picks rather than surrender them.
This doesn't mean a large trade-up is out of the question, as Carroll has also indicated that they would be willing to "mortgage the future" for the right guy. I do agree, though, with Davis, who said recently on Twitter that he expects that Seattle would "maybe trade up 5 slots if RG3 (Robert Griffin III) or MB7 (Matt Barkley) there (like moving from 15 to 10) but not 15 to 3" and that "there would be a limit...not gonna slash two drafts even for Barkley, in my opinion."
If Davis's hunch is accurate (and I suspect it is), and Seattle ends up picking in the 15-20 range, any hope of drafting Luck, Barkley, or Griffin this year would be gone -- and with it any chance of having a quarterback of the future option other than T-jack starting next year. In my opinion, no other quarterback in the draft is even remotely an option to start out of the gate, and I'd even be hesitant starting any of them after only a single year as a backup. So who else might be an option for Seattle in round one?
Enter David DeCastro. He's the premier interior lineman prospect in the nation, and is really the heart and soul of the dominant Stanford running game. He's tough, strong and disciplined, with a noticeable nasty streak. I mean, just look at him:
Now, I have a feeling that most of the Seahawk Nation would be irreversibly apoplectic if the Seahawks spent yet another first round pick on an offensive lineman, especially since Cable has demonstrated the flexibility and interchangeability of his scheme. But bear with me here.
DeCastro isn't just any guard prospect. He's perhaps the best guard I've watched since Steve Hutchinson. I know we keep looking for that replacement for Hutch, but honestly, as I watch DeCastro, Hutch is who comes to mind.
He's a mauler, good in pass protection and terrific as a run-blocker. He's quick off the snap and keeps his pads low and legs churning. He's bigger than some guards, at 6'5"/318, but he's almost the same size as Hutch and John Moffitt. He's not a burner, even by offensive lineman standards, but he moves well in space, particularly because of his quick feet. He adeptly seeks out second-level defenders and uses his strength and quickness to seal them off and create running lanes.
Nearly every Stanford running play is directed through lanes opened up by this guy. If they're going for a downhill, power running attack, it's through the B gap between DeC and the tackle. Otherwise, they're always running a trap, pulling him from the backside and sending him through the opposite B or C gap and into the second level to lead block. If you watched the Stanford/USC game earlier this year, you could see (and Herbie pointed out as well, I believe) that Monte Kiffin was game-planning his pass rush around this big boy, because he didn't want to play into the strength of Stanford's line.
The following tape is from the Stanford (6) vs. Notre Dame (22) game on November 26, 2011 (Stanford won, 28-14). As usual, film is brought to you courtesy of JMPasq and DraftBreakdown.com.
David Decastro vs Notre Dame 2011 (via JMPasq)
Approximately, the first half of the video (up to 3:10) is made up of all the pass plays from the game. The second half is all the running plays. I'm going to highlight only four passing plays. For one, pass pro isn't exactly his strength, though it's far from a weakness. For two, there were a lot more running plays because, Stanford. And for three, because evaluating offensive lineman can be pretty difficult since it's often hard to identify their individual responsibility on a given play, especially for a guard in pass protection.
He plays every snap from RG, and he's number 52 (for Stanford. That's the red team.).
0:39- The result is pretty obvious, but notice how he gets there: quick reaction off the snap, balanced in his stance, hands up quickly and punching to the chest of the D-lineman. He keeps his hands inside the pads and keeps his feet churning, using the defender's own momentum to blow him completely out of the play. It's a relatively easy block, especially since the DE doesn't give much effort to defeat it, but it's not his only one, and he's done the same against far superior competition.
1:59- Another easy block. I chose it because this is something he does a LOT. Notre Dame only rushes three and Stanford blocks with five, so Luck could have recited "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" in the pocket. But DeCastro ensures that his center has his responsibility corralled, then turns and helps his right tackle turn another pass-rusher into goo. What DeCastro might lack in strength (he can be susceptible to a bull-rush) or pure ability he makes up for in technique and awareness. Even when he's not actively blocking someone, his head is always on a swivel, on the lookout for a blitz or a stunt.
2:23- Another (perhaps better) example of what I'm talking about. Notre Dame looks to be in prevent, with four down linemen and six defensive backs. Four of the DBs are in man coverage on the three wideouts and single inline tight end; a safety plays deep as help on the overloaded side; and two other DBs show blitz just before the snap, one rushing straight into the waiting arms of the Stanford center, and the other staying up in man coverage on the running back, who releases into the flat. The 3-tech in front of DeCastro runs a stunt with the 5-tech in front of the RT, and the two O-lineman handle it expertly. DeC keeps his arms extended and punches the 3-tech toward the tackle, a move made easier by the stunt. DeC holds position, keeping his balance and his arms extended and stonewalls the oncoming 5-tech, who attempts a wimpy and ineffective spin move.
2:41- Similar to the last play. Another stunt. DeCastro passes off to his tackle, absorbs the rush of his man, and drives his feet, blowing the rusher around the pocket and into his center, opening a passing lane for Luck.
3:20- The bread-and-butter of the Stanford running game: a pulling DeCastro setting the edge and springing a long run. It's not exactly the most impressive block in and of itself, but it didn't need to be. He sprung from his stance and got outside fast enough that all he had to do was be in the way. Notice how quick and almost "stutter-steppy" his feet are. I'm no offensive line genius, but this stands out to me as ideal in space. It avoids the longer lumbering gait that might come more naturally to such a hulk of a man -- which would also destroy reaction time and leverage.
3:54- I'm not sure if this play was designed to run through the right B gap. The fullback leads through the left B gap, and both linebackers bite HARD, completely opening the right half of the field. The Mike realizes his mistake a moment too late, and is forced to deal with a DeCastro with time and leverage to set his block. For nothing other than integrity of fundamentals, it might have been nice to see him seal this block off even more and prevent the trailing pursuit, but said pursuit does not factor.
4:35- My favourite play of the entire video. DeCastro's block is the key that springs this, Stanford's longest run of the game. How much do I have to say? The replay provides the best view. He springs out of his stance, punches straight to the chest between the pads, keeps his own pads low, and stonewalls the defender by staying low and driving with his legs. He keeps his arms extended and prevents the DT from sweeping loose of the block. Then he drives him to the ground for good measure. Don't mis-see that- he doesn't pull the guy down from behind, he drives into him until he knocks him over backwards.
5:19- Check out the jump off the snap:
You can't really tell from this shot, but DeCastro is already rising out of his stance as well. It's a draw play, so he has to sell pass first, then run-block. A tough assignment. He's actually beat, as he does sit back in a pass pro stance and doesn't drive forward, but kind of just stands pat for a split second. The defender springs past him, but he recovers, remains balanced with his arms extended, and pushes his man out of the back of the pocket. If this had been a pass play with a seven-step drop, Luck would have been forced up into the pocket immediately. But it wasn't, and the pass-rusher never factors.
5:25- There seems to be some miscommunication between DeCastro and his tackle on this play. And after watching the play over and over, I think he's right and his tackle is wrong. DeC engages the first man in front of him, #9. He stands him up, then passes him to the RT and moves to the LB at the next level. The RT is supposed to block #9 out to his own right, a task that should have been fairly easy given the help he received. But he tries to spring to the next level and #9 awkwardly waddles through the gap. The RT realizes his mistake and turns around chasing him. The running back identifies this penetration and tries to spring outside, but the play is being broken up. He's able to slip and dodge a bit and fall forward for a decent gain. But watch DeCastro. He's reading the body language of the defense and as they flow in pursuit, he throws an ad-libbed cut block. It amused me, and I appreciated his dedication to the play.
5:40- No explanation necessary. He brutally manhandles the DT. Poor sophomore Louis Nix III (the 6th-ranked DT for the 2015 class, FWIW).
5:58- Another excellent example of the Stanford trap play. Notice how he locks on his man, squares him up, and drives him back. The little linebacker never stands a chance.
6:32- And a final example of the same play, and another linebacker getting trucked. NFL defensive backs aren't gonna like seeing this guy coming their way, and a lot of linebackers are gonna be a bit disconcerted as well. He's like a dump truck, and this poor guy is just trying to get out of the way.
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Do the Seahawks need another first-round offensive lineman? Perhaps not. Gallery is around still, though for only a couple years, and they have decent depth in McQuistan, Giacomini, Jeanpierre, and Jarriel King. However, if they're choosing in the late teens, with no QB available, apart from trading down, I'm not sure I see a better option.
And that's not to paint this as "settling for DeCastro." The entire 2005 offense ran through the left side of the Seahawks' line. And in my opinion, the entire game runs through the offensive line. They set the tone for the offense, which in turn controls time of possession and defensive strategy.
Lining up DeCastro between Okung and Unger would make for a solid, maybe even terrific pass-blocking left side. And with Moffitt and a smarter, better Carpenter, the Seahawks wouldn't have to favour one side with their runs. They could legitimately run left, right, or center, and Marshawn (please re-sign him) would be trucking behind an elite run-blocking offensive line.
Now, one final note. Despite Rob Rang's report that said David DeCastro is expected to declare in the next few weeks, he came out on Twitter saying no decision has been made. So, who knows.
What think ye, fairest of the Twelfth Man?
Update: Here's another video, for those of you who find yourselves craving more offensive lineman film to pore over. Again, brought to you by the ever-amazing Draft Breakdown and JMPasq.
David Decastro vs UCLA 2011 (via JMPasq)