Fans of the Seattle Seahawks concerned about the protection of franchise quarterback Russell Wilson have voiced their complaints loudly regarding the offensive line in recent seasons. With free agency just weeks away, fans are once against discussing what the team will do over the offseason to address this issue and keep Wilson upright and healthy in 2018. In particular many fans have asked what the plan is regarding the offensive line, because the strategy up front seems haphazard and random, with a seemingly constant shuffle of players disrupting any continuity and flow for the unit.
However, looking back almost a year ago to John Schneider’s press conference at the 2017 NFL Combine, Schneider stated exactly what the plan was. As has been noted here in the past, the team’s intent is to follow the model used by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1990s and the Green Bay Packers in the 2000s. However, while this plan of development has been noted, in particular explaining why the Hawks have consistently put the youngest, most inexperienced offensive line in the NFL on the field in each of the last three seasons, I have not put forth a visual explanation of the models that are being followed.
As much as the team, including both Schneider and Pete Carroll, as well as Tom Cable while he was still with the team, have discussed continuity, there has not been much of it to speak of. However, when discussing continuity, I don’t believe they have been referring to continuity within a single season as much as they were discussing continuity over the course of multiple seasons. Thus, the purpose of this piece is to simply lay out exactly what these gentlemen have mean by continuity, and it’s something which I can best present visually. Thus, without wasting any more of your precious time, here are the starting offensive lines for the Chiefs and Packers from the time periods in question.
First we’ll look at the Chiefs. The solid black line a few years into the spreadsheet is simply to denote when Schneider and then Chiefs offensive line coach, and now Seahawks offensive line coach, Mike Solari joined the organization.
A few of those players have been color coded to help understand what Solari may and may not be able to do with the talent he is given. The two players in blue, Willie Roaf and Will Shields, are Hall of Famers. Solari did not develop either of them, as Shields had been to two Pro Bowls by the time Solari arrived in Kansas City. Similarly, Roaf was a seven time Pro Bowler, two time All Pro left tackle before signing with the Chiefs as a free agent. However, Solari certainly didn’t seem to have a negative impact on their play in any way, as they are both in the Hall of Fame, so he’s at least got that going for him.
Flipping the coin to the other side, the two players in red, John Tait and Victor Riley, are players you’ll learn more about in the coming months. For for now it’s sufficient to know that Tait and Riley are both tackles drafted in the first round while Schneider was the head of scouting and Solari was the offensive line coach, and both are widely considered busts.
And then there’s the player whose name is in green, Brian Waters. I’ll probably author multiple articles about Waters over the course of the offseason, but Waters is the reason fans who are ready to move on from George Fant may be disappointed. Turns out Cable isn’t the only offensive line coach who likes conversion projects.
Waters was a college tight end whose lack of speed coming out of the University of North Texas was so great that he would have made lead footed Zach Miller look like the TGV zipping across France. However, in spite of his steam engine locomotive type speed, Waters had three things in his favor. For starters, he was an above average blocker. Second, at 280 pounds he was nearly as large as many NFL offensive linemen from twenty years ago. And lastly, he had off the charts athleticism for an offensive lineman. Waters lacked the height and length to play at tackle, but he fit in just fine at guard, where he became the greatest success in player development in Solari’s entire career by making six Pro Bowls and two All Pro teams in his eleven years as a starter.
Turning to the Packers example, the continuity here is rather self explanatory. Solari only spent a single season in Green Bay, 2015, and that was long after Schneider had already left, so I’m simply going to put up this example without any in depth commentary.
That’s impressive continuity over the course of a long time in both examples, and this is what Schneider has stated they are aiming for. Thus, while it may seem ridiculous that the Hawks have constantly shuffled linemen in recent seasons, the type of continuity they are searching for is not in-season continuity. The Hawks are working to build a line that can stay together as a unit for far longer than just a sixteen game season.
If Schneider can have success that looks anything like what the Chiefs had in the 90s or the Packers had in the 00s, fans are likely to be extremely happy.