Ufford is open-faced about this query coming from a rosy point of view—the piece is themed for Forbes’s “Optimism Week” and Ufford is one of the Seahawks’ most visible partisans—but he also makes some sound cases for improvement. Among them: The talent up front seems more solidified and stable than before, with four of the five presumed starters coming back and all five being former first- or second-round picks; the long “terrible” reign of Tom Cable is over; the only way left to go is up, right? Right? Or, at least beyond the line of scrimmage.
This hypothetical is reassuring, and worth reading. But it’s also a familiar refrain from this time of year among Seattle’s faithful—and even outsiders. We’ve heard it all before. Doesn’t matter if you change the order of the words. We’ve all heard it before. See what I mean?
One year ago, a source of renewed hope was the advancement of George Fant, the leadership of Justin Britt, the veteran savvy of Oday Aboushi. Seriously. Fant’s freak injury threw the left side of the line into disarray from the start, you might say, but even after Rees Odhiambo filled in for Fant during the third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs critics were throwing plaudits at the pass protection. NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman put the following incongruous clauses together in a sentence that still made sense: “With second-year guard Odhiambo filling in for the second-year converted basketball player Fant, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had a clean pocket for the bulk of his playing time.” Even notorious downer Ben B came away impressed with Odhiambo and the rest of the group in his review from that game, titled: “Why I’m more optimistic now”.
In 2016 the story was the same. Amid widespread inexperience at every position, the narrative had been that Garry Gilliam was the left tackle of the future even as the hype train for UDFA Fant got rolling, lights were bright on Mark Glowinski after impressive spot duty as a rookie at the end of 2015, first round pick Germain Ifedi was going to start out at right guard. Laughably now, the chief concern was who would win between Justin Britt, Patrick Lewis and Joey Hunt at center! After a preseason opener when Britt came out first and held up on an opening scoring drive, Hunt was graded the highest rookie and run blocking looked surprisingly steady overall (again against Kansas City, which we now recognize as the probable common denominator of these false exhibition season hopes), reviews were swell especially for the starting unit and the short term belief was that Cable could avoid the tinkering with lineups that disrupted continuity throughout 2015 and settle on a final group from the jump.
But much though many of us would like to hope the solution is as simple as moving on from Cable, and Ufford is right to point out how replacement offensive line coach Mike Solari doesn’t have to be Dante Scarnecchia to change the culture up front for Seattle, Solari has led exactly one line each that was elite according to Football Outsiders figures in either pass protection (2016 New York Giants) or run blocking (2012 San Francisco 49ers) over the last 10 years—and his group’s average ranking in both categories over that span has been 20th.
If the Seahawks could even be 20th, that would represent real improvement, yes. But what I’m getting at is that the record indicates Solari is a less-than-productive NFL line coach and the metrics don’t suggest he is likely to add value to any given club. Also, as Ufford admits, Solari’s influence is probably more capped by Brian Schottenheimer’s ability to design and call effective offense than any renovations in mindset or scheme.
Don’t mistake me, I want to be excited and I do encourage hope. Regression to the mean and advancement with continuity are reasonable, analytical things to expect.
I just think it’s worth remembering how these cycles have historically operated on an offseason and in-season basis so we don’t get caught up in illusion. Perhaps after all romanticism and intrigue are the purpose of the project of football dreaming—Alonso Quixano and Julien Sorel had great adventures indeed, however fraught—but they don’t offer good material for making plans.