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The Pinnacle of Success: The Seahawks offensive line 2003-2005

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I've said it, we know it -- but it's even more prevalent now that things on Seattle's offensive line just don't look right (or downright look worse than the 2012 line or the 2010 line that featured the 340 pound Stacy Andrews). We reference it, we talk about it, but we don't really look at it. So in this piece, I want to break down the offensive line from 2003 to 2005 that paved the way for Shaun Alexander and protected a gunslinging quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck.

We'll go player by player and talk strengths, weaknesses and overall contribution to the offensive line's success. We'll start with the most important position and work in order from there.

Quick Notes:

I've listed the number of seasons each player had leading up to 2003. However, I then included Pro Bowls made during the span of 2003 to 2005. This was so that people could see the experience factor more plainly.

Walter Jones

Years pro: 7

3-Time Pro Bowl Selection (2003 -2005)

2-time All-Pro (2003-2005)

Walter Jones is, without question, the best left tackle of his generation despite sharing the league with the likes of Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace. Both were dominant in their own right, but both had streaks of bad play and clear holes in their games.

The thing that stood out most about  his game was how Jones would beat a rusher to their spot, outside, inside, didn't matter; Walter's first step was almost always dead on, and in the rare case he wasn't dead on, his recovery from being out of position was something to behold.

Walter also had a quiet mean streak. If he felt that you got the better of him the previous play, he was going to make you pay for it, once walking a D-End all the way to the sideline on the next play after said player had gotten in on a stop. Many players can duplicate the mean streak, but the footwork and ungodly strength were something not seen in the years since.

Walter spent three offseasons holding out for a contract after being franchised in 2002 and 2003. The story of his offseason workouts where he pushed an Escalade one mile as part of his training, made you realize why so many top pass rushers took themselves out of games or off his side of the field entirely.

Grant Wistrom Once said of playing Jones:

"It's like wrestling a bear for 50 plays. I'm glad I don't have to do it anymore."

Ray Rhodes described Jones this way:

"You just schemed for that defensive guy to be erased. You had ten guys instead of eleven that's how you have to do it."

Steve Hutchinson

Years Pro: 3

3-time Pro Bowl selection (2003 -2005)

2-Time All-pro (2003 -2005

The epitome of mean, "Hutch" never missed a chance to hit someone. If you turn on old games, his smash-mouth sellout style was the likely cause of his later-career back issues and early retirement. Not as strong as Walter, but not a guy to be outdone, he faced off with some of the league's best nose tackles and won nearly all contests as a pass blocker that way.

As a run blocker, Steve Hutchinson packed a punch, often affecting two inside defenders (usually a lineman and linebacker) every chance he got. Steve never let a chance to block someone escape him, even if the block would have no impact on the play's success. Dropping shoulders, throwing linebackers -- if there were 60 snaps, then 60 times Hutch was gonna find someone to hit.

My own observation lead me to my own description:

"If Hutch had blocked like a beast for 59 snaps, but on the 60th the only person he could hit was your grandma? Grandma is going down."

Add in to that equation that even if Grandma couldn't impact the play, and had a walker and two broken hips, Hutch was still putting her on the ground.

He had some weaknesses in pass protection, but that was more do to an over-aggressive style than just a lack of skill to do it. He had less and less to worry about when teams just said "f*** it" and put their nose tackles right over the top of the Michigan Wolverine so he would stop wrecking them on blast plays or sweeps. It's a shame the poison pill situation happened, because this guy deserves all our thanks for his play in a Seahawks jersey.

(If you ever read this, I just want to say thank you for you time in Seattle, Steve.)

Robbie Tobeck

Years Pro: 9

1-Pro Bowl Selection (2003-2005)

Robbie will tell you that he wasn't that good. Mike Holmgren said upon his retirement that Robbie was an overacheiver who would lose 50 pounds and you'd have no idea he ever played. While I think Holmgren's prophecy came true to a certain extent, Robbie replaced Chris Gray at center and the offensive line would struggle to grow a bit, but once it did you could see Robbie's signature all over their success.

Robbie would become tag-team partners with Chris Gray in the run game. Because Steve Hutchinson could single up with pretty much any DT in pass pro, Robbie and Chris would deal with blitzes and pick up almost everything a defense could throw at them. Matt Hasselbeck sometimes abused this offensive line by holding the ball for years and years, but rarely did that line get called for holding. Ever.

Robbie was no slouch in the run game either, throwing key blocks on some big runs for Shaun Alexander as well as always finding some poor sucker to earhole when he got out in space. Robbie also needs a bit more credit for cutting down the back side of plays in the redzone for Alexander TDs. Everyone loves Walt and Hutch for good reason, but if the backside isn't maintained it won't matter how good the front side is.

Robbie may not have had much raw talent, which led to him being overlooked for a few Pro Bowl selections, but he had the mindset that he was gonna win, and he did his damndest to.

Side Note:

Robbie threw a key block in the second level of Shaun Alexander's 88-yard TD run versus Arizona in 2005.

Chris Gray

Years pro: 10

The best pass pro guard I've ever watched. He could control any inside pass rusher you ever dreamed of. He was great at getting a first move push to allow him to control his matchup, and in the event that he struggled, Robbie could give a little hand there. He had a lot of speed laterally for a guard, so speedy three-techs that wanted to challenge that guard-tackle gap were often sorely disappointed.

Though not particularly strong when run blocking, he was a master of "Influence blocking," taking defenders away from the hole by inviting them up the field and then sealing them off from the runner. Chris Gray was often the guy they would pull on traps, as rarely as they ran them, and used him in different ways if they needed a boost in pass pro. (I'll have an example below.)

Sean Locklear

Years pro: 2 (1 as a starter)

This is the guy who gets a bad rap sometimes, for being granted the role of heir-apparent to Walter's position upon his retirement. It's easy to see why if you go back and watch 2005. In fact, it's also clear why Mike Holmgren stuck with the kid despite his lack of experience over Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack.  Sean Locklear was agile, fast and quick. There are games where he sheared off the D-end in pass pro at RT and you can't even follow it because he winds up five yards toward the sideline.

His run blocking was never as good as Chris Terry or Floyd Womack's, (His predecessors at RT in 2003 - 2004) but playing next to Jerramy Stevens, who could maul D-ends in that department, masked this area for a while. Not much of a mean streak in terms of finishing a block like Hutch Walt or even Tobeck, but I'll say this, for his rookie year, he never looked nervous.

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So in breaking all this down, what's the one thing I can say for this line -- a line that played together for five seasons and was one of the best in that time? Experience. Three of the four consistent starters boasted seven years or better in this league, and it showed. They were rarely caught off guard. They had their holes, but with so much experience, there was no chance of them being overwhelmed up front for more than maybe the first couple drives. All in all, Walt, Gray, and Tobeck and Hutch would play five seasons together (four really with Hutch's injury in 2002 after 4 games.)

Discipline on the offensive line was a trademark, but it was also not a detriment for tough run blocking, which is often touted as a reason for the current line's issues under Tom Cable.

Here are three clips that show the best of the offensive line from 2005:

Joe TD NYG from Joshua Kasparek on Vimeo.

A nice pass play with no run fake. You'll notice the fan out of the linemen, and the wrinkle with Chris Gray pulling to help Sean Locklear with his man if he needs it. Seattle is also dealing with New York employing a 6-man line of scrimmage. This scheme would be employed by the Cowboys, Redskins, and Giants. Without the likes of Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram returning for this game, it meant teams were daring Seattle to throw.  This is also a 7-step drop with a hitch.

It looks like Matt adlibs the second hitch to try and give Joe a bit more time to get to a good throwing angle.

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DJack TD Redskins. from Joshua Kasparek on Vimeo.

Play actions don't only work when you're running well, they can work when teams are over aggressive to your offensive line's success. Here, Shawn Springs is gonna suck up just enough and then turn as D-Jack just runs a straight go-route. D-Jack, realizing it's one-on-one vs the safety, makes sure to turn so Matt can put the ball on him as he's falling away from Ryan Clark.

Couple of things: One, look at the fan-out as all the D-lineman get aggressive and two, how far did Sean Locklear expand the tackle box?

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Shaun Alexander & Mack Strong from Joshua Kasparek on Vimeo.

This play is actually from 2004. A 4th and 1, as described by the broadcast. It's a power formation, with run blocking Tight End Ryan Hannam next to Walter Jones, who opens the edge as Hutch pulls.

Hutch is going to seal the edge, and end up blocking two defenders, while Shaun waits for Mack Strong to kick out the last defender -- a key element in turning this sure first down into a touchdown. It's a rare play in the running game where all parts work to total perfection, but that's what it looks like.

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IN THE HUDDLE

Bellow I have a little fun describing what I think it was like for these guys to be together during the game. They are in no way fact, based in fact or meant to reflect an actual exchange had by the players.

Big Walt: *Drinks Jones soda* "How did I even get one of these? They won't be on the market for years!

Hutch: "I swear, one more burp the baby celebration and I'll-"

Robbie: "Woah there freight train, listen, save all that rage for blocking people."

Hutch: "When did they let little guys play O-line?"

Robbie: "Oh, haha. Listen, if Matt scrambles around again you have to go get him Chris. It's your turn."

Chris Gray: "I can't Robbie, it's bad for my Asthma!"

Hutch: "You don't have Asthma Chris, you're just fat."

Big Walt: *still drinking Jones soda* Seriously, how the f*** did I get one of these?"

*And scene*

I like to imagine that's how it went.