A conundrum plagued the Seattle Seahawks the past two seasons, and it centered on one of our game's all-time greats: Shaun Alexander and his devastating dip in production from his 2005 monster season to his dreadful 2006 and 2007.
Some placed blame on the Seahawks' offensive line, especially the loss of all-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson after the 2005 season. Others criticized Alexander himself, ripping him for his inability to stay healthy and pointing to his massive workloads in 2004-05 as the cause of his decline. But which one, pray tell, was the problem?
Sounds much like the old debate of which came first, the chicken or the egg, right?
Well, the proverbial "chicken" is now gone, because Alexander was let go after last season. In his stead are offseason acquisitions Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett, to help build depth around the incumbent Maurice Morris. They'll try to prove that neither Hutchinson's absence nor the team's O-line performance was to blame for Alexander's slide. They'll get help, too, because accounting for the more-limited skills they bring to the table, it couldn't be more clear that this year's Seahawks will boast more of a passing-based offense.
And what of the proverbial "egg," then, that offensive line? A new coach is on board to help straighten that area out, offensive line coach Mike Solari, lured from the Chiefs, as is a valuable free-agent addition, Mike Wahle, to help fill the void people kept pointing to after Hutchinson's departure. In other words, both sides of the debate were addressed this summer, but now we're left with the grand question: Does fixing both potential problem areas actually result in fixing the problem?
Plenty of change is in Seattle this season, and with it, tons of questions.
What to look for in camp
Key position battles: Running back, first and foremost, is the key battle for fantasy, though at the outset of training camp it's important to note that the winner of the starting role still might not warrant better than flex-spot consideration most weeks. With a three-headed running back attack featuring Jones, who's a capable back yet one surrounded by questions about his durability, Morris, who knows the offense yet was only so-so when given chances to spell Alexander last season, and Duckett, seemingly an annual sleeper for goal-line touches but one who has repeatedly disappointed, the Seahawks rank among the most important races to track. Running back-by-committee, though, is the dreaded word with which to concern yourself, because as things stand today, it's a definite possibility.
Wide receiver is another spot to watch, as the team's most proven options all enter 2008 with questions of their own. Bobby Engram, who caught 94 passes last season, is a slight threat to hold out into the preseason. Nate Burleson has underperformed in each of the past three seasons, two of them in Seattle, though he did show some signs of promise late last year. Deion Branch is coming off ACL surgery and might not contribute much early in the year, if he does at all this season. So when you hear talk that Logan Payne, Ben Obomanu and Courtney Taylor might get chances to claim more prominent roles in the receiving game, don't be entirely dismissive of the idea. Not that any of them is fantasy-worthy yet, but Matt Hasselbeck is very much what I'd term a "chemistry quarterback" -- he finds the receiver he likes best, a hot hand, and rides with it while it lasts. Any of these names, even if not much of a draft-day bet, could be a pick-him-up-and-ride-him type.
Tight end also will be up for grabs, with rookie John Carlson taking on Will Heller and Jeb Putzier. Carlson brings good hands and great blocking skills to the table, but coach Mike Holmgren is certainly going to make him earn his starting spot during the preseason. We'll need to see some big things from Carlson for him to be a key ingredient to the offense come Week 1, let alone be a fantasy option.
Fitting in: Many of the Seahawks' newbies are parts in the aforementioned mix for offensive position battles. Jones appears the best bet to inherit Alexander's starting role, though it must be noted that in spite of his down year, Alexander actually was the one who ran for more yards and touchdowns, and he did it in three fewer games. Duckett provides depth and perhaps the goal-line option this team might need to alleviate pressure on Jones and/or Morris. And in the place of departed kicker Josh Brown comes Olindo Mare, who was a fantasy wonder all the way back in 1999 but has been largely underwhelming for our purposes in eight seasons since.
On the line: Again, past concerns about Alexander's sagging production the past two seasons put the Seahawks' offensive line under the microscope this season. They'll try to address that problem area under Solari's tutelage, but ultimately the unit's performance will largely come down to whether Wahle can come even close to the level of performance Hutchinson offered in the past, and whether Walter Jones can squeeze another year out of his 34-year-old body. Those two players in particular bear watching in August, as the level of matchups appeal in the team's running backs will depend on the strength of the line in front of them. Plus, with a more questionable set of receivers to throw to, Hasselbeck could probably use as much O-line support as he can get.
The bottom line
Seattle heads into camp with more questions than your typical team, so this will be one of the more important squads to check back in on. The bottom line is that there are three unsettled areas: Offensive line, running back and wide receiver. The Seahawks will need clear answers on at least two of those to be an extremely successful team. In the best-case scenario, one from the Jones-Morris battle steps up as "the" guy and is a helpful player when the matchup calls, while Burleson, Engram and Obomanu step up as reliable receivers.
Otherwise (and I'll draw back to the chicken-versus-egg debate, because you know how that one always tends to end up), we'll be right back here in a year, asking the same sorts of questions we did today.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.