For the first time in 10 seasons, the Seahawks will have someone new calling the shots. Mike Holmgren, the team's coach from 1999-2008 and the fourth longest-tenured coach in the game at the end of last year, retired following the season, leaving the reins in the hand of an experienced fella, Jim Mora, the former Falcons coach. Mora brought on board as offensive coordinator the man who held that role during his Atlanta days, Greg Knapp, and he's got a new defensive coordinator, Casey Bradley, who brings with him valuable experience from his Tampa Bay days.
Those are important moves from one respect: Mora and Knapp were renowned for their success running a zone-blocking scheme in Atlanta, and they intend to bring that scheme to Seattle this season. From 2004-2006, the coaches led the Falcons to a league-leading rushing yardage total in each year, with a two-headed attack of Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett that appears scarily similar to the personnel currently on this roster (Duckett is also a Seahawk).
Beyond those coaching changes, though, things don't seem all that different in Seattle this season. But it might not seem that way; with the number of injuries Seahawks players suffered in 2008, the lineup that takes the field in Week 1 of this season might look different than the one we saw for much of last year.
For instance, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck missed nine games with back problems; the team's wide receiver corps was so bruised and battered that not one player at the position recorded a catch and appeared in more than 13 games; tackle Walter Jones, a key offensive line cog, was lost to season-ending knee surgery in early December; and defenders Leroy Hill and Lofa Tatupu battled various bumps and bruises in what were largely disappointing seasons.
Hasselbeck, Jones, Hill and Tatupu are all expected to be healthy in time for the season, leaving wide receiver the one spot at which change is evident. There, T.J. Houshmandzadeh comes over from Cincinnati, where he caught 90-plus passes in each of the past three seasons, to provide Hasselbeck with a much-needed weapon. But if Houshmandzadeh presents the Seahawks with stability and consistency, he may be the only one to do so -- those are concerns with most every other aspect of this roster.
What to look for in camp
Key position battles: Beyond Houshmandzadeh, there's not a lot that fits the description of "trustworthy" at wide receiver. Both Nate Burleson and Deion Branch, the top two competitors for the No. 2 receiver role, are coming off injury-plagued seasons. Burleson made a lone appearance, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the regular-season opener, while Branch missed the first four games while recovering from knee surgery, four more with a heel issue and is recovering from another knee operation following the season. Their health might ultimately determine which one steps up to start across from Houshmandzadeh, and if neither is up to the task, rookie Deon Butler might get a larger role in the offense. John Carlson's owners might prefer the latter; the tight end would stand to see a boost in targets if the team has the kind of injury issues at wide receiver that it did last season. As is he had 80 targets in 2008, 10th-most in the league at his position.
How the Seahawks dole out carries will also bear watching during the preseason, as there are rumblings that Justin Forsett, currently No. 3 on the depth chart, might get more looks than you'd expect. Chances are he might serve in little more than a Jerious Norwood-type role from Mora's Atlanta days, and in his one season under Mora, Norwood finished a distant third on the roster with 633 rushing yards. Still, that's a substantial total on a team like this; that'd actually have represented the second-most on the 2008 Seahawks, only 65 behind leader Julius Jones.
Fitting in: Houshmandzadeh should fit right in, consistent as he has been. If there are any doubts with him statistically speaking, it's that Mora's Seahawks might be a more run-based team than Holmgren's squads of the past, perhaps hurting the receiver in the touchdown department, or that Hasselbeck is a significant health risk without an elite backup if he goes down for extended time again. Still, to the latter point, if Houshmandzadeh was capable of 92 receptions for 904 yards in Cincinnati despite having Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing to him for 12 games in 2008, how much worse could he be in the event Seneca Wallace winds up Seattle's starter? Sure, those are disappointing numbers -- more so in non-PPR formats -- but they demonstrate that Houshmandzadeh is the kind of receiver who largely makes his quarterback look better, not the other way around.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Seahawks made a few very important moves to upgrade their problems of a year ago, adding defensive tackles Colin Cole and Cory Redding as well as cornerback Ken Lucas. The former moves target improving the team's No. 18 ranking defending the run, while the latter aims to improve the team's No. 29 ranking in interceptions (they had just nine). Of course, those moves came at the expense of trading linebacker Julian Peterson to the Lions; it means first-round pick (No. 4 overall) Aaron Curry will be asked not only to step in immediately as a starter, but to also be at least as productive as Peterson had been.
On the line: Here's another spot at which a battle might occur, as the Seahawks' second-round pick, Max Unger, should press for a starting role at either center or left guard, the latter only more likely accounting for the health questions of Mike Wahle. He's coming off shoulder surgery, and Walter Jones, as mentioned above, battled injuries himself in 2008. Though Seattle's switch to a zone-blocking system should mask some of the line's deficiencies, this team badly needs healthy years from both Jones, who is getting up there in years, and Wahle, or it'll need Unger to step in and make an immediate impact, which is a tall task. With full health from their starters, the Seahawks might be a line on the rise, but the fact remains that this isn't the same group Mora had in his days in Atlanta. The line has been smarting since the loss of Steve Hutchinson following the 2005 season and only last year seemed to be getting back to a level of respectability.
The bottom line
Mora's arrival brings some hope to a team that seemed to lose all signs of it in 2008, but don't mistake this for the squads he had at his disposal in his days in Atlanta. Despite comparisons to the 2004-2006 Falcons rushing days helping encourage owners of Julius Jones, now the de facto starting running back, the fact remains that Jones isn't as productive and is more injury-prone than Warrick Dunn, T.J. Duckett is four years older than he was the day he left Atlanta and Justin Forsett, quite frankly, is no Jerious Norwood. Hasselbeck, too, is about the polar opposite of Michael Vick, whose scrambling ability was one of the primary reasons behind the Falcons' high annual rankings, so that takes another dimension out of the equation. The team's switch to a more run-based offense does mean that Jones shouldn't be forgotten in your fantasy planning, but by no means will he be an elite choice, either.
Not that many Seahawks quality as "elite" choices -- even the newly added Houshmandzadeh. There's a reason that no Seahawks player placed higher than 44th in our preseason rankings (Houshmandzadeh placed there), meaning 26 of the other 31 NFL teams had a player higher on our list: It's that this roster lacks much in the way of upside. Only one other Seahawk even cracked the top 100: Jones, at exactly No. 100.