BY JULIAN ROGERS
The time to stop planning and start acting is now. Get ready to start laughing.
The Seattle Seahawks are busy acting out their offseason plans. Here’s what we know about how the offense is shaping up for 2018.
It’s crazy, but it just might work. I mean the crazy part — literally. Everyone’s heard the bromide, “The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.” Everyone except the Seahawks, perhaps.
Tuning up the engine that is supposed to be the driving force of the new, 2018 Seahawks offense — the offensive line — is the top priority if a viable running game and a more-often-than-not upright quarterback are desired results. As the 12s, and Russell Wilson’s joints and a long list of broken running backs are painfully aware, the blue birds’ O-line has ranked at the bottom of the league for the past several seasons. With the need so acute and the draft and free agency now concluded, the fix should be in.
And how are the Seahawks going to fix the offensive line? Continuity. It’s the same guys. Plus D.J. Fluker. And a fifth-round draft pick that almost certainly won’t crack the starting lineup unless an injury occurs. For now, you can pull out your late 2017 season game program: The 2018 line will start Duane Brown (left tackle), Ethan Pocic (left guard), Justin Britt (center), Fluker (right guard) and Germain Ifedi ( right tackle).
Remember when I said it just might work? It might. Despite the return of the underperforming squad last year, continuity is the No. 1 quality of high-performing offensive lines. More time together can only be a plus. Further, the turnstile that was the right tackle position last year will not just be handed to Ifedi, who had his well-documented ups and downs. Quality competition will come from last year’s projected left tackle starter (a nominal distinction, admittedly), George Fant, who will focus on the right side. In reality, he could win it. Fant could also be a pretty solid option as the top swing tackle.
Plus, Jamarco Jones, the Seahawks’ lone offensive line draft pick, could get the opportunity to develop behind the veterans and pay future dividends. Either that or he’ll be moved into the interior of the line to see if he can stick there, as is the Seahawks’ wont when it becomes clear a tackle cannot stop edge rushers (see Britt, Justin, et al). So there’s your top seven offensive line rotation, with the possible addition of backup center Joey Hunt also making it into the game-day roster discussion.
And one more thing: New offensive line coach Mike Solari replaces Tom Cable, so new schemes and an influx of unknown chemistry could drive this unit from the bottom of the league to a solid mediocre or better group in 2018.
How different would the Seahawks’ rock-toting hopes be with a mediocre or better offensive line? We’ll likely find out this year, which will contrast sharply from the past few seasons. Also new: A first-round draft pick to feature in Rashaad Penny, (San Diego State, No. 27 overall).
Forget the arguments and laments that the blue birds had more pressing top needs from the draft or the argument that other running backs should have been selected in this slot. Penny is their guy. What matters now is can he do what all of the other Seahawks’ former featured running backs could not: Stay healthy, know assignments, protect Wilson and make the opposing defense respect the run?
Penny will compete with the occasionally scintillating / occasionally injured Chris Carson, the occasionally scintillating / occasionally injured C.J. Prosise, the occasionally scintillating undersized J.D. McKissic and the reliable, do-everything Mike Davis.
On paper, this is a good group, with youth on its side. Coincidentally, the Seahawks still draw up their running back depth charts on paper because it’s easier to tear up and discard after the first quarter of each and every game. But plans must be made, so this is the plan.
Receivers (tight and wide)
Forget tight end. The Seahawks have. Their top two guys from last year, Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson, are playing elsewhere. They take 14 touchdowns in 2017 with them. Wilson’s four scores last year was his best showing ever. Likewise, Graham’s 10 scores was his best season as a Seahawk by far. It’s starting over time at tight end in Seattle.
If signing Ed Dickson to fill those shoes excites you, then it’s nice to meet you, Ed Dickson’s mother. Former third option, Nick Vannett, is the lone veteran holdover. With an 80% catch rate and an average of more than 10 yards per reception, Vannett may be the lead candidate as a move tight end that catches Wilson’s passes, as opposed to the in-line, blocking talents of Dickson.
If you’re still under-rating Doug Baldwin as Wilson’s top receiver, you haven’t been paying attention. The do-everything Baldwin is the last remaining safety valve for Wilson and very worthy one who will be emphasized even more in the Seahawks’ 2018 offensive plans, if they know what’s good for them.
Opposite of Baldwin will be new longtime veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall, with the uber-fast Tyler Lockett in the slot. Marshall is the key to the offense taking a step forward or backward, being the de-facto replacement for the up-and-coming Paul Richardson, who came and went (to Washington) just when he got his professional stride in gear. Marshall and Richardson are different types of players, so expect the offense to shift: Baldwin, Baldwin, Baldwin and some crumbs for the other guys.
The fourth, fifth and sixth receiver slots will be filled by a handful of players who bring a variety of body types and skill sets, but will not be relied upon for much in 2018. Anything from this group will be a plus for the plan.
It’s Russell Wilson. Not just at quarterback. At “offense.” He’s the show. The Seahawks may talk about wanting to spread the heavy load around, but when the rubber meets the road, it will all fall on Wilson’s shoulders to carry the offense (like last year) to what looks like another nine-win-ish season.
Austin Davis and Alex McGough are humans not named Colin Kaepernick. One or both of the former will be on the final 2018 roster, for reasons unclear. At least, that’s the plan. Kidding aside, I’m pro-Austin Davis. Another year in the Seahawks’ system could really help him solidify himself as a strong No. 2 option, behind Wilson.
Go ahead, laugh if you want. That’s the plan.