For once, the line has had no coaching changes and few roster subtractions heading into the 2012 season.
RENTON — A lot changed for center Max Unger in the past month.
First, he got married. Then he signed a new contract with Seattle that runs through 2016 and makes him one of the highest-paid centers in the league. And finally, he arrived at training camp after a season in which the team did not change offensive-line coaches and returns all but one starter from last year.
That’s a remarkable change given that in Unger’s first three years in Seattle, the Seahawks had four different offensive-line coaches and started more than 20 players along the line. Now, Tom Cable returns as the line coach and the release of guard Robert Gallery is the only significant offseason subtraction, which means that Unger is learning what a difference continuity makes up front.
“It’s night and day,” he said. “Being able to go from one season to the next one, and have 100 percent carry-over is very cool.”
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The status of Seattle’s offensive line has become an annual topic of discussion in Seahawks training camp. The Seahawks would begin every season explaining how this year would be different, whether it was because of a change on the coaching staff, the addition of a veteran guard or a first-round draft pick at tackle.
The difference this year is that there’s more than just glass-half-full optimism behind the belief that the line will improve. There’s honest-to-goodness evidence demonstrated during the second half of last season (see chart).
“We played some pretty good football toward the end,” Unger said. “We ran the ball very well, we protected a lot better. We definitely showed quite a bit of improvement.”
The hiring of Cable in 2011 has coincided with the development of Seattle’s young linemen like Unger, a second-round pick in 2009, and left tackle Russell Okung, who was the No. 6 overall choice in 2010.
“They made the decision to kind of retool the whole thing,” Cable said, “putting pieces together until you get it right.”
And it definitely took some time once Cable arrived in 2011. The lockout took away any chance to put his system in place, and the fact Seattle started rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt in Week 1 ensured a steep learning curve.
After seven games, the Seahawks had given up 28 sacks, and running back Marshawn Lynch had yet to rush for more than 100 yards in a game.
“We were so far off,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Then came the injuries. Moffitt suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 10. Carpenter went down a few days later, his injury so severe that he’s still recovering and not expected to be ready when the season begins. When Carpenter does come back, it will be at left guard instead of tackle.
But the injuries didn’t derail Seattle’s improvement up front. Breno Giacomini stepped in at right tackle, Paul McQuistan at guard, and this season that pair is expected to start.
And despite losing three starting linemen to injuries over the final eight games last season, the Seahawks continued to make progress. Lynch logged 941 yards rushing over the final nine weeks of the season — the most of any player in the league.
It was the kind of improvement that Seattle had sought for years, bringing in offensive-line coaches like Mike Solari, Art Valero and Alex Gibbs to signing veteran guards like Mike Wahle, Ben Hamilton and Gallery.
Now, Seattle isn’t looking to rebuild so much as retain its line, a commitment embodied in Unger’s extension. The four-year contract was reportedly worth $24.935 million, which would rank fourth among NFL centers. For once, the lack of change will be a good thing.
“These guys are so much farther along,” Carroll said. “You will see the continuity.”
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|The statistics show pretty clearly the improvement Seattle’s offensive line made during the second half of 2011:|
|Games 1-8||Games 9-16|
|Rush yards / G||88.3||131.3|