For the past several years, the line has been an issue, but suddenly the Seahawks seem strong there, despite losing three starters to injuries.
RENTON — The pledge of improving the offensive line is an annual ritual in Seattle, the Seahawks’ version of a New Year’s resolution.
Some people want to lose weight. Others vow to quit cursing. The Seahawks promise to get better up front. They’ll sign a veteran or two, switch offensive line coaches or maybe change schemes and then spend training camp predicting improvement only to have the same problems crop up.
That’s what makes this season under offensive-line coach Tom Cable — and specifically the past seven games — so remarkable. For the first time since Steve Hutchinson left Seattle, the Seahawks have actually shown the improvement that was hoped for.
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“It just took us awhile,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Maybe longer than Carroll may realize. The concerns certainly predate his arrival. The Seahawks’ line, which was the single biggest strength during Seattle’s Super Bowl season, had eroded into a problem that defied a solution.
The Seahawks tried to improve things up front. They really did. They hired well-regarded position coaches like Mike Solari and Alex Gibbs. They signed veteran players like Mike Wahle in 2008 and Ben Hamilton in 2010.
Despite all that, the Seahawks could not find a way to run the ball effectively. So you’ll understand the city’s skepticism that bringing in Cable and spending the team’s first two draft picks on offensive linemen would fix everything.
Heard that line before.
But if seeing is believing, take a look at the past seven games. Marshawn Lynch has rushed for 100 yards in a game five times, becoming the Seahawks’ first 1,000-yard rusher in six years. Pass protection is no longer an oxymoron.
That improvement is going to face its stiffest test Saturday against a 49ers defense that is allowing the fewest yards in the NFC and has yet to allow a rushing touchdown.
“They just don’t give you anything,” Carroll said of San Francisco. “We’re going to have to fight and claw for every yard. We’re going to have to give everything we have to protect the quarterback.”
And Seattle will be doing it after losing three starters on the offensive line in four games. Rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt suffered season-ending knee injuries four days apart in November and then Russell Okung wound up on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle two games later at the beginning of December.
Those kind of injuries can sink a season, but Seattle has done more than just remain afloat.
“We’re still having the same success as if those three guys were in there,” Lynch said. “Just to see the way that they’re being coached so that it’s not an individual player, but it’s a position.”
The injuries have been so widespread that it’s been tough to keep track — even for the guys on the field. During Seattle’s Monday victory over St. Louis, left guard Robert Gallery left with a hip injury in the fourth quarter. It was only when Lynch got a second look at his 16-yard touchdown run late in the game that he realized Gallery had been replaced by rookie Jarriel King.
“I didn’t know until I looked up at the replay,” Lynch said.
The Seahawks have been so successful plugging in players like Breno Giacomini at right tackle and Paul McQuistan at both guard spots and now at left tackle that some wonder if the starters were overrated.
That’s not the case. Rather, it’s the result of Cable’s blocking system growing roots over the past four months, the concepts taking hold on a roster that is significantly deeper than a year ago.
“The system, it allows you to succeed on a regular basis,” Cable said. “You don’t have those ups and downs. … It’s easier to adjust when you have a setback. Unfortunately, we’ve had too many of those setbacks.”
Setbacks are something Seattle has been familiar with along its offensive line over the past four years. It’s the progress the Seahawks are now showing up front that is one of the most encouraging trends in Seattle’s turnaround.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dannyoneil.
|Line of fire|
|Over the past seven games, the Seahawks have been improving on the offensive line despite injuries to three starters:|
|Category||First 7 gms||Last 7|
|Rush yards per game||77.7||130|