RENTON — By the judgment of one of the leading opinion drivers in the NFL — Pro Football Focus — no Seahawks assistant has a bigger challenge in 2022 than offensive line coach Andy Dickerson.
PFF, which has its critics but has become one of the leading analytic voices in the game the last decade, recently rated all 32 of the NFL offensive lines entering the offseason.
And, well, the Seahawks can say they at least rated among the top 32 — No. 32, in fact.
PFF liked Seattle’s drafting of tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas in the first three rounds but not unfairly decided it needs to see those two produce before concluding they will indeed prove foundational prices of the Seahawks’ offensive line for years, as the team expects.
“There’s quite obviously a lot of hope for the future with the talent Seattle has brought into the fold, but this has crash-and-burn potential,” wrote PFF. “Starting two rookie offensive tackles — both from Air Raid offenses — is a scary proposition. And considering Gabe Jackson’s decline in recent years, there’s not a single quality starter this unit can rely on.”
PFF could have added that Jackson didn’t do anything during the just concluded offseason program after having a procedure on his knee.
Dickerson could at least say there’s nowhere to go but up.
But when he met the media earlier this week, he gave zero evidence that he feels he has a daunting task ahead.
And as he noted, his job isn’t a whole lot different from a year ago when he was officially the offensive run game coordinator.
In that role, Dickerson also worked closely with the offensive line under the guidance of veteran offensive line coach Mike Solari.
Now, he holds the title of offensive line coach, with Chad Morton — the running backs coach since 2017 — taking on the run game coordinator title.
“I’m working with the same guys, same run game, protection, stuff like that,” Dickerson said. “A little different because it’s me and (assistant offensive line coach) Keli’i (Kekuewa) now. But it’s been awesome so far.”
Dickerson received much of the praise for the way the line coalesced at the end of the season to help give the Seahawks one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL over the final six games — Seattle finished the year averaging 5.02 yards per rushing attempt, third in the NFL. And that was with a decreased contribution from quarterback Russell Wilson, whose 3.1 rushing attempts per game were a career low by more than one per game.
Asked what began to work at the end of the season, Dickerson, who came to Seattle in 2021 along with offensive coordinator Shane Waldron from the Rams, pointed to the players finally getting the hang of some of the changes in the new system.
“They’re learning new things, and it takes a while, I think, to get a vibe, and it just happened to work and it was good,” he said.
One specific change was running a bit more from under center than out of shotgun — Seattle had 256 runs from under center and 157 out of shotgun in 2021 compared to 196 under center and 251 out of shotgun in 2020, according to Pro Football Reference.
Rashaad Penny particularly thrived in runs from under center. When he had his breakout game against Houston both of his TD runs of 32 and 47 yards came with Wilson lined up under center. Penny has said being lined up behind the quarterback under center allows him to see things better and get more of a head start.
Dickerson hinted to expect more of the same in 2022, which is no surprise given that trying to build the offense around a stellar rushing attack has seemed obvious as Seattle’s hoped-for template for success in the post-Wilson era.
“I don’t think we’re looking to spin it (differently),” he said. “I mean, I think the offense, what we put on the field last year toward the end, is what we’re trying to get to.”
But if the scheme proved it could work at the end of last season, the question in 2022 is whether Seattle has the manpower up front to get it done again.
PFF’s harsh assessment aside, the Seahawks seem to like what they have in the interior with new center Austin Blythe, who played for Dickerson and Waldron with the Rams from 2017-2020, and guards Jackson and Damien Lewis.
The key will be the tackle spots, which could each be manned by rookies in first-round pick Cross on the left side and third-round pick Lucas on the right. Cross seems a given to start from Day 1 to replace veteran stalwart Duane Brown, but Lucas will have to win what is now a three-man battle with second-year players Jake Curhan, who started the last five games of last season, and Stone Forsythe, who spent last season backing up Brown but also worked some on the right side during mandatory minicamp.
And as PFF noted, both Cross and Lucas played much of their college careers in Mike Leach’s pass-heavy Air Raid system and rarely had to run block out of a three-point stance. That only adds to the challenge of making the jump to an NFL starter in Year 1.
Dickerson, though, said he doesn’t see it as a significant hurdle, if one at all.
“I think it just depends on the person,” he said. “It’s like, if you want to run out of the two-point, then you should drill out of the two-point, so I don’t think there’s that. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal because I think we’re three-point, two-point (as an offense). Depending on the play, you want to be able to do just about everything out of both stances so there’s no tips and tells for the opponents. I think you just have to drill it and understand, be in balance with everything that you do. I think you can do it out of a two-point as well as a three.”