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Changing of the guard continues
Yes, the Seahawks are fueled by the Power of 12, that din generated at CenturyLink Filed by the team’s loyal and loud 12th Man fans.
But that number also lives – and looms – hauntingly in franchise history, because that’s how many players the Seahawks have used to try and replace left guard Steve Hutchinson since he signed with the Minnesota Vikings in free agency following the team’s run to the Super Bowl in 2005.
Wednesday, the club released No. 12 and retained No. 11, as Robert Gallery was waived and Paul McQuistan agreed to terms.
And it happened on the same day that Hutchinson was making a free agent visit to Virginia Mason Athletic Center. Talk about what goes around comes around. Except that Hutchinson agreed to terms with the Tennessee Titans on Thursday.
Hutchinson was released this week by the Vikings in a move to free salary cap space, but he was selected to four Pro Bowls and also voted All-Pro four times in his six seasons in Minnesota. Make that four more times on each honor, as Hutchinson also was a three-time Pro Bowl pick and three-time All-Pro selection during his five-season stint with the Seahawks.
Gallery was signed in free agency last year, but the former Oakland Raider missed time because of a groin injury that eventually needed surgery. While he was sidelined, rookie James Carpenter (one) and McQuistan (three) made starts at left guard.
McQuistan also was signed last year, to a future contract in January. Those players usually provide depth, at best. But McQuistan started 10 games – those four at left guard early in the season; three at right guard after rookie John Moffitt was lost to a season-ending knee injury; and the final four at left tackle after Russell Okung when down with a chest injury that required surgery.
McQuistan’s experience, especially in the zone-blocking scheme installed last year by assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable, made him a valuable commodity – and makes him a valuable commodity.
McQuistan entered the league in 2006 as a third-round draft choice by the Raiders, and he started 12 games in his first two seasons. He later was with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns before joining the Seahawks.
In between Gallery and Hutchinson, the starters at left guard have included Floyd Womack (eight starts in 2006, six starts in 2008); Chris Spencer (five starts in 2006); Rob Sims (three starts in 2006, 16 starts in 2007 and 14 starts in 2009); Mike Wahle (10 starts in 2008); Mansfield Wrotto (two starts in 2009); Mike Gibson (five starts in 2010); Ben Hamilton (six starts in 2010); Chester Pitts (four starts in 2010); Tyler Polumbus (one start in 2010); and Carpenter and McQuistan last season.
Womack, Spencer, Sims and Wrotto were draft choices. Wahle, Hamilton and Pitts were signed as free agents. Polumbus was acquired in a trade. Gibson was claimed off the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad.
Hutchinson? He started 68 games after being a first-round draft choice in 2001, and his departure was just the first step in a series of events that led to the unraveling of a running game that averaged 153.6 yards in 2005. Pro Bowl center Robbie Tobeck retired after the 2006 season. Right guard Chris Gray retired before the start of the 2008 season, when a knee injury also ended the career of All-Pro left tackle Walter Jones. Injuries began to erode the productivity of Shaun Alexander, the league MVP in 2005 who did not have another 1,000-yard rushing season before being released in 2008.
It has taken a while, but the running game is back on track. Last season, Marshawn Lynch (1.204 yards) became the first Seahawk since Alexander in ’05 to rush for 1,000 yards. He also scored touchdowns in 11 consecutive games, breaking the club record Alexander set in ’05 (nine). Lynch was re-signed last week, before the free agency period began on March 13.
Hutchinson, even at 34 and coming off an injury-shortened 2011 season, likely could have stepped back in and helped the Seahawks continue to run in the right direction. But that won’t happen, so the search for a long-term replacement continues.