Line Dancing

Posted Jun 23, 2009

The Seahawks offensive line is looking to head into the '09 season healthy and refreshed.


It was late in training camp last summer when a reporter kidded offensive line coach Mike Solari about what it would feel like to finally have his starting unit on the field together.

Seahawks 2009

This is the second article in a series of eight articles sizing up the Seahawks by units for the upcoming season.

From the past
Defensive line

Offensive line

To come
Running backs
Defensive backs
Special teams

“We’ll have that discussion, eventually,” the reporter said.

Solari smiled. But there was nothing funny about what he and the Seahawks went through in his first season with the team.

One by one, the Seahawks starters were injured and made their way to injured reserve.

Right guard Rob Sims went down with a torn pectoral in the regular-season opener.

Left guard Mike Wahle followed after 10 games, because he needed shoulder surgery.

Next was center Chris Spencer, after the herniated disk in his back that had sidelined him for most of training camp and the preseason became too painful to continue playing after 11 games.

The next week, it became painfully apparent that Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones needed microfracture surgery on his left knee.

Two weeks later, Sean Locklear, who had moved from right tackle to replace Jones, went down with a dislocated toe. Locklear also had missed the first two games while recovering from a sprained knee.

The agonizing memories have yet to subside for Solari, because he still has not have those five on the field together due to Jones and Wahle being sidelined all spring while completing their recoveries.

It will happen eventually. Won’t it?

That depends, because second-round draft choice Max Unger has been added to the mix and the coaches feel it will be difficult to keep the rookie out of the starting lineup – at one of the guard spots, even though he played center at Oregon.

“It’s going a lot better,” Unger said this week of getting more comfortable with his position switch. “I think it’s beneficial now and it will help out in the long run. Football is football, especially on the interior of the O-line.

“It was odd at first, but a lot of the stuff translates.” 

Also, if there was a positive that came out of the dismantling of the line last year it was how well backups Ray Willis (right guard and right tackle) and Steve Vallos (center) played – along with Mansfield Wrotto (right guard) and Kyle Williams (left tackle) getting some invaluable experience when thrust into the lineup.
In the season finale, the line consisted of – from left tackle to right – Williams, since-departed Floyd Womack, Vallos, Wrotto and Willis.

Hardly ideal, but it was an addition-by-subtraction situation that has added up to the Seahawks being deeper and more versatile on the offensive line this year – if, that is, they can get and keep everyone healthy.

“I believe in our offensive line,” coach Jim Mora said. “I believe we’ll be able to run the ball.”

Seahawks 2009 Offensive Line

A look at the unit as the team takes a break before the start of training camp practices on July 31:

LT Jones, Robinson, Goddard
LG Wahle, Unger, Wrotto
C Spencer, Vallos
RG Sims, Williams, Washington
RT Locklear, Willis, Ramsey

Not as the Seahawks did in 2005, when since-released Shaun Alexander led the NFL in rushing and set a league record with 28 touchdowns. But better than they did the past two seasons, when the Seahawks averaged 101.2 and 110.5 rushing yards – down from 120.2 in ’06 and way down from 153.6 in ’05.

The biggest key is the best player on this line – Jones. The future Hall of Famer is 35 and in his 13th season, not to mention coming off that surgery on his left knee. But he’s also ahead of schedule in his rehab and was running without pain at the final minicamp.

“Feels good to be back out there doing stuff,” Jones said. “Haven’t done that since December. I’m just at the beginning. The next two months are very critical to what I’ve to do to be ready.”

Critical for not just Jones, but the line, the offense and the entire team. Jones anchoring the left side will allow Locklear to remain on the right side – even though the plan eventually is to have him take over for Jones.

In the middle, Willis, as well as Unger, could push for playing time. Then there’s Vallos, whose scrappy/savvy style reminds some of former Pro Bowl center Robbie Tobeck. Where they fit, and when, will be determined in part by how well Spencer and Sims play, and when Wahle is ready to return. 

Another new wrinkle for the line is the zone-blocking scheme being installed by first-year offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.

“It provides a quicker learning curve to get on target and have success,” said Knapp, whose offenses have ranked among the Top 10 in rushing in each of his previous eight seasons as a coordinator in the league.

“We feel that (with) the personnel that’s here we can be very effective.”

If, of course, Solari finally gets his starters on the field together for the first time.

The Word

The expectations are that Unger simply is too good not to start this season. But where? The second-round draft choice was a center at Oregon, but could play guard. He lined up on the left side with the No. 2 unit during minicamp practices. Unger could end up on the right side, if Sims moves back to the left side because Wahle isn’t fully recovered from shoulder surgery. Speaking of Sims, this is a pivotal season for him – as well as Spencer, a former first-round pick. They must play better and more consistently, and that starts with staying healthy. The club feels it has addressed the tackle position – now, and in the future – by re-signing Locklear last year and Willis this year. Locklear has been playing the left side while Jones recovers from microfracture surgery. Vallos, Wrotto and Williams made the most of the playing time they got last season, and now provide depth and versatility.