Now that the 2021 season has officially come to an end with Super Bowl LVI in the books, it's time to look ahead to an offseason that will help shape the Seahawks' fortune in 2022. With free agency kicking off next month and the draft following in April, Seahawks.com is taking a position-by-position look at where the team stands. Today we kick things off with the offensive line, and tomorrow we'll turn our attention to the defensive line.
The Seahawks brought back most of their starting line from the previous season, though they did go out and trade for veteran guard Gabe Jackson to help upgrade the interior line, and he indeed proved to be a steadying factor at right guard while starting 16 games before being held out of the final game with a injury.
But while Jackson and fellow veteran Duane Brown were able to make 33 of 34 starts between them, the rest of the line dealt with injuries and COVID-19 absences that hindered the ability of that unit to function at its highest level.
Ethan Pocic was injured in camp, keeping him from competing with Kyle Fuller for the starting job, then he was injured again in the opener, landing him on injured reserve. Pocic eventually took over the starting role and that helped solidify things, but that didn't happen until the eighth game of the season. Damien Lewis, moving from right guard to the left side in his second season, played well again, but missed three games to injury and one on the COVID-19 list, while right tackle Brandon Shell missed five games due to injury and two on the COVID-19 list.
Add it all up and the season for the offensive line was much like that of the entire offense—strong play in stretches, but not consistent enough throughout the year to achieve the desired results on a weekly basis.
One positive that came out of those absences was the emergence of some depth that could be crucial going forward. Jake Curhan, who made the team as an undrafted rookie, started five games at right tackle and looked like a viable option for that spot should Shell leave in free agency (more on that below). Phil Haynes, a 2019 fourth-round pick who has battled injuries throughout his young career, made his first two career starts late in the season, one at each guard spot and put together two strong performances.
The Seahawks gave up 46 sacks, which were the eighth most in the league, though the sack numbers did improve later in the season, and while any lineman would say they don't want to allow any sacks, it's also always worth noting that not all sacks are the result of poor pass protection by linemen. Sometimes a play-call can put them in a bad position, sometimes a running back or tight end can fail to execute, or sometimes a quarterback can hang onto the ball too long, but regardless of the cause, getting those sack numbers down will be a focus this offseason.
The Seahawks ground game was solid, with the Seahawks averaging 5.0 yards per carry for the season, the third best mark in the NFL, and the line played a big role in a big finish to the season in which a Rashaad Penny-led rushing attack gained 170 or more yards in four of the final five games, including 467 yards in the last two.
Seahawks.com reporter John Boyle reflects on the 2021 season and hands out some Seahawks 2021 Season Honors.
Question to answer this offseason: Who are the starting tackles in 2022?
With Brown and Shell both set to become free agents when the new league year begins in March, the Seahawks could potentially be looking at replacing one or both starting tackles depending on what takes place, not to mention that Pocic too is headed towards free agency. The Seahawks like what they saw out of Curhan last year, and they did draft Stone Forsythe, who was one of college football's best pass-blocking left tackles at Florida, but if Seattle can't re-sign Brown and/or Shell, they almost surely would be looking to bring in more competition at both of those spots.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has expressed the desire to bring both tackles back, and the 36-year-old Brown, who appeared in his fifth Pro Bowl, and second as a Seahawk, following the season, said he doesn't plan on retiring, and that if things can work out financially, he'd love to finish his career in Seattle.
"I'm feeling healthy enough now, so I plan on continuing to play," Brown said after the final game of the season. "Obviously when I signed my extension, I said that I wanted to retire here. I didn't know what I would feel like at 36, I didn't know what I would feel like finishing my 14th year, and there a lot of things to weigh out, but I would love to stay here. This is a business, and you don't know quite how it's going to shake out, everything is not in my control, so we will see how that plays out."
A look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks tackle Duane Brown from the 2021 season.
Biggest reason for optimism in 2022: The late-season success running the ball.
Rashaad Penny deservedly received a lot of praise for his play late in the season, with the fourth-year running back rushing for 135 or more yards in four of the final five games, including 170 in Week 17 and 190 in Week 18. But for as good as Penny was, he would be the first to say that he wouldn't have put up those numbers without some really good run blocking from the line.
Considering it was Seattle's first year under offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and run-game coordinator Andy Dickerson, whose title changed to offensive line coach this offseason, it makes sense that the running game—and the offense as a whole—was at its best late in the year. Heading into Year 2 under Waldron, the offense and the running game should be able to start the year off faster, particularly if some or most of their free agents are re-signed, and as we saw late in the season, the Seahawks offense is at its explosive best when the running game is clicking.