INDIANAPOLIS – When Pete Carroll says the Seahawks have "issues" with their offensive line, don't take that the wrong way. Seattle's head coach doesn't say that to disparage the 2015 version of the offensive line, but rather because he realizes that, thanks to free agency, it's entirely possible the Seahawks will again be working a new starter or two in the mix in 2016.
As rough as things were early, with Russell Wilson being sacked 31 times through seven games, the line and the offense as a whole turned things around dramatically in the second half of the season. Over the final nine games of the season, Wilson was sacked only 14 times, and with that improved protection Wilson was able to finishing with an NFL-best 110.1 passer rating while throwing 24 touchdowns and one interception in his final eight games.
"We really did shift, and after the bye we improved tremendously," Carroll said. "Our numbers flip-flopped in terms of the pressures and sacks and things like that. We saw the productivity of our passing game just really moved. We saw Doug (Baldwin) come to light and all of Russell's numbers were crazy, that's all part of that whole transition."
But with left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy set to become unrestricted free agents come March 9 when the new league year begins, the Seahawks could be looking at another transition period next season, which is what makes upcoming offseason decisions so important. Whether it's the possibility of re-signing Okung and Sweezy or of drafting to help the line or signing players in free agency, what happens over these next few months will have a big impact on Seattle's 2016 offense.
"We still have issues," Carroll said. "We have issues now going into free agency this year, so we'll see how that all winds up, but hopefully we've made some strides that we can start at a better level next season and not have to take so long to get going. It did take us a while."
Even if the Seahawks returned everyone, it's likely they would still look to address the line. In six drafts under Carroll and general manager John Schneider, the Seahawks have used 12 of their 56 picks on offensive linemen, including at least one in every draft and three last season.
"In terms of our philosophy we are going to keep attacking it the same way we always have," Schneider said Wednesday. "(Offensive line coach Tom Cable) does a great job, he's a great teacher. (Assistant offensive line coach ) Pat Ruel is in that room too, so there is a lot of experience in there, and I think those guys do a great job of coaching up the position."
And when it comes to evaluating linemen this week and beyond, the Seahawks will be looking for more than just big, athletic guys.
"You can't just go with the most athletic, best-looking dude with the longest arms," Schneider said. "There has to be an aspect of his mental quickness, his awareness, his ability to pick up stunts and blitzes, study his opponent, be ready to play the game, and that cohesion to be able to work with the guy next to him."