NFL Season Preview 2016: Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) scrambles away from Dallas Cowboys defensive end Ryan Russell (99) before throwing a touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

The NFL is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to kickoff on Thursday, Sept. 8. Today, the Seattle Seahawks.

Last year’s record: 10-6
Head coach: Pete Carroll
Core players: Russell Wilson (QB), Doug Baldwin (WR), Richard Sherman (CB), Earl Thomas (S), Kam Chancellor (S), Michael Bennett (DL), Bobby Wagner (LB).

2016 is about… Getting the offensive line in order. The Seahawks, from top to bottom, have arguably the best roster in the NFL. They have a stacked core of blue-chip players who are locked up to long-term deals and a quarterback that emerged as an elite passer in the second half of the season last year, which is a great recipe for success.

However, the season could come down to the team’s biggest unknown, the offensive line. Seattle’s front five almost submarined their season last year as Russell Wilson took an absurd amount of sacks in the first half of the year before they switched their centre and transitioned to a quick-hitting passing attack. Seattle will go with three new starters, including a rookie at right guard and a second-year player at left guard, this season and last year’s primary left guard, Justin Britt, will be shifting over to centre.

If this group can be functional, than Wilson could be an MVP candidate and Seattle should be in the mix for Super Bowl contention.

They lost… The Seahawks lost some upper-echelon talent over the off-season. Former first-round pick Bruce Irvin landed a life-changing deal with the Oakland Raiders early in free agency. Irvin, who amassed 12 sacks over the last two seasons, was the team’s starting SAM linebacker and outside nickel pass rusher. The club also lost the first pick of the Pete Carroll and John Schneider era, as left tackle Russell Okung joined the AFC West as well, landing a team-friendly deal with the Denver Broncos. Okung had Pro Bowl potential, but battled various injuries every year while the team’s longest-tenure player, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, joined the San Diego Chargers.

In terms of big names, the team’s biggest loss would easily be running back Marshawn Lynch, who retired after last season’s Super Bowl. But Lynch’s skills began to decline last season and the team was more productive with Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael in the lineup. Lynch had been the heart-and-soul of the Seahawks since he was acquired midway through 2010.

But they got… Seattle didn’t make many splashy moves in the off-season. They prefer to develop talent through the draft or via undrafted rookies. But the team beefed up a couple of areas: Seattle brought back defensive tackle Tony McDaniel to help add depth to the run defence, brought in veteran offensive lineman Bradley Sowell, who will open the season at left tackle, and tackle J’Marcus Webb to serve as a swing lineman that can play on either the left or right side off the bench.

The biggest contributions, although, will come from its draft class as the Seahawks had a whopping 15 (!) rookies make the initial 53-man roster. The Seahawks believe it’s the best bunch of first-year players since a dominant draft in 2012. Rookies such as defensive tackle Jarran Reed, offensive guard Germain Ifedi, running back C.J. Prosise and defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson will all have important roles on opening day.

Growing from within: Seattle was comfortable losing Irvin in a sense because his replacement was already waiting on the roster as Frank Clark will take the majority of his pass-rushing snaps. Clark showed flashes of his greatness in his rookie season and is expected to receive a large spike in playing time as a defender who can cause havoc from multiple positions along the defensive line. In terms of outside linebacker, the Seahawks will rely on veteran Mike Morgan to handle the base duties. Morgan is a reliable player that has been in Carroll’s system since he played for him at USC.

Despite the lack of investment in the offensive line, the team has been very impressed with the play of a few young interior linemen throughout pre-season. Second-year guard Mark Glowinski has shined at left guard throughout training camp and looks like a legit starter at the position. Glowinski held up very well in his only start last season while Justin Britt, who was sort of a disaster at left guard, has transitioned nicely to centre throughout the off-season. Britt is more suited to make line calls than any other player on the roster.

Why this team? Russell Wilson is coming off a career-best season in which he led the NFL in passer rating, and is surrounded by the best group of weapons he’s had yet. Plus, the defence returns nine of 11 starting players from a unit that has led the NFL in points allowed for four consecutive seasons. The team avoided distractions after two tough off-seasons — related to winning and losing the Super Bowl — and appears to have regained the swagger and roster depth that earned them the title in 2013. All the pieces appear to be in place this season.

Why not? If the offensive line doesn’t hold up and Wilson doesn’t have time to operate from the pocket, it could be a repeat of the first half of last season. The Seahawks don’t have a proven backup quarterback in the event that Wilson misses a game for the first time in his career, as undrafted rookie Trevone Boykin is the only other quarterback on the roster. Plus, Arizona is darn good as well, so the Seahawks could have a great season and still finish No. 2 in the division, meaning they’d need to win three straight road games to get to the Super Bowl. Not easy to do from the west coast.

How much hope? 8.5/10. Seattle, along with Arizona, New England and Green Bay, are considered to be elite contenders heading into the season. Wilson should be an MVP candidate this year — as long as receivers Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett continue to emerge — and Pete Carroll teams always play great defence.

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