Seahawks have to find a replacement for Walter Jones, sooner or later
The Seahawks can't count on left tackle Walter Jones to return, so they're keeping an eye on offensive tackles this week at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Seattle Times staff reporter
INDIANAPOLIS — The Seahawks' last visit to this city exposed the inadequacy of their succession plan for Walter Jones.
That was back in October when the Seahawks' starting left tackle was Brandon Frye, who had been with the team all of five weeks. Colt defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney treated Seattle's tackles like traffic cones, and the Seahawks gave up five sacks.
A lot has changed since that game, from new coach Pete Carroll to general manager John Schneider to Alex Gibbs, the zone-blocking guru who will oversee Seattle's offensive line.
The uncertainty at left tackle remains, though, so perhaps there's some symbolism in the fact that the offensive linemen are among the first group of players to be evaluated at the league's annual scouting combine. The Seahawks have three of the first 40 picks in April's draft and one unanswered question at the most important position on the offensive line.
It's possible Jones will retire, as he indicated on Twitter this month. It's possible he will continue rehabilitating in hopes of playing in 2010. It's impossible, however, for the Seahawks to either assume or depend upon Jones' return. They have to look at options.
USC tackle Charles Brown said he met with the Seahawks on Wednesday night, and was interviewed by Gibbs.
"He said I'd fit in well," Brown said. "I'd fit in real good."
Brown went to USC as a tight end. At least that was the theory. In practice, it took until Week 3 of his freshman season to prove he'd be better off staying closer to the line of scrimmage.
"You can just tell when you're too heavy to catch balls," Brown said Thursday.
Brown became a tackle, a move that is about to pay off because of both the skyrocketing value of that position in today's NFL and Brown's status as one of the top six or so tackles available.
Brown is 6 feet 5, 303 pounds, and has the kind of athleticism that Gibbs likes in tackles. The fact Brown played for Carroll at USC probably doesn't hurt, either, and he joked about seeing his former coach on Thursday.
"I'm already a little nervous preparing for him," Carroll said.
Brown is just one of the tackles Seattle will evaluate this week. Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, Rutgers' Anthony Davis and Iowa's Bryan Bulaga are considered the top prospects at the position.
Gibbs has shown the ability to assemble an effective offensive line without high-end picks at tackle. He has been able to develop the undrafted and the overlooked. In more than 20 years in the NFL, only twice has his team drafted a tackle in the first round.
But left tackle is different. It has become one of the most valued positions in football. In 2009, three of the first eight picks in the draft were tackles. From 2000 through 2009, nine offensive tackles were chosen in the top five, which was triple the total from the previous decade.
The last time Seattle held the No. 6 pick, it drafted Jones. That was 1997, and in 13 years all Jones did was help redefine the value of left tackles in the NFL. When Rutgers' Davis was asked Thursday what it meant to be a franchise tackle, he invoked Jones.
"If you play a team with a good defensive end, it's like, 'Don't worry, he has him,' " Davis said. "That's how I would describe one. Like Walter Jones."
For more than a decade, left tackle was a given in Seattle.
Even last year with Jones coming off microfracture surgery on his left knee, the assumption was he'd be ready. He wasn't, and Seattle wasn't ready for life without him.
That was made clear during Seattle's Week 4 loss in Indianapolis. This time, the Seahawks will have a chance to look for better options at the position considered the cornerstone of an NFL offensive line.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.