Seahawks counting on Mansfield Wrotto to protect quarterback Matt Hasselbeck against Vikings
Mansfield Wrotto, formerly a backup guard, will start at left tackle in place of injured Russell Okung on Saturday when the Seahawks face the Minnesota Vikings and their star defensive end, Jared Allen.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seahawks @ Minnesota Vikings, 5 p.m., Ch. 5
Mansfield Wrotto and Mike Gibson were backup guards for the Seahawks last season.
On Saturday night they will be standing between Matt Hasselbeck and last season's league-leading pass rush of the Minnesota Vikings, which has prompted some to think perhaps Hasselbeck should sit this one out instead of dropping back into the defense's crosshairs.
So with Wrotto starting at left tackle and Gibson at left guard, will coach Pete Carroll opt for discretion over valor when it comes to playing Hasselbeck?
"Matt is going to play into the second half," Carroll said. "That's what the plan is."
But is the plan prudent, with starting left tackle Russell Okung out with an ankle injury and backup Ray Willis not traveling as he recovers from knee surgery?
Wrotto is in his fourth year with the Seahawks, but his first at tackle. He has started five games, but has been so quiet that Hasselbeck had to correct the team's pronunciation guide earlier this week, saying the lineman's name is pronounced "row toe" not "ROT-oh."
On the other side is Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen, who last year enjoyed a spectacular feast when the Green Bay Packers were forced to use a backup tackle. The resulting 4.5 sacks constitute a cautionary tale.
Exhibition victories are meaningless once the regular season begins, but losses can be extraordinarily costly if you're talking about a starting quarterback. Two years ago, the Seahawks didn't play Hasselbeck at all the final three exhibition games because of a sore back.
But that was a different coach and a different era. Not only was Mike Holmgren in his 10th year as Seattle's coach, but he had every expectation Walter Jones would be starting at left tackle when the season began.
Not only is Carroll just starting his term as Seahawks coach, but there's no assurance Okung will be ready for the Sept. 13 season opener against San Francisco. Chester Pitts, the presumed backup, is recovering from knee surgery and started practicing in a very minimal fashion this week.
But in this case, Seattle can't afford to play turtle, ducking its head inside a protective shell until a satisfactory left tackle returns. Carroll can't exactly sit Hasselbeck two weeks from now if Wrotto is the starting left tackle staring across the line of scrimmage at the 49ers' Justin Smith.
The third exhibition game is as close as NFL teams come to a dress rehearsal, and the Vikings led the NFL with 48 sacks a year ago. If Seattle can survive this difficult situation, it would be a step forward for a team undone by the uncertainty at left tackle last season.
"Their front is a very, very good group, and so we have to do a number of things," Carroll said. "This is a week we did delve into game-plan thoughts. Not fully, but enough to make a statement to the players how we would do things and so they would have to make adjustments that you make during normal game week.
"There are some things we're doing this week to help out in the normal protection."
But in the end, Seattle is putting a lot of faith in Wrotto, who was moved from guard to tackle under the new coaching staff.
"It's a great test for him, going against one of the best defensive ends in the game," offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. "It's going to be fun to watch. It's on turf. It's going to be loud. He has had a great week of practice, so I look forward to seeing him protect Matt's blind side."
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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