It's catchup time for Seahawks' offensive line
Is Steve Hutchinson really that good? Is Pork Chop Womack that overmatched? Should Matt Hasselbeck fear for his safety? Did the Detroit Lions'...
Seattle Times staff columnist
KIRKLAND — Is Steve Hutchinson really that good? Is Pork Chop Womack that overmatched?
Should Matt Hasselbeck fear for his safety? Did the Detroit Lions' defense expose Seattle's Achilles' heel? And should Seahawks fans look at the offensive line and suddenly fear for this year?
By the end of last season, the Hawks' line was running as smooth as mercury. It opened yawning holes that Shaun Alexander stretched into 100-yard games and a 27-touchdown season. It protected Hasselbeck as if he were a head of state.
There was a syncopated rhythm to the offense that began with its efficient front line.
But everywhere he looked Sunday, as Hasselbeck read Detroit's secondary and went through his split-second checklist, there seemed to be another Lion in his face.
In Sunday's season-opening 9-6 win, a very good pass rush made a very good offense look extraordinarily ordinary. The Lions kept the Seahawks out of the end zone and sent shudders through Hawk nation.
By the fourth quarter, Hasselbeck was hugging his sore ribs and taking deep breaths, looking for oxygen that was hard to gather.
Arizona at Seattle, 1:05 p.m., Ch. 13
He was hurting, and this was only Week 1.
"It was somewhat discouraging that in pass protection we didn't give the quarterback time. So we've got to do a much better job this week [against Arizona]," Seattle offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said. "But what people are remembering is how well we played at the end of last year. We really were cooking on all cylinders.
"We're starting over, and we've got to do it one step at a time ... We've got good players on the offensive line, and it's going to happen. But it doesn't happen in the first game of the season. It goes seven, eight, nine weeks before you're cooking."
Even the greatest living left tackle, Walter Jones, had his problems against the Lions, nursing a sore shoulder going into the game and suffering a slight ankle sprain during it.
"Sometimes it just happens like this," Jones said. "It's going to take time to get back to where we were. It's a tough situation [not having Hutchinson], but the line that we've got, we're going to get the job done."
Against Detroit, Womack missed on one pass block, when the Lions' tackle and end tricked him on a rush and he stumbled into Jones. And Tom Ashworth, briefly replacing Jones, whiffed on another block.
This is an offensive line that's playing catchup. Womack, Hutchinson's replacement, missed a couple weeks of training camp with a bad hamstring.
Robbie Tobeck was absent for almost a month after elbow surgery. And Jones was out for the final exhibition game against Oakland after injuring his shoulder.
"When you're plugging in new guys it takes a while to get the rhythm back," said center Tobeck, after he received his X-Box 360, a thank-you-for-last-season gift to the offensive linemen from Pro Bowler Alexander.
"I'm nowhere near ready to push the panic button, that's for sure."
It's too soon to canonize Hutchinson and blame last Sunday's struggles on his departure to Minnesota. It's too early to write off Womack. But it isn't too early for coach Mike Holmgren to push a little harder on his offensive line.
This week he challenged the line and reminded the starters that young backups like Chris Spencer, Ray Willis and Rob Sims are "chomping at the bit" to get on the field.
Playing time always is a coach's greatest motivator, and Holmgren is using it this week the way a jockey uses a whip.
"It's coming," Haskell said after Wednesday's practice. "We looked better today than we did yesterday, and I think we'll look better tomorrow than we did today. That's how it has to be."
But if this week isn't better, changes could be made.
Merely beating the Cardinals won't be good enough. Even though it's early, the offense has to look sharper. It has to sustain drives. It has to get in the end zone. And the line has to give Hasselbeck time to work his magic.
The Seahawks spent millions this week to acquire another quality receiver in Deion Branch.
But it won't matter who's running pass routes — Deion Branch, Deion Sanders or Dionne Warwick. If the offensive line can't keep Hasselbeck upright and healthy, if it can't crack open holes for Alexander, this team won't get back to the Super Bowl, won't even get back to the playoffs.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
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