Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On Hasselbeck's Shoulders

by: Mike Parker

We're about one month away from training camp now, and all is quiet at the VMAC. But even as things are silent enough to hear a pin drop in Renton, the noises Matt Hasselbeck keeps hearing aren't all in his head.

Entering into his ninth season in the NFL, Hasselbeck faces arguably more scrutiny and questions in 2009 than he ever has before in his career. A bulging disc in his back kept him out of nine games last year, which drove many analysts across the country to being absolutely sure the Seahawks wouldn't pass on former USC QB Mark Sanchez with the No.4-overall pick.

But the team had other ideas.

Hasselbeck's ahead-of-schedule recovery and sharp performances during team workouts convinced new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp that drafting a QB wouldn't be necessary, as he told Clare Farnsworth.

Asked his initial assessment of Hasselbeck when he arrived, Knapp offered a one-word answer: “Sold.”
Though Hasselbeck's return to form brings to mind fond memories of stellar 2005 and 2007 seasons, (note the odd-numbered pattern forming here) Coach Mora & company know that every player is always one good hit away from another problem -- be it a new injury, of which the team saw plenty of last year, or re-igniting an old one. Because of the extra care the coaching staff plans to take with Hasselbeck (which is also by now no secret for opposing teams' pass rushers), it's a good thing the team went after Oregon G/C Max Unger early in the draft, and re-signed RT Ray Willis. This season, the Hawks are going to make every effort to protect their investment in Hasselbeck, who looked so sharp in May and June minicamps that his back wasn't even a question topic during interviews. Even still, that's not to say it's been ignored by the coaching staff.
“I’m always concerned about every player,” coach Jim Mora said. “But no more so with Matt than any other player.

“But, sure, it creeps into the back of your mind on occasion because he missed a lot of games last year. Any time a guy is coming off that it creeps into your mind. But I think through the course of training camp and the preseason that that will go away.”
As well as Hasselbeck needs to play this year, the offensive line needs to play even better. Walter Jones needs to continue to be the anchor at left tackle that he's been for the past 13 years, and Sean Locklear must be ready to step in at an elite level if Jones can't maintain. Chris Spencer cannot afford another injury-riddled season; nor can Rob Sims. The team also needs every last bit of effort and skill from the younger linemen, such as Steve Vallos, Unger and Mansfield Wrotto. The new zone-blocking scheme must not only play a vital role in protecting its offensive general, but also in giving the ground attack the extra boost it needs to succeed.

Many say the key to Seahawks' success rides on Hasselbeck's shoulders. While that may be, it's going to take a team effort on both sides of the ball for the team to be a contender, and to bounce back from the nightmare that was 2008.