Friday, July 10, 2009

Making Sense of the O-Line

by: Chris Sullivan

Question: If you've got 8 starting-caliber (or, starting-possible, anyway) offensive linemen, who wins the job? That was a question being volleyed about a bit last night in the Unger comment thread, so I figured I'd bring it to the fore here. Here's how I see our line shaping up in Week One of 2009:

Left Tackle - Starter: Walter Jones, Backup: Sean Locklear
This is a pretty big no-brainer here. If Jones is healthy, he will start and he will continue starting until he can start no longer. Age and injuries have converted Walter Jones from the best of all time to the best of right now, but hey, we'll take it. When he's got a suitable, trustworthy guard next to him (cough, cough, not Rob Sims, cough), Jones is damn near impenetrable. Locklear lacks his skills and strength, but is a solid RT and can slide over to backup. I still am not a believer that Locklear is the long-term solution at LT.

Left Guard - Starter: Mike Wahle, Backup: Max Unger / Chris Spencer
While I do not believe Wahle will last long as a starter and, honestly, I'm not convinced that he can hold off Unger/Spencer with his iffy shoulder, I am giving him the starting position right now based on one thing: Walter Jones. Jones excels with an experienced, talented guard next to him. While we like Unger, it remains to be seen -- but appears very unlikely -- that Unger is on the same level as Steve Hutchinson. If you can't replace hutch, left guard you shan't touch. Not really, but it sounds nice, right? I throw Unger and Spencer as the backup -- whoever ends up backing up at center will also likely backup at guard.

Center -- Starter: Chris Spencer, Backup: Max Unger
It seems that the Seahawks want to give Spencer the position to lose based on the fact that Unger has been working out primarily at LG, while working third-string center (behind Vallos, if I'm not mistaken). Still, Unger loves the center position and wants to play it, Spencer has never stepped up to the plate like he was expected to. It might play to the Seahawks' strength to let Spencer ride the bench a little bit and/or play some guard this year so they can re-sign him on the cheap as he enters free agency. I believe Unger will be starting within 4 weeks, but it will ultimately come down to how the Seahawks start the season and how Spencer and Unger prove themselves in the preseason. Obviously.

Right Guard -- Starter: Ray Willis, Backup: Rob Sims
Say whaaaat? Yep, you heard it hear first people (okay, maybe third), but I think Ray Willis will earn his long-coveted starting role not as right tackle but as guard. Willis is too strong to ride the bench, but he doesn't quite have the footwork to play tackle every down. He was listed as a guard earlier in the offseason by the Seahawks and I think thats a good fit for him. Behind him in the depth chart we have Rob Sims who was awful in 2007, but injured almost immediately in 2008. Sims is in a make-or-break contract year. Look for him to try to push and prove himself as a starter, but I don't really see it happening. Wrotto is behind him in the depth chart right now, but is clearly liked by Solari and appears to be the purest ZBS lineman that we have. He could make a surprising push to start by years end too.

Right Tackle - Starter: Sean Locklear, Backup: Ray Willis
Locklear is all but a lock here, but Willis wants it and could push him if he doesn't start strong (as we saw last year). Still, Lock has shown himself to be one of the most competent right tackles in the NFC and should maintain that status. Not a lot of controversy on the ends here, but the middle three are all up for grabs.

So, there ya go. There's my July 10 read on the offensive line. What do you guys think will happen? What do you hope to happen?