It takes quite a bit to bring out the grumpy side of Mack Strong and Matt Hasselbeck.
The two well-rounded Seahawks are affable team leaders, devoted to their families and the franchise.
But mention the word “playoffs” to either and their words take on an edgier tone. Fixed gazes replace smiles.
“It’s the thing that keeps bringing me back every year,” said Strong, a 13-year Seahawk who has never walked off a playoff field a winner. “There’s so much unfinished business here with this organization. I feel like we’ve been so close for so many years. We’ve had the talent and personnel around here for a while and haven’t been able to put it all together.”
The playoffs have resulted in some of Hasselbeck’s best and worst moments. Two years ago, he directed a late scoring drive to force overtime against Green Bay. He finished with 305 passing yards, but he was picked off by Al Harris, who returned the ball for the winning touchdown in overtime.
Last year at Qwest Field in Seattle, Hasselbeck threw for 341 yards and two touchdowns, but he was unable to connect with Bobby Engram in the end zone on a potential tying score in the closing seconds. St Louis held on, 27-20.
“The last two years it’s come down to the last play of the game and we haven’t made the play,” Hasselbeck said. “We need to win our division to give ourselves a chance, maybe we get a first-round bye, but in my mind it starts with winning the division.”
It always does, and Seattle will have its hands full trying to fend off the Rams, who were 3-0 against the Seahawks a year ago, and the rising Arizona Cardinals. San Francisco is in rebuilding mode.
For Seattle to defend its NFC West crown it must address concerns that have shadowed the team for years. The defense has been retooled for the umpteenth time. Will those changes take hold this time? The offense was solid last year, but has it found a cure for dropped passes? And finally, the team’s desire was challenged publicly by commentators and by departed defensive end Chike Okeafor, shortly after he joined Arizona.
It would appear that some of Okeafor’s comments had merit in that Seattle revamped its front office and new team president Tim Ruskell has placed strong emphasis on character and commitment with players he’s brought aboard.
Said Strong: “I see this team, like any team, getting younger, bringing in some young talent and guys from other places and that’s good sometimes to infuse new blood. The guys are excited and maybe (that’s) something we’ve missed the last few years.”
Seattle’s commitment to more dependable personnel was evident in the release of former first-round picks Koren Robinson and Anthony Simmons. Robinson’s legal and team-related transgressions are too numerous to document here. The oft-injured Simmons quarreled with coaches.
“The most important thing to me is having teammates you know you can depend on, you can count on,” Hasselbeck said. “Last year because of personal issues we had a guy (Robinson) that just wasn’t there for us. I’m not necessarily blaming him, but it’s a tough situation to be in as a quarterback and an offense when you don’t know if can count on your guys.
“We have guys now that we feel we can count on. That’s half the battle, it really is.”
Minus Robinson, Seattle turns to the reliable Engram at split end. Sure-handed Joe Jurivicius and Jerome Pathon are new additions. The departures of Simmons and injury-prone Chad Brown will probably be filled by Jamie Sharper, who has missed one game in eight years, and D.D. Lewis.
Changes on defense have been a recurring theme in Seattle. Middle linebacker has been manned by Orlando Huff (2004), Randall Godfrey (2003), Isaiah Kacyvenski (2002), Levon Kirkland (2001), George Koonce (2000) and Simmons (1999). A new starter looms this year with second-round draft pick Lofa Tatupu competing against second-year pro Niko Koutouvides.
Bryce Fisher was signed to replace Okeafor and cornerback Andre Dyson should take over for Ken Lucas, who went to Carolina. The opening-day tackles might be Marcus Tubbs, who was a non-factor in his rookie season of 2004, and high-energy Chuck Darby, one of Ruskell’s additions.
“I think it (defensive turnover) is very healthy for us, but we have to play,” coach Mike Holmgren said. “We need to show that we are better. We started out last season on defense pretty good. It just didn’t work out for us, through injury and I think they lost some of their confidence.
“This group, while they have a lot of promise, they have to do it now.”
The same might be said for the team.
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