SEATTLE – Matt Hasselbeck paused just a moment and ran through his options.
You don’t last 10 years as an NFL quarterback without knowing how to deal with pressure, and Hasselbeck showed some poise in the pocket when asked how the personality of the team changed with Jim Mora as head coach.
“We use a lot more multimedia in our presentations,” he said. “The overhead projectors are gone.”
And so a new era of Seahawks football arrived with a little bit of humor and a lot more technology, the future presented in PowerPoint.
The new coach uses a laser to highlight individual players during film study and likes his BlackBerry, but when it comes to the rest of the offseason changes, Seattle didn’t rebuild after last season’s 4-12 debacle so much as it rebooted from an injury-induced crash.
Not everything remained status quo. Seattle got bigger along the defensive line by adding 330-pound tackle Colin Cole and a statuesque defensive end in Cory Redding. The Seahawks got better at wide receiver by signing T.J. Houshmandzadeh and younger at linebacker by choosing Aaron Curry with the fourth pick of the draft, the highest a linebacker has been chosen since LaVar Arrington was picked No. 2 overall by the Redskins in 2000.
But there was no overarching overhaul. Even the new coach isn’t entirely new. Mora has been on the staff the past two years, giving him a familiarity with the pieces that were already in place.
“It’s been a tremendous advantage to me to have been here the past two years to evaluate our personnel,” Mora said. “I don’t think it’s important or necessary to come in and wipe the slate clean.”
Call it a vote of confidence or a belief that last year was an aberration and not the stumbles of an aging roster.
Seattle allowed more passing yards than any other NFL team last season yet returns most of its defensive backs, the only changes being the addition of Ken Lucas, an eight-year veteran cornerback, and the late moves of cutting veteran safety Brian Russell and adding Lawyer Milloy.
Compare that to 2007 when Seattle swapped out its starting safeties, choosing to let Ken Hamlin leave as a free agent and trading Michael Boulware before the next season began. In 2008, president Tim Ruskell sought to upgrade the running game, so the Seahawks cut the franchise’s leading rusher, Shaun Alexander, signed Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett in free agency and hired Mike Solari to coach the offensive line.
So Ruskell will push the button, triggering massive overhaul as opposed to gradual change when needed, which is what made this offseason more surprising.
Coming off the franchise’s worst record in 16 years, the Seahawks went for strategic improvements. They added size along the defensive line, got younger at linebacker and signed a sure-handed veteran at receiver.
“Even more so than the bodies and the talent level, we feel like we’ve added leadership and maybe that was a bigger hole than we gave it credit for,” Ruskell said.
What was missing from Seattle’s offseason activity were the subtractions that so often follow 12-loss catastrophes. Seattle didn’t cut bait with the aging nucleus of the team that won four consecutive NFC West titles. Hasselbeck, tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney are all coming off injuries that shortened their seasons in 2008.
The Seahawks lost players to free agency. Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard went to the New York Giants, wide receiver Bobby Engram headed to Kansas City and fullback Leonard Weaver is in Philadelphia.
The starting lineup for Seattle’s offense Sunday is likely to include only three players who weren’t on the roster last season: Houshmandzadeh, rookie Max Unger, the second-round draft pick, and fullback Justin Griffith.
The defense has four new starters, but overall, the players haven’t changed nearly so much as the plays they’ll be running.
Hasselbeck is at the epicenter of this geologic shift in the Seahawks’ landscape. The Seahawks are trusting the ability of a familiar player to steer the offense into this new era.
“Matt Hasselbeck is our point man,” Mora said in his first news conference as Seahawks head coach. “He’s the point guard. He’s our triggerman. He’s our quarterback, and I’m very excited about that. Matt is a special player.”
Hasselbeck was handpicked by Mike Holmgren. The Seahawks traded to get him in 2001, stuck with him through a rocky start to watch him set franchise passing records. He was under center for the Super Bowl. Alexander was named the league’s MVP in 2005, but everyone knew Hasselbeck was the most valuable Seahawk.
Now, he’s also the most important part of the transition from the most successful decade in the franchise history. For all the talk about the West Coast roots of Greg Knapp’s offense, this past month has made it clear that Seattle’s offense has changed.
No team in the NFL used the shotgun formation less often than Seattle last season. In the second exhibition game, the Seahawks lined up in the shotgun for about one-third of their plays. Seattle might use a two tight-end set one play and have three receivers bunched wide on the next.
So while the identities on Seattle’s roster are largely the same, the identity of the team will change.
“That’s part of what you need to do every year in training camp,” Hasselbeck said. “You need to realize it’s a new group of guys. We need to come together as that group, decide and kind of figure out what your identity is going to be.”
The future will include some PowerPoint presentations, and a few new players, but while the Seahawks may not be rebuilt for this season, they have rebooted in the hopes of rebounding.
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