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Russell Wilson must lead rebuilt Seahawks offense

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had banner season in 2015, but injuries and poor offensive line play saw his performance take a step back last season. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had banner season in 2015, but injuries and poor offensive line play saw his performance take a step back last season. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – They’ve got an unproven offensive line that just lost its left tackle. They’ve got running backs that are A) coming off injuries, B) too green to be considered reliable or C) both.

“Seahawks football,” which has come to mean pounding the pigskin five yards at a time until the opponent is depleted, is on the verge becoming past tense.

But they still have Russell Wilson. And hence they still have hope.

Here’s a declaration for you in the exhibition season: If the Seahawks are going to contend for the Super Bowl, Wilson must have the best season of his career.

His health must remain optimal. His passing must be precise. His elusiveness must drive pass rushers to the brink of insanity.

Gone are the days when Seattle’s offense can ride its running game possession after possession. After finishing in the top four in team rushing for four straight years, the Seahawks ranked 25th in the NFL last season. Granted, Thomas Rawls played just nine games, and fellow running back C.J. Prosise just six – but Rawls was underwhelming when healthy, and Prosise had a mere 30 carries.

The bigger issue, of course, was the Hawks’ O-line, which happened to be the lowest paid in the league. And aside from center Justin Britt, the Pro Bowler who signed a three-year, $27 million extension last week, the performances typically matched the paychecks.

The one bright spot up front was potential for growth in left tackle George Fant, who packed on more than 20 pounds in the offseason and had coaches starry-eyed heading into his second year. But he went down with an ACL injury and will miss the rest of the season.

So assuming their defense can’t hold opponents to under 100 points over 16 games, how are the Seahawks going to make their sixth straight postseason and vie for title No. 2? Easy. They’ll need a year for the ages from No. 3.

For his first three NFL seasons, Wilson was a productive supplement to a championship-caliber team. Though he was never higher than 19th in the league for passing attempts, he was efficient when throwing, evasive when pursued and generally careful with the football.

To say the Seahawks could have won with any quarterback during those years would have been insulting, but to say they could have won with about 10-12 other quarterbacks probably would have been accurate.

But when 2015 rolled around, it appeared Wilson had transformed himself into one of the top signal callers in the league. When then-Browns coach Mike Pettine said Russell wasn’t a top-tier QB, it’s almost as though he took it personally.

By the end of the year, Wilson owned the NFL’s best passer rating after stringing together one of the best five-game stretches in league history. He helped will his team into the playoffs and seemed to have his proverbial “breakout season.”

But then came 2016, when Wilson was essentially two things – injured and ordinary.

Considering he was dealing with a high ankle sprain and MCL sprain for much of the year, it would be silly to argue Wilson’s output reflected his ability. But even when his mobility appeared to return toward the end of the season, there were still moments when the Houdini of football completely disappeared.

Wilson posted a 38.8 passer rating in a 14-5 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 12, when he threw two interceptions. He posted a 43.3 passer rating in a 38-10 loss to Green Bay two weeks later, when he was picked off five times.

The physical torment Russell endured in previous games gives him some leeway when analyzing those duds. But it still raises the question: Was Wilson’s epic 2015 season an announcement, or just an anomaly?

You can’t discount the fact Wilson benefited from the fourth-best rushing attack in the NFL that season. If opponents don’t fret the run like they have in years past, the aerial attack suffers. However, if you look at the truly great quarterbacks – they’re productive regardless of fellow personnel.

Who knows? Perhaps the O-line will surprise folks this year and control the line of scrimmage.

Or maybe Eddie Lacy will return to pre-injury form, just as Rawls might play like the rookie who averaged 5.6 yards per carry two years ago. It’s possible, but that thinking is more wishful than it is realistic.

The truth is, Wilson will likely bear more responsibility than he ever has for this team. The man never rests, but the fate of his team rests with him.

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