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2021 football preview: Big questions loom, but Seahawks have all the pieces to make a long playoff run

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

So what’s your Seattle Seahawks worry of choice?

That this preseason has been the year of the “hold-in?” That the insurance for Russell Wilson going down – and hasn’t the franchise been awfully damned lucky these past few years in avoiding the apocalyptic? – remains the uninspiring Geno Smith? That the under-construction cornerback spots were sporting “Excuse Our Getting Dusted” signs during two ugly exhibition performances?

Or are you all no-worries, still over the moon with all the gushing about new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and convinced that he’s cracked the code Seahawks coach Pete Carroll demands?

To throw in with the Seahawks is to embrace the yo-yo existence, at least here in the now. The Legion of Doom/dynasty-that-wasn’t era is now well in the rear-view, and what’s left is a franchise with too many weapons not to be an NFL playoff team, but too many question marks to be a playoff somebody – at least at this point.

At least that’s the impression left with all the pieces of 2021 not yet put together.

Key pieces

Shane Waldron: There’s no scapegoat quite like a Seahawks OC, and with Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer barbecued and devoured, it’s time for Waldron’s turn on the spit. But first, the honeymoon.

The passing coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams – the team that bedeviled Seattle in the first round of the 2020 playoffs – was poached to find that elusive balance that Carroll treasures, or rather an explosiveness based on being able to run the ball and not exclusive of it. So far, Carroll, Wilson, Tyler Lockett and virtually everyone polled have nothing but raves for Waldron’s concepts and approach. But at this point, that’s all they are.

Russell Wilson: The face of the franchise is back in kumbaya mode after a winter during which he absolutely did not request a trade – but, hey, here are four teams I’d go to, if anyone asks. In the tumult of all the emotional manipulation his most salient point was lost: he gets hit too much. But even some of that is his own responsibility, and whether Waldron’s new scheme succeeds will rest in good measure on how enthusiastically Wilson embraces the short passing game at the possible expense of the big plays he lives for.

Jamal Adams: It’s tempting to think of him as a spiritual connection to the Legion of Boom, but it’s not particularly accurate. For all the Pro Bowlers in that old Seattle secondary, it was still very much an ensemble. Adams brings together elements of all those Boomer stars – Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor – in one outsized talent, a dominant figure even on a defense chaired by one of the NFL’s most reliable defenders, linebacker Bobby Wagner. And now Adams is being paid like it, having sat out drills while present in camp until his four-year, $70 million extension was complete. So far, fellow hold-ins Duane Brown and Quandre Diggs haven’t hit the same home run.

K.J. Wright: Yes, yes – he’s a free agent and not even on the team at the moment, never mind that 2020 was regarded as one of his best seasons. But if the Seahawks continue to believe they can get along without him, that means that Jordyn Brooks is a full-time success at weakside linebacker and that Darrell Taylor has fully recovered from lingering leg issues to settle in as a strongside backer/rush end hybrid.

Filling in the blanks

Can anybody here play cornerback? It was a legitimate question in the preseason, and it’s the team’s most glaring weak spot.

Signing Ahkello Witherspoon away from the 49ers – he was no longer in their plans – was supposed to be a solidifying move at left corner, or at least provide a proven replacement for Shaquill Griffin, a free-agent departure. But his inconsistency in San Francisco has been reflected early here, and D.J. Reed being unavailable on the right side into late August due to a groin injury has made for a wave of uncertainty. Tre Flowers and Damarious Randall are capable of starting, but don’t inspire great confidence in covering the league’s top receivers, and rookie Tre Brown’s climb up the depth chart was halted by an injury – leading the Seahawks to make a training camp trade for second-year man John Reid, who Houston was likely to waive.

Who’s at the center of it all? A nagging hamstring injury kept holdover starter Ethan Pocic from engaging with Kyle Fuller for the center job, but the mere fact there’s competition suggests there’s an issue in the middle of Seattle’s offensive line.

A Penny for your thoughts. Chris Carson is very much the bell cow at running back – a two-year, $10.4 million contract signed in March makes that clear. But as at quarterback, the Seahawks are one injury away from big issues. Dogged by injuries, Rashaad Penny has yet to prove himself a dependable No. 2, and backups Alex Collins, Deejay Dallas and Travis Homer simply aren’t going to be enough to keep defenses from reverting to the cover-2 schemes that stifled Seattle’s passing game late last year.

Solving the puzzle

The Seahawks have an identity crisis. Are they 12-4-and-division-title good, or first-round-playoff-flop bad? The answer is … yes. These are by and large the same Seahawks we saw a year ago – unless Waldron’s new scheme (and Wilson buying into it) can find that sweet spot between ball control and big play dependence. Otherwise, both lines remain capable, but not elite, and the Seahawks – like a lot of teams – are always one or two key injuries away from mediocrity, if not disaster. But then there’e all that high-end talent – Wilson, Wagner, Adams, DK Metcalf. And that justifies a lot of hope.