Chicago Sun-Times

Times: Ruskell hurt 'Hawks with conservative strategy

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Seattle Times writer Danny O'Neil chimes in with an excellent analysis of Tim Ruskell's tenure with the Seahawks, concluding that Ruskell, who could soon join the Bears front office, contributed to Seattle's decline with play-it-safe drafts. The Seahawks lack impact players, according to O'Neil, because of Ruskell's conservative strategy.

By Danny O'Neil
Seattle Times staff reporter

INDIANAPOLIS -- Safe.

That's the path that preceded the Seahawks' sorry state these past two seasons.

Seattle tended to play it safe in the draft under president Tim Ruskell, who had a preference for seniors and an insistence upon BCS pedigrees. He filtered out character questions and minimized risks by asking not just how good a player might be, but gauging how bad. No hit-or-miss gambles. Consistent contact. That was Seattle's M.O.

"We figure out what the ceiling is on this guy," Ruskell said in August 2008, "but we also figure out what the floor is. What would be the worst that this guy could be? ... We're more conservative that way."

Ruskell spoke those words during training camp two years ago, the month before the Seahawks began their swan dive off the cliff of NFL relevancy. Back then, Seattle was the four-time defending division champions returning six Pro Bowlers from the 2007 season.

Now the Seahawks have lost 23 of their past 32 games, they changed coaches for the second consecutive offseason and failed to have a single Pro Bowler last season for the first time since 2000.

Five years of playing it safe kept Seattle from making any draft-day busts that would rival quarterback Dan McGwire, but it also resulted in a roster lacking the dynamic, game-changing talents that are nonnegotiable ingredients for contending in today's NFL.

That reality is the backdrop this week as new coach Pete Carroll, new general manager John Schneider and the rest of the Seahawks' football-operations staff arrive in Indianapolis for the league's annual scouting combine to evaluate more than 300 of the top prospects for April's draft.

The Seahawks have numerous needs, on both sides of the ball, but one overriding imperative: With two of the first 14 choices, they need a pair of cornerstones.

That could be a left tackle and a quick-twitch pass rusher off the edge. Or maybe a fleet-footed back who's a threat to score on every carry and a ballhawking safety.

There's even room for a quarterback of the future if the Seahawks want.

Whatever the exact combination, this is a parlay Seattle must hit after spending the past five years stocking a roster with able-bodied role players, but a distinct lack of breakout stars.

The first round is where NFL teams find their quarterbacks and playmakers. In Ruskell's first two drafts, Seattle took a center and an undersized cornerback with its first-round choice.

Under Ruskell, the Seahawks largely avoid head-scratching stink bombs on the first day of the draft. Quarterback David Greene, a third-round choice in 2005, was the only Seahawk who was waived after being chosen in the first three rounds under Ruskell.

But there weren't many transcendent successes either. Of the 37 players Seattle drafted in Ruskell's tenure, only one has been chosen to a Pro Bowl: linebacker Lofa Tatupu, a second-round choice in 2005.

Compare that to Mike Holmgren, who held general manager responsibilities for four years. In that time, Seattle had a number of first-day busts, including defensive tackle Lamar King, defensive end Anton Palepoi and offensive tackle Chris McIntosh, whose body broke down.

Those failures aren't remembered nearly so much as Seattle's successes with guard Steve Hutchinson and running back Shaun Alexander, though. That pair became part of the offensive nucleus that carried Seattle to its first Super Bowl.

In Holmgren's four years in charge of the draft, Seattle was like the power slugger prone to a strikeout or three. Ruskell's approach was more similar to Ichiro. He saw nothing wrong with a nice, solid single, and that has left Seattle devoid of star power.

The Seahawks drafted three fullbacks under Ruskell, but only one tailback: Justin Forsett, a seventh-round choice. Seattle went three years without drafting a quarterback and chose only one player capable of being an NFL offensive tackle in Ruskell's five years.

The result is a roster filled with needs at the most valuable positions in the league. That leaves plenty of options for the new architects of Seattle's franchise as they spend this week looking to find those franchise cornerstones.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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12 Comments

Ruskell sounds like just the wrong guy for the job. I am a real draft enthusiast - have been since the early fifties - and know that the conservative strategy outlined above is guaranteed to fail. The whole Tampa Bay connection is futile. Look how New Orleans tore up the cover-2 in the recent Super Bowl. Brees moved the ball effortlessly. That organization had one or two drafts of key players - Sapp, Brooks, Lynch, and Barber - and whole careers have ensued for mediocrities like Angelo and Lovie Smith, and now Ruskell. I wish there were some way the fans could issue an injunction against this hiring. Failing that I hope the press relentlessly condemns it. Please.

Ruskell sounds so much like Jerry Angelo it gives me the creeps ! "His floor , his ceiling"? We already have enough of those types in Chicago. A roster filled with average players, "character guys" who will never see a pro bowl unless they buy a ticket ! Before the CIRCUS at Halas Hall and before Cleveland made the smart decision (something the Bears seem incapable of),I,and many others were clamoring of the McCaskey's to hire Holmgren. Of course, the Bears organization is stuck on stupid and Ruskell will be the GM in waiting, if for no other reason than Michael McCaskey can show us he's smarter than EVERYONE !

Tom,

Very well said.

The bad part is we've gone the risky route and struck out nearly every time since drafting Briggs and Tillman. Our latest attempt at utilizing 1st round picks to get a franchise QB (a most risky endeavor using 2 #1s) has been laughable save for the last 2 games of the year, and lighting up Detroit is no tremendous accomplishment.

Cutler will likely improve going forward (could he really get worse?), but will he have been worth the risk?

`But there weren't many transcendent successes either. Of the 37 players Seattle drafted in Ruskell's tenure, only one has been chosen to a Pro Bowl: linebacker Lofa Tatupu, a second-round choice in 2005'

wow Are you sure you didnt get Angelos stas mixed up there???

Ruskell couldn't possibly do worse than Angelo in the last 5 or so drafts. Jerry has hit plenty of singles in the late rounds and whiffed too many times in the top three. The latter successes have not come close to making up for the high round failures. I'm still convinced that the Bears have some of the right horses to be a competitive team but I'm not sure last year's systems, on offence or defence put players in a position to succeed. Either way, there are far too many highly athletic but underachiving players on the Bears roster. I'm not sure picks in the last five rounds of the draft will solve that problem.

Does it matter who the Bears hire? Everyone will be fired after 2010 anyway when they miss the playoffs for the forth straight time!! (HOPEFULLY)

Sounds so much like Angelo.

"Whatever the exact combination, this is a parlay Seattle must hit after spending the past five years stocking a roster with able-bodied role players, but a distinct lack of breakout stars."

"Under Ruskell, the Seahawks largely avoid head-scratching stink bombs on the first day of the draft. Quarterback David Greene, a third-round choice in 2005, was the only Seahawk who was waived after being chosen in the first three rounds under Ruskell."

Angelo doesn't like to let his players go either, always talking about how many of his players are on the roster. He never says if they are good or bad, just that they have a lot of them.

Bears have the same problem, mostly role players. The Cutler trade addressed a problem Angelo had his entire time here. Finding a franchise QB. Urlacher was handed to him. However even Angelo takes more risks than this guy. Angelo once said something very similar about drafting players they scout the floor and the ceiling.

Chris Williams was that same type of pick, at a LT he was not considered the most talented and he didn't have a lot of upside, but was said to be the most NFL ready to start.

By the way this the McKay system that you see Ruskell and Angelo use. The idea behind it is that you focus on drafting safe conservative players as pointed out above. At best the guy is a decent starter at worst he is a solid special team player. But then comes the trick and that is free agents. You tend to look for two things, an aging former star who you hope has a year or two left in the tank. Pace, Brown, (Gonzalez with Atlanta, current home of McKay), most of the starters on the Bucs offense during the late 90's and early 00's, Brad Johnson, Randal McDanial, Jeff Christy, . Then you go after a established player in FA or via trade where you are pretty sure what you are getting. The key to the system is actually not the draft, but Free agency, cause thats where you are looking for your impact players. McKay came up with the system in the 90's when FA was taking over.

LB's, DT's are nice safe picks in the draft. But then you get your Simion Rice, Jay Cutler, Thomas Jones, Mike Turner, John Tait, Julian Peterson, Keyshawn Johnson, to actually be your cornerstone on one side of the ball.

Its a 90's system its about free agency not the draft. Lots of teams used this style during the 90's but when cost started running up and teams started getting less and less bang for their buck in the FA market, the draft once again stormed back and showed its value. Their was a time in the 90's when many people thought that the FA market was the future and that the big teams would just be using the small market teams as a kind of farm system.

ok, i see you guys dont read between the lines and know much about drafting?lets see didnt the seahawks draft in the bottom half of the draft all those years?not in the top ten in drafting because they had success on the field.when you draft on the bottom half of the draft you take safe picks you dont reach for potential,nothing gets a coach or general manger fired quickly as does potential.If you draft in the Top Ten you have a chance at a cornerstone Player but otherwise you build with solid players who will fill your roster around those cornerstones.it wasnt him who didnt want to pay hutchinson it was the owner.there running game went down with alexander.who would have thought he would have a sharp decline.if you see holmgren left town pretty quick too.
if i hear it right ruskell will have a pro scout and a college scout director.which will help in the making better decesions.

Trading picks for Cutler was not a bad move - even though he didn't have the year everyone envisioned. We got a young, PROVEN QB & didn't pay a guy(s) guaranteed multimillions who has never taken a snap in the NFL. I agree there are players that could definitely help us, but...our track record with 1st round picks isn't exactly stellar. Cutler is QB of now & future - we finally got a guy behind center & now need to build around him. It starts up front on both sides of ball. The reason we got to the Super Bowl 3 years ago, and also the reason we lost that game (Didn't get to Manning / didn't block Colts front 4). The formula for winning with strong D, running game / game managment QB is no longer in play. Today's offenses with big time QB's are too good. Can't sit in Cov 2 all day and expect to dominate, but can't play much else without DB's! Bottom line is an upgrade in talent is needed.

I like your theory on the FA and how McKay started that Creighton, as Jerry actually bought Tait/Garza/Brown to get us to the SB. And last year he tried again with the Oline but struck out as he went too cheap.
As far as Cutler...tuff to bite my tongue and be nice...
Jerry can not draft, that is a known, so exactly what players has he drafted that are better than Cutler? We had no Pro Bowlers last year, (a throw in) Cutler came here as a ProBowler (go ahead deny that, I know you will) and after he got here, all of a sudden he wasnt. I wonder why? But he did pretty dan good job without a Running game, without a defense, without a No.1 WR. Without a good Offensive Coordinator. Gee you need all those things right? But yet Cutler really had an amazing year when you take those items into account. Imagine a QB without any help? at all. And you have a team like the bears.
As far as Ruskell, lol, Jerry has had decent draft positions and still hasnt done much, so whats the point? He's better than Jerry? By what rational? you cant go by past history as he did nothing good, so we would be hiring an unknown, correct? How is that good?
All we have is what he did, we cant go by what he didnt do.

Instead of waking up on Sunday, some coffee, a few bloody Mary's to watch the Bears game, now with this guy picking the players maybe you get up on Sunday and have a bowl of porridge and cup of warm milk.

Ruskell at first blush seems oh so ordinary.

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This page contains a single entry by Neil Hayes published on February 25, 2010 8:04 AM.

Would Ruskell be an upgrade? was the previous entry in this blog.

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