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 firstname.lastname@example.org