The 49ers have a new staff, the Seahawks have a new near-everything else, so the new NFL season starts with a cringe at Candlestick.
The post-lockout conventional wisdom in the NFL is that the two worst characteristics a team can have entering the regular season are:
1) a new coaching staff’
2) a new quarterback and a bunch of new, young players.
Winner gets to be least worst in the West.
Or, as Seahawks center Max Unger put it more delicately this week, “We’re still in the ‘figuring-out’ stage.”
Although the 49ers under new coach Jim Harbaugh, a rookie from college ball, are certainly in the same stage, Unger was referring to his own team. More specifically, the reference was to the offensive line, an outfit facing the most negative scrutiny seen locally since the Boeing Dreamliner. At least the plane is finally off the ground.
The fear around Seahawks headquarters is that the O-line will be in the ground Sunday, and several Sundays thereafter.
The possibility that the line’s one established vet, left guard Robert Gallery, will miss the game with a sore knee, only added to the sense of dread. The line, and the offense, based on preseason results, are about as ready for this game as Vermont was for Irene.
The lockout forced the same general conditions upon all teams. It’s just that most teams didn’t also volunteer to change nearly the entire line as well as the quarterback. In jettisoning longtime leader Matt Hasselbeck for Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks bosses conceded that the year would be a bridge to a better day. Ticket discounts, however, were not awarded.
Unger put the state of disarray this way:
“It’s amazing what happens in OTAs and mini-camps,” he said, referring to the foregone practices consumed by the labor dispute. “That’s the truth.”
Rarely does one ever hear of a football lineman regretting missing practices, but that says all that needs to be known about the desperation at hand.
Unger is in only his third season, but in terms of Seahawks tenure, he is the line’s gray eminence. To his right on the line in preseason were two rookies, James Carpenter and John Moffitt, and to his far left was tackle Russell Okung, a second-year man who missed a lot of his first year due to injuries. Gallery is an eight-year vet, but in his first season in Seattle, and as was mentioned, may not be available.
Because of the injury, Carpenter, the much-criticized first-round draft pick, practiced at left guard this week. That elevated to starting right tackle Breno Giacomini, who spent a month on the Seahawks roster last season to absolutely no renown. He was drafted out of Louisville by the Packers in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, where he came to the attention of Seahawks GM John Schneider, then employed by Green Bay. If Giacomini makes his first NFL start Sunday, he undoubtedly will come to the attention of the 49ers’ pass rush.
“Were just young — thats what it is,” head coach Pete Carroll said after practice Friday. “Im thrilled about that. In one way to look at it, if these guys can go out there and play NFL football this early and if we can hold up and start growing, were going to get way better.”
Indeed, that is one way to look at it. But as Carroll and his colleagues like to remind writers, it’s one game at a time. Which means Sunday. So much inexperience on the line figures to lead Jackson, in his first Seahawks start, to day-long doom. Naturally, the coaches don’t see it that way.
“Im very comfortable with him and what hes done up to this point,” said Darrell Bevell, the offensive coordinator who was previously with Minnesota, where he worked with Jackson and urged his hire. “Theres a lot of factors that go on outside of what hes doing, but hes been consistent, hes been professional, hes learned it, hes working with the other guys and I think it speaks volumes that his teammates chose him as a captain. So I think its going well for him.
Asked what he knows of Jackson now that he didn’t know at the start of camp, Carroll ran down a list of intangibles: Poised, easy to talk to, good communicator in the huddle, quick learner, etc.
All of which is good, except it reads like a description from Match.com. Not sure if he also likes puppies and long walks on the beach, but the guess is that fans want to know whether he can move his eyes off the hot read to a secondary receiver.
And as for Jackson being named offensive captain, well . . . who else? Nobody has been here long enough to be corporal, much less captain. Asked whether Jackson struck him as a leader, Bevell was cagey.
Well, I kind of have a little bit more information on Tarvaris than most, so I saw what he could be and what hes capable of doing,” he said. “So Im excited for him that that happened.
Hmm. The difference between capable and able is a lot more than three letters. There may be no other QB in the NFL this week under more duress: First game with a new team on the road against a division rival, and he captains a unit that failed in the preseason to score a single touchdown against a first-unit defense. Jeez.
When this large vulnerability is added to a barely adequate defense that is thin, and a schedule harder than last season, it’s difficult to see how the Seahawks get to five wins. Then again, maybe kickoff returner Leon Washington can use the extra five yards in the end zone, thanks to the new rules, to get up a head of steam to go yard twice a game.
So let’s be generous and say 5-11. But with Trauma Bowl I out of the way, it will be all better next week.