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Originally published Sunday, July 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle Seahawks enter Holmgren's final season with revamped offense

Mike Holmgren's final season as coach of the Seattle Seahawks begins with the team's first training-camp practice in five days. Whether his coaching tenure ends with a sigh or a celebration will depend a great deal upon the franchise's ability to resuscitate the very thing that was Holmgren's trademark: the offense.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Key dates

Friday: Seahawks begin training camp with two practices at Northwest University in Kirkland.

Aug. 2: Seahawks scrimmage at Qwest Field.

Aug. 8: Seahawks at Vikings, exhibition game (KONG).

Aug. 16: Seahawks vs. Bears, exhibition game, (KONG).

Aug. 21: Final day of training camp.

Aug. 25: Seahawks at Chargers, exhibition game (ESPN).

Aug. 26: Rosters must be cut down to 75 players.

Aug. 29: Seahawks vs. Raiders, exhibition game (KING).

Aug. 30: Rosters must be cut down to 53 players.

The encore begins this week.

Five days and counting until Mike Holmgren's final season as Seahawks coach begins with the team's first training-camp practice. He is the coach who came to a mediocre franchise nine years ago and made it meaningful. Five consecutive postseason berths, four division titles in a row and more playoff victories in the past three seasons than in the franchise's first 30 years.

But this is it for Holmgren, and whether his coaching tenure ends with a sigh or a celebration will depend a great deal upon the franchise's ability to resuscitate the very thing that was Holmgren's trademark: the offense.

President Tim Ruskell didn't have to do much on that side of the ball when he arrived in 2005. Holmgren spent years assembling that unit, piece by piece. He drafted the running back and left guard, traded for the quarterback and preserved the continuity of an offensive line that eventually bulled the Seahawks into the Super Bowl.

Seattle led the league in scoring in 2005, but two years of erosion have taken a toll. The offense was injured in 2006 and average in 2007, which is why Ruskell spent so much of this offseason renovating it. The Seahawks hired three new assistant coaches on offense, signed two free-agent running backs and drafted a rookie to play tight end.

Ruskell is a bona-fide fixer. His three years in Seattle speak to that. He inherited an aging group of linebackers and rebuilt that group by drafting Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill in 2005 and signing Julian Peterson in 2006.

He took a secondary prone to giving up big plays and revamped it with two new safeties in 2007 and the addition of assistant coach Jim Mora.

Those solutions were on defense, though.

Ruskell's offensive additions have been more problematic. Receiver Nate Burleson didn't pick up the offense quickly, receiver Deion Branch has never put together the kind of top season the Seahawks paid for, and players such as lineman Tom Ashworth and tight end Marcus Pollard simply washed out in Seattle.

Holmgren's swan song in Seattle will depend on Ruskell's offseason additions. Will running backs Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett restore the footing of the Seahawks' ground game? Can guard Mike Wahle stabilize the offensive line that lost its edge when Steve Hutchinson left for Minnesota? Those questions haven't been answered. At least not yet. Just add those to the list of discussion topics as the Seahawks begin training camp.

Three things we know

1. Ruskell doesn't do incremental change. He prefers massive, all-encompassing overhaul. The Seahawks gave up too many long pass plays in 2006 so that offseason the Seahawks went and signed Deon Grant and Brian Russell as the starting safeties and hired Mora to coach the secondary. Last year, the running game was more like a running joke, so the Seahawks signed two free-agent running backs, waived the league's MVP from two years ago and brought in Mike Solari to coach the offensive line and Kasey Dunn to coach running backs.

2. Walter Jones is no longer invincible. The offensive tackle is not the same player he was in 2005, though that shouldn't be a shock. Many considered him the best player in the league that season. But he has got a sore shoulder that could be considered chronic, he misses days of practice now — not just a few plays — and yet come every Sunday he can be counted upon to generally erase the defender who has the unfortunate assignment of lining up across from him. That's not as automatic as it once was, though. He is not a mere mortal. Not yet. But he's not as dominant as he was.

3. The screen pass will return to Seattle's offense. It gradually evaporated with Shaun Alexander, who caught more than 40 passes three consecutive seasons from 2001 to 2003, but had fewer than 20 receptions in each of the past three years. Both Julius Jones and Maurice Morris are better receiving threats.

Three things we don't know

1. Is John Carlson ready to start as a rookie? The Seahawks decided he was the most NFL-ready of all the tight-end prospects in April's draft so they traded away their third-round pick to move up in the second round and choose him. But it was Jeb Putzier who spent a great deal of time with the first-string offense during minicamp. Where will Carlson fit in?

2. How will center Chris Spencer play? Spencer was a first-round pick in 2005 and someone Holmgren predicted to one day make a Pro Bowl, but last season there were times he struggled making the proper line calls and there are concerns about his shoulder, which has already required surgery. The Seahawks need him to gain more consistency and have Chris Gray now as a backup at center should Spencer stumble.

3. Who's going to kick? Josh Brown is gone after kicking the Seahawks into the playoffs in 2006 and this training camp will come down to a contest between rookie Brandon Coutu and veteran Olindo Mare.

Three things the Seahawks must figure out

1. Can Marcus Tubbs contribute this season? One of the most competitive battles for a roster spot in August will be at defensive tackle with players like Howard Green, Larry Tripplett and Tubbs, who has been injured in three of his four NFL seasons. But when healthy, Tubbs was a big-bodied anchor in Seattle's rushing defense.

2. How to erase what remains of Steve Hutchinson's shadow over the Seahawks' offensive line. Mike Wahle will be the fourth player to start at left guard in the three seasons since Hutchinson skedaddled to Minnesota. He's also the most accomplished. The 10-year veteran was integral enough to Green Bay that Brett Favre is still grumpy about the Packers letting him go in 2005.

3. Is one of the team's young receivers ready to grab hold of the opportunity that's up for grabs? Maybe it will be Courtney Taylor. Could be Logan Payne or perhaps Ben Obomanu. But one of those guys will have a prime opportunity to become a consistent producer with flanker Deion Branch on the mend from reconstructive knee surgery that makes his training-camp status a question.

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

Running nowhere
The Seahawks spent the offseason trying to reestablish the footing of their ground game, which has slipped to the bottom half of the league:
2007 NFL rank 2006 NFL rank 2005 NFL rank
Rush yards 101.2 20 120.2 14 153.6 3
Rush avg. 3.8 22 4.0 16 4.7 2
Rush TDs 9 22 8 27 29 1

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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