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Originally published July 31, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 31, 2009 at 1:06 AM

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Steve Kelley

Health of three important veterans key for Seahawks

How Matt Hasselbeck, Patrick Kerney and Walter Jones bounce back from injuries will determine the Seahawks' 2009 season.

Seattle Times staff columnist

THE GREAT UNKNOWN — Everything has that new car smell this summer at Seahawks headquarters in Renton.

New training camp site. New up-close viewpoint for fans. New coaching staff. New schemes on offense and defense. Brand new team.

It's as if a storm blew into town and whooshed away all of the misfortune of 2008 — the injuries, the disappointing individual seasons, the 12 stunning losses.

All of this newness makes it easy for a fan to feel optimistic, to talk himself or herself into believing last season was a freak, an aberration, some ugly collision of bad breaks that would be impossible to replicate.

The Seahawks addressed almost all of their weaknesses in this offseason. They got all of the players they wanted.

"We had a plan," general manager Tim Ruskell said at Thursday's informal meeting with writers. And they followed it to the final punctuation mark.

• They signed the best receiver available in free agency, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who has caught at least 90 passes each of the past three years.

• They got the first-round pick of their dreams, linebacker Aaron Curry, who, after he signs, will be asked to be a little bit of everything and seems prepared to do it all.

• They drafted Max Unger in the second round, for versatility and security on the offensive line.

• They got bigger and added leadership and experience on the defensive line, trading for tackle Cory Redding. Ruskell said players have gravitated to Redding in the same way they used to come to Chuck Darby.

And they signed 330-pound run stopper Colin Cole, who is so enormous he should free up third-year defensive lineman Brandon Mebane to push upfield.

"If we handed out gold stars for their offseason work," Ruskell said, "we might have to start with Brandon. He's as lean and mean a fighting machine as he's ever been."

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And the Hawks added necessary size and experience at cornerback, bringing back 30-year-old free agent Ken Lucas, who played in Seattle from 2001 through 2004.

This next month is for unadulterated optimism, the month when a return to the top of the NFC West feels as real as a Lofa Tatupu blindside hit. I mean, who believes the Hawks will be rocked by the same kind of Old Testament injury plague in 2009?

• Be excited with the new one-cut-and-go running style that offensive coordinator Greg Knapp has installed. It seems better suited to running backs Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett.

• "Big Play Babs," six-year veteran Jordan Babineaux, had monstrous minicamps and is pushing Brian Russell for a starting safety spot.

• The Hawks are deep at linebacker and receiver, and with the exception of left guard Mike Wahle, they are healthy again on the offensive line.

But there is no warranty on this new car camp. And concerns can cloud the optimism.

• The three most important Seahawks are thirty-somethings who are coming off serious injuries.

Ruskell said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who turns 34 in September, is fitter than ever. But Hasselbeck played in only seven games last season and a bulging disk robbed him of his arm strength. He threw twice as many interceptions (10) as touchdown passes.

Walter Jones, arguably the best left tackle ever, had microfracture knee surgery after last season. He's finally healthy again, but he's 35.

The Hawks' best pass rusher, Patrick Kerney, has failed to finish two of the past three seasons. He will be 33 in December and had shoulder surgery late last season.

If Hasselbeck, Jones or Kerney go down, they could take all of the optimism with them.

• The secondary gave up more yards than anybody in the league last season. And as good as he has been, Lucas, the only new veteran face in the defensive backfield, is 30 and never has been to the Pro Bowl.

• And as good as the running scheme appears, Jones, who will get the bulk of the work, gained only 698 yards last season and has something to prove.

So everything feels new with these Seahawks. New can be very good, especially when you're coming off a 4-12 season. But new, even as sparkly new as the Hawks look, can be fraught with worry.

As camp opens today, these Hawks enter the great unknown.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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