If Seattle coaches haven’t learned their lesson, they should listen to Robbie Tobeck.
The best center in franchise history says the Seahawks need veteran linemen, and he should know: He was the pivot on the best line in team history — the 2001-05 group that also included All-Pros Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson and savvy vet Chris Gray, a quartet that started 65 games together during that stretch (Hutch missed 12 in 2002, and Jones sat out three in holdouts).
Tobeck came from Atlanta in 2000 and started every game from 2001 to 2005, along with Gray, who set the team record for consecutive starts after coming from Chicago in 1998.
Pete Carroll’s Seahawks could desperately use the same kind of veteran savvy and dependability those two offered alongside superstars Jones and Hutch during Mike Holmgren’s Seattle heyday.
“It helps to have some veteran guys in the locker room,” Tobeck told 710 ESPN this week. “Some guys who have been there, done it, have a track record of doing it; some guys that the younger guys can look to, ask questions of. You need a few of those guys on your team, and you need a few of those guys on your offensive line.”
These Seahawks have gone to two Super Bowls the past three seasons largely in spite of their offensive line — leaning on Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch to carry the way. This season their line was the major reason they did not get back — failing in the first half of the season, essentially costing them home field in the playoffs, and then stumbling at the end, especially in the season-ending loss to Carolina.
The Hawks have relied — many think too heavily — on line coach Tom Cable to piece together undrafted players and conversion projects next to former first-round left tackle Russell Okung.
Like most of us, Tobeck doesn’t think that is the way to forge an offensive line.
“You get lucky on a guy or two trying to convert a D-lineman,” Tobeck told 710 ESPN. “I don’t think it’s how you’re going to build an O-line in the NFL. You’ve got these guys as green as they can be, never played the position, (and) you’re asking them to play the position at the highest level that it can be played at. I don’t think that’s a way to sustain a good offensive line and add depth.”
Like us, Tobeck isn’t sure why the Seahawks won’t just take a college blocker and coach him up. We previously pointed out the offensive line the Seahawks could have pieced together by now if they had invested draft resources over the past four years.
Perhaps they will go back to drafting linemen on the first two days — something they did three times in the first two drafts under John Schneider but have done just once in the last four.
But, even if they plan to do that, the Hawks have to add a couple of veterans — especially a center. We all have seen how poorly the offense has functioned without a veteran center the past couple of years — with Max Unger injured for most of 2014, with neophyte Drew Nowak as the starter the first half of last year, with stopgap Patrick Lewis struggling against very good defensive interiors (e.g., St. Louis, Minnesota and Carolina).
The Seahawks don’t have to spend big on a guard — they can find a cheap veteran to bolster competition. But they really need to find a veteran center — and be willing to pay for him.
The ideal obviously would be for Alex Mack to opt out of his Cleveland deal and sign with the Hawks (it would cost about $8 million a year). But, if that can’t happen, the Seahawks need to find a mid-tier vet to compete at center.
Stefen Wisniewski, who talked with Seattle last year, is coming off a good season with Jacksonville and probably is worth $4 million a year. Ben Jones, Houston’s starter, also is set to be a free agent.
Seattle also could go cheap by adding Oakland’s backup, 2012 third-round pick Tony Bergstrom, to compete against Lewis, who is a restricted free agent. That assumes Schneider doesn’t pull off a blockbuster such as Kam Chancellor for Oakland starter Rodney Hudson (hey, who thought Schneider would get Jimmy Graham last year?).
Schneider knows offensive line is Seattle’s biggest weakness. As he told 710 ESPN last week, “Obviously we know what our deficiencies are, and we’re going to try to compensate for (them) as we go. But we’re not going to panic.”
Panic is not necessary, but urgency is. And so are a couple of veterans. Schneider was working for the Seahawks in 2000, when Tobeck was signed, so he should know the value of having an experienced center. He should take Tobeck’s advice and get one.