|NFL 2007: With Alexander, Hasselbeck healthy, Seahawks think window of opportunity still open|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 31 August 2007 09:34|
First, it's the shrinking window of opportunity. The theory goes that following three consecutive NFC West titles, a first Super Bowl appearance two seasons ago and a near-miss from making another conference championship game last January - plus the resurgence of San Francisco in the division - Seattle's time is dwindling.
Then there's the window on Shaun Alexander's excellence. Surely, now that he just turned 30, he is going to begin declining. Since 2002, only 10 of the 92 players who ran for 1,000 or more yards in a season have been 30 or older.
Yet Alexander is calling 30 ``the new 20.''
``Actually, I'm 38 now,'' the 2005 league MVP said following Seattle's final preseason game when someone wished him a happy birthday, mocking the attention he is getting for being a whole year older.
Yes, the Seahawks think they have a 2-by-4 wedged under these supposedly closing windows.
``I think you have to be careful of buying into that window,'' coach Mike Holmgren said on the eve of his 16th season as an NFL head coach. ``Say you're building something up, hopefully like we've done here. You get to a point where you can think realistically about playoffs ... you're competitive and you're a playoff caliber team.
``To me, unless you lose your quarterback and you have to take a young guy and start over again, once you reach there - if you are doing things right - you have a chance to be that type of team every year. Then the window is always there for you.''
Alexander thinks that window is actually more open now than in 2005, when Seattle won the NFC championship.
``I have a better feeling about this team than any other team in Seahawk history,'' he said. ``It's always talent, then coaching, then chemistry, then health.
``We have the first three already.''
The fourth is coming back, too. Alexander is running at full strength for the first time since severely bruising his foot in last season's opener and eventually missing six games with a broken foot. He finished with 896 yards rushing, his first sub-1,000-yard season since he became the featured back in 2001.
In his absence, LaDainian Tomlinson replaced Alexander as MVP and as league record holder for touchdowns in a season. But Alexander isn't yielding to Tomlinson, who is two years his junior.
``L.T. and I, we're good friends and we talk all the time about it. But last year is really the only year that he has beat me at anything,'' Alexander said.
``If I go out there and play my best year, then stuff will speak for itself. ... No, I don't have to worry about showing anybody anything.''
He actually may be showing more this season. Alexander caught a career-high 59 passes in 2002. But he's had just 15 and 12 receptions in each of the last two seasons.
This summer, Alexander has been catching more passes - more like Tomlinson does.
``Everybody knows about Shaun as a runner, especially down near the goal line,'' quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. ``If we could start using that weapon - a lot of times you'll see him motion out and he's a decoy - but if we could start throwing him the ball and also get him some catches as check-downs, it would be a lot more yards for him.''
Holmgren thinks too much is being made of Alexander's age.
``Shaun didn't play a whole lot his first year and a half. He didn't play last year,'' Holmgren said. ``He doesn't get hit a lot. His body is a little different than the normal running back age.
``Shaun is in the best shape, I think, he's ever been in.''
Hasselbeck is also healthy again. The Pro Bowl starter from two seasons ago has played one series of the preseason opener, 1 1/2 quarters of the third exhibition and nothing else since having surgery in January on his non-throwing shoulder. Despite the rust that may still be there when Seattle opens Sept. 9 against Tampa Bay, Hasselbeck is already in better shape than he was for most of 2006, when he missed four games with a sprained knee and then broke two fingers.
He threw more interceptions (18) in 10 regular-season games and two playoff starts than he had in any of his previous six seasons as a starter.
But can he stay healthy?
His protection remains a key worry. Walter Jones, the Pro Bowl left tackle, played in just one series during the preseason following shoulder surgery, a preservation tactic for the real season. Rob Sims, a fourth-round pick in 2006, is beginning his first full year as a starter. He's the third left guard since perennial Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson signed with Minnesota before last season.
Chris Spencer, 2005's top pick, is replacing Robbie Tobeck at center. Chris Gray, the right guard, is 37. The summer began with Holmgren throwing open the right tackle job Sean Locklear has had for two seasons. Locklear retained the spot.
There's also a new tight end to replace the troubled Jerramy Stevens. But Marcus Pollard is 35.
``From the beginning we were all underdogs when we got here, no one ever gave us a chance to do anything. And we kind of built something special,'' Alexander said.
``It reminds you how hungry you always got to be, because people quickly forget.''