Is Walter Jones healthy? The talented left tackle has not practiced during offseason workouts, but has been running wind sprints with trainers and working out of a three-point stance. Jones had microfracture knee surgery on his left knee last season, missing four games in 2008. He's expected to make a full recovery, but if Jones can't go the Seahawks will lack some depth on the offensive line.
The return of left guard Mike Wahle from season-ending shoulder surgery also is important for Seattle, as Jones and Wahle make up the left side of Seattle's offensive line. Like Jones, Wahle did not practice during offseason workouts, but is expected to be ready to go once training camp starts.
If Jones and Wahle are not healthy, expect Seattle to move right tackle Sean Locklear from to left tackle, and to replace Locklear with Ray Willis at right tackle. Rookie lineman Max Unger has been working at left guard during offseason workouts, and is expected to fill in there if Wahle can't go. Also, expect Seattle to add another left tackle if Jones can't play.
The Seahawks have a lot of weapons with a healthy Hasselbeck, newly acquired receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, tight end John Carlson and the return of injured receivers Deion Branch and Nate Burleson. But none of that will matter if the offensive line is not healthy.
Who will win the kicking job? Olindo Mare performed well in his first year with Seattle. After earning the starting job by outdueling then-rookie kicker Brandon Coutu out of Georgia during training camp, Mare finished the season 24 of 27 on field-goal attempts with a long of 51 yards. Mare also put 31 percent of his kickoffs in the end zone, finishing in the top five in the league in that category.
Mare, who's in the final year of a two-year deal, was hoping to get an extension this season. Instead, his reward is another training camp competition with Coutu, who the Seahawks kept around on the active roster last year.
Seattle drafted Coutu in the seventh round of the 2008 draft. The Seahawks believe Coutu's an NFL-quality kicker. Coutu showed that potential by making 7-of-7 field goals during the preseason last year. However, he has not shown the ability to consistently put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs as Mare did last season, which likely gives the veteran kicker a slight advantage heading into camp.
Improve the pass rush: Seattle finished in the top 10 of the league with 35 total sacks last season. But 13 of those came against the San Francisco 49ers, which gave up a league-high 55 sacks in 2008.
Seattle struggled to generate a consistent pass rush last year, leaving the secondary vulnerable to big plays from receivers like Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Green Bay's Greg Jennings. Part of the problem was veteran pass rusher Patrick Kerney playing only seven games and needing season-ending shoulder surgery for a second consecutive year.
With Kerney out, young defensive ends Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson failed to play up to expectations. The Seahawks attempted to address the issue by signing run stuffer Colin Cole from Green Bay, freeing up Brandon Mebane to move over to the 3-technique and become more of a pass-rushing force. They also added Cory Redding through a trade with Detroit, giving them versatility up front. Redding can play both defensive tackle and defensive end.
And head coach Jim Mora believes the team will get better through the addition of defensive line/assistant head coach Dan Quinn, who has already earned kudos from guys like Jackson and Tapp for his enthusiasm and attention to detail. With all the changes, the pressure is on this group to perform up to expectations in 2009.
CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies are scheduled to report to camp July 30, with veterans reporting July 31 and the first practice scheduled for July 31.
--With the majestic Mount Rainier as their backdrop, Seattle head coach Jim Mora and league Commissioner Roger Goodell - two men who combined have been involved in the league for more than 50 years - got a chance to get better acquainted during their recent, three-day hike up the 14,411-foot peak.
"I love Jim," Goodell said. "He's one of those passionate guys who when he sets his mind on doing something he does it and he does it well. And he loves the Pacific Northwest, as you know. And he was very proud of Rainier, and he's very proud of this region and the people.
"So it meant a lot to him what we were doing."
Goodell said he and Mora spent a sleepless night before the final ascent looking at the imposing mountain, and that they also went to dinner together before traveling to Rainier.
Mora said the climb was an opportunity for the two men to bond, along with bringing some national attention to the Seahawks, with Seattle often taking a backseat to bigger market teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Mora joked about talking to Goodell about changing the 10 a.m. kickoffs on the East Coast that the Seahawks have traditionally struggled to win in the last couple years.
Mora said watching Goodell struggle through and succeed in completing the climb up Rainier showed the characteristics that help make Goodell a successful head of the league. "He's no-nonsense," Mora said. "I think he's fair. I think he's thoughtful about the issues that affect our league. And then after watching him perform for a couple days out there, because I think there is a carry over, you learn about a man, how he handles adversity and how he handles challenges.
"And to watch him handle these things, you think 'Yeah, this is the right guy. This is the guy I want running the league that I work in.'"
-- Matt Hasselbeck has been doing a little offseason conditioning on his own that requires him to get wet. Hasselbeck said during an interview with a Seattle-area radio station that he's been swimming across the Columbia River while vacationing with family at Lake Chelan, about an hour and a half east of Seattle "It's not warm," added Hasselbeck said. "Right now is a great time to kind of train on your own."
-- Seattle Seahawks running back T.J. Duckett told a Seattle-area radio station that he's looking forward to expanding his role as a short-yardage back, and believes the team's new zone-blocking system fits his style as a one-cut, downhill runner. "I would love to have more carries," Duckett said. "I'm not just wanting to settle with being a short-yardage back just because of my size. So yeah, definitely, mentally I'm ready to compete for that.
"Physically I'm ready, so it's just a matter of now going into camp and working. Working and showing what I can do. And trying - I don't want to say knocking the stigma of a big back off - but showing I can be more of a guy who runs inside the 20s or a first and second-down guy. And give the coaches more confidence that I can make things happen."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's some fear involved. You're out there in the middle of this mountain and it's pitch black, and you're out there with 12 people or so and you have flashlights on your helmet, you're looking off the side of the mountain and literally if you make one misstep you're going down. So there was a fair amount of fear involved with it, too." - League commissioner Roger Goodell on climbing Mount Rainier with Seattle Seahawks head coach Jim Mora.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Seattle still has yet to sign its top three draft picks in first-round pick linebacker Aaron Curry, second-round selection offensive lineman Max Unger and third-round pick wide receiver Deon Butler.
Last year's first-round pick, Lawrence Jackson, signed just before camp started, and second-round pick John Carlson signed after the first day of training camp.
Curry, Unger and Butler all got plenty of reps during offseason workouts, so missing a day or two of training camp won't hurt. However, if negotiations linger for any of the three it could affect playing time in the first couple weeks of the season.