The NFL is a passing league. The NFL wants it that way. It's good for ratings, and a side benefit might be that de-emphasizing "smashmouth football" could pave the way for a more brain-friendly game. So if a team wants to win in the NFL, it puts its resources towards defending the pass and, especially, improving its own ability to pass.
Apart from a franchise quarterback, no single player does more to improve a passing attack than a franchise left tackle. Left tackle is an every-play player. While other positions are often little more than decoys, or rotated in and out between snaps, a starting left tackle has a meaningful impact on every play.
Two facets of the game we intuitively understand as important for determining quarterback performance but that are not very well measured or studied, are time in the pocket and frequency of pressure. More time allows a quarterback to make more reads, and it allows a slower-reading quarterback a better chance to make the right one. A quarterback is better off ignoring his blindside as much as possible. The more he is harassed, the more attention he redirects towards protecting himself from pressure and the less attention he spends looking downfield for an open man.
That is a long form way of saying that drafting Russell Okung has improved a vital element of the Seahawks passing offense from awful to potentially All-Pro caliber. The Okie Blackhole is a born left tackle, all long arms and barrel chest. He has the girth and strength to stymie 3-4 ends and the length and footwork to shadow and drop edge rushers. Okung has some awful big shoes to fill, but though Walter Jones set an impossible standard, there is no ceiling for Okung's potential.
Winning college football starts with the head coach. So does losing college football. In retrospect, the Huskies have been screwed since Rick Neuheisel's gambling scandal. Keith Gilbertson and Tyrone Willingham may have improved UW's moral fiber, but they doomed the Huskies to bad recruiting classes and losing seasons.
That all began to change with the hiring of former USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. It started with a surprisingly rich recruiting class. Chris Polk, James Johnson and Desmond Trufant look like young studs and future NFL talents. Apart from the big names, starters and starting caliber players emerged like Drew Schaefer, Talia Chrichton and Andru Pulu. That same off-season, Sark scored a verbal commitment from Nick Montana.
The season began, and it began with a respectable, hard-fought loss to national power LSU. The next week, Washington did something it had not done since November 14, 2007: Win. It beat Idaho by 19 in a blowout. Then it won again, and not just against anyone, but against USC. Washington hosted the mighty Southern California Trojans and won.
The season ended with two straight wins but a losing record. If 5-7 can feel mighty, like an impossible promise, it felt mighty to Huskies fans.
Sark scored again with another strong recruiting class in 2010. Rivals ranked Washington sixth in the Pac-10 and 28th overall. UW's class may not rival Florida or USC, but it's a heck of a step up. The class was packed with good offensive line talent, a real problem for Washington in 2009, and the Huskies led the Pac-10 with seven Rivals-rated offensive line recruits.
Apart from the details, Sark gives Washington a respected leader and the kind of face of the franchise that helps turn around a college football program. For the first time in a long time, it seems like things will get better for UW before they get worse.
It was not long ago that fans loved Felix Hernandez but feared his imminent departure. His arbitration years were foreboding, the franchise was in turmoil and a reasonable argument could be made that the King must be sacrificed in trade for young talent. Well, Jack Zduriencik found his young talent, and he didn't have to commit regicide in the process.
Instead, Seattle re-signed Hernandez to a deal that keeps him in Seattle through the 2014 season. The phenomenon made good, who struggled with pitch selection early in his career, whom many of us are as invested in as anyone since Griffey, has settled into a perennial Cy Young-worthy prime. Felix has one of the fastest fastballs among all starting pitchers. He has four plus pitches with which he generates value. Just 24, there is a sense that Hernandez could become even better. And when he is finally called on, you know King Felix will bring everything he has and dominate in the postseason.
Few things are more repellent to me than an "In BLANK we trust" mantra. Trust is continually earned through good decision making. If one day Jack Zduriencik traded Franklin Gutierrez for Torii Hunter, because Hunter's two eyes allow him to see the path to postseason glory, I would take to the streets, torch and pitchfork in hand.
So, no, Jack Z should not inspire trust through blind faith. Jack Z has inspired hope through excellent roster decisions and good process.
No general manager is perfect, and parts of 2010 might constitute a sophomore slump for Jack, but on balance Zduriencik is way up. He targeted an undervalued resource in defense and turned the talent-thin and cash-strapped Mariners into a preseason contender. That notion fell on its face, but it was a good idea and well executed though it failed. Good process that fails may be frustrating and may make us reconsider what we deem good process, but more often good process succeeds. And because more often it succeeds, even in failure good process inspires hope.
Nothing replaces success. Nothing comes close to replacing success like hope. But nothing makes even the worst of times bearable like community.
No matter how good the talent or how smart the process or how convincing the preseason hype, your team will probably end the season a loser. The glory of great deeds is how improbable they are.
Once upon a time, the now reviled Red Sox nation was a battered and cursed lot. They lost and lost. They lost over a stretch that could swallow a lifetime. But then they won. And however much we may despise the bandwagon fans that hopped aboard a sudden contender, however much the nation is now hated, for those that stuck through, that suffered it all together when winning seemed as unlikely as winning the lottery, the 2004 World Series Championship transcended the joy a single person can feel. A community held together by desperate hope erupted into impossible celebration.
Seattle fans, we'll get there. Until then, each of us is in arms. We can laugh away the heartbreak of bad losses and worse players. We can temper each others' expectations while tacitly fueling each others' wildest dreams. We can give each other hope, because no matter how dramatically different we are in other ways, we are one as fans, and when our day comes, we are one in celebration.