By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2006
DETROIT, Feb. 1 -- The quarterback says the left tackle is the best player in football. The left guard calls the team's Pro Bowl selections at quarterback, tailback and fullback a supporting cast. Welcome to the odd world of the Seattle Seahawks, a Super Bowl team that may make it cool to be an offensive lineman.
Offensive linemen usually revel in their obscurity. On some NFL teams, the blockers make pacts not to talk to reporters -- ensuring that no one starts to think of himself as a star instead of just a cog in a supposedly cohesive unit -- although they often are among the most thoughtful and personable men in the locker room. But as the Seahawks prepare to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in the Super Bowl, they are unabashed in calling their left tackle, Walter Jones, and their left guard, Steve Hutchinson, the best pair of blockers in the sport. In the case of Jones, they take it a step further.
"He's the best player on our team, for sure," Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "He might be the best player in the game."
And this is a club that includes tailback Shaun Alexander, the league's most valuable player. It turns out that the only persons who disagrees is Jones.
"That's great, man," he said Wednesday when told of Hasselbeck's characterization of him. "But I have learned in this league, man, if you buy into stuff like that, you will get a reality check."
Broadcaster John Madden, the former Oakland Raiders coach who is up for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, said the praise of Jones and Hutchinson is justified.
"They're the best," Madden said. "Walter Jones is the best left tackle. Hutchinson is one of the best guards."
Jones is in his ninth NFL season from Florida State. He has been elected to six Pro Bowls, including the last five, and the Seahawks rewarded him last offseason by signing him to a seven-year, $52.5 million contract. He has spent his career toiling on a mostly unnoticed team tucked away in the northwest corner of the country, but the Seahawks' run to the Super Bowl has put a bit of a spotlight on him. He even gets recognized now, he said, when he's out and about in Seattle.
"I don't have to have to worry about it like a quarterback, or like if Shaun goes into a store," he said. "I don't have to worry about getting mobbed or nothing. But I have fans that will come up to me and say, 'Nice game,' or something like that."
Rarely does he have a bad game. He has remarkable quickness and coordination for a man listed at 6 feet 5, 315 pounds, and he has developed his blocking techniques to the point that they're nearly perfect.
"It's unbelievable, his foot speed and his agility," Hutchinson said. "He's a competitor. He's a technician. He wants to do things right. He's the type of guy who's going to work harder than anybody in the weight room and doing sprints in the offseason. He just takes pride in what he does, and he continues to work and continues to get better."
Jones acknowledged that he pays close attention to the careers of the league's other high-profile left tackles, including Jonathan Ogden of the Baltimore Ravens and Orlando Pace of the St. Louis Rams.
"We do so much different," Jones said. "The only thing I can do to compare them to me is that both of them have got Super Bowl rings, and that's something I'm trying to get now."
Hutchinson is in his fifth season from the University of Michigan, and he has blended his game with Jones's seamlessly.
"It didn't take long for us to get on the same page and learn each other's style," said Hutchinson, who has reached the last three Pro Bowls. "After five years together, we've really just built more and more on that. It's hard to describe. It's more of a feel than a verbal communication. It's a confidence in each other. We're both pretty quiet by nature. But when we get around guys that we know, that we're used to hanging around with, we can open up a little bit."
Jones said he could tell the two would mesh virtually from the moment they first lined up alongside one another.
"We take the same approach each week, just going out and trying to be the best at our positions," Jones said. "That's one thing that Hutch has done since he got here in Seattle. He came out and we blended from the first day. You don't want to be the one that's letting the team down.
"It comes with the territory being an offensive lineman. Offensive linemen are more settled. They've kind of got everything they want to do in life. Most of the offensive linemen are married. They've got kids. They've got families. It's pretty easy to get together and have a good time. We don't care what's going on outside football. We just want to go out there and do our jobs."
Alexander, who set an NFL record this season with 28 touchdowns, runs most often to his left behind Jones and Hutchinson, although the Seahawks know how to change up and run right when a defense overcompensates. Alexander has been generous to his blockers. According to Jones, offensive linemen have received portable DVRs and monogrammed iPods from Alexander.
"All we can do is keep opening holes for him," Jones said, "and hope we get more great gifts."
And all the while, their Q ratings will continue to be bolstered.
"It has changed," Hutchinson said. "A lot of that has to do with our overall team success. I think we make up a pretty good tandem, but we have a pretty good supporting cast. The rest of our line is a great line. You've got a Pro Bowl quarterback and a Pro Bowl fullback [Mack Strong] and a Pro Bowl tailback. We've got a pretty good thing going."