RENTON – Looking at his body of work during his tenure with the Seattle Seahawks, some league observers may consider today’s draft a make-or-break moment for general manager Tim Ruskell.
Ruskell has showed an ability to find great players in the later rounds, including Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu, a Pro Bowl player in the making in Brandon Mebane and a surprisingly productive rookie in tight end John Carlson.
But his first round picks for Seattle have been nothing to write home about, with center Chris Spencer (2005), cornerback Kelly Jennings (2006) and defensive end Lawrence Jackson (2008) all yet to live up to expectations.
Add to that the three injury-plagued seasons in Seattle for wide receiver Deion Branch, whom Ruskell picked up in a trade with New England for a first round pick in 2007, and you’re left with an uneven body of work on which to judge Ruskell, who has one year remaining on a five-year contract.
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Is Ruskell on the hot seat? Only Seahawks owner Paul Allen knows for sure.
What is known is that with coach Mike Holmgren now retired, Ruskell is firmly in charge. And with new coach Jim Mora now in command, Ruskell has someone with similar approach and philosophy, with the two having worked together previously in Atlanta.
Ruskell and Mora are now tasked with leading the Seahawks back to respectability after Seattle stumbled through a 4-12 season in 2008. Today’s draft could go a long way in helping to shore up the team’s immediate needs.
The Seahawks advanced to a Super Bowl and won three NFL West division titles with Ruskell at the helm, but he has to share some of that success with Holmgren. And some Seahawks followers still harbor a grudge with Ruskell because of how he handled the Steve Hutchinson situation, with the talented offensive guard eventually leaving for Minnesota.
Even though he’s had his share of disappointments in the last four years, Ruskell said he’s OK with how the Seahawks have done through the draft in his tenure.
“We feel good about it,” Ruskell said, with Ruston Webster, the team’s vice president of player personnel, sitting next to him during Thursday’s press conference. “We can always get better. And we don’t look back in terms of those guys where it didn’t work out and say, ‘Well geez, that’s going to be the norm.’ We’re proud of what we did in ’05 to get that team to go to the Super Bowl with the Lofas and the Leroy Hills. We’re proud of the Josh Wilsons. We’re proud of those guys who have hit.
“You’re not going to hit on all of them. And you’ve got to get over that as a team, and learn from it and move on. But we’re proud of the depth that we’ve built here.”
Ruskell can certainly point to successes in defensive tackle Mebane, linebacker Hill and tackle Ray Willis as players who have so far exceeded expectations. A third-round pick, Hill started as a rookie during Seattle’s Super Bowl run. Mebane has improved each season he’s been in the league.
And Willis filled in nicely when injuries depleted the offensive line, and was rewarded with a two-year deal this offseason.
“They beat the odds,” Ruskell said. “They didn’t care about where they went in the draft. And they became good football players. You’ve got to give credit to the player.”
While Ruskell has had success finding value in the later rounds, it’s the first round where he has struggled finding dynamic playmakers, though Seattle has mainly drafted in the lower half of the first round because of its success on the football field.
That will change today, when the Seahawks draft No. 4 overall, the highest pick the team has had since 1997.
Ruskell understands the importance of making the right decision and bringing in a player who not only fits a culture built on doing things the right way – a culture he helped create in Seattle. He also needs to bring in a talented playmaker who will help the Seahawks win games.
However, Ruskell said he doesn’t believe today’s pick will define how he will be perceived during his time in Seattle.
“I don’t think that way,” Ruskell said.
“I don’t worry about my legacy.”