KIRKLAND - For much of the 2006 season, Walter Jones was not only filling the role of starting left tackle but also that of big brother, teacher and assistant coach.
"Last year, I was asking him a question after every play," said left guard Rob Sims, who played next to Jones as a rookie last season.
Sims, a fourth-round pick from Ohio State who fully expected his rookie season to be spent on the bench, got thrown into the lineup and never did get comfortable.
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Now, with a few games and an offseason of practices together under its belt, the Seahawks' offensive line is feeling more like a polished unit.
"This year, I know exactly where he's going to be," Sims said of the 33-year-old Jones. "I know where his feet are going to be, where he's going to fit in. We don't have to talk about things as much."
Earlier this week, Jones admitted that he spent too much of the 2006 season concerning himself with what his inexperienced teammates were doing. He added that it affected his performance.
"I think I was worrying about too much, trying to figure out what someone else had to do," Jones said on Sunday. "There are games where you just have to go out there and worry about your job. When you start worrying about other people's jobs, that's when things are going to happen to you that you don't want to happen."
While Jones had been sidelined by a shoulder injury in recent days, he returned to the field Tuesday afternoon and is expected to be available when it counts.
In fact, all five of the players who started at the end of the 2006 season are slated to be back in the starting lineup.
"It should be easier," Jones said. "We've got four preseason games with those guys before the real bullets start flying."
It wasn't that long ago when Jones was a member of the NFL's best offensive line. In 2005, Jones was still in his prime and playing alongside Pro Bowlers Steve Hutchinson and Robbie Tobeck, along with veteran Chris Gray and up-and-coming right tackle Sean Locklear.
Hutchinson left before the start of the 2006 season, while Tobeck suffered a hip injury that eventually ended his season. Chris Spencer moved from guard to center to replace Tobeck, and Sims got forced into action at left guard.
"Last year, it was kind of a guessing game who was going to play every week," Sims said. "When you play offensive line, that's kind of hard.
"I talked to Walt, and he said it was difficult for him to play next to someone new every week. So far at camp, we've been able to keep it going. Everything's been going well."
Sims, Jones, Spencer, Gray and Locklear are all back and hoping to show improvement. With continuity being such a big key to offensive line play, the return of five starters is a good first step. But the line still has a long way to go to measure up to the 2005 unit.
"We're still young," offensive line coach Bill Laveroni said. "Chris Spencer is in his third year, and Rob Sims is starting his second season in the league. So we have more inexperience than we've had in the past.
"But they have playing time under their belt, so that's good. We just have a lot of work ahead of us."
The Seahawks' offensive statistics went down in almost every category last season, and the line played a big part in that decline.
In addition to inexperience, the team saw a decline in play from some of the veterans - most notably Jones and Locklear. Jones, who gave up seven sacks last season, admitted that he was distracted by the ongoing personnel changes. Locklear said that he just didn't play as well as he had during the 2005 season.
Said Laveroni of Locklear's decline in production: "We have a saying: You never stay the same - you get better or worse. If you don't push yourself continually to be the best at your position, there's a chance you're never going to get there."
Both Laveroni and coach Mike Holmgren commended Locklear's work this offseason, and they expect him to play more like he did in 2005 than '06.
It's also a good bet that Spencer and Sims will show improvement after getting thrown into action as first-year starters last season.
"He knows what I'm going to do, I know what he's going to do," Spencer said, "and that makes for a great working relationship."
The Seahawks' offensive line started to develop that relationship late last season, and the team is hoping things will continue to grow from there.
"We can start up from where we left off," Spencer said. "We were starting to jell the last four or five games, and now it can carry over going into this season."
Maybe then, Jones won't have to worry so much.