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NFL: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GETS BACK IN THE GAME

Seahawks Can Fly High or Go South

Pro football: No matter where they play in '96, unpredictable team could either win the AFC West or finish in last place.

February 03, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The best way to introduce Los Angeles to its new pro football team, perhaps, is to introduce wide receiver Brian Blades.

Seahawk players recently voted Blades the recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, given annually to one who overcame the most in pursuit of excellence.

What did Blades overcome? Well, he hasn't exactly overcome it yet.

It's a manslaughter charge against him for the accidental shooting death of his cousin last summer.

So it goes with one of football's most puzzling teams.

Exciting one minute, enraging the next.

Promising, but with a habit of finding potholes:

--They defeated the playoff-bound Philadelphia Eagles while compiling a 6-2 record in the second half of the season, second-best in the league during that time. They were also one of only three teams beaten by the New York Jets.

--Coach Dennis Erickson, in his first season after leaving the University of Miami, created football's version of Showtime, with the Seahawks averaging 30.7 points a game during a seven-game stretch late in the season.

But Magic Johnson would be a better quarterback, as Rick Mirer tied for the third-worst passing rating among the NFL regulars at 63.7.

--Their defense is led by big names--Cortez Kennedy, Eugene Robinson and former Raider bad boy Winston Moss.

Yet nobody in football was worse at defending against the run, and only five teams were worse at defending, period.

--Kicker Todd Peterson is becoming one of the league's best and had a season-ending streak of 11 consecutive field goals.

Yet the kick coverage team allowed the Kansas City Chiefs' Tamarick Vanover to break two kickoff returns for touchdowns, and allowed the Denver Broncos' Glyn Milburn to accumulate 226 yards in kickoff and punt return yardage in one game.

Is it any wonder they finished 8-8?

With age in Denver, uncertainty in Oakland, free agency in San Diego, and lingering shock in Kansas City, the former Seahawks could win the AFC West title next season.

They could also finish dead last.

A look at the good, the bad and the uncertain.

THE GOOD

Running back Chris Warren is our next Marcus Allen.

He finished fourth in the league with 1,346 rushing yards. He scored 15 touchdowns rushing, second only to the Cowboys' Emmitt Smith among NFL running backs.

And he has played that way for four consecutive seasons.

He is potentially a free agent, but is expected to sign a multiyear contract any day.

Also hot is wide receiver Joey Galloway, last year's most dangerous rookie, even more fun to watch than the New England Patriots' Curtis Martin.

Galloway finished sixth in the AFC with 1,039 yards in catches--only the 10th rookie receiver in NFL history to break the 1,000-yard mark.

He caught seven touchdown passes, scored another touchdown on an 89-yard punt return, and added an 86-yard touchdown run on a reverse. He was the league's only player to score on a run, catch and punt return.

Defensively, scouts ended the year raving about Robert Blackmon, whose five interceptions were outstanding for a strong safety, and whose hits made every highlight film.

The Seahawks also have the league's most underrated big-play linebacker in Terry Wooden, who led the team with 135 tackles.

Then, of course, there is Moss, our hero when he played with the Raiders.

He kicks. He bites. He was signed by the Seahawks this spring after they were impressed with the way he tried to gouge Mirer's eyes the previous season.

Nobody in football is dirtier, or prouder of it. Somebody once gave him a photo of the Mirer incident, and he proudly announced he was going to hang it in his living room.

THE BAD

You know it has been a tough year for a quarterback when the season-ending controversy is whether John Friesz should be the starter.

So it went for Rick Mirer, who had 20 interceptions, more than anyone else in the AFC.

The only reason the Seahawks paid Mirer a $3.334-million bonus earlier this year to keep him under contract for the next two seasons was because there was nobody better available.

Not that Los Angeles fans can be tough on struggling quarterbacks. Still, Mirer might want to ring up Jim Everett or Marc Wilson.

Mirer's 1995 season, which included struggles with a separated shoulder, reached its nadir against the Cardinals. Two passes, two interceptions.

The Seahawks' defense is also struggling.

Two of its veteran players, Robinson and defensive tackle Joe Nash, appear close to retirement.

One of the youngest defensive players, former first-round end Sam Adams, may also be close to the end if he doesn't clean up his disappointing act.

And will Los Angeles ever see cornerback Nate Odomes? He was once among the best in the game, and signed a four-year, $8.4-million contract to join the team in the spring of 1994.

But because of consecutive knee injuries--the first occurring on a basketball court--he has yet to play one down with this team.

THE UNCERTAIN

Seahawk players, heed this warning: The last thing Los Angeles needs is more bad actors.

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