- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

DETROIT — The way Shaun Alexander sees it, his job is easier than most running backs in the NFL. Such is the charmed life Alexander lives with Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson making up the left side of the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line.

“I think pretty much you all see the same thing I see from our offensive line — you see all the dead bodies laying around, and all I have to do is step over them,” Alexander said. “It’s a good thing for me.”

Make that a very good thing for Alexander, who scored a league-record 28 touchdowns this season, and a very good thing for the Seahawks, who will play in their first Super Bowl on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Ford Field.

Tackle Jones and guard Hutchinson are the best left side in the NFL. Want proof? Consider these facts:

• In the last four seasons, Seattle has finished second, ninth, fifth and sixth in yards gained. The Seahawks averaged 369.7 yards a game this season, and Alexander had 55 runs of 10 or more yards.

• Both players have started every game they have played in the NFL — 142 for Jones (including playoffs) and 72 for Hutchinson.

• Seattle allowed only 27 sacks in nearly 500 dropbacks this season, and Jones gave up just one.

• On third-and-1, the Seahawks were an impressive 21-for-23, with most of the plays having Alexander run to the left side.

• The duo has combined for nine Pro Bowl appearances. Jones will make his sixth trip to Hawaii next week, and Hutchinson earned his third straight this season.

“It’s the best side of a line I’ve ever had, certainly,” Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said yesterday.

Jones (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) and Hutchinson (6-5, 313) were first-round draft choices by Seattle, a team with an otherwise shaky opening-round draft history.

Despite only one year of Division I-A experience at Florida State following a two-year junior college career, Jones was chosen sixth overall in 1997. He quickly became a dominant player.

“Walter is such a big man, and he’s as gifted athletically as anyone I’ve seen at that position,” Holmgren said. “He moves really well, and he’s very balanced besides being so big and strong. That combination is very rare.”

As Jones, 32, became a future Hall of Famer, his contract squabbles with the club became a yearly occurrence. The sides finally came to a long-term agreement — seven years, $52.5 million — last offseason.

“Walt never showed any signs of being worried about it prior to signing the deal he got,” Hutchinson said. “Even when he got the franchise tag and didn’t have a long-term deal, he never let it show. If it bothered him or he was anxious, I couldn’t tell.”

Hutchinson, 28, played at Michigan. Guards don’t usually go in the first round — only three since 2000 — but the Seahawks deemed Hutchinson worth the 17th overall selection in 2001. Like Jones, he made an instant impact.

“Steve is as hard a working lineman as I’ve ever had,” Holmgren said. “Offensive linemen are usually that way, but he goes over the edge in his work ethic. He really wants it every play.”

Hutchinson’s only hiccup was a broken leg that cost him the final 12 games of the 2002 season. He said the chemistry with Jones didn’t take long to develop.

“It was fairly early,” Hutchinson said. “I think I had to iron out some typical rookie stuff, and Walt was already smooth sailing at that point. It helped that I did come in and play right away. I wasn’t bounced around and maybe play a game or two and then sit. We were able to form that bond.”

Agreed Jones: “It started from Day One. He came from a tough-nose school that comes out and played physical, and Steve’s been that way the whole time. He was willing to work, and as an offensive lineman, the best thing that can happen to you is being thrown into the fire. He was, and he’s been great ever since.”

Jones got his big money deal last winter, and Hutchinson is in line for a big payday next month. He is expected to command a deal similar to the five-year, $20 million one Dallas gave Marco Rivera last year.

“I made a point before the season that if we could have gotten it done, that would have been great, but when the season started, it was put on the back burner so I could concentrate on this team and getting to this point,” said Hutchinson, who added he would like to remain with Seattle.

The contract talks will wait until next week. But Holmgren knows that if this is Jones’ and Hutchinson’s last game together, it’s been a great run.

“You take two talented men with great work ethics, great natural ability and wanting it so badly, you’ve got something special,” Holmgren said.

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