- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

RENTON, WASH. (AP) - Logic says Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford.

Seahawks president and general manager Tim Ruskell says “Trent Dilfer.”

It’s a synonym for “stop sign.”

Sanchez and Stafford are the two most coveted quarterbacks in the NFL draft. Many believe the Seahawks, owners of the No. 4 pick, are hot for one of them, because their 33-year-old quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, missed most of 2008 with a bad back.

But Ruskell is chilled by flashbacks to a kid with a prized arm from Fresno State in 1994.

Ruskell was the director of scouting for Tampa Bay who decided that year along with the rest of the Buccaneers’ staff to draft Dilfer, the nation’s leader in passing efficiency as a junior, at sixth overall. The Bucs had just finished last in their division. Their quarterback (Craig Erickson) finished the previous season with the third-lowest completion percentage in the league with the fourth-lowest passer rating.

“Trent did fine,” Ruskell said tepidly of Dilfer, whose career with the Bucs was more sixth-round than sixth overall. “But I know from our original grade, we kept going up and up and up.

“You have to be disciplined.”

Now, 15 years later, Ruskell is running another team that just finished last in its division. His Seahawks have a quarterback who missed nine games with a bulging disk in his back. Hasselbeck would have been the lowest-rated passer in the league had he played enough. And draft values of quarterbacks are still the most inflated figures west of those set by OPEC.

Yet this perceived need is not enough to convince Ruskell that the Seahawks should take a passer first.

“We have needs, but not priorities,” Ruskell said, a nod to Seattle’s belief that 2008 was an injury-filled aberration.

Ruskell also offered praise for Hasselbeck, a three-time Pro Bowl passer with two years left on his contract: “I still think he’s in his prime.”

Having just finished their worst season since 1992, the Seahawks have many more issues.

If they don’t trade down _ Ruskell said no one wants to deal up with Seattle _ the Seahawks will have their highest choice since 1997.

The smartest pick would be Wake Forest outside linebacker Aaron Curry. Renowned as perhaps the best prospect at his position in a decade, Curry could immediately replace the traded Julian Peterson and could offset the possible loss next year of franchise-designated player Leroy Hill, the other starting outside linebacker on a defense that was worst in the league against the pass.

Problem is, Curry may be gone by the fourth pick.

If so, left tackle needs attention. Pro Bowl stalwart Walter Jones is crumbling at 35 and coming off major knee surgery. Baylor’s Jason Smith, a top-rated, athletic former tight end, would fit well in new coach Jim Mora’s and his offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s plans to install zone blocking in the rushing offense. And brick wall Eugene Monroe of Virginia would fit Ruskell’s belief that a left tackle “has to be able to pass block.”

Problem is, Ruskell has always believed tackles shouldn’t be chosen in the top 10, that there’s more value in them later. Plus, he has already re-signed inconsistent right tackle Sean Locklear with the intent of having him replace Jones. He also re-signed Ray Willis, to slide in when Locklear moves over. Ruskell reiterated last week that those post-Jones plans haven’t changed.

That leaves wide receiver. Last season, seven of them went down with injuries, causing the desperate Seahawks to trade with Denver for Keary Colbert _ who was cut weeks later _ and sign Koren Robinson and Billy McMullen off their couches during the season. Then this offseason Bobby Engram, Hasselbeck’s most trusted target, left for the Chiefs as a free agent.

Yes, Seattle signed wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. But Nate Burleson is still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, and disappointing Deion Branch just had another knee operation.

That makes Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech attractive. But do the Seahawks want to spend $20 million or more in guarantees for a fourth overall pick who is weeks removed from foot surgery _ and who played just two seasons in college?

Ruskell has long valued players who have proven themselves in college for more than a year or two.

Which brings Seattle back to Sanchez. He just became USC’s starter last season.

Since drafting Dilfer in 1994, Ruskell has not taken a quarterback in the first round. Not for the Bucs, not for Atlanta when he was the Falcons’ assistant GM in 2004, and not for the Seahawks since he arrived the following year. And he’s selected only four passers in any round in the 15 years since Dilfer.

Ruskell’s been around Seattle long enough to know the Seahawks’ sad history of drafting quarterbacks first. San Diego State’s Dan McGwire was Seattle’s 16th overall pick in 1991 _ and his only distinction was being the younger brother of baseball slugger Mark. He had just five starts in four seasons with Seattle and was out of the league within five years.

The Seahawks took Rick Mirer second overall just two years after they drafted McGwire. Mirer was gone after four seasons, having thrown 31 touchdowns and 56 interceptions.

“Sometimes it’s like, ‘If I take him this high, then he’s going to be a franchise quarterback,’” Ruskell said. “It’s like paying a guy more money to do better. It doesn’t always work that way.”

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