RENTON, Wash. -- Walter Jones' second knee surgery in eight months removed loose fragments, including scar tissue from the original operation.
It didn't remove doubt whether the man widely viewed as the NFL's pre-eminent left tackle of the last decade can play in the Seattle Seahawks' first few games, if at all this season.
The Seahawks will re-evaluate Jones, 35, in a couple of weeks to see if he can play in 2009. His rehabilitation will begin immediately.
Jones had microfracture knee surgery in December, but he practiced just three times in training camp while also hampered by back spasms.
So now the Seahawks begin life without Jones, whom former coach Mike Holmgren -- the molder of quarterback Brett Favre in Green Bay -- called the best offensive player he ever coached.
The team seems assured of Jones missing his first season opener since 2003, when he stayed out all summer in a contract dispute.
"It's kind of hard to imagine the Seahawks without Walter Jones," understudy Ray Willis said in May, when Jones was rehabilitating in the training room. "He's a freak of nature."
Jones has been to eight consecutive Pro Bowls, passing Cortez Kennedy for the most in Seahawks history, and he also has been an All-Pro four times at the most valued position on the offensive line. Despite multiple shoulder surgeries and taking off practices to soothe more pains than Jones can remember, last season marked the first time that he missed games because of injury since his rookie year of 1997.
Jones' 180 starts are second in franchise history to wide receiver Steve Largent, the first Seahawk elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"You can't really do it like he does," said Rob Sims, Seattle's starter at left guard, next to where Jones is supposed to be. "He's an unbelievable player, an unbelievable person. Walt, he's got a heart of a lion. When he gets back, we'll roll."
Until then, usual right tackle Sean Locklear will start for Jones on the left side. Willis, a former fourth-round draft pick, will start at right tackle. Rookie Max Unger, a second-round pick in April and an All-Pac-10 Conference center last season at Oregon, will compete with third-year reserve Mansfield Wrotto at right guard -- where Locklear had been scheduled to see playing time.
And the "puzzle" that new coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp hoped to solve during the Seahawks' training camp remains jumbled. Yet team president Tim Ruskell said this is why he re-signed Locklear and Willis to new deals in the last 18 months: This is the Walter Jones succession plan.
It's just that the plan is coming to fruition sooner than the team expected. For now, anyway.
"At some point, Walt is going to move on and wait his turn to go into the Hall of Fame, and Sean's going to be the left tackle ... and he's given us a chance to look at Unger more," Mora said. "In the long run, it's going to help us -- at least that's how I want to look at it."
Willis has started 10 games in four NFL seasons, all in 2008 while Jones and the rest of Seattle's offensive line was ravaged by injuries.
"We always talk to players about opportunities," Knapp said. "So really, for a lot of these guys, it's a great opportunity."
Jones isn't the only ailing Seahawks star. Cornerback Marcus Trufant, a Pro Bowler last season, might not play in the Sept. 13 season opener against the St. Louis Rams because he has yet to practice this month because of what Mora has vaguely described as a "disc issue" in his back.
Josh Wilson, normally a nickel back in long-yardage situations, is currently starting for Trufant at left cornerback.
Rookie linebacker Aaron Curry, the fourth overall draft pick, missed his second consecutive practice Thursday morning with what Mora says is a minor groin strain. Curry's status for Saturday's game is iffy.
This week, Seahawks linebackers coach Zerick Rollins said Curry must play as much as he can in each of the last three preseason games because the team is asking him to do so much -- pass rush, cover receivers, stop the run, even drop into the secondary on passing downs.
Running back T.J. Duckett sustained a concussion in last weekend's exhibition victory at San Diego. Starting left guard Mike Wahle was forced to retire, forcing Sims to move over from right guard. Wide receiver Nate Burleson now has hamstring issues, after looking strong in his return from reconstructive knee surgery. And Olindo Mare has a sore kicking knee, cooling the expected competition with 2008 draft pick Brandon Coutu for the job.
Other than that, Mora's first camp as Seahawks coach went great.
"There's no panic," Mora said. "There's nobody moping. It's just what it is."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press