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Already thin on offensive line, Seahawks lose Spencer to torn thigh muscle

RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks knew they had a puzzle to solve along their offensive line this preseason.

They didn't know that puzzle would require advanced medical degrees and crystal balls to solve.

Age: 27

Height: 6-3  Weight: 312

College: Mississippi

Experience: 5th season

Monday, Seattle lost the third member of its starting offensive line in the past four weeks when doctors determined center Chris Spencer will be out at least a month with a torn thigh muscle.

Coach Jim Mora said Spencer injured the quadriceps muscle in his left leg and will "absolutely" miss at least the first two regular season games, barring a miraculous recovery.

Spencer was taken off the field by a motorized cart in the second quarter of Saturday night's preseason win over Denver.

"That's a tough one," Mora said. "I don't want to put a timetable on it, but he won't be back soon. Hopefully sooner rather than later. But it's not going to be two weeks, it's going to be into the season."

Steve Vallos and rookie second-round draft choice Max Unger are expected to get the first shots to replace Spencer, the 26th overall draft choice out of Mississippi in 2005. Vallos started five games last season when Spencer had a bad back.

Seattle is already without nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones. The 35-year-old had his second knee surgery in eight months last week and will be out at least into September, if not longer. Mora said he'll know more about Jones' status in 10 days.

Starting left guard Mike Wahle was released at the start of training camp. The two-time Pro Bowler failed a physical after shoulder surgery.

"If you're a pessimist, you'd say, 'The sky is falling,"' Mora said, accurately summarizing the feeling of many Seahawks fans. "Well, I'm not a pessimist. I'm an optimist. I say, 'Well, this gives other guys a chance to step up."'

Those guys are the new starting line: Sean Locklear, the usual right tackle, is at left tackle; Rob Sims, last year's right guard who played just one game because of a torn pectoral muscle, is at left guard; Vallos, a seventh-round pick in 2007, is at center; Mansfield Wrotto, a fourth-round choice in 2007 who has four career starts, or Unger, an All-Pac-10 center last season at Oregon, are battling at right guard; and Ray Willis is at right tackle.

Willis, a fourth-round pick in 2005, made all 10 of his career starts last season, beginning when Locklear had a knee injury.

Yes, 2009 is looking a lot like the Seahawks' injury-filled 2008 when they finished 4-12. It was their worst record since 1992.

And the starters have played just three quarters of two preseason games.

Not exactly the ideal set up for three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to protect the bad back that cost him nine games last year.

When asked if his team even has enough bodies to practice, let alone play, Mora said: "It's right at the edge. It's close, you know. We just had a personnel meeting. We talked about that, with Grey Ruegamer not having practiced much lately. Now, we're going to get him back."

Who'd have thought Seattle would be holding its breath to get Ruegamer, a guard, healthy? The 33-year-old, who has started 17 games in 10 NFL seasons, wasn't even listed on the Seahawks' depth chart three weeks ago. He started a playoff game for the New York Giants in January 2008.

It's come to the point Mora is considering whether he should keep the rookie Unger out of the final two preseason games, to make sure he doesn't get hurt, too, because he's able to play two positions of dire need.

"That's a difficult dilemma. I think it's probably one of the reasons that the league's contemplating cutting back on the preseason, because teams get into that situation. The guy needs to play, but the more a guy plays, the more chance that he could get injured," Mora said.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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