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Thursday, November 27, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks -- Arnold Works To Rebuild Seattle's Special Teams

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

------------------------------------------------------------------ DAVE ARNOLD, Seattle's special-teams coach, is feeling the heat after his units cost the Seahawks the past two games. The Hawks have made several personnel changes this week. ------------------------------------------------------------------

KIRKLAND - Practice was over yesterday and the most besieged man around Seahawk headquarters walked off the field and sat on the front seat of the team's first-aid cart. Dave Arnold laughed wryly at the symbolism.

The blame for a season suddenly gone wrong has been directed at him. The special teams he oversees have lost the Seahawks' last two games and put them in this situation, where they are fighting for survival, where the playoffs have almost slipped away.

"I also look at things that are good," Arnold said. "If we're in this thing to talk about negatives, yeah, then we're snakebit. If I remember we knocked (a fumble) and got one back last week. I know we gave up two fumbles the last two weeks, but we've done some good things."

You saw him everywhere in NBC's coverage of Sunday's 19-14 loss to Kansas City: Dave Arnold slapping his hand against his face in despair. Arnold with his mouth agape. Arnold raising his hands in ecstasy over a fumble Seattle recovered. There was too much Arnold for any one organization to see. Special-teams coaches are not supposed to get air time.

But somehow the season rests on his shoulders. The special teams are his, and if you consider the missed field goals at Kansas City eight weeks ago, the fumbled kickoff in Denver earlier this month, the botched punts at New Orleans and the blocked punt for a safety and fake punt that set up a touchdown for the Chiefs last week, the Seahawks could be 10-2 and in first place in the AFC West.

Instead, they probably won't make the postseason.

Yesterday, he was asked if he felt responsible for the predicament Seattle is in. He looked down and shook his head. He said answering the question would only do harm.

"That would only fuel a fire that has already been raging," he said.

"We're in this to win as a team," he added. "You don't want to point any fingers. I don't like it. I'm a coach; I want to win."

This week, the Seahawks began the process of rebuilding their special teams. First they brought in Wayne Sevier, a former special-teams coach in the NFL, to be a consultant - someone for Arnold "to bounce ideas off," Coach Dennis Erickson said. Then they signed a new punter, Rohn Stark, to replace the injured Rick Tuten and ineffective Kyle Richardson.

Yesterday, Arnold went to punt returner Ronnie Harris and told him he was going to be replaced by Tyree Davis, a receiver who has fielded a few punts when Harris has been injured. Harris had fumbled a punt and a kickoff, losing both for touchdowns this year. He also was unable to knock down the pass Chiefs punter Louie Aguiar threw in the first quarter that led to Kansas City's first touchdown Sunday.

Davis, having been told of the change, nodded solemnly.

"It's been a thorn in this team's side this year of the three components - offense, defense and special teams," Davis said. "It's the component that's been the least effective. Any time in any place of the special teams you have to have the mindset that you can't make a mistake."

Still, Davis insisted there have been times when special teams have won games. If you're going to point at the New Orleans and Kansas City games, you must remember that Seattle covered kickoffs well against San Diego and Tennessee. If you're going to say the Seahawks could be 10-2 with the mistakes they have made, they could also be 4-8 if some other things hadn't happened.

Which is what Arnold keeps saying. But the reality is, there is no margin of error for special-teams players; they are the one aspect most taken for granted. They are supposed to cover kickoffs well and they are definitely not supposed to fumble punts and kickoffs and they are definitely not supposed to let punts be blocked deep in their own territory, which has happened twice in the last two weeks.

Yes, the margin of error is small. And by all accounts, Seattle has stepped well past that margin. There have been questions as to why Harris wasn't replaced sooner and why starting center Kevin Mawae was forced to deep-snap on every field goal and extra point until he seemed ready to collapse from exhaustion. People have been asking why the team insisted on signing Richardson, a rookie, to replace Tuten at such an important time in the season. All are good questions.

Arnold shook his head. He hates to lose, he said. He's a coach, all coaches hate losing. He has been in football 30 years and he can name just about every loss he has had to endure. Not all the victories are as easy to remember.

"I feel like I'm really excited to play Atlanta," he said, raising his head. "I've been doing this 30 years, and if I was besieged I would have gotten out of this 30 years ago."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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