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.
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' horrid, 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.
Seahawks mum on 'Edge'
The Seahawks are mum on talk they are on "Edge." For now, anyway.
A team spokesman said the team would not comment Monday about the subject of Edgerrin James, amid reports the free agent and league's active leading rusher with 12,121 yards has signed with Seattle. The spokesman said the Seahawks would address the "speculation" on Tuesday, their next practice day heading into their third preseason game on Saturday at Kansas City.
The 31-year-old James, a former star with the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts, did not visit Seahawks headquarters and was not in the Seattle area on Monday. He has not taken or passed a physical, so a contract is not finished.
His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, did not immediately return e-mails and text messages seeking comment.
Seahawks coach Jim Mora did not comment on James during a 30-minute session with reporters.
When asked how his running backs have been this preseason, Mora said "just OK." He called Seattle's new running game "still a work in progress."
"We're always looking, at every position we're looking," for reinforcements, Mora said, while not specifically addressing the James talk.
Seattle has new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp installing his highly successful zone-blocking scheme for this season, and had been planning to use a triumvirate to run behind it: former Dallas Cowboys lead back Julius Jones, bruiser T.J. Duckett and elusive second-year man Justin Forsett.
In 12 combined seasons, those three have rushed for 5,125 fewer yards than James. The 10-year-veteran passed Franco Harris last season for 11th on the NFL's all-time rushing list. James is within 158 yards of both Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk on that list, and he is 191 yards behind Jim Brown for eighth.
The Cardinals finally granted James' wish to be released in late April.