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Seahawks coordinator Bates refuses to discuss LT Jones' status

RENTON, Wash. -- New Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck "has been incredible" learning the system. He said running backs Julius Jones and Justin Forsett will fit the offense well.

Yet Bates wouldn't discuss Walter Jones' status.

Speaking Tuesday for the first time since moving north from USC last month, Bates said Jones is extremely important to the Seahawks, but the coach "won't get involved with what route we're going" at left tackle, where the nine-time Pro Bowl pick plays.

Jones, 36, posted on his Twitter page last weekend that "it is time for me to retire from football." He hasn't played since Thanksgiving Day 2008 following two surgeries on his left knee.

Jones, the anchor to Seattle's offensive line since 1997, has used Twitter to hint at retirement over the last few months. But when asked publicly, Jones has said he still has a passion to play and intends to test the knee during a spring minicamp. He has been rehabilitating for months in Florida.

Seahawks executives have traded messages with Jones this week, but they have yet to reconfirm his plans for next season.

Bates is beginning his eighth year as an NFL assistant coach after his one-season stint as Pete Carroll's offensive coordinator at USC. Bates said that when he was an assistant in Denver from 2006 to 2008, Broncos offensive linemen would just stare in awe at Jones instead of watching their assigned defenders on film.

"In my short career in the NFL, he's the best left tackle I ever seen," Bates said.

"To have him play left is something special, because you don't even have to think about who that stud defensive end is," Bates added. "You just say, 'Walter's got him.'"

The Seahawks are 9-23 since the start of the 2008 season, when Jones' left knee began to ache before he had microfracture surgery in December of that year. That cost him his first games because of injury since his rookie season.

The Seahawks recently finished their worst two-year stretch since 1992 and '93. And the heir to Jones, as selected by recently ousted general manager and president Tim Ruskell, is Sean Locklear, who has been a disappointment when not injured.

Jones tried to return for training camp last summer, made it through a couple of practices, then had arthroscopic surgery on the knee in August. He later went on season-ending injured reserve. Jones' pain has been exacerbated by a kidney condition that was diagnosed when he was a rookie and keeps him from taking anti-inflammatory medication.

Last month, Jones said his knee felt good, but he acknowledged that it was a long way from playing shape. Asked whether he would try to play for another team should the Seahawks believe he's finished, Jones said, "If it comes down to that, I have had a great career."

Hasselbeck, 34, has one year left on his contract, but Bates said the quarterback has constantly been inside Seahawks headquarters learning the new offense's terminology.

Bates brings the third offense that Hasselbeck has needed to learn in the last 14 months. The new coordinator marveled at Hasselbeck's experience as a former Super Bowl and three-time Pro Bowl quarterback who "has run every play in America" under different terminology in his 11-year NFL career.

"He's a heck of a player," Bates said. "We're very fortunate to be able to walk into an organization with Matt Hasselbeck being the leader."

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