Sunday, July 31, 2011

2011 Seahawks Training Camp: July 31st News & Notes

Fans were finally reunited with players this weekend when the public got its first chance to witness Seahawks training camp at the VMAC in Renton. Change is a constant with this team, and today was no different as defensive leader and former Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu was granted his release. There is a ton to cover, so let's dive right in.

Note: Excuse the excess pics of Chris Carter. I'm doing a spotlight series on him.

Rookie CB Richard Sherman
Sherman is a tall (6'3") defensive back, and extremely aggressive. The word was that he loved press coverage, and he proved that to be true today. He jammed receivers at the line all afternoon. Mike Williams and Sidney Rice were not on the field, so it will be worth keeping an eye on Sherman to see if he can be as successful against top talent. Sherman's aggressiveness carries on down the field, and he was penalized at least once for pass interference. That may be his toughest adjustment to NFL football.

CB Brandon Browner
Browner is even more of a freak than Sherman, standing at 6'4". Seeing him next to Walter Thurmond shows just how different two players can look at the same position, and Thurmond isn't small for a DB. Browner played with the 1st team opposite of Marcus Trufant, and looked very fluid and physical. He is quiet, but demands attention on the field.

WR Doug Baldwin
Baldwin may have gotten a little more attention from me because I was watching WR Chris Carter much of the afternoon, but he's got a suddenness to his game, and plays with a ton of swagger. Seeing him in a pre-season game will tell us much more.

RT James Carpenter
This is a big man. He will have a lot of success by the looks of it. His strength and footwork in pass-blocking is impressive. Drive blocking is curiously less effective. I did not see him drive players back, but then again, he was matched against Red Bryant much of the day.

Mike Williams, Sidney Rice, Walter Thurmond, Roy Lewis, Colin Cole, Cameron Morrah, Deon Butler, Leroy Hill did not practice. Hill and Rice cannot practice until August 4th. Cole and Butler are injured. Not sure about the rest. Could just be a day off.


  1. Rookie 7th round pick Malcolm Smith is the starting weakside linebacker, at least until Leroy Hill can start practicing August 4th. 
  2. David Hawthorne is the starting middle linebacker in place of Lofa Tatupu
  3. Rookie 4th round pick KJ Wright is backing up Hawthorne at MLB, but told me he is not certain where he will play yet.
  4. Josh Pinkard will get some looks at safety, not just CB
  5. Anthony McCoy was the 2nd tight end behind John Carlson
The tempo of practice seemed quicker than last season. The pace of the drills, and the players running them seemed faster. The defensive backs stole the show. Sherman, Browner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Mark LeGree all had their moments. The corners were rolled up in press coverage seemingly every play. It was almost like watching the lineman blocking drills as receivers and cornerbacks were colliding every snap. Sherman not only played physically, but with confidence. On one play, the ball was thrown while he was in full sprint with his back to the line of scrimmage, and he swiveled his head around as the ball left the QBs hand, and was able to tip the pass in the air for LeGree to pick off. LeGree is more thick-bodied than I'd expect from his highlight clips. He did not make any especially encouraging plays, but there was something about him that inspired confidence. 

The quarterbacks were pretty bad. Charlie Whitehurst did fine, but was far from commanding. He made a few nice touch passes over the top. Josh Portis is a major project. He fumbled at least three snaps, and was inconsistent throwing the ball. Zac Lee looks like a more promising player at this point. 

Jameson Konz is an interesting talent at tight end. He seems to have good hands and good speed. It was hard to tell about his blocking. Ryan Travis is small for the position, and was not the most inspiring blocker. 

Golden Tate had a nice practice. His routes seemed crisper, although there were a few rounded corners for sure. He continues to flash reliable hands. He needs to prove it in games. Baldwin got a ton of snaps behind Tate. He is fast and looks to have strong hands. Chris Carter looks like he is behind Baldwin in the depth chart, but had a nice series where he caught three in a row, including his first against 1:1 coverage from Earl Thomas. Carter runs nice routes, and was getting separation. He did look to run a little slower when he knew the ball wasn't coming his way. The wide receivers were tough to gauge without Mike Williams or Sidney Rice out there. Where does Ben Obomanu play when they are both available? Kris Durham looks sleek and fluid, but did not get the ball thrown to him that I can recall. I could see the team keeping 6-7 receivers this year.

Pep Livingston flashed a few times rushing the passer. He's a strong kid. Red Bryant continues to just be a massive individual. When he and James Carpenter collide, the field shifts a few inches. Max Unger checked in  with a gorgeous pancake block (didn't catch who he pinned). Unger has never struck me as a particularly physical lineman, so that was good see. John Moffitt seemed to play fine. Nothing great or terrible there.

The running backs looked good, even great at times. Marshawn Lynch was hammering people as usual. Leon Washington was flitting around, but Justin Forsett looked special at times. He drew oohs and ahhs as he juked defenders on multiple occasions.

The offensive philosophy of Darrell Bevell is hard to pick-up after just one practice. They ran a ton of screen passes today, but that may just have been what they chose to install this afternoon. The same could be said of the defense. I'll be back on Tues and Thurs of this week, and should have a much better feel after seeing some more action.

Hawk Blogger's photostream


2011 Training Camp Photos

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Free Agent Frenzy Edition, Guest Scott Enyeart

It's been a crazy week of roster changes and controversy in the NFL, and Seattle has been among the most intriguing. Scott Enyeart, who has coached High School and Division I football, and has ties to the Pete Carroll coaching staff joins me for a 60+ minute conversation about what transpired and what we see as the impact to the roster. Quarterback, defensive line, secondary, linebacker, offensive line, wide receiver, running back. We talked about almost everything. Scott tells you why Tavaris Jackson might be better than you think. I tell you why Earl Thomas could change the make-up of the whole team this season. We took a number of questions from Twitter as well.

Scott is one of the most informative follows you can do on Twitter. Follow him!

Take a listen, and let us know what you think.

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Training Camp Roster Guide (Print-Out)

I put together a little roster guide for the uninitiated who are attending training camp this year. Players names, numbers, height, weight and notes I wrote about many of them. If you are a casual fan, or are bringing one along with you, print this out and bring it along with you to help them know who to watch.

Lots of stuff happens at once during these practices. Picking a few players to follow, a few story-lines to learn about will make your time much more rewarding. It especially pays off when you then see those players in the pre-season games.

**Download The HawkBlogger Roster Here**(PDF)

Understanding Lawyer Milloy's Exit

Number 36 is out on the Seahawks practice field, and there's a hard-hitting strong safety there as well. Neither player, however, is Lawyer Milloy. His absence is confusing to some, expected by others. When I ran an informal Twitter poll a few days ago about whether fans would prefer to have Milloy or Big Play Babs back in the fold, it was a landslide for Milloy. People valued his leadership, big hits, and effectiveness as a blitzer. Milloy wanted to come back as well, so why the split?

You need to turn back the clock to 2009 to get the answer. Milloy had been brought in by then Seahawks coach Jim Mora. They had the strong UW connection, and the hope was for Milloy to help mentor the secondary. It turned out Milloy did not adjust well to being a back-up. He was not a malcontent, but he admitted after that season that being a back-up was not in his DNA. Pete Carroll talked Milloy into coming back for another season with the promise he would compete for a starting role. Milloy won that competition, and was among the best players on a very good Seahawks defense for the first half of the season. He wore down as the season continued, but never stopped being a warrior and leader the Seahawks had rarely seen at the safety position.

The Seahawks front office had a tough, but rather simple, decision to make this off-season. Young Kam "Bam Bam" Chancellor was drafted to play Milloy's position last year. He was tutored by Milloy all year, and had earned spot snaps later in the year. Enough growth was shown that it was obvious Chancellor would have the advantage in winning the starting strong safety spot this year. Sure enough, the Seahawks coaching staff informed Chancellor of his position at the top of the depth chart when he arrived at camp this week. This was much more about unbridling a promising young player than it was about Milloy's lack of ability to still play.

Seattle spoke with Milloy this week as well, and likely offered him a chance to sign back with the team. Knowing that he'd be asked to fill a similar role to the one he played in 2009, Milloy chose to walk a different path. It's always possible he could be back, but only if all 31 other teams won't offer him consistent playing time. More likely, Milloy retires as one of the NFL's best safetys. You might find him wandering the sideline of a Seahawks practice or game, but competitors like Milloy are a rare breed. He is addicted to the game he plays, and being that close to it without actually being part of it is more pain than pleasure. 

Seahawks fans are lucky to have witnessed what will likely be his last great season. Milloy represents everything that is right about the NFL and leaders. Earl Thomas and Chancellor have a lot to live up to.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tale Of The Tape: Pete Carroll Re-Shapes Both Lines

Pete Carroll made it very clear that his top two priorities heading into this off-season were the offensive and defensive lines. When I rolled over in bed last night, and saw on my phone that the Seahawks had added 6'6" 338 lbs DT/DE Alan Branch to the roster, I smiled and dreamt about Tim Ruskell locked in a room somewhere trying to convince a GM that 280 lb defensive lineman are the shiznit. That begged a more sincere line of thinking. Ruskell was the poster boy for smaller "try-hard" lineman (and horrible personnel moves), and Carroll clearly values girth and size. Now that Carroll has revamped both lines, just how much of difference is there, and where?

Start with the defensive line. The starting line in 2009, the year before Carroll joined, was:

For the inches-challenged, the average height of the 2009 defensive line was 6'3.25", 6'5" for DE and 6'1.5" for DT. Whether Colin Cole was ever 299 lbs is debatable. Luckily, he's still the projected starter in 2011, so there is no gain/loss in comparison there.

Take a look at the 2011 projected lineup (if Mebane signs):

Again, the height translation there is 6'2.75" for the entire line, 6'4" for DE and 6'1.5" for DT. What the means is that Carroll has added significant bulk in to the defensive ends, and gotten a little older (both DT are the same player, but 2 years older). 

2011 Seahawks DEs are younger, heavier and shorter than 2009
DEF Line, as a whole, is older and heavier than 2009

The graph for DTs was not worth posting since it is the same two players, only two years older. Think about the defensive ends again. They averaged 267 lbs in 2009 and are 290 lbs now. That's a startling difference, completely due to the scheme change that put Red Bryant out there. The team had nobody like Bryant last season, but Branch fits that mold. Ironically, Carroll was talked into trying Bryant at the position by former defensive line coach Dan Quinn. Carroll had typically ran this scheme with the larger defensive end being closer to 300 lbs. The lack of alternative talent on the 2010 roster forced Carroll to at least consider Bryant, and he admitted on more than one occasion that he believes they have discovered a new twist by having a heavier player in that role. Branch's signing was proof of that.

Switch over to the offensive line now. The fact that 50% of the 2009 defensive line may be back in 2011 at least shows there was some talent to work with there. The offensive line is 100% turned over (Max Unger will play on both lines, but at a different position). Take a look at the Ruskell line:

Average height of the line was 6'3.2". Average height of the guards was 6'3.5", and average height of the tackles was 6'3". Let's see how that compares to the projected 2011 line:

Average height for the line is 6'5". Average height for the guards is 6'5.5", and 6'5" for the tackles. This is a younger, taller and heavier line than 2009. Check out the overall breakdowns:

Guards will be much older, heavier and taller

Tackles will be infants in comparison to their 2009 counterparts

The overall OL will be much younger, and moderately heavier/taller

Age, height and weight are not indications of talent. They are indications of what physical characteristics the front office and coaching staff value, and there are some stunning differences from the failed Ruskell philosophy that all Seahawks fans should recognize and celebrate. The age of the defensive line proves there is still work to be done there, but the renovation of both sides of the ball is well underway.

LeRoy Hill May Be Best Linebacker On Seahawks

News broke today that the Seahawks have re-signed linebacker LeRoy Hill to a short-term deal. Hill, you likely recall, was the less heralded part of the linebacker talent infusion from the first Tim Ruskell draft (Lofa Tatupu being the other). Hill had a fantastic rookie campaign, demonstrating a knack for making open-field tackles and getting to the quarterback (7.5 sacks). His numbers never were flashy after that season, but his value was clear enough to earn him the franchise tag just two seasons ago.

The promise of Hill has mostly outstretched his reality. Injuries, off-field problems and misuse by defensive coordinators limited his productivity. Most did not expect him back this season, and some even thought he could wash out of the NFL entirely.

Signing Hill today signifies the Seahawks front office believes he has enough left to bring him in to compete. It also may indicate the lack of affordable veteran linebacker help out on the free agent market. The loss of Will Herring left a huge gap in experience in that unit, so bringing on a player the coaches could conceivably start, if injuries required it, was important.

When healthy, and when his head is straight, Hill is possibly the best linebacker on this roster. David Hawthorne rightly holds that title right now, but Hill is a far superior coverage linebacker, and is a better blitzer/pass rusher. Hill's natural position is WILL (weakside), which is where Hawthorne plays now. Hill offers a nice opportunity to slide Hawthorne over to MLB.

Tatupu is injury-prone, and is not the player he once was. The best case scenario is that Tatupu can stay healthy and play well, allowing Hill to be a situational substitute in certain packages (I'd love to see him in the Bandit). A likely scenario, however, is that Tatupu will not be healthy enough or productive enough to play all the starter snaps this season. A linebacker corps of Hill, Hawthorne and Curry is vastly more athletic and flexible than one with Tatupu in it. Blitz packages would be more unpredictable. Sideline-to-sideline speed would be far better.

Nobody is cheering for Tatupu to get cut or fail. He's a warrior and a leader. Pete Carroll's philosophy places a lot of emphasis on specialization, and Tatupu is still the best coverage linebacker of the bunch. He would make a great 3rd down player in obvious passing situations.

Hill remains much more potential than production at this point. But don't be surprised if this minor footnote in free agency becomes one of the Seahawks best pick-ups during the season.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vince Young Is A Seahawks Possibility

Chris Sullivan (30AcreFortress Blogger), Scott Enyeart (college football writer and Pete Carroll whisperer) and I got together for conversation tonight. I will post the results of that discussion in another post. One juicy tidbit that emerged was the possibility of Vince Young coming to Seattle. The three of us don't always agree. I think we should upgrade Lofa Tatupu, they don't. They were ready to move on from Matt Hasselbeck, I wasn't. On Vince Young, though, we all agreed it could happen.

Pete Carroll took questions on Twitter tonight. Take a look at his answers to these two questions:

So we know he's set to announce a starter on Saturday. He also is saying the QB situation is going to get better the same day. He could just mean that Tavaris Jackson will be officially signed on Friday. That would seem odd. Scott, Chris and I agree Pete's personality is a little more playful than that. He also clearly wanted to bring in three QBs, but lost Leinart, so it would be logical to expect another one to be added to the pile. If he did have something to announce then about the QB situation, what might it be? Carson Palmer is totally out of the picture with what Mike Brown said this week. Why not Vince Young?

Here are the reasons it could happen:

  1. Carroll has a tremendous amount of respect for Young who beat his USC team in the National Championship game. Anyone who has listened to him read his Win Forever book when he talks about Young, knows how highly Carroll regards Young.
  2. Young shares a few things with Matt Leinart, who Carroll already tried to bring in before he re-signed with the Texans. Both were high draft picks. Both washed out with their first team. Both are douches.
  3. Young has better numbers than any of the other QBs on the roster, or Leinart. More wins (30-17 as starter). Better winning %. Betting QB rating (98.6 last year, 82.8 in 2009).
  4. No team appears to be interested in signing Young as a starter. Seattle could offer low contract with escalators for playing time. This might be his best chance to actually remain a starter.
Remember, the contracts Carroll is signing these QBs to makes them waivable with little, or no, cost. Three quarterbacks may start on the training camp roster, but likely only two would remain with the team after camp exits. A cheap, older vet could be signed as the 3rd string guy. Someone like Jake Delhomme. Wait and see. Saturday will be informative in any event.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Seahawcalypse? Hasselbeck Era Ends, Matt Leinart and Tavaris Jackson Join Seahawks

The next time you see Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle, it will either be for an opposing team or for his induction into the Ring Of Honor. He is the best Seahawk in history. Walter Jones may have been the best player, but nobody approached Hasselbeck's contributions to building a winner on and off the field. Emotions run high in a transition like this. Paying homage to Hasselbeck will come in a different post. The focus now is on what the moves today mean for the franchise. It takes more than the superficial analysis you will get from national sports coverage to understand what happened today.

Most "experts" will focus on all the wrong places about today's news. Matt Leinart is a castoff bust. Tavaris Jackson is not starter material. Charlie Whitehurst is no better than Leinart or Jackson. To truly understand how the team got here, you need to strip away the names, and look at what destination the front office is trying to reach. Their goal is to win a Super Bowl. It is not about making the playoffs. It's not winning the NFC West. Knowing that is the goal, ask yourself, given all of the Seahawks options at quarterback, would any of them made the Seahawks legitimate Super Bowl contenders this year or even next? Are miracles possible? Sure they are. We saw one just last year, but even that miracle ended well short of a Super Bowl victory.

The safe/conventional move would have been to take a QB in last year's draft, or this year's draft, or even trade for Kevin Kolb. That would give the front office some air cover to say they are developing a young QB. Pressure would be relieved a bit, at least for a couple of years. This front office is anything but conventional. They will assume risk when they believe the potential payoff merits it.

Strip away the names for a second and just look at these different options:

  1. Sign a veteran QB that has been injured multiple times in the last few years. Guarantee him two full years, and trust that he will be healthy enough to play both seasons. This QB would be your second-most expensive salary option, likely requiring at least $8M/year. He is the surest bet to perform well this year and next if he can stay healthy, but he has been anything but flawless the last few years. 
  2. Trade for a guy who would become your franchise QB. This guy has already proven to one reputable NFL coach that he is ready to start for a good team. Getting him will cost at least a first-round pick next year, which locks you into this player. You will not likely get another chance to acquire a franchise QB. He is also your most expensive option, likely costing $10M/year or more for 5+ years.
  3. Draft a QB in 2010 or 2011. You don't love the QB talent in 2010, and the market for QBs in 2011 is crazy to the point where almost every QB is being drafted above their talent level. If you use a 1st-round pick to get a guy like Colin Kaepernick or Andy Dalton, you know you are reaching, but the decision would be made and your fortunes would be tied to that guy.  
  4. Create an open competition for the QB position by bringing in multiple players. Sign guys that almost every other NFL team would consider second-rate, making their price considerably less than the other options. You have one QB on your roster who is set to make $4M, but that's not a guaranteed contract. Keep the guaranteed money among the QBs in camp small to allow for maximum flexibility in 2012. The winner of the competition likely only has a 1-2 year window to start before the true franchise QB is drafted. But, there's always a chance you strike gold. This option gives you least likely chance to win in 2011/12, but allows you to focus on other holes on the roster.
Carroll and Schneider attempted Option #1 first. They made an offer to Hasselbeck before the lockout. It was not enough to secure his services, and they did not believe it made sense to increase that offer to meet Hasselbeck's market demand. Why? There are a million possible reasons. The most likely is they realized they needed money to patch other gaping holes on the roster like DT, OG, and possible DE. That caused them to explore Option #2 and Option #4, after the right QB never fell to them at the right draft spot this year. 

If national reports are to be believed, the Seahawks at least made inquiries on acquiring Kevin Kolb. They obviously did not believe he was worth the asking price, which means they were not convinced he was their guy. Remember, Carroll said multiple times leading up to the 2011 draft that he and Schneider are believers in the "Aaron Rodgers" model for finding the right QB. They want to draft a guy who can sit for a few years before becoming the starter. Kolb did that for Philly, but this ain't Philly. If you are Carroll and Schneider and your career is tied to your choice at this position, taking someone else's kid may not feel all that comfortable.

That left the front office with an option that was not their first choice, but was one that would free up money to spend on other positions, preserve their 2012 1st round pick which will almost certainly be used on a QB for what should be a great QB class, and gives them the chance to develop a mentor for the kid they draft. For Hasselbeck to be that mentor, he'd have to stay healthy. There's only so much mentoring you can do when the rookie QB is thrown out on the field because you are injured. Having a healthy veteran next year matters. Cap flexibility matters as well. Jackson and Leinart will compete with Whitehurst, and someone will win the starting job. Three men will enter, only two will exit. Whitehurst will be cut if he doesn't win the battle, or at least would have to reduce his contract. Guaranteed cash for Leinart and Jackson has not been released yet. It would be a shock if either one got much. They may have guaranteed cash this season, though, which will give them a leg up on Whitehurst. 

Jackson is a guy who knows the offense and will have a big advantage coming in. He also is a guy the players respect. Multiple Seahawks have tweeted as much. Michael Robinson went as far as to say, "I'd go to war with that guy!" Leinart is the most talented of the bunch. He will be the one that benefits most from real competition. He knows this is his last shot. Whitehurst obviously knows a lot of the players, but he's never run Bevell's offense. 

Tom Cable will be installing a heavily run-oriented attack. The offensive line is young, and will have an easier time run-blocking than pass-blocking for some time. Having a quarterback that is mobile enough to avoid pressure is a bonus. Protecting the football will be paramount. The player who shows the best ability to pass accurately and wisely will win. My early money is on Leinart, for what that's worth. Although, being a left-handed means rookie James Carpenter would be protecting his blind side (unless they'd flop Okung).

The Seahawks will not win the Super Bowl in 2011. Crest-fallen? Well, pick yourself up, and pay attention. There are many more decisions to be made this off-season that will have far larger long-term impact on this team's chances of winning a Super Bowl than the QB one they just made. Put on your Seattle sports fan armor. The slings and arrows will be pouring in from all sides. People will point and laugh and mock. Let them. We are in this for the ring. Arizona can have Kolb. They are a few years from having their championship window slam shut, and Kolb won't get them one before it closes. Let Jay Cutler tease Bears fans with good-enough-to-make-the-playoffs-but-never-win-the-big-game seasons. Those franchises are farther from winning the big game than the Seahawks because their lot has already been cast with quarterbacks that will never win it all. By the time they realize that, the Seahawks will have drafted a franchise QB and be on the way up as they crash down around them. 

Carroll and Schneider are not going the conventional route. They have earned the benefit of the doubt after last season. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Episode 1 "Lockout Ends" - Seahawks Hard Knocks With WR Chris Carter

Football is more than a sport. It is the best reality show on television. Every year, kids from across the country battle with men for the honor of pulling on an NFL jersey. Fame and fortune are the lure for some, but the for the majority that make ~$400K and have careers that only last a few years, it's about love of the game. Some stars are born, and others are made. This is a series telling the story of one such player, Seahawks Wide Receiver Chris Carter, and his attempt to realize his NFL dream.

Note: Reading the profile of Chris Carter is recommended, but not required to follow along.

EPISODE I - "Lockout Ends"
Monday, July 25th, 2011 6PM

Chris started his Monday like any other day during the lockout. He was working out at the University of Washington's practice facility when he got a call from Seahawks WR coach Kippy Brown. Brown told him to report to the VMAC tomorrow morning where he will get his playbook. Come Wednesday, he will be assigned a roommate and move into a hotel for the duration of camp. That will end an arrangement where he has been staying with a fried of a friend of the family in Bellevue during the lockout. Getting creative about housing allowed Carter to work out with other Seahawks players like Matt Hasselbeck and John Carlson for the entire lockout.

When the lockout was temporarily lifted in April, Seahawks coaches sent Carter formations and motions from new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's offense. That allowed Carter to familiarize himself with how things looked, but without a playbook, he has not been able to study the offense. He knows he will need to spend some time doing that come training camp, but has gotten some help from Hasselbeck, who Carter said was familiar with Bevell's offense.

Hasselbeck spent a fair amount of time talking to Carter about former Seahawks slot receiver extraordinaire Bobby Engram. Apparently, the near-poetic timing of Engram and Hasselbeck was not only about time working together. Engram had worked out a way to point behind his back to show Hasselbeck, but not the defense, which way he was going to break on an option route. Tips like that can be invaluable for a wide-eyed rookie trying to make his place in a league dominated by clever veterans.

There will be competition at the slot position. Guys like Kris Durham and Golden Tate could see reps there. The Seahawks may also bring in a free agent in the coming days, maybe even last year's slot receiver, Brandon Stokley. Carter takes it all in stride. He plans on "being a good guy" off the field, and a fierce competitor on it. If he's nervous about his first training camp, he doesn't show it.

Little things like being a good run blocker or making plays on special teams are the key to an undrafted player making a run at the 53-man roster. Carter did not claim to be a great blocker, but is hoping to get some tips from a guy like Tom Cable. Although sleight of build, he doesn't mind contact.

Carter's world is about to get turned upside down, and he can't wait.

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In the next episode of Seahawks Hard Knocks With Chris Carter, we'll talk about his first days of training camp. Is he getting reps? Making plays? Follow along, and find out.

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Five Personnel Decisions That Will Define 2011 Seahawks

We are mere hours away from the 2011 NFL off-season officially kicking off. The CBA terms have been agreed to by both owners and the NFLPA, and free agency, trades, waiver claims all imminent. Seahawks fans have been debating a variety of personnel moves for the last few months, and for good reason. Despite the enjoyable ride to the playoffs last year, nobody doubts this is a team in transition. Pete Carroll and John Schneider inherited quite possibly the worst roster in the NFL last season, and got glowing reviews for the talent they added and their ability to maximize the talent they had. They face a far tougher task this off-season with raised expectations and almost as dire a situation in terms of talent on the roster. The team has $39M in cap room. How they spend it will play a major role in determining the next few years of the franchise and the success of Carroll's tenure. Here are five key decisions that will shape where that money gets spent, and what kind of team the Seahawks become:

1. Quarterback
Stop me if you've heard this one before. There are so many layers to this decision, the fan base and surrounding media have spent 6+ months debating it, and are still not close to either building a consensus or finding an end to it. Forget the names and the emotions for a second. don't want to talk about Hasselbe...c'mon...Whitehurst is what?...STOP. Take a clinical approach. Carroll and Schneider can:

  • Sign a free agent to start or backup
  • Make a trade for the same
The absolutely have to do one of those two things. There is only one QB on the roster. If they bring someone in to start, they could decide to build around that guy, or they could just use him as a bridge to get to their true QB.NEXT. The prevailing logic is that they will bring in a guy to bridge the time between now and when they get their future franchise QB (ETA 2012 draft). Pete has never shown much concern for "prevailing logic." He sees uniqueness as a valuable trait. Valuing the same things as other people makes for a lot of competition for those things. Taking the road less traveled can help you stand apart...or get completely lost. Trading for a QB would likely require draft choice compensation. The Seahawks are arguably in this QB quandary because they are still recovering from their last trade for a QB (Colt McCoy was drafted  after the Seahawks would have selected in the 3rd round if they hadn't traded it to the Chargers). 

Carroll is said to believe that the QB position is not as valuable in his offense as in other systems. Tom Cable certainly never invested in a decent QB. I, for one, really hope Carroll is not building his QB strategy around the belief that you don't need an elite QB to win the Super Bowl. Teams have done it, but it is exceedingly rare. The Carroll/Schneider regime will be judged on a variety of factors (e.g., cost, QB performance, team performance, etc.) when it comes to this decision. Interestingly, if they draft a QB next year, almost nothing they do this off-season at this position matters. If they don't draft a QB next year...God help them.

2. Defensive Line
Pete Carroll declared after the 2010 season that his top priority for the off-season was building up the offensive line and the defensive line. He spent his first two draft choices on offensive lineman, and is widely rumored to be adding a veteran left guard to complete the new line. The team only drafted one d-lineman, and that was at the end of the draft. Remember, this team's fortunes turned when the defensive line sustained multiple injuries. The offense was not great for the first six games, but he defense was (especially the line), and  the team was 4-2 in those games. There are very few defensive tackles that are on par with Brandon Mebane in free agency. Mebane is not a Pro Bowl performer, though, and getting into a bidding war that prices him at a "star" level could handcuff the franchise for years. Colin Cole is said to be recovering from another ankle surgery and Red Bryant is recovering from a knee injury. It this position group does not get some serious love, there is little that could be done elsewhere to make up for it. Going hard after this defensive tackles or ends in free agency is expensive, so it might not leave much money to spend on other holes. Decisions, decisions...

3. Wide Receiver
This is the glamour position of the NFL. Seattle has some talent on the roster at this spot, but there is no true #1 receiver that can dominate all over the field. Adding one opposite Mike Williams is tempting. It would also be very expensive. Getting a top tier guy like Sidney Rice or Santonio Holmes could gobble up 30-40% of your cap space. It would be a little odd to spend that kind of money at WR when the team lacks a quality QB. If you trade for a Kevin Kolb, who would be your franchise QB, it would seem much more logical to provide him weapons he needs to succeed. Signing a mediocre vet would make adding a star WR harder, and less sensible. Carroll and Schneider went hard after Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson last season, so they clearly value #1 receiving threats. Spending a ton on this position, this year, would be questionable. That doesn't mean it won't happen.

4. Offensive Line
Whether or not Seattle signs a veteran left guard is not a question. The only question is who, and how much. If the bidding goes too high for a player like Robert Gallery, the front office will face a choice of whether to steal free agent dollars from other positions of need to grab him. Decisions in free agency will come at warp speed. If the team prioritizes going after left guard first, they'll likely have to settle for the second-choice at positions like defensive tackle, defensive end and possibly quarterback. Going after their first choice elsewhere, could cost them their first choice here. The right signing here could solidify the offensive line for the next 5+ years. Losing key guys at positions on the defensive line could leave the team in dire straits for equally long.

5. Fullback
Surprise! Cornerback would be the obvious alternative, but I think the choice will be harder at fullback. Rumors are out there that the Seahawks have shown interest in Pro Bowl fullbacks like Vonta Leach. He wants to be the highest paid fullback in the NFL. Tom Cable didn't even carry a fullback on the roster last season. Marshawn Lynch is best with a fullback in front of him. Leon Washington and Justin Forsett are better as single-backs. The team's philosophy here will determine whether there is money to spend on a veteran kicker like Olindo Mare, or roll the dice on an undrafted free agent. It may also determine how many tight ends are on the roster. 

Almost as exciting as the actual moves that get made, will be observing how Carroll and Schneider handle these serious of decisions. It will tell us a lot about what they value, and will go a long ways toward either solidifying fan trust in their personnel choices or greatly increasing the angst-level among the fans.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Remember...Charlie Whitehurst? A Series Looking Back @ 2010 Seahawks

The true NFL off-season is almost upon us. Those of us who have effectively hibernated during this soul-sucking lockout can be excused if we feel the need to reacquaint ourselves with what exactly the 2010 Seahawks were. This is the seventh in a series of articles examining that team, and the implications for the imminent 2011 off-season.

Bring up Charlie Whitehurst to a Seahawks fan, and you are guaranteed to get a strong reaction. That level of passion is generally reserved for clear villains (e.g., Bobby Ayala) or established heroes (e.g., Walter Jones). Whitehurst has not done enough to fit in either category. So why they controversy? Like all good stories, it starts with a compelling opening scene.

Whitehurst was a name almost no Seahawks fan knew until the rumors of his potential acquisition started to surface. Word was that Whitehurst was a player with all the physical tools to play the position that had enjoyed great mentoring under offensive guru Norv Turner in San Diego. He was headed toward free agency and the Chargers had Phillip Rivers, so they were interested in taking offers. The competition became fierce enough between the likes of Arizona and Seattle that a 3rd-string QB, who had never played a snap in a regular season game, ended up being traded for a 3rd round pick and 20 spots in the 2nd round as Seattle swapped their 2nd round pick with San Diego's. He also got a two-year contract at a price that clearly stated he was more than a back-up. It was the first significant move of the Pete Carroll and John Schneider era, and it was for a quarterback. Given Schneider's affinity for draft choices, the trade was all the more intriguing. Some would say a 3rd round draft pick is not all that high of a price, but for a guy like Schneider, that's like trading away the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. The general analysis was that the front office overpaid in draft choices and in contract for a player who was unproven. Hopeful fans chose to believe Carroll and Schneider saw something the experts didn't. Expectations were raised. The first chapter in the Whitehurst saga was written.

Players like Taylor Mays, Jimmy Clausen and Rob Gronkowski were drafted between the pick the Seahawks gave up in round two and the one they gained from San Diego where they drafted Golden Tate. Players drafted after the 3rd round pick the Seahawks gave up (and before their next pick) include: Colt McCoy, Ed Dickson, Tony Moeaki, Jimmy Graham, and Mike Williams (the other one). There is no guarantee the Seahawks would have drafted any of these players had they kept their original draft choices, but they represent the type of value that can be had in the early 2nd and 3rd rounds. The Seahawks future may look completely different with a player like McCoy developing last year behind a veteran like Matt Hasselbeck.

Fans and the media were primed for an all-out quarterback controversy by the time the team reached training camp. Instead, it was clear to all that attended on a regular basis that there was no competition to be had. Hasselbeck was light years ahead of Whitehurst in accuracy, timing, and command of the offense. Some will claim that Whitehurst was never given a fair shot because Matt got so many more reps, but Whitehurst did little to earn more reps. I attended more than one day of practice where Whitehurst got almost ALL the reps because Hasselbeck sat out to rest. Whitehurst generally hurt his chances in those situations by continuing to be inaccurate despite a chance to gain a rhythm with more throws. Even so, he displayed a strong arm, and had the QB "aura" about him. He was confident, and it showed.

His first pre-season action was impressive. He threw for over 200 yards and two touchdowns in just a couple of quarters. Most impressive was his long touchdown to Mike Williams where Whitehurst recognized a change in the defense and checked out of the called play into an audible that directly led to the score. That was a great sign, and bred more hope that he really had learned something all those years behind Rivers and Billy Volek in San Diego. Unfortunately, he never approached that level of play again in this remaining pre-season games. He started to show some bad QB characteristics in those games. He threw off his back foot quite a bit. His willingness to stand strong in the pocket in the face of a pass rush did not seem to be there. He would start back-peddling and make a poor throw. He stared down his primary receiver, rarely looking off the safety. Worst of all, he was habitually inaccurate. Some of these things can be overcome with time and proper coaching. Whitehurst was already many years in the league, however, and was too old to expect a team to take another 3-4 years to develop him.  Hasselbeck was announced the starter to nobody's surprise, and Whitehurst took a back seat.

The next time he appeared was in week 9 after Hasselbeck was injured in the previous game. Whitehurst got the first start of his career at home against the NY Giants. The game was destined to be a blowout loss with, or without, Hasselbeck due to a series of other injuries the team sustained against the Raiders. Whitehurst, however, looked horrible. He managed just a 44.3 QB rating and a miserable 4.9 yards/attempt. He played in  a couple more games (@ARI, ATL) when Hasselbeck was either injured or embarrassingly ineffective. His QB rating in those limited chances never eclipsed 65.4. There was nothing positive to point to that could make a case that he deserved more playing time.

Whitehurst would get another chance, and this time the stakes were much higher. The Seahawks needed a win against the Rams to win the division and make the playoffs. Hasselbeck had injured himself (literally, as nobody touched while he ran in for a TD against the Bucs). Whitehurst was rushed into action against the Bucs, and again, was forgettable with a 68.3 rating and a mind-boggling 3.67 yards/attempt. He showed the heart of a kitten, checking down time after time in the face of a pass rush. His real chance came the following week when he got a full week of preparation for the Rams game. The Seahawks installed a very conservative game plan against an incredibly weak Rams offense, and Whitehurst played well enough to win. He managed a QB rating of 84.5 and did not throw an interception. His yards/attempt was still a paltry 5.33, but he did enough to win a big game and deserved some praise for it.

Whitehurst, however, got entirely too much praise for that one game. Remember that 5.33 yards/attempt? He got 61-yards on a single pass to Ruvell Martin (that was significantly under-thrown). His average on his other 35 attempts was 3.74. Folks, that is abysmal. Whitehurst deserves credit for stepping forward, but the coaches deserve more for putting together a gameplan that did not ask much of him. And the defense deserves even more credit for throttling the Rams offense, keeping them to 6 points.

Whitehurst has been in the league long enough, and has had enough chances to earn a starting role that it is now time to look elsewhere. He is not a rookie. He is not a guy who is demanding playing time with great performances in a game or on a practice field. Nobody is given a thing in the NFL. Whitehurst doesn't deserve a chance anymore than Mike Teel or JP Losman did. He has to earn it. He has not done that. Time to move one.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Seahawks Who Could Flash In 2011

Free agents are great and all, but there is a long and painful history that shows free agency is not where a team really improves. The best free agent signings are when a team that is one or two players from competing for a championship plugs those holes. A 2009 Minnesota Vikings team that was a competent quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender would be a classic example. A team like the Seahawks is dozens of players from being a team that can contend. Sure, the NFC West could fall apart again and a mediocre Seahawks team could sneak in the playoffs and make a run, but that's not the way to build a champion. Instead, Seattle will need players already on the roster to grow into more than they were last year, or draft picks to make an instant impact. Below is a run through of just a few of the players that could emerge as important parts of the 2011 Seahawks.

Leon Washington
It may come as a surprise to see Washington on this list. After all, he was a major contributor to last season's squad. His contributions, though, were limited to special teams. He carried the ball a career-low 27 times and caught a career-low 9 passes. He had never had fewer than 71 rushing attempts or 25 receptions in any previous season that was not interrupted by injury. He also scored between 3-8 touchdowns rushing and receiving each year before 2010. Expect Washington to play a larger role in the offense a full two years after his leg injury. He is a special player on screen passes and can be a great 3rd down running back on draws and other quick-hitter plays. Tom Cable also has a history of using all the running backs on his roster.

Dexter Davis
Davis was a pre-season monster last year, sacking the quarterback and dragging opposing players down behind the line of scrimmage in nearly every game. He had a mild 2010 regular season, registering only a single sack. Davis appeared to be a hard worker and quick learner. It would not be surprising to see him come into camp ahead of some teammates and earn additional snaps. It's possible the team will try him at linebacker. His best position is LEO behind Chris Clemons.

Walter Thurmond
Thurmond was hailed as a medical miracle for coming back and playing last year after a serious knee injury. His story of recovery almost seemed to excuse what appeared to be mediocre on-field performance. While everyone was talking about Thurmond, it was Roy Lewis who stood out to me. Thurmond was not great in coverage, and looked a step slow. He recently tweeted that he was back to his old self physically. He was an All-American corner in college, and if he can step forward to be a legitimate starting corner this season, it will be among the most important developments on the team.

KJ Wright
Wright is the first rookie to make an appearance on the list because of the combination of his potential and the team's needs. Wright could get time at the strongside linebacker behind Aaron Curry. He could see time at LEO behind Chris Clemons. He could play the Raheem Brock role of late last season and sub for Red Bryant in passing situations. He may even be able to sub for David Hawthorne if Hawthorne slides over to play MLB in place of Tatupu. Wright doesn't need to be special, but good linebackers don't take long to make an impact.

Earl Thomas
I debated putting Thomas on this list because he and Russell Okung are guys that really should step up, as opposed to could  step up.  They are both talented enough that big improvement is expected. Thomas, however, plays such a crucial role and has the chance to be among the best players in all of football if everything falls into place. A Pro Bowl season for Thomas in his sophomore year is possible.

Anthony McCoy
McCoy may never get another chance like the one he had in 2010. John Carlson played like crap, and every tight end on the roster got a chance to start a game. McCoy was injured and never got to see what he was capable of. He has the best combination of catching and blocking ability among the players at his position on the team. Even if he does not become the starter, he could make an impact in two tight end sets.

Kam Chancellor
BamBam was a role player last season. He contributed on special teams, was a goal-line/short yardage replacement at safety and was part of the three safety bandit package the team featured at times. He did a respectable job. Chancellor is the type of athlete that almost certainly will get your attention with additional playing time. He will smash some opposing players in the face, cause dramatic fumbles, possibly sack the quarterback and even intercept a pass or two. He will also likely look foolish at times in coverage, take unnecessary risks and look slow-footed. Chancellor's ceiling is yet to be defined. He has the physical ability to be a great safety, but also some traits that could force him into more of a specialist role like he played last season. It's too early to tell, but my money is on the former.

Players like James Carpenter, John Moffit, Marshawn Lynch, Ben Obamanu, Mike Williams and others could all make an impact with either improved play or just being new quality players on the roster. Guys like Charlie Whitehurst, Golden Tate, Aaron Curry and others were left off the list because I don't yet have reason to believe they will be measurably better this season than last.

What A Tavaris Jackson Signing Would Mean

John Clayton reported today that the Seahawks may not even make an offer to Matt Hasselbeck after the lockout and have their sights on Tavaris Jackson. I'm not one to be all that reactionary to these things, but since Jackson's name has been brought up multiple times, it's worth exploring what that move would look like.

First off, let's get to know Jackson as a QB. He is 28 years old, 6'2" tall and 225lbs.He has started 20 games in his career and his team is 10-10 in those games. He has a career QB rating of 76.6. He started a career-high 12 games in 2007 and led his team to an 8-4 record in those games (the team finished 8-8 for the season). In 2008, he started five games and was 2-3, while Gus Frerotte was 8-3. The discrepancy between a 37-year-old veteran QB in Frerotte and Jackson likely made the Vikings that much more interested in bringing a guy like Brett Favre in 2009. Jackson did not start a game in 2009 and only got one start in 2010. He has 24 TDs and 22 INTs in his career, a completion % under 60% and a Whitehurst-like 6.6 yards/attempt.

There is little to see in those numbers that would have anyone targeting Jackson as a franchise QB. His most appealing traits to a team like Seattle are that he know's Darrell Bevell's system, is young, and would be cheap. The cynical reaction would be that the Seahawks front office is bringing in a QB to compete with Charlie Whitehurst that he actually has a chance to beat. The team has to know Whitehurst has no chance of beating out Hasselbeck this year.

Let's try a less cynical perspective. Whitehurst is on the last year of his contract. The Seahawks are undoubtedly going to draft a QB in the first round next year that will be the guy Carroll and Schneider build around. They have already stated multiple times that they believe in having a QB develop behind a veteran for a few years instead of throwing them into the fire. That means the team needs a veteran starter next year. They may not want to lock up too much money in the QB position for the next two years to plug holes elsewhere, knowing that the guy they invest in will not be the long-term answer. A player like Carson Palmer has at least 2-3 years left and would be expensive. Hasselbeck may not stay healthy long enough to count on him for two seasons, leading them to have to invest more money in another stop-gap quarterback. Signing Jackson to a modest two year deal with a team option for a third gives them a guy to compete with Whitehurst this season, and a guy who can either start or backup the next couple of years. He knows the offense, and can help bring a rookie along.

There is logic in there.It just so happens to be logic I don't agree with. Hasselbeck gives the team a much better chance to compete this year and next while also bringing along the rookie they draft and allowing him to retire a Seahawk. If the Jackson signing happens, the NFC West QBOTF situation will be: Sam Bradford (STL), Colin Kaepernick (SF), Kevin Kolb (if the rumors are true ARZ), Whitehurst/Jackson (SEA). Yikes.

The truth will be revealed soon enough, but the resolution of the QB situation is one item I'm beginning to dread more than anticipate. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Say No To Sidney Rice

Somewhere along the way to a resolution of this CBA, people have become enamored with the idea of the Seahawks adding a "#1 receiver" to play flanker opposite Mike Williams. Brock Huard and Mike Salk have been discussing this the last few days on their radio show, and many callers seem to agree that the top needs for the Seahawks are QB, OG, and big-play WR. Sidney Rice is the guy who gets the most play. No Mo Lo Co! Stop the madness!

Rice will be a high-priced free agent who has had exactly one good season playing with one of the all-time great quarterbacks in his finest statistical season. Was it Brett Favre that made Rice or Rice that made Favre? Nobody can say for sure, which is part of the problem (my money is on Favre making Rice, for what that's worth). Rice then missed most of last season with a hip injury. He is a 6'4" receiver that ran a pedestrian 4.5 40-yard dash as a rookie. Before signing any wide receiver, this team needs to cement their defensive line. Putting a guy like Rice higher on the priority list than either Brandon Mebane or his replacement is irresponsible. This team is not a great wide receiver away from being a dominant team, and Rice is far from a certainty to be a great receiver.

Most folks are not enamored with Ben Obomanu, but the team did just sign him to an extension. There were exactly zero games last year when Obomanu, Williams, Brandon Stokley and Matt Hasselbeck all played a complete game. When they were all on the field, the passing game was pretty darn good, and Obomanu was a big part of that as a down-field threat. The team just drafted a 6'4" receiver in Kris Durham that is faster than Rice.

If the Seahawks insist on adding a wideout, consider the players available in a tier below Rice. There are guys like Steve Breaston, James Jones, Malcolm Floyd, Jacoby Jones or even a player like Lance Moore who could slide right into the slot role Stokley vacated.

Believe it or not, wide receiver is among the stronger position groups on this team. Given the desperate situations at QB, OG, and DT, spending top money on a wide receiver like Sidney Rice is a risk not worth taking. 

Remember...Special Teams? A Series Looking Back @ 2010 Seahawks

The true NFL off-season is almost upon us. Those of us who have effectively hibernated during this soul-sucking lockout can be excused if we feel the need to reacquaint ourselves with what exactly the 2010 Seahawks were. This is the sixth in a series of articles examining that team, and the implications for the imminent 2011 off-season.

Rusty Tillman would have been proud. The 2010 Seattle Seahawks special teams lived up to the name. There were special returns, special hits, special kicks, special coverage and special results. Leon Washington rightly got a lot of the attention with his insatiable appetite for the end zone, but so much of what made that unit great had nothing to do with Washington. Even the best kick/punt returners only score a few touchdowns each season. Elite special teams units effect field position in each and every game. Players like Olindo Mare, Jon Ryan, Roy Lewis, Matt McCoy, Kennard Cox and others helped lift Seattle special teams to a lofty #3 spot in Football Outsiders statistical rankings across the NFL.

Most fans will remember Week 3 when Leon Washington returned not one, but two kicks for touchdowns. These weren't meaningless returns either. Baseball uses the term, "money bags," when a player steals a base at a critical point in the game when the opposing team knows they want to steal. Washington's second return for TD against SD was a money return. He had already done it once, and SD had just tied the score after being down 17-0 earlier in the half. Some will tell you that he "single-handedly" won the game. That's a slap in the face of an offense and defense that was up 10-0 at halftime, but that's another story for another day.

The kickoff coverage team did not allow a TD return all year, and Mare notched 20 touchbacks to rank among league leaders. Mare connected on 25/30 FG attempts and Ryan dropped 27 punts inside the opponents 20-yard line.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider's ability to scour the waiver wire for talent and athletes works well for special teams. There is reason to hope this staff could recapture the Tillman era magic when special teams regularly helped the Seahawks win games. 

Remember...the Saints game? A Series Looking Back @ 2010 Seahawks

The true NFL off-season is almost upon us. Those of us who have effectively hibernated during this soul-sucking lockout can be excused if we feel the need to reacquaint ourselves with what exactly the 2010 Seahawks were. This is the fifth in a series of articles examining that team, and the implications for the imminent 2011 off-season.

Take a few moments and re-live one of the greatest moments in Seahawks history. Below are a collection of articles detailing the lead-up to the game, and the euphoria that followed. Read these, remember, and feel that adrenaline pumping.

Remember the QB controversy before the game?

Remember the skepticism and apathy from local media and some fans?

Remember the post-game elation?

Remember Beast Quake?

Click to watch the vicious Lynch stiff-arm
The season is coming, Seahawks fans...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Playing The Slots

Brandon Stokley was famously called the best slot receiver in the history of the NFL. Stokley reprised that role with the Seahawks in 2010, immediately becoming one of Matt Hasselbeck's favorite targets. On the rare occasion when Stokley, Mike Williams and Ben Obamanu were all healthy at the same time, the passing offense was far more potent. That included games like @NO, @ARZ and the home playoff win against NO. While many people talk about adding an impact outside receiver like Sidney Rice or Vincent Jackson, the biggest current hole in the WR corp is the starting slot receiver.

Most teams list two starting WRs, but 3 WR sets are used as much or more in many modern offenses. When the tight end is under-performing as Seattle's did in 2010, the 3rd WR becomes even more important. Stokley is a free agent, and may not be back at age 35. Deon Butler got a lot of run at the slot, but is coming off of a serious leg injury, and was not the dynamic player fans had hoped he would be even when he was healthy. The front office drafted Kris Durham in the 4th round, and he has experience playing in the slot. Danny Kelly, over at Field Gulls, wrote a nice piece on him. Durham, at 6'4", is not a prototypical slot receiver. Guys like Stokley (6'0"), Bobby Engram (5'10") and Wes Welker (5'9") are much more common. The goal of a slot receiver is to find soft spots and seams in a zone.

Teams with terrific tight ends can get away with less emphasis on a classic slot receiver because the tight end can occupy much of the same space in the middle of the field. The Seahawks enter free agency with only two players on the roster that could conceivably play slot, Durham and undrafted free agent Chris Carter. Carter (5'11") is more in the mold of Stokley, Engram and Welker. He is more quick than fast, and excels in route running and getting off the press. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Seahawks bring Stokley back to camp to create some open competition at the position. The Seahawks may choose to go younger and either roll the dice with the guys they have, or look for another young option on the market. Golden Tate could be another possibility, but given his lack of history playing the WR position and his sloppy routes, that is a real stretch. Tate would need to buy some time to train, and save up some luck.

This will be one of the positions to watch as camp opens to see who is getting reps. It is also a prime place to look for new faces who could impact the outcome of the season ahead.

Remember...Golden Tate? A Series Looking Back @ 2010 Seahawks

The true NFL off-season is almost upon us. Those of us who have effectively hibernated during this soul-sucking lockout can be excused if we feel the need to reacquaint ourselves with what exactly the 2010 Seahawks were. This is the fourth in a series of articles examining that team, and the implications for the imminent 2011 off-season.

Golden Tate was the prize the Seahawks won for holding steady in the 2nd round of last years NFL draft when many fans were begging the team to trade up or trade back. GM John Schneider happily told reporters later that the team had a 1st round grade on Tate, and were thrilled to grab the play-making wide receiver late in the 2nd. Tate's legend grew in mini-camps and training camp as he seemed to be awarded "play of the day" honors almost every practice. Teammates talked about his raw talent, but some of the enthusiasm was tempered due to just how raw that talent was. 

Tate was late to football, and had very little formal coaching on how to play the WR position. He beat his college competition largely on pure athletic ability. Route running and separation were less important than just jumping over the nearest defender and snatching the ball. Tate had special ability to "high point" the ball, grabbing it at the peak and was also a gifted runner after the catch. 

When the season started, fan expectations had been raised for Tate. Surprisingly, Tate was not on the active roster for the first game of the year. It was a blow to Tate's ego, and sent the message that he had not arrived just yet. He responded with an impressive outing in Denver, breaking tackles on the way to a big punt return and flashing his determination on a long reception.

That game would be the high point of Tate's season. An injury kept him out for a while, but even when he returned, he was behind players like Ruvell Martin on the depth chart. The season ended and players like Matt Hasselbeck were openly questioning Tate's preparation. Instead of a guy who appeared to have imminent impact, a picture was emerging of a player who may not have the work ethic and discipline required to realize his potential. 

Tate is not tall. He is not especially fast, or even all that quick. He struggles to get off of press coverage and runs sloppy routes. He will not become an impact player without some serious focus and practice. Pete Carroll has talked about making a more concerted effort to involve Tate in the offense. It is possible to mask some of Tate's shortcomings and exploit his talents by moving him around and throwing short passes and screens that allow Tate to just catch and run. 

As a 2nd round pick, Tate will be given every opportunity to become a valuable player. The front office already wasted a 3rd round pick on Charlie Whitehurst, and the glow of that 2010 draft would fade if they swung and missed on their 2nd round pick as well. 

History will tell you that wide receivers rarely burst onto the scene in their rookie seasons. Getting used to press coverage, complicated offenses, and the blinding speed of the game takes some time. Tate deserves the same leeway that any of those young receivers get. History, however, also shows that players far more talented than Tate have washed out of the league due to lack of discipline and effort. There are serious questions about his maturity that have nothing to do with "Donut-gate" or "Nascar-gate." Fans will know within a week if he has taken the off-season seriously and comes to camp in great shape. If you hear players and coaches glowing about his fitness level and his grasp of the offense, that's a great sign. If there is general silence, or comments about how he needs a few weeks to get in shape, fans should brace for the worst.

If I was a betting man, I'd go all in on Tate never becoming a valuable player. I would love to be wrong. This offense needs playmakers. The hope has to be that either Tate has matured and grabs the opportunity in front of him this season, or that Carroll and Schneider remain committed to the theme of competition and allow the best players on the field instead of the highest draft choices.

Seahawks Hard Knocks: Behind The Scenes With Chris Carter

Undrafted free agent wide receiver Chris Carter has agreed to do a series on his experience going through his first NFL training camp. Chris and I are still working out the details, but you can expect a minimum of one article per week exploring what it is like to break into an NFL training camp.

Chris will take us inside the walls of the VMAC, and share the ups and downs of a career that rides on every play.

Be sure to come back and follow his story, and feel free to leave any questions you have in the comments section. This is your chance to learn what the experience is like.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Next Chris Carter

Walking into Eric and Lisa's house for dinner was a little awkward for Chris Carter. He had never met either one of them before, and was asking if he could move into their home. This was not the tryout he envisioned when dreaming of breaking into the NFL as a young boy growing up in Danville, CA. Then again, nothing about his path to the pros was ordinary.

Carter's first memory of getting hooked on football came during the after-school program he went to in elementary school. One of the employees, Jason, taught him the basics of route running and playing the game. Carter's parents, Chris and Leona, didn't let Chris play football until he reached 6th grade. He started there as a running back before eventually transitioning to wide receiver at San Ramon Valley High School. Jerry Rice captured Carter's imagination as a kid living in the Bay Area. At 5'11", Carter was never going to be a Rice clone, but he studied the Hall of Famer and knew route running was something that could be learned at any size.

It took until his sophomore year for Carter to make the varsity squad, and until his junior year to start. A underwhelming junior season left his college recruitment mailbox empty. The team was a disappointment as well, finishing 5-5. Carter and team re-dedicated themselves heading into his senior season, and it paid huge dividends as the team won the section championship and Carter was among the state leaders with 63 catches for 1,515 yards and 19 TDs. He was named MVP of the title game, scoring three touchdowns. His stellar season attracted some attention from college programs, but little UC Davis was the only school that showed consistent interest through the recruiting process.

"Davis is not where I thought I'd end up," Carter said. "I thought my numbers would get me into a Division I school, but I was wrong."

After committing to Davis, Carter redshirted his freshmen year. Watching from the sidelines was tough, but again the waiting paid off when he won Rookie Of The Year honors for his conference as a redshirt freshmen. UC Davis was transitioning from being a Division II school to a Division I AA. The school had a tradition of winning, and was quickly humbled when facing the higher level of competition. In just his second college game, Carter's UC Davis team was set to play TCU in Fort Worth. Carter had family in Texas, and had hoped he would be able to play college ball in the state. While his team got pummeled 46-13, Carter flashed his potential by hanging 6 catches for 109 yards against a talented Division I TCU team.

"That was awesome," Carter said. "It was a day I'll always remember. It gave me confidence that I could play with guys that were supposedly a lot better than me."

He started training with Thomas Weatherspoon during his school breaks. Weatherspoon worked with pro players, including Marcus Trufant. Carter gained more confidence.

"I realized I was keeping up with pro players, and that was the first time I started thinking I had a shot of playing after college," Carter explained.

His sophomore year brought a new challenge. The Aggies played their second game of the season at Portland State. The notoriously hard turf contributed to a posterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee that ended his season. The doctors told him at the time to forego surgery.

"They told me the muscles would compensate for the lack of ligament," Carter said. "So I just rehabbed it and played my junior and most of my senior year without a PCL. I could still feel my knee, but I could do most of what I needed to do."

With four games to go in his senior season, Carter realized something was not right in the knee. The doctors found that he had been tearing cartilage as his body compensated for the lack of PCL. He opted for surgery, which included getting a new PCL from a cadaver and getting cartilage grafted from another part of his body. He spent a couple months on crutches with a straight-leg brace. The timing could not have been worse. After making 1st Team-All Conference as a junior and enjoying a steady stream of pro scouts attend his senior season practices, Carter was invited to the NFL Combine. His surgery left him unable to participate in any of the drills.

"I was in the group with Dez Bryant," Carter said. "To be that close, and not be able to do anything was really tough."

Carter waited for a phone call from a team. None came. He moved back home with his parents, and continued his rehab. He credits their never-ending support for keeping his spirits high. "I always thought I'd get a shot," he said. "I just wasn't sure when."

Getting a job at a local gym helped him stay in shape and make some money. The experience was disconcerting as he found himself in a sort of athletes graveyard. Kind of like being left out in the cold without a coat.

"Everybody seemed to have a story about, 'Back in the day, I was going to be great football player until I got injured,' and it was hard not to question yourself," Carter remembered.

Then, between some informal workouts with the San Jose Sabercats of the Arena Football League, he was out at lunch and got a call from a 425 area code. Carter answered and Trent Kirchner, Seahawks Assistant Director of Pro Personnel was on the line. The call came in December of 2010, and Kirchner told Carter that they'd like to setup a workout when he was feeling healthy enough. The workout was scheduled for January 11th, the Tuesday after the Seahawks shocked the Saints in round one of the playoffs.

That day proved to be Chris Carter's combine. He was brought in with a group of other players, including former 49ers quarterback, Nate Davis. The odds of a player with Carter's history (lightly recruited out of high school, projected as a mid-to-late round pick after college, suffered a serious knee injury) ever stepping on a pro field for even a tryout are incredibly long. Nobody would blame Carter if the moment overwhelmed him.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous," he said. "I don’t know if I’d ever been in an indoor facility before. I didn’t know what to expect. There were no defensive backs. I look over and see the cones setup for the 40 and the shuttle. The strength coach started taking us through the warm-ups. Halfway through the warm-up, you see Pete and coaches walk in, and I'm thinking, 'This is the real deal.' I had to calm myself down. At the end of the day, it’s just football."

Just as he did at every trial before him, Carter rose to the occasion. He caught every ball thrown his way, and quickly caught Coach Carroll's attention.

"I don’t know if it was nerves or I was just super fresh, but I felt like I was coming out of my breaks better than ever before. After I ran a couple of routes, Pete pulled me off to the side and started telling me that he grew up in Marin County which was an hour or so from where I grew up," Carter said.

Carroll joked with Carter for a bit before having him slide inside to run some routes out of the slot. A few reps later, Carroll pulled him aside again and asked about his health and his time in college. He told Carter it looked like he was all the way back from the injury. No other players were pulled aside by Carroll during the workout.

Footage of Chris Carter running routes in practice for UC Davis

The Seahawks fed Carter lunch and sent him back to the airport. He felt good about his performance, and then got another call from Kirchner who told him he had done well and that he, "had a good feeling."

A few weeks later, the team signed Carter to a futures contract. Before the lockout slammed the VMAC doors shut, he had a chance to meet the likes of Matt Hasselbeck and Roy Lewis. Lewis took Carter under his wing, giving him a tour of the city, and telling him tales of how he broke into the league as an undrafted free agent. Hasselbeck contacted the whole team during the lockout to arrange regular workouts, and Carter's agent urged him to find a way to attend.

Needing a place to stay, Carter's mom talked to her best friend back in Texas who happened to know a guy in Bellevue named Eric. They talked to see if Eric knew anybody with space for Carter during the lockout. Eric spoke to his wife Lisa, who noted they had an open room with their daughter away at college. They decided to invite Chris over for dinner to see what kind of guy he was. After all, Eric and Lisa still had a 10-year old son at home, and couldn't let just anyone share their roof. Another tryout for Chris. Another test that 99% of the players in the NFL never had to pass in order to pull on a jersey. And he aced it just like every test before it.

Carter effortlessly balances being a courteous guest, a role model for Eric and Lisa's son (who is now an avid football fan), and then working out with world-class athletes like Matt Hasselbeck, John Carlson, Golden Tate and more. He's not a guy that screams NFL athlete when you look at him or talk to him. He is humble, but conveys a sense of inevitability that belies his status and stature. He knows the state of the roster, and while he'd love to learn under a slot receiver like Brandon Stokley, he surely wouldn't complain if there was one fewer slot guy to beat out. Ask him who he is comparable to as a player, and he sheepishly mentions Wes Welker, before quickly clarifying that he's not anywhere near his level yet.

Players in Carter's situation have a massive mountain to climb in order to make the 53-man roster. He knows his best shot will be to find a way to contribute via special teams. Most fans don't realize how few chances players get during training camp to make an impression. Reps are given to veterans, and then to draft choices, and the remaining scraps are doled out to the undrafted free agents. The Seahawks, though, have a history of finding diamonds in the rough. Leonard Weaver, David Hawthorne, Roy Lewis, and many others have forced they way onto rosters out of obscurity. Why not Chris Carter?

Chris Carter Scouting Report: