Sunday, August 28, 2011

History or Future?

One of the most popular and prolific passers in Seahawks history played his last snap with the team. His replacements were mediocre, at best. The offensive line was young and inexperienced, even if it boasted some high draft choices. Fans knew it was going to be tough on offense, but nobody could have foreseen just how bad things would be in 1992 when the Seahawks set the NFL mark for offensive futility by averaging a mere 8.8 points per game.

Icon Dave Krieg had just left to play for the Kansas City Chiefs as the front office decided it was time to move on. In his place were 30-year-old Stan Gelbaugh and a former high draft choice of another team (St. Louis Cardinals), named Kelly Stouffer. The offensive line had two first-round draft choices on the left side. Rookie Ray Roberts played left tackle while 3rd-year lineman, Andy Heck slid inside to left guard. Joe Tofflemire was a 27-year old 2nd round pick getting his first shot at starting at center. Veteran Bryan Millard had moved on, and was replaced by Darrick Brilz at right guard. Bill Hitchcock rounded out the line at right tackle. No player on the line had played a snap with the guy next to him before that season.

The offense was not devoid of playmakers. Chris Warren was getting his first chance to start at running back, sharing the backfield with two-time Pro Bowl fullback John L. Williams. The receiving corps featured former Pro Bowler Brian Blades alongside Tommy Kane and Louis Clark.

Even a relatively effective running game that saw Warren go over 1000 yards (1,017 on a 4.6 avg), and the ultimate safety valve in Williams (74 receptions for 556 yards) could not overcome the relentless pass pressure the young and new offensive line allowed. The quarterbacks suffered an astounding 67 sacks on the season. That works out to over four per game. None of the quarterbacks ended the season with a QB rating over 52.9. Their completion percentages were under 50%, and their combined TD/INT ratio was 9/23. Their cumulative yards/attempt was 4.9. Any way you cut it, this was an impossibly bad passing attack, done in by faulty pass protection and mediocre-to-bad quarterback play.

The parallels to the 2011 Seahawks are undeniable, but whether this team is destined for a similar outcome is far less certain. Russell Okung has already proven to be a great pass protector when healthy. Neither Hitchcock or Roberts could claim that. Robert Gallery is a veteran in this system who has played at a high level. Just having one side of the line that has the potential to be stable gives the 2011 Seahawks a leg up on their 1992 counterparts. Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, Mike Williams, and Ben Obomanu are serious upgrades over the 1992 comparables, with all due respect to my former favorite Seahawks Brian Blades. Ron Heller would not have even been invited to training camp, let alone be the starting tight end for the 2011 Seahawks.

This year's Seahawks offense has reason to be concerned. They do have a young and inexperienced line, and they do have mediocre (at best) quarterbacks. They also have a shortened off-season. Expecting the offense to be better than it was last year goes beyond optimism to something more resembling blind faith. This team will struggle to score points. The NFL record set by the 1992 Seahawks, though, is probably safe.

The misery of 1992 lead to a high draft pick the following year that allowed the Seahawks to draft their quarterback of the future, Rick Mirer. Let that be a warning to anyone hoping for the Seahawks to tank this season.

NOTE: If you are feeling queasy, read this. It should help calm you down. 

The Morning After: Broncos Beat Seahawks, 23-20

It has been nearly 10 years since the Seahawks had an unaccomplished quarterback and an inadequate offensive line. Any fan that joined the ride following the 2005 season has never witnessed that fatal combination. That is, until this pre-season. In a game that will surely ratchet up the anxiety levels in an already unsettled fan base, Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson turned in another unimpressive outing that was inextricably linked to a no-show from his offensive line.

The Seahawks showed how bad they could be on offense this year when they were unable to run or pass, and had less than 100 yards of offense through three quarters. For the first time this pre-season, we saw Paul McQuistan get reps at both RG and RT in place of rookies John Moffitt and James Carpenter, respectively. Breno Giocomini also got time in place of Carpenter. One of the only times when Jackson got something resembling a clean pocket to throw from was the only series that had both Giocomini and McQuistan manning the right side of the line. Carpenter proved that he is not ready to be left alone to block in pass protection. He was bull-rushed and speed rushed with almost equal amounts of success. Pete Carroll admitted after the game that they left Carpenter without blocking help to evaluate his ability. They won't be happy with what they find on tape.

It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that things are hopeless. I'll even admit to day-dreaming about a Top 5 pick next year as a consolation prize for what could be a brutal season. There is, however, a clear path to improved offensive play. When LT Russell Okung returns from injury, he will be left to pass protect on his own, unlike his replacement Tyler Polumbus. Also unlike Polumbus, he will win most of those battles. Matt Williamson of Scouts, Inc. named Okung one of the NFL's rising stars yesterday and wrote that he could be in the mix with the Top 2 tackles in football if he can stay healthy. Having a lock-down left tackle allows coaches to game plan to assist others on the line who may need it, namely Carpenter. They can have a tight end stay in to block on that side. They can slide a running back or full back over to assist. The pocket can be shifted to the left side with rollouts. All of these things are common and effective. There is a cost for keeping in an extra blocker, which is one or two fewer receiving options. Fans may not see Jackson getting sacked as much, but they may see him patting the ball endlessly as he tries to find someone open (more on that in a minute).

Fans should expect to see a veteran tackle signed when the team cuts down to a 53-man roster. Some team in the NFL will let a credible older player go that could give the Seahawks an insurance policy should Carpenter just not be ready to go this season. Giocomini is a developing young player that will stick, but William Robinson is a guy who could get replaced with a vet tackle. Moffitt is easier to protect at guard, and McQuistan or Paul Fanaika already fill the role of veteran back-up. Mike Gibson is also a viable guard even if he is officially the back-up center.

As bad as protection was on Saturday (5 sacks, 10 QB hits), Jackson was more a part of the problem this week than he was last week against the Vikings. On at least two of the sacks, Jackson either held onto the ball too long or stepped toward the rushing player instead of away from him. It will take a review of the game to speak with certainty, but I counted 4-5 plays where Jackson was as much to blame for what happened as his line. Some will want to point out that receivers may not have been open. That may be true, but quarterbacks need to have a feel for how much time they are getting in the pocket and be sure to have the ball out before that pressure can effect the play. Throwing the ball away is always a better option than taking a negative play. Jackson does not demonstrate a good feel for timing, or the decisiveness needed to succeed. Writing Jackson off would be foolish, but these limitations have shown up in his past, and can't be ignored just because his line is not protecting him.

Jackson played into the fourth quarter and got the opportunity to show that he can dominate 2nd string defenses just like Charlie Whitehurst. He easily moved the team down the field for a touchdown before exiting. It should be noted that drive included 29 of the team's 58 yards rushing on the night. The talk will continue to be about Jackson and the pass protection, but what really matters is the running game. Leon Washington has earned more snaps as he looks to be the back adjusting to Cable's blocking scheme the best, and is the more explosive player out of the backfield.

As bad as the offense was, the defense performed pretty darn well, especially considering they were without key starters like Kam Chancellor and David Hawthorne. KJ Wright started in place of Hawthorne and had an up-and-down game. He looked tentative, rarely taking a confident first step either in coverage or against the run. Josh Pinkard and Atari Bigby took Chancellor's reps, and played reasonably well. Bigby had some nice hits. Kelly Jennings also sat out. Brandon Browner got the start instead, and played very well. He was badly beaten on one play, but Earl Thomas was there to break up the pass. Outside of that, Browner's coverage was fantastic. He plays a lot with his hands on the receiver, which has not resulted in as many interference or illegal contact penalties as you'd expect. It will be something to watch when the regular season starts. Walter Thurmond played his first game of the year as a slot CB, and was beaten badly on a few key plays, including a 3rd and 8 that was particularly bad. It was his first game, so making any judgments would be unfair. Marcus Trufant was one of the best players on the field, getting a great sack early on and showing he is still an above average run defender at the CB position, while still playing decent coverage. Chris Clemons played in his first game and made a dramatic interception that was the highlight of the day for the Seahawks.

The most dominant player on the Seahawks defense was Red Bryant. This was the guy fans remember from last season before his injury. He manhandled the Broncos offensive line and punished running backs. Pep Livingston deserves a mention with two sacks and three tackles for loss. I only remember one of those plays, so I'll be looking for him when I watch the game again. Malcolm Smith flashed again, collecting a sack and pursuing the ball with ferocity. Byron Maxwell was the best special teams player on the field much of the night, and was solid in coverage again. He continues to be a guy I think could be a surprise member of the final roster.

That defense, with Hawthorne and Chancellor added back into the mix, could be great. They will need to be, to make up for an offense that will struggle to score 15 points in many games. Expect the starters to get as many as three series in the last game in order to gain some confidence. Brace for lots of doom and gloom this week, but don't lose sight of some of the key young talent that is playing well (Chancellor, Browner, Sherman, Smith, etc.) and the relatively simple corrective actions coaches can take to reduce some of the problems we are seeing.


Cutting to 80: The Path To A 53-Man Roster

NFL teams are required to trim their rosters from 90 to 80 players on Tuesday. The first cuts are usually to 75 players, but the NFL is wisely giving teams some extra time to evaluate players in this shortened off-season. A quick explanation of PUP (Physically Unable to Perform). The PUP list is something that allows teams to keep injured players on their roster without counting against the 53-man limit. Players currently on the PUP (Colin Cole, Cameron Morrah, Deon Butler, Roy Lewis) DO count against the 80-man roster, so the Seahawks will need to cut 10 other players. Players that remain on the PUP list when the 53-man roster is announced will have to sit out the first six games of the season.

QB
Number kept in 2010: 3
Currently on roster: 3
Avg kept since 2008: 3
Prediction: There is little reason to expect a change here, and none of the first 10 cuts will come from this position.


RB
Number kept in 2010: 4
Currently on roster: 7
Avg kept since 2008: 5
Prediction: Justin Forsett, Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington and Michael Robinson will make the final roster. Thomas Clayton will likely stick around through the first cuts as the team needs a running back to take the bulk of the carries in the final pre-season game. That may also save Vai Taua. Both Taua and FB Dorson Boyce are possible cuts on Tuesday.



WR
Number kept in 2010: 6
Currently on roster: 12
Avg kept since 2008: 5.7
Prediction: Mike Williams, Sidney Rice, Ben Obomanu, Golden Tate are locks. Kris Durham is pretty darn near a lock due to being a 4th round pick this year. Doug Baldwin has been the best receiver in camp outside of Sidney Rice, and has shown promise as a return man. Deon Butler is injured and will either be put on PUP or waived/injured at the 53-man cut-down, so he will not be let go this week. Patrick Williams and Brandon Smith are almost certain cuts this week. It's possible the team let's Isaiah Stanbeck go as favor to allow the veteran to have the most time to catch on with another team. Ricardo Lockette is a guy they'd likely want to save for the practice squad, so he'll stick around. Chris Carter is right on the bubble for the first cuts, but is more likely to go than to stay. At least three get cut from this group on Tuesday.


TE
Number kept in 2010: 4
Currently on roster: 6
Avg kept since 2008: 3.3
Prediction: John Carlson, Anthony McCoy, and Zach Miller are locks. Dominique Byrd would seem to have earned a spot. Cameron Morrah will be put on PUP. Ryan Travis is on the bubble for this first cut. He will not make the final roster. 

OL
Number kept in 2010: 11
Currently on roster: 14
Avg kept since 2008: 10
Prediction: Russell Okung, Robert Gallery, Max Unger, John Moffitt, James Carpenter, Tyler Polumbus, Mike Gibson are locks. Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini likely stick as well. Paul Fanaika likely makes it, and probably William Robinson. Brent Osborne is a guy they probably want on the practice squad. Lemuel Juanpierre and Zach Hurd could be part of the first cuts. This is a group that could see a veteran pick-up to replace a reserve when the team gets to 53 players.

DL
Number kept in 2010: 9
Currently on roster: 17 (included Jameson Konz in this group)
Avg kept since 2008: 9
Prediction: Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Raheem Brock, Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch, Junior Siavii,  and Jimmy Wilkerson are locks. Colin Cole will either go on PUP or be waived/injured, but is safe for this first cut. Dexter Davis, Pep Livingston, Pierre Allen, Jameson Konz and Maurice Fountain are safe for the first cuts. Jay Alford, David Howard, A.J. Schable, and Teryl White are possible cuts this Tuesday.

LB
Number kept in 2010: 6
Currently on roster: 10
Avg kept since 2008: 6
Prediction: Leroy Hill, Aaron Curry, David Hawthorne, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith and David Vobora are locks. Mike Morgan and Neal Howey are possible practice squad guys. Matt McCoy is a great special teams player, but Vobora's signing appears to make him the odd man out. The team could do him the veteran favor of letting him go early. Michael Johnson is probably cut this Tuesday.

CB
Number kept in 2010: 6
Currently on roster: 10
Avg kept since 2008: 4.7
Prediction: Marcus Trufant, Walter Thurmond, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner are locks. Roy Lewis will start the year on PUP. There is a closer race than people think between Kelly Jennings and Byron Maxwell. Maxwell is strong on special teams, but Jennings has experience. I would not be shocked to see Maxwell get that spot. Ron Parker, Kennard Cox, and Jesse Hoffman are all at risk on Tuesday. Expect 1-3 players from this group to be part of first cuts.

Safeties
Number kept in 2010: 4
Currently on roster: 7
Avg kept since 2008: 4
Prediction: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Josh Pinkard, and Atari Bigby are locks. Mark LeGree is someone they'd like for the practice squad. Jeron Johnson is another practice squad possibility. Ricky Thenarse is a likely cut this Tuesday.


Special Teams
Number kept in 2010: 3
Currently on roster: 4
Avg kept since 2008: 3.3
Prediction: Jon Ryan, Jeff Reed and Clint Gresham (long snapper) are locks. Jon Gold will be let go, but probably will do all the punting in the final pre-season game to play it safe with Jon Ryan. It's not likely a cut will happen here on Tuesday, but it's not out of the question.

Guessing the first 10 cuts: Ron Parker, Michael Johnson, Teryl White, David Howard, Zach Hurd, Patrick Williams, Brandon Smith, Kennard Cox, A.J. Schable, Ricky Thenarse.

It's going to be a rough few days for about 20 guys on the roster who are hoping they don't get called.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Spotlight On Coaches Tonight, Not Players

Sign a contract to play quarterback in a new city, and you can expect all the scrutiny in the world. Get picked in the first round round to play tackle, and you can expect similar dissection of your every move. Those scripts have played out pretty much as expected as Tarvaris Jackson, Russell Okung and James Carpenter have gotten the lion's share of criticism in the first two weeks of the pre-season. Now, what about the guys that are hired to be in charge of all those players on offense? Darrell Bevell was hired to run the offense and Tom Cable was hired as Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach. They are responsible for putting these players in positions to succeed despite youth, unfamiliarity, and limited time.Yet, when Bevell clearly was asking Jackson to test out longer drops and  routes in the game against Minnesota last week, despite heavy blitzing, it was Jackson that was criticized. When players were continually unaccounted for on blitzes, it was Carpenter that took the slings and arrows.

The first two games of pre-season football are about installing plays and evaluating players far more than trying to win. There is little-to-no game planning, and if a defense wants to blitz, they will probably enjoy far more success than they would in a regular season game. Now, it's the third game of the pre-season. This is the game where coaches treat it as closely to a regular season contest as possible. Some players will sit out with injuries that would not hold them out in a normal game, but the play-calling and preparation will mostly be there.

One of the biggest reasons Jeremy Bates is no longer the offensive coordinator in Seattle is the lack of commitment to running the football. There were plenty of jokes about 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1 play calls that had were targeting receivers 30 yards down-field. More than anything else, the thing that matters most tonight is the run/pass mix. It matters even more than the results of those runs and passes. How often do Cable and Bevell dial-up runs on consecutive plays? Do they come back to the run even if there is not success early? Do they stick with the run if they do have success early? While the bulk of discussion so far has been about quarterback play and pass protection, make no mistake that the effectiveness of the running game will determine the course of this season.

Take Carpenter for a second. He will be facing players like Von Miller and possible Elvis Dumervill this week. Carpenter will have as much as an 80 lb disparity with these guys. You don't have to be a football expert to know who has the advantage in a pushing match and who has the advantage in a foot race. Think about what it does to those undersized ends to have a 325 lb man launching himself into them over and over again. Not only is it physically taxing, but it impacts their ability to get off the ball when there is a passing play because they will have run defense etched in their brains. Now, that's not to say Carpenter is hopeless in pass protection either. Multiple sports radio guys this week said Carpenter doesn't have "fast feet" almost as if it's obvious a 320+ lb guy wouldn't. Carpenter displayed some of the best feet at the Senior Bowl this year, so don't believe everything you hear on that front. But I digress...

The Seahawks ran the ball 43 times in the first game of the pre-season.  The Seahawks did not run the ball more than 36 times in a game last season, and only ran more than 30 times four times. A 3.1 yards-per-carry (YPC) in that first game is nothing to get excited about, but the commitment to the run certainly is. The team dropped total rushes down to 31 last week as they clearly worked on more things in the passing game, but the YPC jumped to 4.8, helped by some QB scrambles.

Running is not the only thing that can alleviate pressure on a young line and limited quarterback. The Seahawks came out in the second half of last week's game with a focus on three-step drop pass plays, and simplified quick reads for Charlie Whitehurst. To the untrained eye, it made Whitehurst look like Tom Brady compared to Jackson. His pedestrian 5.1 yards-per-attempt proves otherwise. Mixing in some quick passes with a committed running attack can go a long way toward making the game simpler and reducing negative plays.

Moving down the field in short chunks is no way to score with any consistency, but it will at least give the offense a rhythm and confidence. It also may the team's best chance to score at this point, which would be an accomplishment by itself since the first team is yet to put a point on the board. So let's see what Bevell dials-up. Look for his ability to counter what Denver throws out there. Look for the repeatability of the plays that succeed. Golden Tate has rightfully been criticized, but he's yet to get the ball in space. That's on Bevell.

Cable is on the hook for reducing the mental mistakes by the blockers. That expands beyond the offensive line to the tight ends and running backs. Marshawn Lynch blew his blocking assignment on multiple plays last week that led to unnecessary pressure on Jackson. This will be another road game that will test the discipline of the line to avoid pre-snap penalties like false starts. The physical aspect of blocking will take care of itself over time. Coaching will be judged on people blocking the right person at the right time.

Neither Cable nor Bevell is on the hot seat. Their jobs are not on the line like some of their players. Seahawks fans should pay attention to their performance tonight nonetheless. It will impact the outcome of this season far more than what any individual player does.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Offensive Line Controversy: Carroll Announces Open Competition

Pete Carroll announced early Wednesday morning that he would open up competition at every offensive line position following his latest review of Saturday's game vs. Minnesota. Carroll notes that the group of LT Will Robinson, LG Paul McQuistan, C Mike Gibson, RG Paul Fanaika, and RT Breno Giacomini gave up significantly less pressure on the quarterback than his starting offensive line.

"The only explanation for why that group played better is because they are better players." Carroll explained. "People want to confuse things by looking at this and that, but all I care about is the result."

Several reporters noted that the second-string line was playing against second-string opponents. Carroll dismissed the notion as "pointlessly logical." Another reporter asked whether the coach had noticed a difference in how the Vikings played defense in the second half.

"Oh yeah. Big time. They were bringing five and six players on blitzes on almost every play in the first half, and that went down to almost no blitzes in the second half," Carroll said. "I'm not sure why that matters, though, when it comes to grading out offensive line performance."

Assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tom Cable fully supported Carroll's decision even as he mentioned some adjustments they had made at halftime in play calls to alleviate pressure and simplify the game plan.

"We really wanted to test our 5-step drop package in the first half, and kept calling those intermediate-to-deep pass plays even when Minnesota was blitzing us repeatedly," Cable said. "We changed that entirely in the second half by going with quick 3-step drops and other quick-hitting plays that made it much simpler."

Despite the stark difference in play-calling by the Seahawks, defensive scheme by the Vikings and quality of opponent (2nd string), the entire coaching staff thought it made perfect sense to do a comparison based on result alone. Taking into account any of these extenuating circumstances was just too difficult, and made their "brains hurt."

It may take fans some time to adjust to this new philosophy where Kevin Williams is considered an equal opponent as his back-up Letroy Guion, or a 3-man rush is considered as hard to block as a 6-man blitz. It may also be confusing trying to figure out how an offensive line can develop any consistency or rhythm when the head coach starts splitting reps on the offensive line in practice and in game, especially with such a shortened off-season due to the lockout. They will not be alone. Other coaches around the league were confused when they heard about Carroll's plan.

"I try to give other coaches the benefit of the doubt, but that's the stupidest thing I have ever heard," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "This is the worst possible pre-season to be splitting reps at any position since most guys will barely have a chance to get comfortable, let alone play well, in this amount of time. One guy would have to be light years better than the other to make that kind of disruption worthwhile."

Carroll was not stopping at the offensive line. After a strong debut by DE Maurice Fountain, in which he collected a tackle for loss, Carroll announced he would start splitting reps with starters Raheem Brock and Chris Clemons.

"Fountain made a couple good plays, so he's obviously starter-material," Carroll said.

Judging the performance of players getting snaps with the first-team will be incredibly difficult since so much could be different from the previous week in terms of offensive game-plan, quality of opposing defense and defensive play-calls. Carroll laughed off the notion, saying simply, "Whoever is in when we score is playing the best, regardless of those things."

Carroll closed the press conference by noting that players like LT Will Robinson had never really gotten a chance to start, so they clearly "deserved" this opportunity just for playing well in a few pre-season games.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Episode 4 "Humbled" - Seahawks Hard Knocks With WR Chris Carter

Graphic created by RGray525
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 IV - "Humbled"
Saturday, August 21st, 2011 10:20PM
There we were, surrounded by the families, friends and girlfriends of the Seahawks players. Our purple wristbands granted us entry into this private world. A couple dozen tables were setup in a small area of the convention center, walled off by blue curtains on all sides. Chris Carter Sr., his wife Leona, their daughter Alyson, her friend Megan, and I shared a table with the family that hosted Chris Carter Jr. during the lockout (Eric, Lisa and their 10-year-old son, Justin). It turns out James Carpenter's wife, or girlfriend, was sitting with us as well. The team had just lost 20-7 to the Minnesota Vikings, and a whole host of things had not gone according to plan. Everyone was waiting for their Seahawk player to emerge from the locker room. The mood in the room varied from table-to-table depending on who the folks sitting there were waiting for. Marcus Trufant's family was smiling and talking to some people from the Ben Obomanu and David Hawthorne contingent. Conversations among the people waiting for less established players, like Carter Jr., were stunted and forced, the way polite people talk when they have nothing to say. Five hours earlier, it was so different.

Lisa, Eric, Justin and I were late. Carter Sr. and Leona had invited us to meet them for a pre-game meal at the Pyramid Brewery at 5PM. The clock on the car dashboard read 5:05PM, and we were just getting on I-90 West. Lisa and Eric think of Carter Jr. as one of their own now, and are excitedly talking about the night ahead. They both gush to me about how great Carter Sr. and Leona are, as they just had dinner with them last week while driving their daughter down to college in California. The Carter's had arranged to get tickets for Eric, Lisa and Justin, as well as passes to the family waiting area after the game. We spent the balance of the ride in talking about Chris' chances of making the team or of making the practice squad. I explained that tonight would say a lot considering the starters were due to play the entire first half, compared to just one series in the first game. I also pointed out that special teams snaps were as, or more, important than plays with the offense. Carter had not gotten a single play on special teams in the first game, and he knew that was not a good sign. A tackle on coverage or a big block on a return could help him earn more chances. When you are fighting to make an NFL roster, every detail can help.

We arrived at Pyramid closer to 5:30 than to 5, and found the Carter Sr., Leona, Alyson and Megan sitting at a table in the North wing of the first floor. Carter Sr. is a striking, tall, man with a radio voice. He is proud, confident and friendly. After Eric and Lisa exchange handshakes and hugs, Carter Sr. shakes my hand and makes sure I am looking him in the eye when he says, "I really want to thank you for all you've done for Chris." Leona is sitting between us and takes the opportunity to echo the sentiments. The irony of being thanked for getting this unique view into the sport and team I love was not lost on me. Leona is quieter than Carter Sr., but she is clearly a strong woman and caring mother. She radiates motherly warmth as she introduces me to her beautiful daughter, Alyson, and her friend, Megan (also not lacking in the beauty department). Alyson and Megan are students at University of Texas, and have been friends since High School. They both flew out for the game, having just arrived earlier that day. Everyone was only up for the night.

It was festive, the way Pyramid always is before a game, but this table was particularly giddy. The conversation immediately turned to Carter Jr., and they wanted to know what I thought of his chances. They had been all over the map, feeling confident and then skeptical and then cautiously optimistic. I told them the same thing I said in the car to Lisa about needing to find a niche on special teams, and that it would say a lot if he could get any offensive snaps in the 3rd quarter with the starters playing the whole first half. I admitted that the practice squad was a more realistic goal, in my opinion, but that you never know what could happen with injuries or a great performance. The Carter's didn't understand why the Seahawks felt the need to bring in new receivers like Brandon Smith, who was just signed last week. The reality is the Seahawks are waiving and signing players regularly, and that's good news for Carter Jr. since he is still here. If the front office felt like they had seen enough from him, he'd be gone. The other reality is there are only two other slot-like receivers on the roster, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, and both guys that are firmly above Carter Jr. in the depth chart. Nobody at the table is fond of the practice squad idea, even as I rattle off examples of guys who have had great careers after starting there. The conversation flows into stories of Carter Sr.'s motorcycle, how he picked Leona out of cheerleading lineup ("she was second from the left"), and Alyson's late enrollment into UT that landed her residence in a dorm lounge instead of a room. It's all smiles and laughs, and when Eric and I attempt to try and split the bill, Carter Sr. tells us with a Cheshire Cat grin that we were the millionth table, and our dinner was free.

Left to right: Chris Carter Sr., Eric, Justin, Leona Carter, Lisa, Alyson Carter, Megan

With that, I split from the group to head up to my seats while the rest goes to pick-up their tickets and "backstage passes." As I settle into my seat, I get a call offering to get me a pass as well. It's becoming less and less clear who should be thanking whom here. The game starts and, as expected, the starters play the whole first half. There is no sign of Carter Jr. on special teams. Minnesota starts with the ball at the start of the 3rd quarter, and take 6 minutes and 26 seconds to drive to the Seahawks 48-yard-line before punting. Charlie Whitehurst and the second unit take over. Golden Tate, Kris Durham, Doug Baldwin and Pat Williams are getting the snaps. The Seahawks also deploy a heavy set of two tight end sets that leaves only two receivers on the field. It ends up being Seattle's only touchdown drive of the night. It also takes nearly 9 minutes. In fact, the Vikings and Seahawks each only had one possession in the 3rd quarter. That's where things started to get challenging for Carter Jr.

Playing time is planned out before each pre-season game begins. Starters get the first half, and then the 2nd unit gets X number of series and the 3rd unit gets what's left. Typically, the 2nd unit would get at least a quarter or three series in the second pre-season game, whichever was longest. By the time the 2nd unit had finished its third series, there was only 2:24 seconds left in the game. Carter Jr.'s only appearance to that point had been on kick coverage following the Seahawks touchdown. He nearly made the tackle. I had made my way down to meet up with the Carters and Eric, Lisa and Justin with a few minutes to go. The smiles were gone. In their place was awkwardness, frustration and anger. These two families that had been bound so beautifully together by the dream of this one young man, now seemed like people who had only met each other a week before. Carter Sr. was understandably angry, "Chris has done everything they've asked of him, which hasn't been much." Lisa was sitting directly behind me and whispered in my ear, "They didn't even give him a chance." Everyone is confused about why Golden Tate is still in the game. Durham had been out with an injury the previous week, so he was getting some extra run as well. As Minnesota took the ball with just over two minutes to play, it looked like Carter Jr. would not even get in the game. Just then, Vikings RB Tristan Davis ran in a 35-yard touchdown that gave Seattle the ball one more time with 2:09 showing on the clock.

The 3rd string offense ran onto the field. Quarterback Josh Portis, last week's hero, strapped on the helmet for the first time. All of us eagerly scanned for #16. Instead, Tate, Durham and Baldwin take the field again. "Come on!" Lisa screamed. "Put in Carter!" The drive is going nowhere, and quickly the scoreboard flashes 4th and 10 with just over a minute to go. Portis miraculously scrambles 11 yards for 1st down. And then, finally, Carter Jr.'s #16 can be seen running into the huddle. Portis throws perfectly to Pat Williams who drops it. He goes incomplete down the seam to TE Dominque Byrd. Then, he drops back and appears to see Carter Jr. flashing open down the left seam into the end zone, but takes a vicious hit just before he can step into the throw and it falls incomplete. Two plays later the game is over.

We wait to find out where we are supposed to go to meet the players. It's taking a long time. Lisa and Eric try to explain to Justin that he needs to let the Carter family talk to Carter Jr. first, and that everyone is going to be a little down, so he shouldn't expect a big smile when he sees his idol walk in. Leona, Carter Sr, and Lisa take turns asking me questions:

"Why was Golden Tate still in the game?"
"Why was Doug Baldwin still in?"
"How can the coaches evaluate a player when he doesn't even get a chance to play?"

There are some anxious moments as Lisa is worried the roster will get cut by 10, to 80 players this coming Tuesday before the next game. Eric finds on his phone that it is after the 3rd game. That provides some temporary relief, but that fades when I answer their question about how playing time typically gets allotted in the 3rd pre-season game. Starters usually play into the 3rd quarter, and the 2nd and 3rd string gets squeezed even more. The most optimistic news I can offer is that Carter Jr. was not the only player to who got limited playing time. Portis was the star last week, and barely got two minutes. Ricardo Lockette has gotten a lot more attention than Carter Jr., and I didn't see him get in the game at all. There are stories of NFL coaches and general managers "hiding" players during the pre-season so they can safely cut them and then re-sign them to the practice squad without alerting other teams to their talent. It is a stretch, but it's possible.

We eventually got directions to where we needed to go. As we walked toward the convention center, I was thinking about Carter Jr. and how this had to be hardest for him. Knowing that people had flown up to see him, and that this whole group was coming to visit him afterwards would be humbling. Anyone that has tried out for a team, or sat at the end of the bench until "garbage time," knows the feeling. It's a sour concoction of humiliation, anger, self-doubt, and frustration. Kids don't dream of being 3rd-stringers. People see the NFL and assume it’s all glamour. Money and fame can be powerful allies, but they can't teach a person how to handle adversity. Ask Aaron Curry, who has almost $35M in guaranteed money, whether that cash helps him on the practice field or film room when everyone in the locker room knows he's not worth it. Ask Deon Butler, who was a 3rd round pick, but can't even fight for his job as he recovers from grisly leg injury. Pete Carroll's whole philosophy of competition is cleverly rooted in the irrepressible reality of the male ego.

And so here we were, five hours after our festive dinner, waiting for Carter Jr. to emerge. Earl Thomas walks in. James Carpenter, Ben Obomanu, Leroy Hill all come and go. Robert Gallery strolls in and he chats with a few people while picking up one of his adorable kids. Tackle Paul McQuistan's wife or girlfriend taps me on the shoulder to ask me to take a picture of their whole gang of 20+ people. Carter Jr. appears eyes down, and shirt bulging with the ice pack cling-wrapped onto his right shoulder from last week's sprain. Lisa, Eric and Justin hang back as parents and sister administer hugs and offer words of support. It feels like we shouldn't be there. It is bad enough to have a disappointing night. Nobody needs an audience. Carter Jr. quietly talks about not being in that situation [sitting on the bench] since High School. He's a confident kid, but he looks shaken by the experience.

Roy Lewis walks in and starts shaking the hand of every person he sees in the room, taking some time to talk to each of them. He is the undisputed mayor of the Seahawks locker room. Lewis has been a friend to Carter Jr. from the beginning, showing him around town and mentoring him along the way. Carter Sr. makes a point to track down Lewis to thank him. Lewis walks back with him over to the rest of us, and offers more counsel.

"You can't even worry about it." Lewis said. "Every play is a line on your resume. You just have to keep putting out tape, and you'll get your shot."

The tension has dissipated a bit. Lewis shakes everyone's hands, and moves on. Justin has been waiting patiently and decides the time is right to ask Carter Jr. if he's going to sleep over at their place. It was so innocently oblivious to the circumstances of the evening that a few of us laughed. Justin walked away embarrassed, trying to hold back the tears. He didn't care if Carter played or not, he just wanted to play some XBox with his idol. What happened next stuck with me more than anything else.

Instead of separating along family lines to have some privacy and lick some wounds, both families started making plans for breakfast the next morning. Justin was going to get his wish as Carter Jr. agreed to come over that night, along with his parents and sister. Eric was talking about whipping up some breakfast, and Carter Sr. said he could make a run to the store. Despite the awkwardness and disappointment of the evening, these two families were still reaching out to one another. The story of Chris Carter Jr. has always been about more than trying out for the Seahawks. It's about the serendipity of life. That was never more apparent than at the moment when these two families, who had no reason to even know one another, chose to come together when even blood relatives would often choose to circle the wagons and split apart.

Carter Jr. has a tough road ahead of him. The roster gets cut from 90 to 80 players after the 3rd pre-season game. He'll be lucky to get any playing time in that game, so he will need to make his impressions on the practice field. If he's wise, he'll pester the special teams coach Brian Schneider for more chances. His biggest obstacle will be maintaining his confidence as after this setback. The quickest way to get cut is to lose that edge. Something tells me there are a few people lining up behind him that won't let that happen.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Jackson vs. Whitehurst: Stop Arguing Over Temporary Mediocrity

Charlie Whitehurst is being treated unfairly! He's being held back, and deserves a chance to start. No, wait...T-Jack is the man! He has been treated unfairly by his past coaches and deserves a chance to start for an extended period of time.

For the love of football, stop. PLEASE! Listening to people plead the case for Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst, and even Josh Portis, is just embarrassing and pointless for all involved. Neither Jackson or Whitehurst have any meaningful future with this franchise. They are both battling for the right to mentor and then back-up the QB of the Future (QBOTF) who the team will draft next season. They are both almost hopelessly mediocre players. Almost, because you can never count anyone out, and both show some modest promise to be serviceable starters.

If the front office had any hope for either player, their contracts would reflect it. Whitehurst is in his final year. Jackson is signed through next year, and even that is not guaranteed. There is no evidence that the team is planning for either of these players to be leading this team when it is ready to challenge for a Super Bowl.

Start Whitehurst. Start Jackson. It just doesn't matter. At most, we are talking about a difference of perhaps 1  game plus/minus in the win column. If you want to debate which guy gives you that possible 1-game advantage in a clearly limited season, go ahead. You will be missing the things that actually matter about this season, like the development of the offensive line, the wide receivers, the tight ends, the linebackers and the secondary. The quarterback situation matters less than perhaps any other position on the entire roster. Heck, punter Jon Ryan has a better chance of starting for Super Bowl-contending Seahawks team than either Whitehurst or Jackson.

I will continue to evaluate the players across the team, including the quarterbacks, but I'm certainly not going to lose any sleep over who wins the right to play below league average at the position.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to add that asking for Whitehurst to get more reps is batshit crazy. Whoever starts at QB for this team will barely get enough snaps this pre-season given the lockout. Splitting reps would lose the team more games than any possible advantage they would gain by figuring out which of these mediocre quarterbacks is "better." Pete Carroll is doing the absolute right thing by choosing one guy and sticking with him. 

The Morning After: Vikings Beat Seahawks, 20-7

CenturyLink Field hosted its first game Saturday night, and it was not all that different than Qwest Field's first game.The Seahawks christened Qwest Field in 2002 with a 28-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The loss, though, was not what bound these games together. That 2002 Seahawks team featured a young right side of the offensive line made up of RT Floyd Womack and RG Floyd Wedderburn. Trent Dilfer and Matt Hasselbeck were harassed into 33 sacks as that line struggled all year long until veteran RT Chris Terry was signed and stabilized things enough for Hasselbeck to finish the season in one of the strongest stretches of his career. The Seahawks reminded fans last night that the team is not only starting the year without an established starting quarterback for the first time since 2002, but with perhaps the least stable offensive line since that same time frame.

Sure, the Seahawks have trotted out some horrible offensive lines the past few years, but pass protection has not been the major source of trouble. Remember 2007, when Mike Holmgren famously abandoned the run completely because his line could not gain a yard on 3rd and 1 to save their lives, but was able to protect Hasselbeck on his way to his last Pro Bowl appearance. Pass blocking takes years of coordination, discipline and talent. Many of the worst hits on quarterbacks come because of mistaken assignments, as opposed to players being physically beat. Rookie RT James Carpenter showed that for the second time this pre-season when he doubled an inside rusher while an outside player ran free straight at the quarterback. The English game of football has a term called a "hiding," when one team blows the other one out. The first half of the Seahawks game against the Vikings was the American equivalent of a hiding, only here it means the quarterback was spending an inordinate amount of time trying to hide from defensive players in his backfield.

There is no quarterback on the planet that can succeed with the kind of "protection" Tarvaris Jackson received Saturday night. I will be surprised, when I re-watch the game, if there were five clean pockets for him to throw in over the course of the entire half. One of the most shocking stats of the night was zero QB sacks in the first half for the Vikings. The people calling for Charlie Whitehurst to be the starter should rejoice that he wasn't on this night because his funeral services would have been scheduled by now. Whitehurst got one big hit on him in the second half and nearly didn't get up. That was one of the few pressures after halftime.

The state of Seattle's QB situation is so dire that a guy like Whitehurst, who once again averaged 5.1 yards-per-attempt, is the source of a fan-fueled QB controversy. Thankfully, Pete Carroll continues to throw water on that fire by saying Jackson will be the starter, period. Did Whitehurst make some good throws? Yes. Did he show some progress as a QB by going through his progressions and improvising (especially on the TD to Anthony McCoy)? Absolutely. Is there any valid way to compare Whitehurst's performance to Jackson's? No way. The Vikings called off the dogs in the 2nd half and the Seahawks offensive line protected far better. Jackson did better than anyone could hope for given the constant pressure, but he did nothing to convince me he is a better QB than he has been throughout his career. Nobody can credibly argue for  Jackson anymore than anyone can argue against him. The silliness of arguing about this position at all cannot be overstated, but I'll tackle that in a separate post.

The overall 49-31 pass-to-run ratio doesn't make any sense for this coaching staff. The Seahawks commitment to passing the ball even in the face of all that pressure seemed to indicate Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable wanted to work on passing plays and pass protection. As painful as it was to watch, and to quarterback, it was a valuable experience for that new line. There is tons of great tape to learn from. The line also blocked better when they did run, leading to an improved 3.7 yards-per-carry (when you remove the Josh Portis and Jackson scrambles). 

Even with the poor showing by some of the lineman, the goat of the game was second-year WR Golden Tate.  He was given yet another chance to be a contributing member of this receiving corps. Instead, he was a bigger asset to the Vikings than the Seahawks as he dropped two balls, including one right into the hands of the Vikings that was returned for a TD. Carroll appeared to be sending Tate a message by keeping him in the game all the way into the late 4th quarter when the 3rd stringers finally got out there with a couple minutes to go. No other starters played in the 2nd half. Rookie WR Doug Baldwin outplayed Tate, even though he only had two catches for 14 yards. He ran solid routes, got good separation and even had better kickoff returns. 

The receivers, as a unit, did not have a great game. TE Dominique Byrd is forcing his way onto the roster, McCoy did a nice job blocking and receiving, and rookie WR Kris Durham had a decent first game. Pat Williams may have been the worst receiver out there with four targets and zero receptions, including a horrible drop late in the game. 

Leon Washington continued to be the most productive runner early in the pre-season. Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett got almost zero forward motion, with Lynch getting less than a yard-per-carry. Vai Taua was a new face, and flashed as a potential one-cut runner that would do well in this system. He will be one to watch.

The defense played well against a limited Vikings offense. Despite being down 7-0 after one quarter, the Vikings had three yards of offense. Donovan McNabb led the one credible drive the team had when they went from their own 1-yard line and victimized Kelly Jennings and Aaron Curry. Curry was also to blame for the Vikings other "drive" where he gave up 15 yards for a colossally stupid penalty for ripping an opponents helmet off and tossing it away. This was not the first time Curry pulled crap like that, and he chooses to do it at times when the opponents are beating him and his team. It's immature and embarrassing. I love tough guy stuff and intimidation, but Curry is tone deaf in both. Start making some intimidating plays, and then you can start pushing people around. Until then, consult the Bible you constantly are sending out verses from on Twitter, and tell me where it says your behavior is righteous. 

Rookie Jeron Johnson got time opposite Earl Thomas in nickel situations, with Josh Pinkard playing slot CB. Jennings inexplicably started another game. Brandon Browner outplayed him again. How much more does the kid have to do? Rookie Richard Sherman played solid coverage most of the night. He only got beat badly on one play, and was lucky that Joe Webb overthrew his receiver. Sherman really needs to work on getting his head around when the ball is in the air. He is going to get a bunch of pass interference penalties and/or allow receivers to pluck balls out of the air behind Sherman's back. New safety Atari Bigby got time on special teams and as 2nd string safety behind Kam Chancellor. Bigby was late reacting to multiple plays in the secondary. Time will tell if that's the player or just shaking the rust off with a new team and system. 

The defensive line played well enough. Adrian Peterson was held under 3 yards-per-carry, and Raheem Brock applied consistent pressure. He was pretty much the only player getting near the passer. The defense only got 3 QB hits and 1 sack as a whole. Brock got the one sack and two of the three QB hits. Blitzing was not working either. 

The linebacker play was promising. Leroy Hill was solid, and rookies Malcolm Smith and KJ Wright made nice plays. Smith, especially, is showing a knack for crunching hits. Rookie Mike Morgan, Curry and Smith all made some containment mistakes that allowed some of the Vikings biggest plays. The linebackers will need to be assignment-correct for this defense to flourish. 

I need to spend some time watching the game again to focus in on players like Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch, David Hawthorne, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Likewise, the offensive line breakdowns need some more review before deciding if anything that happened Saturday night was a harbinger of things to come or just a learning experience.

There have been some soul-crushing pre-season games that open up fans' eyes to the hopelessness of the season ahead of them. This was not one of those games. Next week the starters will play into the 3rd quarter, and potential should come into clearer focus.



Saturday, August 20, 2011

Seahawks Pre-Season Game 2 Downloadable Viewing Guide

If you have been a casual fan so far, or are watching with folks who are not as obsessed with Seahawks football as you, I've got something to help. Below is a link to the Seahawks pre-season roster with notes next to every player that matters. It can be printed out and either help you prep for the game, or be used as a reference when you see unfamiliar numbers flash across the screen. Hope it's useful.

***Download The Viewing Guide Here***


Tommorow Headline, Today: Seahawks Pummel Vikings 34-10

Tarvaris Jackson, Sidney Rice and Darrell Bevell made sure every Minnesota Vikings fan knew what they lost this past off-season when those three joined the Seattle Seahawks. In a game that is sure to have hardcore Seahawks fans dreaming big, the Seahawks dominated in every aspect. Only time will tell how much of this game was pre-season mirage, how much of it was a potentially bad Vikings team, and how much of it was evidence of real strength developing in this 2011 Seahawks roster.

Jackson was sharp from the opening snap, leading the Seahawks all the way down the field before running in for a touchdown on a bootleg from the 7-yard line. The drive included Rice's first gasp-inducing catch of his Seahawks career as he speared a ball four feet over his head for a 26-yard gain. Rice collected two other catches on the drive, and finished the night with five receptions for 76 yards in one half of work.

"It was a good way to start my career here," Rice said. "The crowd was pretty jacked for a pre-season game, and Tarvaris was giving me a chance to make plays."

Last year's revelation at wide receiver, Mike Williams, had less success. Jackson only targeted Williams three times, and only one was caught.

"Sid and TJack know each other," Williams explained. "I've got to figure out to get a little more action thrown my way."

The passing attack was the flash, but the Seahawks running game proved plenty of dash. After rushing 43 times for 133 yards in the pre-season opener, Tom Cable and Bevell dialed up 45 more runs for 175 yards against the Vikings. Marshawn Lynch was especially effective, bashing his way to 43 yards on eight carries and a touchdown in the first half.

"We ain't playin' this year," Lynch said. "We didn't even have big 76 [LT Russell Okung] in there tonight. We're going to mash people."

The defense played a solid game after giving up a field goal on the first drive to the Donovan McNabb-led Vikings offense. McNabb looked sharp to start the game, completing 3-5 passes for 40 yards on the first drive, but only managed two more first downs after that drive in the first half. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas picked off his first pass of the pre-season after his secondary safety partner, Kam Chancellor laid a vicious hit on receiver Devin Aromashodu on a crossing route, popping the ball into the air for Thomas to pluck.

"I guess I got to play the Vikings every game," Thomas said. "I picked off my first pass against them in pre-season last year, and I got another one tonight. I should probably give Kam half, but nah, I think I'll take the whole thing."

New cornerback Brandon Browner got the start with Kelly Jennings out due to injury, and put together another solid performance. He broke up one pass and made several strong plays against the run. Aaron Curry  also stood out with two tackles for loss, and appears to be settling into his simplified role.

"Aaron really got me fired up with the way he played out there," Head Coach Pete Carroll said. "He's flying around and making plays. That's what we need from him."

Last week's hero, quarterback Josh Portis, came back to Earth a bit with an interception and several ugly incompletions. He still flashed promising young talent with a few nice throws and an eye-popping 27-yard scramble.

Bubbling just beneath the game's surface was the tension of two franchises and fan bases that lost key talent to one another. Much was made of Jackson and Rice's first game against their old franchise, but Seahawks fans still hold a grudge about the departure of guard Steve Hutchinson.

"Tim Ruskell was a terrible and arrogant general manager for failing to franchise Hutch," current GM John Schneider said. "But Steve still knowingly signed that offer sheet, so fans can't forget that he's a douche. At least it's clear he'll never win a Super Bowl on that sorry team now. We got Sidney! How you like us now, Stevie!?"

When the topic of Hutchinson came up, Cleveland President Mike Holmgren made a surprise appearance, materializing seemingly out of thin air.

"Did anyone say that was Ruskell's fault yet?" Holmgren asked. "You did? Oh, well, that guy sucked. Make sure you write that. And tell Hutch, 'I told you so.' You don't go against The Big Show. And I hope those great Seahawks fans don't lose too much sleep over Colt McCoy's success since you could have had him if you hadn't traded your 3rd round pick for Charlie Whitehurst."

With that, Holmgren vanished. It was an odd end to an eventful night for the home team. The team now looks ahead to the key third game of pre-season where starters will get their last extended play before the regular season. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Episode 3 "Game On" - Seahawks Hard Knocks With WR Chris Carter

Graphic created by RGray525


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 III - "Game On"
Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 7:45PM


***Listen To The Chris Carter Interview***


Chris Carter had been waiting. He had been waiting to be noticed by colleges. He had been waiting to heal from an injury. He had been waiting for an NFL team to sign him, and now he was waiting to enter his first NFL game. The waiting stopped as soon as his cleats hit the field. Excited, but ready, Carter stepped into the huddle and heard his part of the play called, "Zebra Drive." His first play in an NFL game was coming on a 3rd down with his team trailing, and he was the primary read. San Diego Chargers CB Dante Hughes was matched up on Carter in the slot. Hughes was no rookie, as he has been in the league since 2007. Carter quickly beat Hughes off the line and quarterback Charlie Whitehurst delivered the ball into Carter's hands on the way to a 13-yard gain and a first down. After all Carter has been through to get to this point, why wait to make an impact?

Chris Carter makes his first NFL reception on his first snap
The very next play was perhaps Carter's most memorable of the evening. He drove up the seam and Whitehurst again put the ball on Carter's hands. This time, he bobbled the ball as he twisted between two converging defenders. He adjusted in mid-air and grabbed the ball before he hit the ground for an apparent 20+ yard gain. Officials ruled the pass incomplete. Carter sprained his shoulder on the play as he landed awkwardly, "I guess that's a lesson about why you should catch the ball the first time," Carter said later. Pain, or no pain, Carter was certain of the catch and raced over to the sideline to plead his case to Coach Pete Carroll. Carroll seemed almost embarrassed to throw the challenge flag in a pre-season game, but he did it. None of the replays were able to conclusively show the play was a completion, and so the ruling stood. His coaches and teammates were able to later confirm the catch during film study.

The team continued the drive down the field for what was eventually a game-tying field goal. Carter later helped Quarterback Josh Portis settle down with his first NFL completion on a simple 8-yard out. That drive ended in a game-tying touchdown. Carter is the guy who doesn't flash on your screen as the biggest or fastest player out there, but he is almost always open, almost always makes the catch, and appears to have an uncanny knack to contribute to point-producing drives. He is more Bobby Engram than Wes Welker. Players like that don't make the front of the sports page too often, but they are crucial parts of winning teams.

Chris Carter

Being a solid role player, though, won't be enough to make this Seahawks squad. Competition in the receiver corps is fierce. Doug Baldwin has been getting a bunch of reps in camp and led the team with four receptions in the Chargers game. Ricardo Lockette also had a nice game with a 16-yard catch. Receiving is only one part of the equation. Special teams is where players make, or break, their chances of sticking on the roster.

Baldwin had a 41-yard kickoff return and a 20-yard punt return. Carter did not get any special teams snaps. He knows that's not good. His shoulder injury impacted his availability, but nobody will care about that when it comes down to cut time. He is getting some more chances on special teams in practice this week, and will have to find a niche somewhere if he has any real hope of making the cut.

Coaches clearly see something in Carter. Players, including other wide receivers, are getting cut multiple times per week. If the coaching staff did not see something in Carter that they liked, he'd already be on his way out of town. The practice squad is not something Carter wants to think about, but it may be his best opportunity to break into the league. A number of successful NFL players have started out that way.

Finding a way to make another strong impression will be tougher this week. Starters played only one series in the first game, leaving ample time for 2nd and 3rd string players to get on the field. Starters will play the entire first half this week, which means opportunities for the other guys will at least be cut in half. Carter may only see a few minutes in the 4th quarter. He will be waiting again, but it only takes a moment to make an impact.




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Football Sickness: 2011 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS PREVIEW

2011 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS PREVIEW

I was the guest of Ryan Burns, from FootballSickness.com, yesterday for the Seahawks portion of their team-by-team NFL preview. Take a listen if you'd like!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Spotlight On: Kam "Bam Bam" Chancellor

VITALS
DRAFTED: 2010, 5th round
COLLEGE: Virginia Tech
POSITION: Strong Safety
HEIGHT: 6'3"
WEIGHT: 232 lbs
AGE: 23

They don't make 'em like Kam Chancellor. The heaviest safety in the NFL was All-Pro Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals, weighing in at 230 lbs. The operative word in that sentence is "was." At 6'3", 232 lbs, Chancellor powers onto the NFL safety landscape with linebacker size. Take a look through recent NFL history, and you will find players like Roy Williams (6'0", 225 lbs), Jarrad Page (6'0", 225 lbs) and Wilson who have all had success as the strongest of the strong safeties. Go back to some of the all-time heaviest hitters at the safety position, and you find guys like Lawyer Milloy (6'0", 210 lbs), Kenny Easley (6'3" 206 lbs), Ronnie Lott (6'0" 203 lbs), John Lynch (6'2", 220 lbs), Steve Atwater (6'3", 220 lbs), and Jack Tatum (5'10", 200 lbs). Nobody was taller or heavier than Chancellor.

That could prove to be a good thing or a bad thing. Chancellor's unique stature could slide him right along side of Wilson as the most intimidating safety in the NFL. It may also put him next to guys like Williams who eventually got exposed in coverage. The risk seems lower given the way Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will use him. Chancellor's job will be to support against the run, blitz on occasion, and strongly encourage opponents to avoid the middle of the field. If he can remain aggressive, and play moving forwards instead of sideways, he should have an immediate impact on the Seahawks defense.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Secondary To None

One of the best parts about being a sports fan is when you know something before the casual fans, superficial local media, and national experts. You know this thing, not because you are smarter than those folks, but because you are interested enough to pay attention to details while others simply regurgitate. The state of the Seahawks secondary may be the best example of this right now. Ask any national expert, and they will tell you the Seahawks should have signed Jonathan Joseph or Antonio Cromartie. They will tell you they have no depth at the CB position. The casual fan and radio show host will see Kelly Jennings out there and think it's more of the same crap we've seen the past few years. They are all wrong. Pete Carroll and John Schneider have made over the blindingly bad roster they inherited in 2009, and no place demonstrates the shift more than the secondary.

Be warned, reading the following may result in an upset stomach. Let's look back at the 2009 secondary Carroll and Schneider inherited:


In truth, this was not the worst crap the Seahawks have run out in the secondary. Babineaux was a disaster as a starter, and Josh Wilson and Kelly Jennings were hopeless against receivers over 6'0" tall, but there was some talent in there. They managed a combined 10 interceptions and 2.5 sacks. At 24, Josh Wilson was the only player with legitimate upside in that group.  Note that the average height of the top four corners was under 6'0", and their average weight was close to 190 lbs. Now, take a look at the likely 2011 secondary for the Seahawks:


I'll be the first to point out Roy Lewis is not listed, and would be in the top four, when healthy. He is not healthy right now, and will likely start the year on PUP, so let's stick with guys who should start the year filling these roles. The first thing that jumps out at me is that even with Marcus Trufant two years older and Brandon Browner brought in as a 27-year-old free agent, the secondary is still far younger. Earl Thomas is still a baby, and he had half as many interceptions (5) as the entire 2009 secondary during his rookie campaign. The rest of these players are largely unknown, but each have legitimate upside potential. Carroll employs a very different defensive philosophy than the one Mora Jr. ran out in 2009. There is a much greater emphasis on press coverage and assistance from the safeties. There is a reason there were no All-American cornerbacks out of USC during Carroll's tenure and multiple impact safeties like Troy Polomalu and Taylor Mays.

The job of the cornerback is much more simple. They need to get their hands on the opposing receiver, and then be able to turn, run, and understand where their help will be coming from. There will be very few instances where these guys will be left out on an island to shut down a receiver 1-on-1. Browner and Sherman are great examples of just how different the corner in Carroll's defense will look. Both guys are over 6'3" and are extremely physical. They can press, run and can compete for the ball in the air. They are also both strong in run support. Browner checks in at over 220 lbs, which is unheard of for a corner. Time will tell if he gets exposed, but in the four practices and one pre-season game I've seen, he's been the best corner on the field without question. Sherman has flashed in practice, but is not as consistent as Browner. Both guys will struggle if the receiver can avoid their jam at the line. Seahawks fans may start to hate those evasive little receivers like Steve Smith more than the towering guys like Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald will no longer be able to pat Kelly Jennings on the head with one hand while catching the ball above him with the other.

Kam Chancellor joins Thomas to create a safety tandem with as much potential as any in the NFL, and any in Seahawks history. Nobody can truly estimate Chancellor's upside yet. Thomas may end up being the best player at his position in the NFL. He has that ability. Chancellor looks more and more like Pro Bowls are not out of the question. Remember the 2.5 sacks the 2009 secondary had as a whole? Lawyer Milloy had 4.0 all by himself last year. Chancellor will be used in much the same way, and has shown great blitzing instincts in practice. He also is better in coverage, and has the hitting ability to force a number of fumbles.

All of this doesn't even take into account Walter Thurmond or Roy Lewis. Thurmond is just the coaches likely choice to start and a former All-American corner for University of Oregon who is supposed to be back from an injury. Lewis was among the top corners in all the NFL last season as a slot player. He allowed the 6th lowest completion percentage against him, and was in a list with players like Darrelle Revis. This is not your father's Seahawks secondary.

Seahawks CBs are younger, bigger and taller
These changes in the cornerback position are not accidental. The coaching staff wanted to get younger, taller and stronger. Check, check and check.


That's some serious ageism Pete and John! The emphasis on building around the safety position is obvious. The front office filled both of those positions in their first draft class. Note, that this was not where they got taller. They did add some serious bulk in the form of linebacker-like Chancellor, which indicates how they are one of the remaining NFL teams that plays a true strong safety. Other teams have started to play two interchangeable safeties. Seattle will use Chancellor near the line of scrimmage and to cover tight ends. You will not see him on slot receivers anytime soon.

The overall group gets far younger, and moderately taller and stronger. Bringing in a older cornerback could make some sense, but that would mean the money would be spent there instead of another position that is likely in greater need, and would keep one of these talented youngsters from getting on the field to grow. Carroll and Schneider are not building to win just in 2011. You may have heard there is some desire to win forever. Getting younger and more talented in the secondary is a huge part of that mission. 

Seahawks vs. Vikings: Pete Carroll "Win Forever" Pre-Season Giveaway

Congratulations to last weeks winner, Scott Robb, who correctly predicted the 24-17 final score of the Seahawks/Charges pre-season opener!! Give Scott a follow.

Pete Carroll is not like other coaches. Seahawks fans have already noticed decisions on the field and in the front office that are unconventional. Behind these moves is a philosophy Carroll has developed over a life time of struggle and success with the game of football. Carroll reveals the underpinnings of his philosophy in his book "Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion," and provides valuable insight to any Seahawks fan who wants to anticipate what may come next.

Scott Enyeart suggested I read Carroll's book last season to better understand the man behind the moves. I chose to buy the audio version that I could listen to on my commute everyday. Carroll actually reads the book, so you even get to hear his inflection and tone. The book was enjoyable and instructive. I regularly refer to it when trying to think along with the Seahawks coach.

Carroll and the Penguin Group recently released the paperback version, and added a whole chapter on his first season in Seattle. They gave me some copies, and I'm going to give them away to my readers. Here's how it will work:

I will give away one book after every pre-season game to the person who most closely predicts the final score of the game (e.g., how many points each specific team scores). If there is a tie, I will send an email to the participants who tied with a tiebreaker question, and then declare the winner. If, at any time, contestants become obnoxious and annoying about what should be a care-free contest, I will just end it. Let's keep it light-hearted, folks!


Instructions:
1) Send an email to hawkblogger@gmail.com before kickoff of each pre-season game with the subject line: "Hawk Blogger Book Giveaway: My predicted score - Seahawks XX Opponent XX"
2) In the body of the email, include a prediction for which Seahawk will lead the team in rushing, and how many rushing yards that person will have.

I will announce the winner prior to the following Seahawks game. There will be four winners in all.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Immediate Reactions: Seahawks Win 24-17

Thomas Clayton, Josh Portis, Jeron Johnson, Pierre Allen are all names that figured prominently in the Seahawks 24-17 exhibition opening win tonight. Some player that nobody knows may have started his long climb tonight to eventually contributing to the franchise down the road. That's pre-season football, and I love it. David Hawthorne, Ben Obomanu, Leonard Weaver, Rufus Porter, Dave Krieg are all part of the rich history of underdogs that made good in Seattle. It is easy to get carried away in either the positive or negative in these games. One player looks terrible and the other looks great, only the guy who played great was going against guys who will never pull on an NFL jersey outside of the exhibition season. These games are one of the few places in life where the "how" matters exponentially more than the result.

Let's start with QB Josh Portis. The undrafted rookie has got quite a bit of pub recently with coaches talking him up. I have been to four practices, and have seen very little to be impressed. The first series or so in the game looked exactly like what I have seen in practice. His throws were off-target, and he ran far too often. Looking for poise and accuracy and good decisions from a rookie quarterback is like looking for leadership from congress, you ain't gonna find it very often. What you want to see is potential. Stand in and make a throw against the rush. Show some touch or timing or ability to throw deep. Portis legitimately put his name on the Seahawks map tonight, and it wasn't because he threw for a TD and had a 117.4 rating. It was *how* he got those numbers. He showed character and resolve by fighting back from a terrible start. He showed great touch and timing on some intermediate routes, including a great crossing pattern. He proved that when a play breaks down, he won't always panic and run. His TD pass came on a play where he easily could have put his head down and tried to score on the ground, but instead, he kept his head and feet, and found an open player to throw to. None of these things mean Portis is destined to be great, or even good. They are, however, reasons to consider him a prospect instead of just a guy taking up a roster spot like JP Losman last season.

Speaking of taking up a roster spot, Charlie Whitehurst is a great foil for Portis. Whitehurst, by the untrained eye, appeared a better QB than Tarvaris Jackson. He had a higher QB rating, more yards, and led the team to its first touchdown. Peer behind those numbers, and you see evidence of a player who continues to tread water instead of growing as a quarterback. Whitehurst finished the night with a paltry 5.8 yards per attempt. His career average is 5.1 YPA. This is where the name "Check-Down Charlie," comes from. Whitehurst does not display the patience or the vision to throw down-field. His long throws are almost always hail mary passes like the one he tried to send Golden Tate's way that was nearly picked off. Where Portis showed the patience to let the intermediate routes open up, Whitehurst too often will take the guy 5-yards in front of him. Portis can claim inexperience. Whitehurst is almost 30. These are things he should have long corrected. He is a fine back-up, but I continue to question why he should be paid $4M this year. I'm not ready to say he won't be cut if a better option becomes available from another team cutting down their roster.

Tarvaris Jackson was not strong in his debut. He held onto the ball far too long, and was sacked unnecessarily. He was the only QB to go through his progressions at all, from what I could see. That is a sign of knowing the offense better than the other two. There were not any starting caliber receivers on the field, so his options were limited. Next week will be a much better barometer for what Jackson can be.

Perhaps, the most encouraging aspects of the game were some real progress in the running game and in the secondary. A 3.1 yards/carry number won't blow your socks off, but 133 yards rushing would be more than all but four games last year for the Seahawks offense. The 43 carries shows Carroll's commitment to the run is more than just talk. The repeated decisions to run the ball on 3rd and short, and run back-to-back on 1st and 2nd downs, are great indications that this coaching stuff understands what it takes to establish the run. Make no mistake about it, this team has absolutely no chance of winning if they can't run the ball. None. One of the biggest places that showed up was time of possession, which Seattle dominated with over 35 minutes. Another was turnovers, where the team gave up zero. Rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt played well enough for their first game. Carpenter got beat a few times in pass protection. That's going to happen. The team got a few first downs running behind those two. Moffitt was the key lead block on Leon Washington's touchdown. There was nothing I saw tonight that worried me about the future of those two.

Some folks are going to take the cautious approach on the young secondary. Enjoy that. I'm all in. Brandon Browner could be the Mike Williams of this season. He is a fascinating player that has shined in every practice I've watched. Tonight, was a big test and he flashed great coverage and terrific run support. Richard Sherman was not quite as impressive, but played well during his stint. And Byron Maxwell combined with fellow rookie Mark LeGree on a vicious hit to separate a receiver from the ball. That's not even talking about Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Chancellor may have a Pro Bowl ceiling. He flashed in run support and in coverage tonight, just as he has throughout training camp. He didn't even get to show off his blitzing ability. Kelly Jennings is so bad, and there is so much talent behind him, one would have to hope that little experiment is over. Walter Thurmond may want to hurry back, because these kids are pushing for his starting spot.

The defense played well overall. Before the final San Diego drive late in the 4th quarter, the Chargers had racked up 158 yards of total offense, and 89 of those came on the first "Kelly Jennings-inspired" series. The linebacker play was solid against the run, and questionable in coverage. Aaron Curry flashed a vicious hit off the edge, even though he didn't wrap up. Those kinds of instinctive plays behind the line are what we need to see from Curry. Don't count his sacks. Count his tackles for loss and forced fumbles.

Lots of young wide receivers got some extra play with some many guys sitting out. Doug Baldwin led the team with 4 receptions, and Chris Carter had a couple nice catches (a third impressive catch was ruled incomplete). Dominque Byrd continued to put pressure on Anthony McCoy in the passing game, although McCoy continues to be a superior blocker. Brandon Coutu may be on his way out of town after a series of short kickoffs.

Russell Okung was carted off the field with what people are calling a high ankle sprain. There is no viable replacement for him, and he is a huge part of the growth potential for this team. As aggravating as it is, an ankle problem is better than a knee. Let's hope he can rehab it, and put this all behind him.

Look for at least a full quarter from Tarvaris Jackson and the starters next week in Seattle. They need to establish some sort of rhythm, and a full week more of practice should help. 

Tomorrow's Headline, Today: Punchless Seahawks Lose, 17-9

SAN DIEGO - Tarvaris Jackson was brought in, largely due to his familiarity with new offensive coordinator's Darrell Bevell's offense. Those were about the only two things familiar with one another on offensive side of the ball for Seattle, as the newly-formed offense struggled to find any consistency in their pre-season opening 17-9 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

Head Coach Pete Carroll brought in Bevell and highly touted offensive line coach, Tom Cable to alter the make-up of his offense into one that relied more on running and ball control passing. There were signs of the plan taking shape as the entirely new offensive line opened some big holes for the Seahawks running backs. Free agent Thomas Clayton led the team with 47 yards rushing, but Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch each enjoyed at least one run over 10 yards. The inexperience and unfamiliarity was obvious, though, as a number of drives were stalled due to false start and holding penalties. New right tackle James Carpenter was chief among the culprits, as was new left guard Robert Gallery. Gallery is supposed to be the veteran leader, so he will likely get an earful from Cable.

The Seahawks opening drive was promising. Jackson handed off to Lynch a couple of times, and the running back gained a first down behind left tackle Russell Okung and Gallery. After an incompletion, Jackson threw a nifty screen pass to Forsett for a 15-yard gain. Sidney Rice introduced himself to Seahawks fans with a leaping snag of a high throw from Jackson 20 yards downfield. A few more runs got the team inside the Chargers 20-yard-line before a Carpenter holding penalty backed them up. Jackson and Golden Tate could not quite connect on a 3rd down pass, and the team settled for three points.

Seattle's defense did not hold the lead for long. The defense looked noticeably more aggressive than last season, with big cornerbacks like Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner jamming receivers at the line while an active front seven made life difficult for the Chargers' line. Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers was simply too good on the first series, connecting on a handful of impressive throws, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to newly re-signed receiver Malcolm Floyd.

The score stayed that way through halftime, before San Diego took the opening kickoff of the second half and  drove 70 yards for another touchdown. Both teams were well into their third-string by that point. Rookie QB Josh Portis showed off some fast feet with a couple of scrambles, but also fumbled and threw an interception.

Charlie Whitehurst subbed for Jackson after the first series and led the team to a couple of field goals. One was more a credit to Seattle's defense as rookie CB Byron Maxwell picked off a pass deep in Charger territory. The Seahawks secondary nearly caused another couple of turnovers as safety Kam Chancellor separated RB Ryan Mathews from the ball before the Chargers recovered and S/CB Josh Pinkard had another pick called back due to an illegal contact penalty on rookie CB Richard Sherman.

Carroll was happy with the performance, "We obviously showed some rust out there. That's to be expected. But, there was a lot to like, especially on the defensive side of the ball."

Carroll called out the play of linebackers Leroy Hill, David Hawthorne and undrafted rookie Mike Morgan, "Mike's a guy we knew from [USC], and he made a couple nice tackles on special teams and filled his gaps real nice for his first game."

Cable was not as effusive in his praise of the offensive line, "We were pretty sloppy out there. Nobody wants to hear excuses about these guys not playing together or a short off-season. We need to get it done, period."

Carroll said he was not too concerned about the offense yet, and expects them to "crank it up" in the coming weeks. He pointed to the short stint by the first-string and the fair number of players that were held out as precaution (including starting WR Mike Williams) as reasons a slow start was not unexpected. Exiting this game without any serious injuries was more important to Carroll at this point.

The Seahawks now have nine days until their first home game of the pre-season against the Minnesota Vikings. Jackson, Rice and Bevell all have reasons to want that to be a better offensive performance. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Seahawks Pre-Season Game 1 Downloadable Viewing Guide

If you have been a casual fan so far, or are watching with folks who are not as obsessed with Seahawks football as you, I've got something to help. Below is a link to the Seahawks pre-season roster with notes next to every player that matters. It can be printed out and either help you prep for the game, or be used as a reference when you see unfamiliar numbers flash across the screen. Hope it's useful.

***Download The Viewing Guide Here***

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

2011 Seahawks Training Camp: August 9th News & Notes

This is the fourth in a series of four training camp visits I will be making this year. 

Pictures:


STAND-OUT NEW FACES
CB Byron Maxwell
Maxwell is a 6'1" CB drafted this year who has mostly taken a back seat to the likes of Brandon Browner and fellow rookie CB Richard Sherman in training camp. He has run with the third team, and been mostly invisible until today. He had two highlight reel interceptions, stepping in front of a two receivers. One was due, in part, to a receiver running the wrong route, but Maxwell still made the play. He may be a player on the come, who needed the early part of camp to get his feet under him. Carroll said he was "special" after practice. We shall see.

CB Brandon Browner
Browner is a staple here. I continue to think he's going to be a similar story to Mike Williams this year, but on the defensive side of the ball. He is so quiet and smooth, it is easy to overlook him sometimes, but then the ball is thrown his way and it is game over. His length allows him to bat balls away even when he's not right next to the receiver. Today, he elevated and showed he was not only tall, but athletic. He high-pointed the ball like a receiver to knock it away, and drew "oohs" and "ahhs" from the crowd. I look forward to everyone seeing #37 on Thursday.

RB Thomas Clayton
Clayton was new to camp, and had a nice day. He runs with power and agility, at one point displaying both as he cut through a hole and accelerated right through rookie safety Mark LeGree. LeGree was left aching on the ground for a second before pulling himself up. Clayton reminds me a little of Marshawn Lynch in terms of style.

QB Tarvaris Jackson
Jackson did nothing today to make me think any more or less of him. Scratch that, he did take off running on one play that displayed a gear I did not know he had. He continued to be high on his passes. WR Chris Carter made a great leaping grab of one, but Jackson needs to get that under control. That is entirely correctable, much more so than field vision and decision-making. He threw a few picks today, many due to forcing a ball into a covered receiver. Charlie Whitehurst has done nothing to make Pete Carroll re-think his decision to name Jackson the starter, so it is up to Jackson and the coaches to show some improvement.

SIDELINED PLAYERS
Walter Thurmond, Roy Lewis, Colin Cole, Cameron Morrah, Deon Butler, Dexter Davis, Mike Williams, Red Bryant, Ryan Sims, Kentwan Balmer, Kris Durham

THINGS I NOW KNOW
  1. John Carlson will constantly be going vertical, often up the seam, as part of the Seahawks offense this year. Almost every catch he has had, which is a fair number, has been 20 yards downfield running up the seam. He looks good.
  2. Raheem Brock was not a one-year wonder. I expect him to put up credible sack numbers again based on his speed and pass rush moves.
  3. Ryan Sims gave me the impression he was soft today. That might be unfair if he's really hurt, but it was just the vibe I got. He needs to be on the field, earning snaps.
  4. Junior Siavii looks healthy and could pay big dividends if he can used as a rotational player instead of thrust into a starting role like last season. He will push Alan Branch for snaps.   
GENERAL IMPRESSIONS
Today's practice was different. It was the last practice before Thursday's pre-season game. Coaches spent more time working on special teams drills like punt and kick coverage/returns than usual. There was also increased use of officials, or at least more strict officiating that led to a number of flags. Crowd noise was piped in during team drills to help prepare things like silent counts. There were fewer smiles, less "teaching" and more "coaching," if that makes any sense. All in all, the execution was just okay. There were a fair number of false starts, offsides, pass interference and a few holding penalities. There were also a bunch of interceptions.

Maxwell, as described above, had two. Earl Thomas has two more. There might have been one or two beyond that. Some of them were just strong plays from strong players in the secondary. Thomas is just salivating in that rolled up slot position, and jumped a couple routes. Then again, the quarterback play continues to look like a bunch of back-up players masquerading as potential starters. All this talk of Josh Portis making strides and standing out is overplayed. Put him on a field with Tom Brady, or even Matt Hasselbeck, and his strides would look like baby steps.

The secondary is fast becoming my favorite part of the team. Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Maxwell, Josh Pinkard, Mark LeGree and eventually Walter Thurmond and Roy Lewis are all players on the rise. Seeing Kelly Jennings in there is like watching Jose Lopez take at-bats away from Dustin Ackley. Pete Carroll has made the bold move to go really young back there. Just go for it! It might be painful at times, but I'd rather lose with a young developing player getting beat than an older player without potential getting beat. If the Seahawks can stop the run the way they did to start last season and combine that with the pass rush they discovered at the end of last year in passing situations, this secondary could make some electrifying plays.

The linebackers are the other group that has me intrigued. I'm less convinced this is a group on the rise, but it certainly has the potential to be. Game play will be critical to judge these players. Malcolm Smith backs-up LeRoy Hill, and I can't say he's impressed me yet. Nothing about him jumps out as particularly special. His feet are average, his size is below average, his speed is average. I don't see a ton of burst. That said, he was running with the first unit before Hill was able to practice, so the coaches see something I don't. Mike Morgan grabs my attention much more. He has the speed, burst and hitting ability that stands out. Can he cover? What is he like in space? Only game film will answer those questions. For those that keep asking, Aaron Curry has not stood out. Either he's saving it up for the games, or he's just the player we already have seen for two seasons.

John Carlson will surprise people after many wrote him off. The introduction of Zach Miller allows Carlson to focus on what he does best, getting up-field in vertical pass patterns. There may even be single tight end sets where Carlson is the tight end on the field. His skill set is sufficiently different than Miller's that it allows Bevell to specialize depending on the situation. Miller deserves some patience as he is learning a new offense (Bevell's offense does not equal Cable's), and may take a little while to find his footing. The tight end group, as a whole, may be talented enough to take a roster spot away from some other position group. Anthony McCoy has to be a lock, and Dominque Byrd is playing his way into contention. Cameron Morrah may end getting stashed on the PUP list until 6 games in.

At this point, I expect Colin Cole, Morrah, Roy Lewis and Deon Butler to all go on the PUP list heading into the season. Butler and Cole could possibly be released with injury settlements, especially Butler.

Cole's spot is challenged by the additions of players like Alan Branch, Ryan Sims, Junior Siavii and Pep Livingston. Branch looks the part, but has been mostly uninspiring in practice. Sims sat out today, which felt lazy for some unconscious reason. Livingston has shown some nice flashes, but could possibly be a practice squad player. It is hard to imagine Cole rehabbing in time to be ready for the regular season, but you never know.

Jameson Konz continues to impress at defensive end. He is quick around the edge and also is a great option for zone blitzes where he can drop back into coverage from his end position. He's not a star, but certainly shows promise. Raheem Brock looked better than the other defensive ends today. He was spinning, swimming and hooking his way into the quarterback's face. Rookie James Carpenter got a lesson or three today.

It was hard not to walk away from today's practice expecting much from the offense on Thursday. It will be important to watch for little things like push in the run game, and repeatable plays like screen passes that gain some yards. There will be a lot of drop-offs and check-downs, and probably a fair number of penalties and mishaps. The defense should be farther along. Some key players will be out, including Red Bryant, so it will be a good test of what should be better depth this year.