Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2012 Training Camp: July 31st News & Notes

Seattle had its second padded practice, and the intensity returned in a hard-hitting session that had plenty of talking, mostly from the defense. This practice also marked the debut of new wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

Matt Flynn will be your starter
As I wrote here earlier, I have seen enough and listened enough after four practices to pronounce this competition over. The coaches, for the first time, did not follow the order of the depth chart for snaps today all the way through practice. Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson alternated early in team drills a few times before Russell Wilson took his first snap. Flynn did not have his best practice, as the defense played wonderfully and forced some incompletions. He also suffered a bit from the quality of receivers he was working with in the second unit. Even so, it was no contest. He owned the top two or three passes again today. His best was a deep pass to Antonio Bryant along the left sideline for a "hole shot" behind the linebackers and in front of the safety. Perfectly timed, he had to wait for it to develop, and deliver it to the right spot. His deep pass later to Cameron Morrah was another anticipation throw. The guy is simply outclassing the competition, and it is being under-reported.

Braylon Edwards will make things interesting
Bryant was the first veteran wideout signed, and his most memorable play before today was getting drilled by K.J. Wright. He had a nice day today, but does not appear to give the team anything Ben Obomanu doesn't do better, and Obomanu can play special teams. Edwards is another story. The guy has size that gives him a unique quality. Schneider and Carroll love unique. Someone wrote that this could be a hedge against Sidney Rice's health. Not true. Edwards means Kris Durham should try and find another team. Edwards can be a red zone threat, and a guy who can get you quality yards of first down via slants and stick routes. He could end up being a starter, but only in the sense that he is on the field first. Golden Tate, Ricardo Lockette and others could get as many snaps or more. Edwards did not dominate, by any stretch. Brandon Browner enjoyed slamming Edwards to the ground during one drill on press coverage. Edwards showed a nice ability to start and stop quickly, and also had the highlight of the day when he made a juggling catch along the right sideline on a throw from Russell Wilson. Edwards is nothing to get super excited about, but he could help this team, and will complicate the receiver picture on the roster.

Offense and defense challenged each other today
The defense dominated day one. The offense won day two. Day three was a little blah all around. Both groups came out with more intensity today, and traded blows back and forth. Cameron Morrah made Earl Thomas look silly in 1v1 drills early. Browner threw Tate and Edwards to the ground to the cheers of his defensive mates. Alan Branch, Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane took turns stuffing running plays, only to have Marshawn Lynch break a few long ones. Donny Lisowski picked off Wilson in the end zone during a two-minute drill. Marcus Trufant and Bobby Wagner each had pick-six plays. Doug Baldwin made a number of impressive catches. Perhaps, the best symbol of the day was a nice reverse to Deon Butler, who was sprung on a crushing block from Ricardo Lockette, that would have gone for 25+ yards before Richard Sherman popped the ball loose and the defense recovered. It would be great to see this offense start to really challenge the defense day in and day out.

WR Phil Bates
Bates was all over the field today. I counted five or six catches, some deep, some of the highlight reel variety, and some showcasing his athleticism in the open field. Strong practice squad candidate at this point.

LB Bobby Wagner
Wagner showed signs of getting up to speed today. His coverage skills may be his strength. He read a number of plays and shadowed running backs out of the back field. His best play was the pick-six mentioned above where he displayed great read-and-react ability. He must have been listening to my podcast last night. As I said there, give the kid some time. He should be okay.

CB Coye Francies and Donny Lisowski
Hard to pick between these two today. Both showed strong ball skills and covered well. Winston Guy had a pick, and could have made the list as well. Cordarro Law had another sack.

Ron Parker, Jameson Konz, Walter Thurmond, Anthony McCoy

  1. The wives and girlfriends of the Seahawks appear to be as classy as the players themselves. I had the pleasure of meeting a few of them. Great folks. Welcome to the community!
  2. The defense loves Lynch. On one play, Lynch burst up the middle and broke into the secondary. He slammed into Brandon Browner 20 yards down field who wrapped him up. They slapped five and laughed after the whistle blew. 

There was so much going on at practice today that it was hard to take copious notes. Pass rushing drills were going on at the same time as press coverage drills. I went cross-eyed attempting to watch both. So here is some stream-of-consciousness in no particular order:

- Cameron Morrah continued to play well in Anthony McCoy's absence

- LB Allen Bradford had a nice day, both in pass rush drills and against the run during team drills

- Ken Norton is awesome. He was barking all day, including his best moment when Lockette tossed the ball down at Roy Lewis, when Norton could be heard screaming, "Who does that Lockette? That's your one warning. Who does that? That is not part of the program!"

- S Chris Maragos had a nice day

- Brandon Mebane nearly had a diving interception after Wagner tipped the pass from Jackson

- Doug Baldwin was working with Lavasier Tuinei after practice on his release

- Bruce Irvin spent a lot of time running near the quarterback, but was not getting home that often. He was stoned by Russell Okung on more than one occasion.

- John Schneider looks like a good Dad

The team is off tomorrow, and then will be back at it on Thursday. Talk to you then.

Mark It Down: Matt Flynn Will Win Starting Role

There will be a series of articles, both local and national, within the next few days or weeks that will announce that Matt Flynn has won the Seahawks quarterback competition. These articles will tell you that Flynn had the job as soon as he signed that contract. They will poke fun at Pete Carroll's competition mantra, or call it an outright farce. They will be wrong.

It is important to share this now, when local radio and some prominent national writers are talking up Russell Wilson. Tarvaris Jackson is still at the top of the depth chart. No pre-season games have been played yet. I have absolutely no stake in who wins this job other than wanting this team to kick as much ass as possible. It was this blog that predicted that Jackson would be released, and then turned around after getting new information and told you Jackson was actually winning the job heading into training camp. That was confirmed by multiple sources inside the organization who wished to remain off the record. The signs were there if you paid close attention. Pete Carroll and John Schneider started reminding people that Jackson had been a warrior and played well last year. The receivers all went to Jackson's house on the surprise off day when the team lost a couple practices for hitting too hard. Flynn and Wilson had not outplayed Jackson. The unthinkable, Jackson repeating as starter, was possible.

The first day of practice did little to change that. All three quarterbacks were bad. Then, everything changed. Flynn dominated practice when getting his turn to get snaps with the starters. He was the best quarterback again the next day when taking the third string reps. Today, he was not as strong as the last two days, but was still the clear leader of the position.

Flynn is winning this role. He knows it. The coaches know it. The players know it. That matters. He did not come in and have it handed to him. There have been plenty of doubters that called him Kevin Kolb II. The locker room will always form around the starter, but the belief is that much stronger knowing that they have the best guy on the field. What happens if Flynn is handed the job and Jackson never gets a chance? The team saw what Jackson sacrificed last year to get on the field. They witnessed how he kept his mouth shut when the offensive line was a disaster. They also know he is not Tom Brady. These are men, and like other men, they will fall in line with a new leader who earns it far better than one that is imposed on them. Nobody that is watching this competition unfold could argue the three players were not given a fair shot. Flynn is simply a better player.

Think about how this process impacts Flynn. He did not come in here with a big contract and get handed a role. In fact, he started down in the depth chart. How do you think it will effect his play to know that he was the best quarterback on the field?  He is taking this team over in July so that he can lead them in December.

Some will ask about Wilson. He continues to get a lot of press and accolades. It is true. He is playing well. The gap between him and Flynn is far larger than most are reporting. Flynn is making tough throws down the field for chunks of yardage. Wilson is choosing shorter and more reliable routes. He is not throwing with anywhere near the level of anticipation that Flynn is. Forget being able to see if a receiver is open. Flynn is seeing receivers that are on their way to getting open and putting the ball where they will be.

Beginning the season with Wilson does not make a lot of sense almost any way you slice it. The rookie quarterbacks that start in year one are given every rep possible in camp, and still operate with training wheels through their first season. Wilson is a special talent, especially in terms of preparation, but rolling him out as a Week 1 rookie starter when he has been splitting reps does very little good for him or the team. The coaching staff and front office know it. We saw signs of that today, when for the first time, some of the quarterback rotation skipped Wilson. The first team drills went Jackson, Flynn, Jackson, Flynn, and then Wilson. Carroll and Schneider have been on the radio the last two days setting the stage for the quarterback competition to change and giving Wilson some air cover for an inevitable step back. Both mentioned the challenge of splitting reps for a rookie.

Flynn winning this job does not mean Wilson has lost it in the long run. The organization's belief in Wilson is real. His talent is real. The question will be whether Flynn ever opens the door for Wilson to overtake him.

Seahawks fans are going to see a quarterback they can be proud of when Flynn takes the field. The mistakes Jackson makes by holding the ball too long or throwing into coverage show up on the practice field. Flynn does not make those mistakes. His biggest downside so far is a lack of mobility that could lead to a few sacks. He has been sacked eight times in his two starts. It will be important to see how he reacts to getting hit, and how he performs as the game wears on. Making the throws he is making in practice is one thing. Doing it after getting hammered a few times and playing a few hours of football is entirely different.

Flynn will be a quarterback that dissects defenses, and makes chunk plays that gets fans off their feet. He will not make many head-slapping decisions. He may even be a Top 10 quarterback before all is said and done. So prepare yourself for those articles that will break once the coaching staff and front office decide it is time to make this official. Prepare for those people that will say the job was Flynn's all along. Know better.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hawk Blogger Training Camp Podcast: Special Guest Scott Enyeart

Welcome back to one of our favorite podcast guests, Scott Enyeart! Enyeart has coached High School and Division I football, has ties to the Pete Carroll coaching staff, writes on the USC beat and for FieldGulls.com. He also does a regular podcast on KJR with Jason Puckett. He joined me for a long conversation on the first three days of training camp. We covered the quarterbacks in depth, along with almost every position group on the roster.

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

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

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2012 Seahawks Training Camp: July 30th News & Notes

Seattle had its first padded practice of training camp today on a cold Monday morning. The quarterback race continued to take shape and some others trends have started to emerge.

Ricardo Lockette is worth getting excited about
Receiver may be the most concerning aspect of the Seahawks 2012 roster. Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice are good, and potentially great. Ben Obomanu is solid, with limited upside. Deon Butler is good, and could be a nice 4th or 5th receiver. Golden Tate is a playmaker, but not an every down starter. Ricardo Lockette is putting on a show at camp. He is tall (6'2"), fast, and is flashing impressive concentration on jump balls. He has made at least three highlight reel grabs that required him to go over Seattle's big secondary. I have not seen him lose one of those plays so far. He may be rough around the edges running routes and making reads (it's hard to tell without being in the huddle), but it will be hard for Seahawks coaches to leave him off the field if he continues to show big play ability that no other receiver outside of Rice has demonstrated. Kam Chancellor might disagree, but Lockette is possibly the best athlete on the roster. Tate had some remarkable practices in his first year, but failed to follow it up in games. My guess is Lockette makes at least one highlight play and possibly blows up in his first game.

Flynn out in front
Each practice has seen a different quarterback take reps with the first team. Today, it was Russell Wilson's turn to take lead with Tarvaris Jackson getting 2nd string reps and Matt Flynn taking 3rd string snaps. A funny thing happened in the first set of team drills. Wilson came on and handed off twice before fumbling a snap on the third play. Jackson came on and ran three plays as well (nice pass to Cameron Morrah for 20, running play and a 15-yard gain to Butler). Then, the 3rd string quarterback came in, Flynn, and proceeded to run six plays. Flynn got one more snap than either Jackson or Wilson in 7v7 drills. Flynn, Wilson, and Jackson all got 13 snaps in the final team drills. In prior days, the starter got more reps than the other players. It is possible there is method to the way the drills are run that allows a QB to stay on, or come off, depending on how they perform. Either way, Flynn appears to be earning more snaps. He was responsible for the best throws of the day again. He threw a gorgeous 40-yard touchdown to Tate near the left hash in 7v7 drills. His anticipation is clearly superior to the other quarterbacks at this point. There was a defender five yards in front of Tate when Flynn released the ball, but Tate was five yards beyond the defender when the throw reached him. That's called throwing your receiver open, and Flynn has done it two days in a row.

He also was responsible for another 40-yard touchdown to Lockette near the end of practice. Again, it was along the left side of the field, which appears to be his stronger side. Even when he is checking down to the running back, it is in rhythm with the offense. He was not flawless, as he was a day earlier, but he was impressive.

Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons get to work
Pete Carroll said on Brock and Salk this morning that padded practices give you a better chance to create true pass rushing situations. Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons regularly found their way into the backfield. Both had at least two sacks, and could have had a few more in a live contact game. People continue to ask if it is the result of poor protection or good pass rushing. That's a hard question to answer until the team faces other opponents. I can say that not every player is getting pressure on the quarterback, so Irvin and Clemons deserve some credit.

TE Kellen Winslow Jr.
Winslow was on the practice field again today, after taking yesterday off, and was a frequent target of all the quarterbacks. He was often lining up outside the hash marks, and making most of his catches 15-20 yards down field.

DE Cordarro Law
Law did not register any sacks that I saw, but he was creating pressure, and looks to be a unique athlete. He could be the sleeper undrafted free agent of 2012.

QB Russell Wilson
Wilson had his best practice to date. He started off shaky, but came on strong as practice wore on. He was letting go of the ball in rhythm instead of waiting for the line to wash by him. His height did not appear to be an issue at all, and it should be noted I have not seen one of his passes batted down yet (although I can't say I see every play). The question has been less about batted balls and more about whether he could see down field and find open men with taller players surrounding him. I was skeptical after two practices, but today was encouraging in that regard. He was more decisive today, and completed 9 of his last 10 passes by my count.

Ron Parker, Jameson Konz, Jason Jones, Alan Branch, Walter Thurmond, Byron Maxwell was limited, Matt McCoy, Anthony McCoy

  1. Cameron Morrah is going to be a tough out. He is making the plays that come his way, and is a great target at tight end. Don't be surprised of the team keeps four tight ends: Zach Miller, Winslow, McCoy and Morrah.
  2. Kris Durham may be a good slot receiver for someone, but I'm not sure I see him sticking as an outside guy. He looks uncomfortable and out of position. His fate in Seattle may have been written when Doug Baldwin won the slot role last year.

Jackson is not playing poorly. Flynn and Wilson are just playing better. That's exactly what Seahawks fans should hope for. I expected to see Flynn as a limited player who was just more ready than Wilson to take the helm. The last two days, Flynn has looked like a better quarterback than the other two. His throws are on time, his reads are quick and correct, his accuracy is good and his arm strength is more than adequate. He takes shots down the field, and will check down appropriately. Wilson is definitely more mobile and it will be interesting to see if that is factor once the games begin.

Robert Turbin had another strong practice. He is a clear upgrade over Justin Forsett.

Tate, Lockette, Butler and Obomanu are all playing well. Doug Baldwin is not being targeted as often as last year at this time, but that may be by design. Sidney Rice (who had his red jersey back on today) may not have caught a ball yet in team drills. Those are the odds-on favorites to be the receivers that come out of camp with the team. Lockette could be the starter opposite Rice, with Obomanu providing an option who coaches know they can rely on.

The overall intensity of practice was down today. There may be some tired legs out there, and there was a smaller crowd due to being on a weekday. Practice took place on the far field as well, which always stinks.

Irvin and Law were getting coached up on zone drops early in practice. Irvin needed a few reminders from the coaches before he seemed to get it. Dexter Davis made a nice tip and interception during that same zone drop drill. Davis continues to be a hard worker who has the potential to flash during the games.

I am scheduled to be back at practice tomorrow, but may choose to sleep instead. Find me on Twitter if you have any questions.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

2012 Seahawks Training Camp: July 29th News & Notes

It was another packed weekend practice for the Seahawks. Matt Flynn took the first-team reps today after Tarvaris Jackson got his chance yesterday. None of the quarterbacks played well in the first practice. What a difference a day makes.

Matt Flynn surges
Flynn looked like a different player today. He was decisive, smart, poised, accurate and productive. He was nearly flawless throughout the day, and showed a variety of ways he can beat a defense. Most impressive were the moments when he challenged the defense down field on situations (e.g. 3rd and short) where the other quarterbacks were settling for short or intermediate throws. His most memorable play came on a 3rd down drill facing the first team defense. All the throws up until that point had been up the middle to the tight end, or timing slants or swing passes. Nothing was more than 10-15 yards. On this play, Flynn saw Golden Tate cutting through the defense--which seemed overly focused on the shorter plays--and lofted a gorgeous pass 35-40 yards down field to Tate for a big gain. It was an NFL read and throw, and it showed the gunslinger mentality a starting quarterback needs to make plays beyond the ordinary. Flynn drew the defense offsides again today, and wisely went deep. There is a savvy to his game that is just missing from Jackson's. He would check down in the rhythm of the offense instead of holding the ball too long. He tried some back shoulder throws. He scanned the entire field for options instead of narrowing his vision to one or two receivers. My overall impression was that Flynn is gaining confidence as he gets more time in the system, and should continue to progress. Even if he falters over the next few days, he showed things that Jackson may never do in his career. He looked like a Top 20 quarterback, and maybe Top 15.

Receivers look competent, not dynamic
Deon Butler had a good practice. Obomanu had a great practice. Doug Baldwin made the plays that came his way. Tate was strong and courageous battling for the ball. Even so, the weapons out there felt limited. Kellen Winslow Jr. took the day off and Sidney Rice played sparingly, so that plays a role, but it feels like this team needs another receiver. Obomanu feels like the safe pick to start. Tate is a situational asset. Ricardo Lockette clearly has the highest upside, but also the farthest to go in order to fulfill it. Butler's chances of making the team drastically increase with this group because he gives the offense a proven commodity that has over-the-top speed. Finalizing the roster here will be a challenge. Don't be surprised if the team adds another veteran after final cut-downs occur.

Offense wins the day
The entire offense stepped up today. Pass protection was better. Running plays were crisper. All the quarterbacks moved the offense in team drills. The first day of camp felt like the offense might never have a day like this. It was great to see just 24 hours later.

Rookie RB Robert Turbin
Turbin flashed today. He got some coaching from Tom Cable and seemed to take it to heart with more decisive reads and cuts. He exploded down-field a few times.

WR Charly Martin
Martin continues to be in the middle of the pack of wide receivers, and has a little Brandon Stokeley in him. He makes nice cuts, and shows some speed. He's a long-shot, but is making plays.

CB Coye Francies
The 6'0" corner is entering his 4th year in the NFL, and plays with a swagger that fits in the Seahawks secondary. He gets beat now and then, but also aggressively makes plays on the ball, including a very nice break-up in 1v1 drills today.

Winslow, Ron Parker (ice on his knee), Donny Lisowski (ice on shoulder), Jameson Konz, Rishaw Johnson (appeared to hurt calf or ankle near the end of practice), Byron Maxwell

  1. 3rd down defense appears to include Leroy Hill and K.J. Wright at LB, Roy Lewis, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Hard to tell how things are faring between Trufant and others at slot CB.
  2. Deuce Lutui is getting some reps with the first team offense in place of John Moffitt
  3. Byron Maxwell was hurt yesterday, not at the bottom of the depth chart. That's good news since he could be the best slot CB of the bunch and a great special teams player
  4. Cordarro Law and Bruce Irvin look to be fast friends. Maybe roommates. 
  5. Kris Durham has an uphill battle to make this team

Kris Durham was a 4th round draft choice just a year ago, and got praise from then-Seahawks receiver Mike Williams early on. He looks to be a major disappointment thus far. There is no suddenness to his game, and he drops too many passes to be a possession receiver. He improved as the practice went on, but most of the other receivers are outplaying him. This could be a test of John Schneider and Pete Carroll in terms of their roster philosophy around competition. It would be hard to part ways with a 4th round choice one year later.

The secondary looks and acts like a hit squad. They are unmistakable when they rotate on the field with the likes of Chancellor, Browner and Sherman, along with Earl Thomas. Teams will come to fear them if they do not already. This is not a group looking to prove anything. They seem to already know how good they will be.

It was good to see the coaches working with the receivers and corners on pass interference drills, complete with referees. It will be a big challenge for this aggressive defense, and the drill they worked on looked promising as a way to create those learning opportunities outside of game day.

I plan to attend practice again tomorrow, and should have a good feel for which of these observations are patterns and which were aberrations. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

2012 Seahawks Training Camp: July 28th News & Notes

Seahawks fans came out in droves to watch the unveiling of the 2012 squad. Pete Carroll and his staff put the team through a new battery of drills that involved more simultaneous activity (e.g., 4 or 5 drills at once instead of 2 or 3), more conditioning, and more mixing of offensive and defensive players. The result was a spirited practice that lasted around three hours.

Quarterbacks do not impress
Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson all struggled to make consistently good choices followed up by physically sound throws. Jackson appeared to have the most command of what was going on, which is expected, but still held onto the ball for achingly long periods of time, and made some bad throws into coverage, including a pick-six for Richard Sherman. Flynn showed more arm strength that I expected to see, especially on intermediate routes up the seam, but his accuracy was off on a number of throws. I'm eager to see him throw to the starters tomorrow. Wilson has a great arm, but the idea that his height is not an issue needs to go out the window. He consistently had to wait for the pass rush to wash by him before he threw the ball, indicating some trouble seeing down field. He was also a little quick to tuck and run. He flashed some talent on timing patterns like out routes. The defense was playing well, but the results would have been different if Matt Hasselbeck was out there throwing. That's not crying over spilled milk. It is just meant to indicate that the level of quarterback play is still lower than it was when Hasselbeck was on the roster.

Pass rush is much improved
Bruce Irvin, Dexter Davis, Jason Jones, Jaye Howard and Cordarro Law all demonstrated consistent pressure on the passer. A large number of offensive plays would have never happened in a real game where defenses are allowed to hit the quarterback. Irvin was not unblockable, but was in the lineman's heads, leading to at least one false start for Alex Barron. Some of this could be attributed to poor offensive line play, but I saw a line last year that was far worse protect the quarterback far better in practice. Pass rush could conceivably go from a weakness to a strength this season.

Expectations are high
The size of the crowd. The light heckling of Jackson and Wilson. The mass of fans staying late for the chance to get a single autograph. All of these things point to a team that is operating with expectations. It felt different today.

Rookie DE Cordarro Law
Law is an undrafted free agent out of Southern Miss. He is not big at only 6'1" and 254 lbs, but he is lightning-quick off the edge. He was in the backfield on three consecutive plays at one point. He should push Dexter Davis for a roster spot and playing time. He is an early practice squad candidate as well.

DT Jason Jones
This guy literally stands out. You don't see many 6'5" defensive tackles, but that's exactly what Jones is. Do yourself a favor and watch him the next practice you attend for at least a few snaps. He slices into the backfield with regularity.

Rookie DE Bruce Irvin
Irvin did a lot of linebacker drills, and was on an odd substitution pattern that had him playing with the first, second and third stringers. It almost seemed like they were protecting the 2nd string offensive tackles, and pitting Irvin against veteran Alex Barron--who was playing with the 3rd string--on purpose. Can't wait to see this guy play in a game.

No surprises.

  1. Bobby Wagner is #1 on the middle linebacker depth chart. He ran with the starters all day.
  2. Doug Baldwin is getting some reps on the outside.
  3. Byron Maxwell looks to be in trouble. He was running with the last group in drills, and did not get on the field for team drills from what I saw. There may be an injury issue, but he appeared fine and was not wearing a red jersey. 
  4. Ben Obomanu, Goldent Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Deon Butler all got some reps with the starters on the outside. Rotations will change once Rice is back full-time, but it looks to be between Tate and Obomanu at this point.
  5. Deuce Lutui likes to dance

Matt Flynn did not have a great practice, but he had the most promising practice of the three competitors. His arm strength on seam routes is far better than I expected, even if his accuracy was not there. He showed an interest in making those back-shoulder throws that Aaron Rodgers makes a living off of, but his receivers did not appear to be on the same page. It is hard to get a read on a guy after just one practice, but he set my mind at ease about the things I worry most about like arm strength. Jackson left the door open with a subpar practice, and Flynn did not noticeably step up. He needs to shine at some point if he wants a real shot at Jackson's job.

There is no way you can watch Russell Wilson drop back and not have serious questions about his ability to consistently play in this league. Things are happening so fast, and the windows are so tight. I realize he has succeeded despite his height in other places, but I'll need to see it before I believe it at the NFL level.

Ricardo Lockette had the best practice of anyone on offense.He caught everything thrown his way, and demonstrated great concentration on a couple of deep balls. The players above him on the depth chart could be feeling some pressure if he piles up a few more practices like that.

The secondary is just filthy. Telling you more about Kam Chancellor, Sherman, Brandon Browner and Earl Thomas does not make a bunch of sense. These guys are great, and they know it. Roy Lewis and Marcus Trufant joined them a few times and played well.

Phil Bates made a few nice plays, and Golden Tate made the most of the few opportunities that got sent his way.

Robert Turbin did not stand out, but judging the run game is nearly impossible at these events. Marshawn Lynch looked to be in great shape, and was running hard.

Zach Miller dropped a couple of passes. Kellen Winslow Jr. was okay, but not great. Cameron Morrah looks to be Winslow Jr.'s backup and Anthony McCoy looks to be Miller's backup.

These are thoughts after a single practice. It will be easier to make more confident assessments after seeing them a few more times.

Friday, July 27, 2012

1st Edition: Seahawks Training Camp Handout

Training camp can be overwhelming if you are trying to figure out who is who. The team has not historically handed out rosters, so you are left asking, "Who is #91?" There are also people coming along with you who may not be hardcore fans like you.

I have taken the time to create a roster that is up-to-date as of 11PM the night before camp with notes on every player. 

You can download it here and either print it out, or have it on your phone for reference. Print out some extra copies and hand them out to friend if you like.

See you out there!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Announcing: Hawk Knocks 2012

I love the Seahawks. I love football. I love writing. This blog is the result of a compulsion that most would consider borderline clinical. It is something that I would do--and did do--with no readers. As I approach 1000 posts, five years of learning, and thousands of great Seahawks fan to interact with, it is time to attempt something new, in addition to the content I already create. I have always wanted to write a book, and the Seahawks 2012 training camp is going to be the starting point. I don't know exactly how it will come together, but I hope that some of you will come along for the ride. All profits from this project will go to Ben's Fund.

Those of you that read this blog regularly may remember my series on Chris Carter last pre-season that followed a Hard Knocks-style look behind the scenes of a football player going through training camp. I am thrilled to announce that Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin have agreed to allow me to follow them through camp this year. My feature stories on Sherman and Baldwin are among the most popular articles to date on this blog. Hawk Knocks will take us deeper into their lives as their careers evolve in their second NFL season. I expect to work with other players as well, both less established rookies and older veterans that have less certain spots on the final roster. My goal is to go well beyond football, and tell the human story behind the ups and downs of making a career of being a pro football player. You will not find breaking news, but there will be a narrative that gives you a perspective into your favorite football team that you may never have seen before. 

Camp opens in three days, and the specifics are not nailed down.  The hope is that chapters of the book will be published before each pre-season game, so you won't need to wait for training camp to end before getting access. Stay tuned for details. Your support, interest, and patience is greatly appreciated.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Putting Chris Clemons Extension In Perspective

News broke last night that Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons has signed a contract extension that runs through the 2014 season. Terms are yet to be disclosed, but we can make an educated guess. It was reported that Clemons turned down a 3 year, $19M contract earlier. Based on his age (30), specialized role, and current contract (he was scheduled to make $4M before missing mini-camp cost him $1M), a deal worth $19-24M with guaranteed money of around $7-9M makes sense. That would double his salary this season, and give him a chance to earn similar money the next two seasons. It also protects the Seahawks downside risk by allowing them to move on after this season. Looking at it another way, Seattle likely shifted the 2012 budget allocated to Mike Williams over to Clemons, and can reevaluate the spend each year after.

Securing Clemons was critical from a football perspective. The team needs two superior edge rushers. Replacing Clemons with Irvin only accomplishes so much. Seattle can now run out two motivated edge rushers with a full compliment of interior and blitzing options. Clemons has developed into far more than a pass rusher as well. He was a great run defender last season, and a team leader. There should be no more contractual distractions for the Seahawks as they head into camp. The runway is clear for takeoff.

Ironically, Seattle still needs to find a pass-rushing defensive end to pair with Bruce Irvin beyond this season. This extension gives Clemons the spot to lose, but it is too hard to find great pass rushers, so waiting until 2014 to add another defensive end would be too late. The defense will not want to backslide to one pass-rushing threat on the outside. Dexter Davis shows some potential if he can stay healthy, but more likely, look for the Seahawks to draft for that position again over the next two seasons.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Instant Analysis: Mike Williams Released

Word just came down that the Seahawks have released wide receiver Mike Williams. Hearing that Williams will not be on the final 53-man roster this season after having a disappointing year and a serious injury is not surprising. The timing of this news raises some questions.

Williams' breakout season in 2010 was largely due to his commitment to a workout regimen that had him in prime physical condition, as well as a strong desire to get back on the football field. Some whispered that he was not in the same shape last season, which contributed to his drastic drop-off in production. Williams was rarely targeted by Tarvaris Jackson, and never appeared to develop a rapport with his new quarterback. Jackson avoided tight spots for throws, and Williams is rarely wide open. Sidney Rice was clearly Jackson's favorite target, and the only player he would throw to even if he was double or triple covered. The hope was that a full off-season would allow Williams to work his way back to peak condition and find that chemistry with Jackson (or fill in your favorite starter at quarterback). The broken leg Williams suffered toward the end of last season cost him that chance. Or, at least, that's giving Williams the benefit of the doubt. It is also possible that Williams did not demonstrate that he was willing to put in the time necessary to work his way back into the Seahawks plans. 

The addition of Kellen Winslow Jr. likely played a factor. Even though Williams plays wide receiver, his best position was often in the slot or running quick slants where he could use his big body to wall off defenders. The combination of Doug Baldwin and Winslow can run the routes Williams would run and do it with more success, while also offering a plethora of other abilities. 

Some will immediately jump to the conclusion that this release means Kris Durham, Richardo Lockette, Golden Tate or some other receiver has proven he can be the starting split end. That is possible, but not a certainty. Instead, imagine Williams as a collection of routes and skills that merit a range of snaps in the game plan. Winslow and Baldwin could cover maybe 60% of those, leaving some combination of the other receivers to cover the rest. In other words, the release of Williams does not mean the team has lost it's #2 receiver. We won't know who is taking which parts of Williams reps until camp opens. Don't be surprised if Ben Obomanu lines up opposite Rice to begin with. The guy plays with heart and does his job well. It would be great if a guy like Lockette, who has top shelf speed, could earn it. Early word is that he has been dropping far too many balls to merit serious consideration so far.

Finding enough snaps for Deon Butler, Lockette, Tate, Durham, and Obomanu to evaluate them is going to be tough as it is. Not to mention the likes of Jermaine Kearse, Phil Bates, Lavasier Tuinei, and the rest of the undrafted kids. Keeping Williams around just muddies and already murky picture. The front office would have to be convinced that the he would offer things the other players simply were not capable of to justify keeping him around.

The other wildcard here is Chris Clemons. What does a defensive end have to do with a wide receiver? Williams was set to make $3M this year. Adding that budget to the Clemons negotiations can only help. 

Williams was a fast favorite, and a unique talent. It was fun to watch him in 2010, and the hope will be he will catch on somewhere else (outside of the NFC) and revive his comeback.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Breaking Down Russell Wilson

Matt Flynn has two NFL starts. Tarvaris Jackson has 34. I spent time breaking down Flynn and Jackson recently. Russell Wilson has yet to play a snap in the NFL, but his four years of college play should at least be directionally interesting. I compiled Wilson's college splits from cfbstats.com and combined them into career splits, just as I did with Jackson. The results were impressive, astounding even, and paint a promising picture of what kind of player Wilson could be if his game translates to the NFL.

Note: College football uses a different passer rating formula than the NFL (for some stupid reason). I took the liberty of translating all of Wilson's ratings to the NFL formula so it would be easier to do an apples-to-apples comparison. All ratings offered below are the NFL system.

The sterling senior
Most of this article will focus on Wilson's career splits, but his senior season was so eye-popping, that I had to share a few things.

The splits on cfbstats.com include 47 different cuts, ranging from how the player did versus ranked and unranked teams, all the way to how they performed on 3rd and 1-3 yards to go. It is typical for even the best quarterbacks to have ratings that drop into the 60s, 50s, or lower when the situation is really challenging like 3rd and 10+ yards to go. Wilson's lowest passer rating in any of those 47 splits as a senior was 87.5. It was on 3rd and 7-9 yards to go. Only 11 NFL quarterbacks had a higher rating over the course of the entire season last year than that. The point is that 87.5 is a darn good rating, and unreal if it is as bad as you get.

Wilson set the passer efficiency rating record for college football last season with a 191.8 rating. That translates to a 135.8 NFL passer rating. His rating dropped below 100.0 on only two of the 47 splits tracked by cfbstats. Besides 3rd and 7-9 yards, Wilson was a 91.2 passer when his field position was between his own 21-39 yard line. What a loser.

Among the most impressive aspects of his senior performance was how he handled 3rd downs. Wilson was a perfect 158.3 on 3rd down and less than 6 yards to go, including 13 touchdowns and just 1 interception. He wasn't much worse on 3rd and 10+ yards to go, where he was a 155.4 passer. Perhaps most amazing was that he only had 15 pass attempts on 3rd and 10+ yards all season long. That Wisconsin team wasn't bad, eh? His combined 3rd down numbers as a senior were 75.3% completion, 16 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a 154.9 rating. That's a whole college season where the quarterback has a nearly perfect passer rating.

It is worth noting he was not just getting fat on weak competition. He had a 125.3 rating and completed 71.1% of his passes against Associated Press ranked teams. He was at 123.7 versus FBS teams with a winning record and 130.9 versus BCS AQ teams.

One great year is interesting, but career trends tell us more.

Holy red zone, Batman!
Perfection for an NFL quarterback is 158.3. That's the absolute highest rating an NFL quarterback can receive. Russell Wilson's career numbers in the red zone included 72 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and a 158.0 rating. That is not his rating for one game. It is not his rating for one season. That is his rating over his 50 game college career.

If that 0.3 he blew is bothering you, take some solace in the fact that he turned in a perfect 158.3 rating in his senior season while throwing 24 touchdowns and only 1 interception in the red zone. He was perfect his junior year as well, and his sophomore. It was his paltry 157.2 red zone passer rating as a freshman that dragged his career number below perfection.

These were not all cheap touchdowns, either. A full 30% of his 72 red zone touchdown passes were 15+ yards.

He displays an almost predatory pattern where his passer rating goes up the closer he gets to the opponents end zone, as if he can smell blood.

Click to enlarge

A competitive spirit is evident
Jackson has been a player in the NFL that is at his best when his team is ahead. Wilson actually improved his play when his team fell behind. His was great when the team was tied (105.5), very good when losing by 1-7 points (102.1) and terrific when trailing by 8-14 points (110.9). He dropped off to 81.0 when losing by 15+ points, for what that's worth. Although, that only happened six times in his career.

By comparison, he was 96.8 when winning by 1-7 points, 86.3 when winning by 8-14 points, and 114.7 when winning by 15+ points.

A full 62% of his 109 career passing touchdowns came when his team was tied or trailing. These numbers, combined with the red zone numbers, paint a picture of a guy who does not like to lose, and has another gear he can reach when his team needs it.

A fast starter
Wilson's best quarter was the first, where he posted a career 117.8 rating. He appears to be aggressive, getting more big plays of 15+ yards in that quarter than any other. He comes in with a plan, and seems to execute it well with 34 touchdowns and only 4 picks in the first quarter.

The majority of his touchdowns came in the first half (61%), and even though he attempted a combined 224 more pass attempts in the first half than in the second, he had two fewer interceptions.

Being quick out of gate extends to the season as well. His best month was the first one of the season during which he threw 37 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions for a 119.3 rating. Some of that is obviously due to college scheduling where weaker opponents are often scheduled early in the season, but he only had 5 games versus Division I-AA teams.

Good, but not great, against the best 
Wilson played twelve games against ranked teams (AP). He had a 90.3 rating in those games with a nice 5/2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His completion percentage dropped quite a bit. He was a career 63.1% passer against unranked teams. That fell to 54.7% against ranked teams. He actually averaged more yards per game against ranked teams (236 vs 227), but the percentage of his throws that were picked off went up substantially. He threw a pick every 37 throws against ranked teams. It took, on average, 56 throws  for unranked teams to pick off Wilson.

How Wilson goes, so goes his team
Some guys can come out and play a good game, but have their team lose. Others represent more of a bellwether. Wilson is the latter. He was a 117.8 rated passer in games his team won, and a 79.9 passer during losses. He threw a pick once every 86 attempts in wins. Think about that. 

He threw a pick every 32 attempts in losses. He attempted more passes in losses, but still came up with almost 20 fewer passing yards per game than he did during wins. His completion percentage was 66% in wins and 54% in losses.

Of course quarterbacks numbers are going to be better when their team wins than when they lose. These massive differences, though, indicate Wilson is an impact player who can carry a team when he is playing well.

If only college numbers counted in the pros...
Looking at Wilson's college numbers would leave any fan drooling. Which college numbers or performances matter the most is a debate that will rage on. The efficacy of predicting NFL quarterback performance based on college output is horribly low. 

Still, the situations Wilson performed better in paint a promising picture. He is a gamer. His play raises in the red zone, when his team is trailing, and he comes in prepared to get off to a fast start. 

We already know he has a strong arm, a terrific work ethic, and can pick up offenses better than most. He showed in early practices that he is getting off to a fast start again here in Seattle. Reports are that he has struggled more as practices continued. His results in college, and the types of situations he excelled in, gives him the highest ceiling of the three quarterbacks competing for the starting role. Whether he realizes that potential this season remains to be seen.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Breaking Down Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson

Inconsistency can be a funny thing. It is often used when a person cannot detect any predictable pattern in a person or thing. The real question is whether there truly is no pattern to a person, or whether the observer is simply is unable to recognize the pattern. Tarvaris Jackson is a perfect example. Analysts ranging from Brock Huard to Tim Hasselbeck to this blogger have talked repeatedly about Jackson being better than expected, but maddeningly inconsistent. He currently leads the Seahawks quarterback competition, earned respect last year playing behind a terrible line and with a painful injury, and very well may end up starting again in 2012. It is about time to see if there is any explanation to his inconsistent play. Jackson has started 34 games in his six-year career. ESPN.com has terrific splits of player stats that I spent a few hours combining into career splits for Jackson. The result revealed some clear patterns to Jackson's play, a few of which may surprise you.

Jackson is great in the red zone
My hypothesis with a player like Matt Flynn was that he would win the job against Jackson, in part, due to a better command of making good decisions near the opponents end zone. Flynn should look elsewhere for a weakness in Jackson's game. Jackson had an astonishing 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the red zone last season, and a 90.5 passer rating. That was actually below his career rating in red zone situations.

Jackson has a sterling 111.6 rating inside the opponents 20-yard line in his career, including 21 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He gets even better inside the opponents 10-yard line where he boasts a 132.2 rating with 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. The 20-yard stats are inclusive, so 12 of his 21 red zone touchdowns came inside the 10-yard line. 

His production outside the red zone is not so hot, where he is a career 73.3 rated passer with 16 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.

Third down is not a happy place
Seattle's offense struggled to convert on 3rd down last season, and Jackson was a major contributor to the problem with a terrible 65.6 passer rating, a 53% completion percentage and three touchdowns versus five interceptions. That production was actually an improvement. Jackson's career passer rating on 3rd downs is 61.9. It is his worst down, by far.

Surprisingly, he struggles more in 3rd and less than 6 yards (41.8 rating) than he does in 3rd and 6 or more yards (73.8).  He does especially bad on 3rd and 1-2 yards, where his rating is a putrid 38.4 with a 41% completion percentage.

This does not appear to be a common problem in the NFL. A quick check of two players across the spectrum of NFL QBs reveals Tom Brady and Alex Smith were both better passers on 3rd and less than 6 than they were in 3rd and more than 6. Flynn, however, did struggle in those situations in his game against Detroit last season with a 55.8 rating.

Struggling in short yardage could be the result of any number of things. Jackson may not be his best when making quick reads, or audibles, or hitting the routes involved. Many shorter yardage 3rd down plays involve the middle of the field, either via the tight end, slot receivers or running backs. Jackson is at his worst throwing down the middle, where he is a career 49.0 passer, including a microscopic 24.7 rating last year.

This could prove to be a key differentiator with Flynn, who has been a very strong 3rd down passer so far and had plenty of success last year throwing down the middle. Seattle's receiving strength appears to be up the middle with players like Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow Jr.who also make their living on 3rd down. It does not seem like Jackson is well-equipped to maximize those players.

Third down is the only situation where Jackson has thrown more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (9). He has thrown for a combined 28 touchdowns and 20 interceptions on any down other than third.

Second down is a very happy place
Jackson is a completely different player on 2nd down. He is a career 89.2 passer, with a lofty 67.2% completion percentage in those situations. He is particularly strong in 2nd and long situations (6+ yards) where he is a 93.2 passer with 12 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions.

What does it say about a player that excels on 2nd down? It is the least important down of the bunch. First down is most important, followed by 3rd, and then 4th (if the team goes for it). The pressure is off here. It's like a 2-1 count in baseball. The worst thing that can happen is you wind up with one more swing.

It is better, of course, to excel on 2nd down than to be miserable on every down, but playing so much better on that down raises questions about a player's make-up.

Sacks are a real problem
Much has been made about the porous offensive line the Seahawks ran out there to begin last season. Jackson was sacked a punishing 42 times. Those that watched every snap saw that Jackson was to blame for more than a few of those sacks by holding onto the ball too long, or a general lack of pocket presence. History indicates this has been a problem throughout his career.

Jackson has been sacked 88 times in on 1,029 career pass attempts. That means he is sacked once every 11.7 attempts, just slightly better than where he was last season (1 sack per 10.7 attempts). Peyton Manning is the gold standard for avoiding sacks, and he checks in at one sack every 31.2 attempts. Matt Hasselbeck will be our median comparison. Seahawks fans saw that he was neither great or terrible at avoiding pressure. He is sacked every 14.6 attempts. That means that if Jackson and Hasselbeck each threw 448 times in a season (which Jackson did in 2011), Hasselbeck would be sacked 7.7 fewer times.

Not surprisingly, Jackson is sacked the most on 3rd down. It's his worst down, and the situation when most defenses are thinking about rushing the passer. Still, he is sacked every 8 pass attempts on 3rd down (versus every 14+ attempts on 1st and 2nd downs). That's an alarming rate, and is further evidence that he is overwhelmed in those situations.

Best in the 4th quarter
Jackson is an 87.5 passer in the 4th quarter, his best. He has thrown 41% of his touchdowns in that quarter, and only a couple of those have come when the game was out of reach. This is odd considering he has only three comeback wins in the 4th quarter in his career. Andy Dalton had four in his rookie season last year. Flynn has one in two NFL starts.

Best when winning
Jackson is a 93.2 passer when his team is ahead, 53.2 when tied, and 76.7 when behind. Compare that to Tom Brady and Alex Smith who were basically the same player whether they were ahead or behind last season. Brady was 107.9 when ahead and 106.5 when behind. Smith was 88.8 and 89.8 in those situations.

Not a winning formula
Great in the red zone. Great on second down. Terrible on third down. Takes too many sacks. Plays well in the 4th. Does not lead many comebacks. A front-runner that can close.

That's the scouting report on Jackson. It is a confusing one. His good play in the red zone and the 4th quarter being the most confounding aspects. Saying Jackson wilts under pressure would not be accurate. Things happen fast and matter greatly in the red zone. His good play in the 4th quarter can partially be explained by playing from behind and being forced into no-huddle where he has shown greater comfort.

The biggest barrier to Jackson being an acceptable starting quarterback is his play on 3rd down. No team can succeed with a quarterback that cannot convert on 3rd down, and has a propensity to turn the ball over in those situations.

His play on second downs and in the red zone show that Jackson has the talent to play in the NFL. His challenges appear to be mental, and that's not to say intelligence is the issue. The complications of the red zone are comparable to 3rd downs. Psychologically, though, playing in the red zone has the defense on its heels where 3rd downs has the offense feeling the pressure. A pop psychologist might wonder if all the times Jackson had his legs taken out from under him in Minnesota has him fearing failure. The look in his eye when he runs the no-huddle was completely different than when he was under center. There is far less time to second-guess yourself and get in your own head when running no-huddle.

His tendency to hold onto the football for too long would be further evidence to this problem. He very likely is trying to find the "right" throw instead of just making the best one.

Pete Carroll needs to determine if giving Jackson the starting job will provide the confidence boost Jackson needs to play with more decisiveness and confidence, or whether having capable back-ups like Flynn and Wilson nipping at his heels would just amplify his fear of making mistakes. The irony should not be lost of fans that Jackson's best chance to grasp the starting role for a ball control coach is to play with less caution. Jackson remains a fascinating player with potential to thrill and frustrate.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Matt Flynn's Path To Starting

Ron Jaworski, of ESPN, has been ranking the Top 30 NFL quarterbacks the past few weeks. He chose to rate Matt Flynn as the Seahawks starter and put him at #27 on the list. Flynn enters training camp as the #2 quarterback on his own team. Jaworski is not alone in assuming Flynn will win the starting role. Nearly every media member that covers the Seahawks and most fans expect the same thing. It may prove harder than most expect.

Comparing a player like Flynn, with two career starts, to a player like Tarvaris Jackson, with 34 career starts, is challenging. There certainly is not a large enough sample size to make confident assertions about Flynn, but there are some trends that imply strengths and weaknesses that show up when watching Flynn play, and are supported by the statistics he has recorded thus far.

Flynn is a competitor

Of the nine career touchdowns Flynn has thrown in the NFL, eight of them have given his team the lead. That's eight go-ahead touchdowns in two starts. By comparison, Jackson has 4 go-ahead touchdowns in 34 starts. Jackson will get examined more in a future post, but Flynn's performance is impressive even when compared to more established starters. Philip Rivers threw 27 touchdowns last season, four of which gave his team the lead. Of those four touchdowns, three came when his team was tied, and only one took his team from trailing to leading in the game. All six of Flynn's touchdowns in his start against Detroit last year brought his team from a trailing position to a leading position. Rivers only had seven go-ahead touchdowns the year before, three of which came when his team was trailing. Tom Brady threw 13 go-ahead touchdowns last season, four came when his team was trailing.

Among those six go-ahead touchdowns was a 4-yarder to Jermichael Finley that put the Packers ahead for good in the 4th quarter. That's one game-winning drive after two starts. Jackson has four game-winning drives in his 34 starts, and three that came in the 4th quarter.

Going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady in New England in 2010, and winning the national title with LSU after JaMarcus Russell went to the NFL is further evidence that Flynn does not back down from anything. People can say what they want about his physical tools, but he has shown a propensity for battling whenever he gets on the field.

People might have a point about Flynn's physical tools

The constant knock on Flynn is that he does not have ideal NFL measurables, particularly in the arm strength department. His two starts have been dazzling statistically, but look further and there is evidence for some concerns.

Flynn struggles on intermediate throws down the field

The results tell us a few things. Flynn is awesome throwing the ball behind the line of scrimmage. Joking aside, not all quarterbacks do that very well. It's still not the first thing a quarterback wants on his resume. The bulk of Flynn's throws have been between 1-10 yards down field. That's not abnormal. Brady, for example, threw 64% of his passes between 1-10 yards down field last season. Flynn has been at 50% through two starts.

The troubling number is what happens between 11-30 yards down field. Flynn's completion percentage drops from 70%+ on the short passes down to 35% on these intermediate routes, including just 16.7% on passes 21-30 yards in the air. If not for a touchdown thrown in the mix, his rating would be in the dumps on these throws. These are the throws where arm strength really can make a difference because safeties and corners have more time to react and converge the longer the ball is in the air. Many of these throws are in the seams, which require timing and zip to get the ball between the safety and the corner. Looking safeties off can buy a quarterback a split second, but there is some pure physical skill needed to make these throws work in the NFL.

You may wonder why Flynn wold perform better on the deep passes. The odd truth about long bombs is that they are less about arm strength than the intermediate routes. All NFL quarterbacks can chuck a football down the field on a loop. Intermediate throws require the ball to be thrown on a line with speed. That's not to say every NFL quarterback is good at throwing the deep ball. Matt Hasselbeck, for instance, was far better at the intermediate routes when he was with the Seahawks than he was at throwing go-routes. Flynn has shown some early signs of having the touch on deep balls, with two touchdowns in five attempts, and an unsustainable 60% completion percentage.

Flynn relies on preparation and anticipation

Tarvaris Jackson's overall passer rating in 2011 was 79.2. His performance on first downs was worse. He was about a 76.0 passer on 1st downs last season. Flynn has been a 95.0 and higher passer in those situations, including 107.7 in his game last season. First down is a where film study and line adjustments like audibles tend to play a large role. Defenses are going to be more unpredictable and more likely to disguise their attack plan. What a quarterback, and his offense, does on first down has a major impact on how the rest of the series will play out. Jackson averaged 6.94 yards per attempt on first down last season. Flynn was at 8.35 in his one game.

Third down is another place where this plays a role. Defenses are pulling out every exotic look they can offer in the hopes of getting off the field. Flynn performed remarkably well in his two starts in 3rd and long situations where the defense was anticipating a pass. In 3rd and 6+ yards when playing New England, Flynn had a 142.5 rating on 10 attempts with a whopping 11.7 average per attempt. He followed that up with a 158.3 rating in his game last season with a 16.25 average per attempt. Jackson, by comparison, was a pedestrian 76.4 last year in those situations with a 6.92 average per attempt.

Flynn appears to have a plan, know the defense, and execute it in valuable situations.

Pre-season will be tough

Roughly speaking, Flynn is a heady football player who competes like crazy with less than ideal physical skills. That's a hard thing to demonstrate in the pre-season and in practice. The average practice is 80% throwing against air, and maybe 10% 7-on-7 and 10% scrimmage. A player like Flynn will not stand out on the practice field, especially when there is a guy like Jackson who has spent seven years in the offense and has a stronger arm. Pre-season games could be the chance for him to separate himself, but keep in mind that defenses are pretty vanilla, and may not really provide much opportunity for Flynn to demonstrate his ability to make adjustments. It's also not common for a player to be able to illustrate how he can lead a team back in the fourth quarter. Starters rarely play more than a few quarters, and back-ups play against non-NFL players.

If Jackson goes in there and runs the offense capably, will there really be a way for Flynn to show coaches where he excels in ways that differ from Jackson? Jackson would get the first start if nothing changes during training camp, which would mean a home game against the Titans, and Flynn would get the next start which would be an away game against the Broncos. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervill on the road makes for a tougher test.

Flynn may be the better quarterback for the Seahawks this season. His performance thus far indicates his strengths match-up well with what the Seahawks offense requires. He makes sound decisions on 1st and 3rd downs, and is comfortable playing in front or from behind. These are things that Jackson has not demonstrated often in his 34 starts. Flynn must find a way to prove he is better than Jackson in an environment that does not play well to his strengths. His ability to run that gauntlet could very well determine how good this Seahawks team can be in 2012.

Sources of data: ESPN.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Seahawks QB Competition: Tarvaris Jackson Wins Round One

There are a number of myths being promoted as facts regarding the Seahawks quarterback competition.  Let's tackle one at a time.

MYTH: Tarvaris Jackson getting the first reps in training camp is meaningless

There is a depth chart. There is a quarterback competition. The way Pete Carroll has structured the competition is to give each player a day with the first unit. Tarvaris Jackson was given the honor of beginning the first organized team activity (OTA) with the first team because he ended last year as the starter. Everyone  understood it was largely a symbolic gesture, as someone had to get the first reps. What many people, including myself, failed to notice during the initial Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson-centered media reports was that the order of the reps never changed. It didn't change after the first OTA. It did not change after the second OTA, and it did not change after mini-camp. This qualifies as "non-news" for most, as the absence of change is hardly titillating stuff.

The coverage on sports radio and in the papers was largely about Flynn's accuracy and Wilson's fast start. When Jackson was mentioned, it was often derisively or with frustration that he was the same player, demonstrating no clear improvement. I went as far as predicting his outright release from the team.

A variety of conversations and observations led me to do a 180 less than a week later. Jackson was not tearing up the practice field, but neither Flynn nor Wilson has played well enough to impact the depth chart. More reports surfaced that Wilson had cooled after his hot start and that Flynn was not demonstrating the ability to throw down-field. None of this means the die has been cast. What it does mean is that if nothing changes, Jackson will be the starter. It also means that this competition will last well into the pre-season, and that will cut down the chances of Josh Portis making the final squad considerably. Portis needs Flynn to win the starting role and Wilson to prove he can man the back-up position.

Don't make the mistake of thinking a three-way competition means a three-way tie. Jackson is currently out in front at the quarter-pole, then Flynn, then Wilson. It will be big news if the order of reps change, but it will be equally big if the order stays the same.

MYTH: The QB competition has to remain a three-man race

Carroll and Schneider are fully aware how important the quarterback decision is, and they also know the only way to decide it is to see enough of each player. The natural assumption after hearing that Wilson joined the competition for the starting role is that he will be in the race until a starter is named. That need not be the case. The coaches and front office could decide at any time that Wilson is not starter material this season and cut his reps in order to get a better look at Jackson and Flynn. A three-way competition requires a significant amount of coordination and focus, and only makes sense if there is a substantial chance for each player to win the spot. Wilson's entry into the competition was a victory for the rookie. He can end up as the back-up or third-stringer without any shame. I had expected that Flynn would have moved up to the top of the depth chart by now, leaving Jackson to compete with Wilson for the back-up role. Since Flynn has not stepped up yet, Wilson would be the only obvious player to exit the competition early and allow the coaches to spend more time on the top two competitors.

MYTH: Matt Flynn is a shoe-in to win the starting position (partially due to his contract)

Charlie Whitehurst received a two year, $8M contact. He was the back-up both years. Jackson received a two year, $8M contract. Flynn got $10M in guaranteed money in his  three year contract. Some reports have that structured where he will receive $6M this year in signing bonus, $2M in salary, and another $2M in first-year incentives, leaving no guaranteed money over the next two seasons. If Flynn earns the starting role and plays enough, he could end up with as much as $26.5M over three years. He was signed to a contract that gives him a chance to compete for a starting role right away, and potentially grow into a reasonably paid NFL starter. If he played great football, he'd be well positioned to restructure his deal by the end of next season for better money. There is nothing in the contract that should give him an advantage over Jackson or Wilson. The Seahawks are not married to Flynn contractually beyond this season.

MYTH: Matt Flynn losing the QB competition would reflect poorly on Pete Carroll and John Schneider

Lots of fans have been asking what it would say about Carroll and Schneider's ability to select quarterbacks if Flynn does not work out. After all, Whitehurst was a disaster and Jackson does not appear to be franchise material. The truth is that the front office wanted to increase the level of competition at the position, and Flynn provided an affordable way to buy some credible competition. They spent roughly the same amount to bring in Whitehurst and Jackson, but there was more of a market, and more upside potential, with Flynn. Schneider was not chasing down Flynn in free agency. He and Carroll made their pitch and their offer, and would have been fine if Flynn had decided to take more money elsewhere. Their perspective is the price to get some real competition at quarterback this off-season was $10M (Flynn) and a 3rd round pick (Wilson). The downside is low, but if they hit it with one of these guys, it will be a screaming deal. Fans and media will want to believe The Guy is already among us with these three players. Nobody is going to be anointed. Either one of them will step up and earn the role, or the front office will reload again next year. Should Carroll and Schneider ever draft a QB in the first round and have him tank, or allow a franchise guy to sign elsewhere without pursuing him, then the flood gates can open on their QB evaluation skills.

MYTH: The Seahawks are screwed if Tarvaris is named the starter

Nowhere is it written here that Jackson is the answer as a franchise quarterback that can take a team to a Super Bowl victory. He has made 34 starts in the NFL, and is 17-17 in those games, including  7-7 last season. He is not the worst quarterback in the NFL, nor is he one of the best. He is tough, steady, and strong-armed. Believe it or not, his play in the red zone was pretty darn good in 2011. His passer rating was 90.5 inside the opponents 20-yard line, and 98.6 inside the opponents 10-yard line. That included a stellar 9:1 red zone touchdown-to-interception ratio. Tom Brady, by comparison, has a passer rating of 95.5 in the red zone with a 29:3 TD-to-INT ratio. That's roughly the same ratio, for those of you that don't feel like doing the math.

Where Jackson struggles is when his team is tied or trailing, and on 3rd downs. He had an abysmal 44.5 passer rating on 3rd down and 11+ yards to go. That's a tough situation for any quarterback, though, right? Mr. Brady boasted a 102.9 rating in the same situation. Okay....then. Nobody really thinks Jackson and Brady belong in the same sentence, but Jackson is talented enough to get the Seahawks a division title and a playoff berth if accompanied by a strong running game, a Top 5 defense and a great special teams. He should have all of those things in 2012. Making the playoffs is not the destination, but it would count as progress for the organization.

The reason fans will, and should, continue to focus on Flynn and Wilson is that if one of them can beat out Jackson, it means the coaches believe that player can take the team farther than just making the playoffs. Jackson represents good enough. Flynn and Wilson could get this team's quarterback position to just plain good. It has yet to be determined if "great" is on this roster.