Thursday, July 25, 2013

2013 Seahawk Training Camp News & Notes: July 25th Edition (Day 1)

Note:It has become a tradition here at Hawk Blogger to have a reader design a logo for this training camp notes series. Send your submissions to hawkblogger@gmail.com. The winner will have their name and logo show up on each post. 

The very first minute of the 2013 season

OFF THE CUFF
Cue the angst
Expectations are unbridled around these parts for the Seattle Seahawks. It apparently does not take much adversity to cause people to start falling from those lofty heights. News of Percy Harvin's yet-to-be-diagnosed hip injury caused quite the stir among fans. The concern is largely misplaced. Harvin is a fantastically talented and unique player that makes the Seahawks offense more difficult to defend, but this offense was good enough to win a Super Bowl last year without him. Yes, he makes a lot of money, but that has little impact on the field. People comparing this to the Michael Crabtree injury are off-base. Crabtree was Colin Kaepernick's favorite receiver by a significant margin, and their best receiving threat outside. That team added Anquan Boldin, but he brings a far different skill set than Crabtree. We know how integral Crabtree was to that offense. Nobody know what Harvin is going to be asked to do.

Also, it is Day 1 of training camp. That maximizes the chances Harvin will be back and gives the team ample time to install an offense that does not rely on his skills. If this had come up right before week one, it would be a different story. There are far worse fates than having more reps go to Doug Baldwin, Luke Willson, Michael Robinson and others. Hopefully, this is a short layoff for him. If he is gone for the year (which there is little reason to worry about yet), there is little to reason lower expectations. I did my top five injury impact players for the Seahawks in 2013, and Harvin was not one of them.

Luke Willson could be a steal
Wilson, wearing #82, jumped out with his speed. He runs crisp routes as well. The team was just in shorts and shells today, which can be deceptive. Many players can look great in shorts, and then struggle when the pads come on. Willson needs to prove he can run block, and that he can play at that speed with more contact from defenders. Initial impressions are that he will pass at least the test as a receiver, and possibly with flying colors.

Jesse Williams. Whoa.
That is a big boy. He is built like an upside down pear. Huge and broad above the waist, narrow below. From the waist down, he almost looks like a linebacker. A high center of gravity like that brings some question about his pad level and leverage on the interior. Similar, although not as extreme, builds like Red Bryant ended up better on the edge. This guy with full pads on will take up a lot of room. Carroll said the team may take a rotation approach at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot similar to the QB position last year. Tony McDaniel got first crack at it today. We will see if Williams runs with the first unit tomorrow.

Passing game not there yet
Chalk it up to the first day of camp, but the passing game was not great. A year ago, all three quarterbacks looked so bad that I was not sure any of them were ready to start. That changed within a few days. If we are still talking about poor results by this time next week, it could be more worthy of analysis. [UPDATE] The team was clearly working on back-shoulder throws. This is the type of play that can come in a quarterbacks second season when there is more time to work on refinement instead of just standard play install. It can be an important weapon if the team can execute it reliably.

STAND-OUT NEW FACES
John Lotulelei
Earl Thomas and Bruce Irvin have cut their dreads. Lotulelei could add some long locks back to the roster. He looked confident and instinctive in his first camp practice. He appeared to be getting time at back-up WILL behind K.J. Wright. One play got my attention, in particular, where a back released wide, and Lotulelei quickly planted and covered him. Wilson looked wide to swing the ball where he expected to find an open player, but had to force the ball elsewhere. Smart. Fast. Instinctive. Could be one to watch.

Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill
These two look like roommates, or have clearly hit it off quickly. They ran side-by-side in almost every drill. It was not hard to imagine these freshmen becoming upperclassmen in a few years. These might the next Mebane/Bryant duo.

Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett
New guy bonding was not reserved for the draft picks. Avril and Bennett looked to be working together by choice on a number of occasions, including working on hand-fighting.

Christine Michael
Michael got a chance to get extra reps with Robert Turbin sidelined. He took advantage, running hard throughout. He comes from the Ricky Watters school of practice play where he took every carry all the way to the endzone. Even a decade later, defensive players don't love that. Irvin chased him down, knocked the ball free, and recovered the fumble near the goal line. Welcome to the NFL, rook. Lesson learned.

Arceto Clark
An undrafted free agent receiver out of Mississippi State, Clark is only 5'10", but he caught my eye with explosion in and out of his breaks, and had a couple nice plays. He's an early candidate for a surprise practice squad spot.

Derrick Coleman
The undrafted free agent running back out of UCLA was quick and decisive. Need to see him in pads.

Stephen Williams
All of 6'5" with arms that make for a crazy catch radius, Williams earned play of the day honors when he hauled in a deep sideline pass from Brady Quinn over a helpless Jeremy Lane. The offense tried the trick two more times, but Williams was unable to repeat the feat.


SIDELINED PLAYERS
Percy Harvin, Zach Miller, Chris Clemons, Tharold Simon, Robert Turbin, Chandler Fenner

THINGS I NOW KNOW


1.  Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin play different positions
Both Avril and Irvin have been talked about as LEOs in the past. Irvin practices exclusively with the linebackers. Avril practices exclusively with the defensive line, and specifically a group of three other LEO players: Michael Bennett, Benson Mayowa, and Ty Powell. If the LEO and SAM positions are as interchangeable as Carroll will have us believe, they certainly work on different things in practice. Carroll hinted as much in the post-practice presser when he said the SAM rushes less often than the LEO as a percentage of snaps. Most likely, the concepts are similar, but the responsibilities are different. There had been some talk of Avril playing linebacker, but he has chafed at the idea in public. Do not expect much, if any, of that sort of arrangement come the regular season.

2. Allen Bradford is getting time as the back-up MIKE
Bradford continues to be a guy I will keep an eye on. His raw physical skill is tantalizing. My guess is he is a guy that will only look better with pads and hitting. 

3. J.R. Sweezy is your starting right guard
There is no competition there. Should he falter in game situations, there could be reason to reconsider, but Seahawks fans should get comfortable with this reality. For what it is worth, I'm more than comfortable. I'm excited. He has added some needed weight and could be another special young player that raises the ceiling for this line.

4. James Carpenter is not your starting left guard...yet
Carpenter was on field, and looked healthy. He was at the backup left guard spot behind Paul McQuistan, but that is likely due to it being Carpenter's first day back. Check back in a week or two, and those two should be flopped.

5. No brace for Clemons or Thurmond
Two guys with leg injuries were walking around without any protection on their legs. Thurmond was running full speed without limitation. Clemons was walking without a limp.


GENERAL IMPRESSIONS
A picture perfect day at the VMAC was somewhat dampened by the commotion around the players not on the field. The Harvin news was disappointing, but one could argue that getting Carpenter back on the field is almost as positive as the Harvin loss was negative. This team ran for over 2,000 yards with mediocre play at guard. If Carpenter is healthy and Sweezy can avoid being a liability in the passing game, this line could be significantly better. A 20% improvement in line play has a far larger impact on wins and losses than any single wide receiver. 

This wide receiver group looks strong, despite a lack of rhythm today. Doug Baldwin looks faster and quicker than he has since his rookie year. Sidney Rice looks great. Golden Tate was up to his old tricks, grabbing the ball away from defenders along the sideline. Even Jermaine Kearse looks sleeker and more confident. Chris Harper did not make an impact yet, but give him some time. Harvin being healthy almost brings more questions than it answers because this crew looks ready for a big year. 

Wilson was not as sharp as I had hoped. He was decisive, but there were a number of overthrows, including one picked off by Earl Thomas. He got the lion's share of the reps, but it would be nice to see him get even more. Peyton Manning gets nearly every rep. Spending time with Tarvaris Jackson or Brady Quinn in there seems like a waste. They are not being developed for the future. One of them will be an insurance policy. Both of them played poorly today, making it harder to judge backup receivers and tight ends. It won't happen, but my vote would be for more reps going to Wilson wherever possible.

The tight ends got a lot of targets today. Willson got the most. Sean McGrath got a few as well, although he appeared to injure himself near the end of practice. It is unclear how serious it was. Cooper Helfet had a nice day, and Darren Fells really looks the part. Fells made a great catch in traffic, and seems to have real potential. The fact that the team already cut him once indicates he is more raw than an untrained eye like mine knows.

A lot has changed since camp last year. The berm was packed, and should stay that way with every practice sold out. The amount of press was greater. I thought Red Bryant had a big circle of reporters around him until Richard Sherman started talking and the pack around him was four or five deep. That just did not happen last season. Even player girlfriends and wives looked to be upping their game with outfits you would be more accustomed to seeing in Hollywood than in Renton. Part of me misses being the team nobody knew with talent that was going to shock people. Given the choice between a team that good but humble, and a team that is great but overexposed, we would all take the latter. It is not just the team adjusting to high expectations.

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