OFF THE CUFF
Thank goodness for padded practices. Yesterday was an absolute snoozer, but today brought a lot of action and tons of insight in players and schemes. I attempted to watch two drills at once multiple times, leading to notes only I could decipher. The only disappointment was seeing Jesse Williams sitting on the sidelines. There is no player I was looking forward to seeing in pads more than Williams, but we will need to wait a little longer.
Front seven rotation is coming into focus
One of the biggest questions coming into camp was around how Dan Quinn was going to utilize Bruce Irvin, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Malcolm Smith, and Red Bryant. I have a pretty good guess at this point, and will dedicate a separate post that will go into it in detail. The key confirmations are that there are not so much starters and back-ups in this group as there are personnel groupings or sub-package specialties. For example, people will be surprised when Michael Bennett is a “starter” at LEO over Cliff Avril. He is not really a starter as much as he is the base defense LEO. When the team goes to nickel–which it does a significant amount of the time–Avril is the LEO and Bennett is the 5-technique in place of Bryant. Similarly, Smith is not the starting SAM. He is the base defense SAM, and Irvin is the nickel defense SAM. The position has the same name, but the alignment and responsibilities differ. Most fans don’t know SAM from MIKE from WILL at the linebacker position. The Seahawks are specializing far beyond that. Irvin and Smith are both SAM linebackers, but I’d argue they don’t play the same position. More on that later tonight, if time allows.
Fullback battle far from clear
The word was that Spencer Ware was going to be converted to fullback after he was drafted. Three days into practice, I have not seen him lead block for a running back yet. He may have done some blocking drills, but he has been used as the third running back behind Marshawn Lynch and Christine Michael. He looked great today running inside with pads, but that’s somewhat besides the point. Michael Robinson is out. This should be a prime chance to see what Ware can do as a fullback. Instead, Derrick Coleman got every rep at fullback today. The injury to Robert Turbin could be part of what is going on here, forcing the team to lean on Ware as a tailback, but you would expect they would still be able to rotate him in as a fullback when Lynch or Michael is in, and still take some 3rd string running back reps. Either the experiment of Ware at fullback ended early, Coleman has caught the coaches eye as a better option, or things will change when Turbin returns. Stay tuned.
Tate had a statement day. He burned Brandon Browner twice during 1v1 drills, including a play where Browner got frustrated and interfered down-field, only to have Tate haul it in anyway. Tate continued to torment Browner in team drills when went up and over him along the sideline to haul in a pass despite tight coverage. Tate is playing with supreme confidence right now. I would be surprised if any other receiver tops his touchdown total when the season is over.
Jordan Hill confession
There has not been much of Jordan Hill in these practice notes. I admit that watching him in the Senior Bowl practices get dominated in 1v1 drills soured me on him a bit. He looks like a Tim Ruskell try-hard player with a limited upside. On the other hand, he looks a lot like Brandon Mebane, a Ruskell draft-pick. I committed to give Hill a fresh start today in my eyes, and the results were mixed-to-poor. He gets over his feet too far on the interior and often gets pushed easily to the ground. His get-off is quite good, and his hand work is advanced for a rookie. Maybe the outlook will brighten when pre-season games start. For now, I don’t see much to get excited about.
Cable vs. Quinn
Tom Cable has reached near saint-like status among Seahawks fans that have seen offensive line coaches stroll into Seattle for years without getting the results that were promised. Cable has put together a good line without always having great parts. Now he may have an equal on the opposite line as Dan Quinn was a defensive line coach before becoming a coordinator. Quinn had his line knifing through gaps and attacking the offense all morning. This was a lean-forward defense that we have not seen when Gus Bradley was around. It also appeared to leave them open to some inside runs that Cable’s line cleared the path for. This battle-within should be fun to watch for years to come.
STAND-OUT NEW FACES
This guy was tossing guards around like rag dolls today. He is a strong man, and looks like he may command a double-team against some lines. He has the inside track on being the 3-technique defensive tackle in both the base defense and the nickel.
Bailey is an undrafted free agent tackle that stood up Irvin and Benson Mayowa during 1v1 pass rush drills. He was playing left tackle, and has a build similar to Russell Okung. He is behind Mike Person on the depth chart, but could be moving up the ranks.
Quinn must have a perma-grin on his face with Bennett around. He is playing base LEO, 5-technique in the nickel, and is possibly most gifted at 3-technique defensive tackle which he has barely played thus far. He was in a two-point stance, standing up on one play, and then setting the edge against the tight end and tackle on the next play. Such versatility, and talent to boot. This guy already means more to the defense than Jason Jones ever did last season, and Jones was pretty darn good.
Christine Michael & Spencer Ware
Both players were better with pads on. Michael demonstrated plenty of power, but it was his vision on one play that stood out. The design was to go right, but he saw it was stacked up and cut-back to his left. He raced 30 yards down-field before anyone reached him. Do not be surprised if Michael ends up being the leader rusher in the NFL during the pre-season. Ware did all his damage between the tackles. He slides off tackles and runs through others. He looks legit.
Williams continued his strong start with more nice catches, and sharp cuts on his routes. There was yet another highlight reel catch where Jeremy Lane held him and Williams still managed to come down with the touchdown. The more I watch him, the more I like him. He needs to be twice as good as a draft pick like Chris Harper to make the team since he is older (27), but he’s been more than twice as good so far.
Harper had his best day. It was not great, but it was impactful. It is understandable that it might take some time to get going as a rookie receiver. The quarterbacks threw his way a bit more, and he rewarded them with reliable hands.
Percy Harvin, Zach Miller, Chris Clemons, Tharold Simon, Robert Turbin, Chandler Fenner, Korey Toomer, Michael Robinson, Sidney Rice, Jesse Williams
THINGS I NOW KNOW
1. Luke Willson is not a liability blocking
4. Kick returner competition is set
Players returning kickoffs today including Arceto Clark, Golden Tate, Justin Veltung, Will Blackmon, Jeremy Lane and Bryan Walters. It was a little surprising to see Doug Baldwin out of that group. He did return a kick 105 yards for a touchdown as a rookie in pre-season. Perhaps, it is a health precaution.
During another drill, the defensive backs took turns form-tackling each other. The player getting tackled would hold a pad to protect themselves. Except, that is, for Chancellor and Guy who took turns lighting each other up without the extra protective padding. Poor Maxwell got to go against Browner who lifted him off the ground and then threw the pad to the side.
John Lotulelei did not look out of place with pads on. He was more than willing to stick his head into the pile, but did not make any plays that I saw. Allen Bradford made a few tackles, but always beyond the line of scrimmage. A telling sign for any middle linebacker is not just making the tackle, but making it near, or behind, the line of scrimmage. Bobby Wagner got progressively better at that as the season wore on last year. Bradford has a ways to go.
Jaye Howard had a nice day. He is getting time all along the line, although primarily at 3-technique DT and 5-technique DE. He is playing with a lot of effort, and looks to have something to prove.
Defensive intensity continues to overpower the offensive energy level, but that shifted some today. Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin, Phil Bates, Bryan Walters, Harper and Williams all made some nice plays against tough defenders. Wilson was getting rid of the ball more quickly, and finding better success because of it. A week from today there should be at least a few practice reports of the offense winning the day.