Thursday, July 25, 2013

Seahawks 2013 Training Camp Primer

Ninety men enter. Fifty-three men leave. Those are the Thunderdome rules of NFL training camp. Players rise. Players fall. Careers are started, and they are ended. Today marks the beginning of one of the great reality dramas of our time. Young men who have prepared for this day since Sesame Street was their favorite show will have the chance to realize their dream when they step on the field at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. What makes the drama so compelling is the contrast of possible outcomes. There will be someone who emerges and surprises us all, but many more players that will quietly fall short and potentially have to consider a different profession. The stakes are high. Get ready.

There are as many story lines to follow as their are players. Here are a few that have my attention:

Fullback

Michael Robinson makes $2.5M. There is no question about his ability to play at a high level, or his contributions to this team. There is some question about whether that position is worth that salary in this offense. Read-option packages do not require a fullback. Neither do packages that have Percy Harvin line up in the back-field. That's in addition to existing packages like shotgun, single-back, and three or four wide receiver sets. Robinson played in 32% of offensive snaps last season. That was below James Carpenter (34%) and above J.R. Sweezy (29%). If rookie Spencer Ware looks fantastic at fullback, and proves he can play special teams, Robinson may be in trouble.

Cliff Avril & Michael Bennett

We know that Bruce Irvin has moved to strong-side linebacker full-time. What is still not clear is exactly how Avril and Bennett will be utilized. One likely scenario has Bennett getting early down duty at Chris Clemons position, with Avril coming in on nickel and dime packages. The quandary is who sits on early downs? It would seem either Bennett or Avril will have to start on the sideline. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, how the media handles that once they realize it, and how the players handle not being a starter. 

Kicker

Carson Wiggs will be given a real shot to win the job from incumbent Steven Hauschka. There is only a $300K difference in potential salary, but Wiggs is younger and would be under an affordable contract for years to come. Hauschka was solid on every aspect of his job except for kicks over 50 yards. Wiggs booted a 59-yard field goal at Purdue. If he can have a flawless camp, he just may win a very important job.

Jesse Williams

On one hand, the guy is just a fifth-round pick. On the other hand, so were Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. He would appear to be the kind of player the Seahawks have not had on the interior defensive line in a long time. It will be hard to judge him until the pads go on and he plays opponents in the pre-season, but if he is a special player...oh boy.

Walter Thurmond

Arguably the most talented cornerback on the roster. Yes, you read right. He could play in any system and play any position, including the nickel. Nobody else on the roster can say the same thing. He was above Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner on the depth chart in 2011 for a reason. The missing piece for Thurmond is health. Expect big things this year.

Linebackers

The whole group is chock-full of intrigue. Irvin to SAM is at the top of the list, but Malcolm Smith at SAM ranks up there as well. Who will get early down play there? Is Irvin just a sub-package player or vying to be the starter? K.J. Wright was set to break out last year, but fell short. He is now the starting weakside (WILL) 'backer, and could be ready for a big year. Young players like Allen Bradford, Korey Toomer, John Loutelelei, and others, will have a chance to win important back-up roles. Special teams will be key for those guys. This is a position where a fresh name could emerge.

Cornerback Depth

Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, Tharold Simon, Will Blackmon, Ron Parker, DeShawn Shead all have reason to believe they can make the roster. Not all of them will. Keep an eye on Blackmon.

James Carpenter's Health

Carpenter can be a player that helps vault the Seahawks offensive line toward dominance if he can stay on the field. That has not happened so far for very long. He had another surgery in the off-season, and seeing whether he starts camp on the sidelines will be telling.

Tight End

Anthony McCoy's injury has thrown this group into flux. Zach Miller could likely sit for a portion of camp if there is any question about his health, so that he is in the best position to be ready for the season. That leaves players like Sean McGrath and Luke Willson to show what they can do. It also opens the door for a new name to gain notoriety. Darren Fells remains an interesting guy to watch as a 6'7" former basketball player who is trying the NFL at age 27. 

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