Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013 Seahawks Training Camp News & Notes: July 30+31st Edition (5+6th practice)

Created by Cooper Crosby of Ratio
NOTE: These notes combine my observations from the July 30th practice (first practice in full pads) and the July 31st practice.

OFF THE CUFF
Alvin Bailey continues to excel 
Bailey handled all comers on Tuesday in pass protection, and for the first time, I got a decent look at him during running drills. He drove Jaye Howard almost entirely across from the left tackle spot to the right tackle spot on one play. It would be silly to predict too much after a handful of training camp practices, but Bailey has the look of a future starter and upgraded depth at tackle right away. Finding a future starting tackle in a player that was a guard in college and went undrafted would be just the latest in a string of mind-blowing scouting marvels from John Schneider and gang.

Russell Wilson has not made a clear step forward
Saying anything short of unbridled praise of Russell Wilson is a surefire way to get a lot of hate mail nowadays. Wilson had a better day today, as he got a chance to throw his patented deep balls, but he has not stood out thus far in practice. He looks very much like the player he was in training camp last year in terms of the throws he makes. He is at his best when on the move, and not necessarily scrambling. Rolling out is like second nature to Wilson. What I have been looking for is clear steps forward in rhythm throws that happen at the top of his drop. I want to see him hit his back foot and deliver with confidence on time and on target. Those moments have been few and far between. It is part of what made him hard to evaluate in a practice setting last season. Improvisation can come into play in a game, but is hard to analyze in practice where nobody can touch the quarterback and whistles blow after a few seconds of pass rush. The convenient response is that he is facing an elite defense and secondary. True. Something tells me Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers would be challenging the defense more consistently than Wilson. No defense is impenetrable, especially when he is often facing the second unit. This is not a call to panic, but instead a reality check that there are not many signs yet that Wilson is a better quarterback than he was last season. He may never be a player that can be judged by practice results, so attention shifts to his pre-season appearances.

The John Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy battle looks like a dead heat
A few days ago, it looked like Sweezy was surrendering ground to Moffitt due to some pass protection issues. Both players are playing well now. Moffitt looks more determined than I have seen him during his time in the NFL. Attitude and grit will be key for Moffitt, as Sweezy has the edge athletically. This is now a race to the finish with both players gaining steam.

Christine Michael joins the kickoff return team
Michael was not part of the kick return team a few days ago, but got a chance today. I admit that I was not paying attention this morning, as I only occasionally glanced over until an object started moving at a rate that caught my eye. As soon as my eyes caught up to the movement, I knew it was Michael even before he turned and showed his #33 jersey. Michael is short, strong, fast and fearless. The team can do far worse in kickoff returns than him, and it allows them to get one of their talented playmakers on the field more regularly. He was part of a large rotation of return men, with Golden Tate being the leader, but I expect Michael will be the guy with those responsibilities when the final decision comes down.


STAND-OUT NEW FACES
Jordan Hill
Seahawks coaches talk about how important consistency is. They want to see the same performance in every scenario. Hill embodies that. He comes hard no matter the situation, no matter the result. He is getting snaps now ahead of Tony McDaniel at the 3-technique defensive tackle alongside Brandon Mebane. He is making more plays as camp rolls on, and is in the back-field more often. He tipped and nearly intercepted a pass yesterday, and added a number of other disruptions for his best day of camp so far. He was solid again today. He generally gets manhandled in 1v1 drills, which dulls my enthusiasm, but he is looking more and more like a lock to be in the rotation at defensive tackle. That is probably bad news for Clinton McDonald.

Jesse Williams
Williams practiced both days, including in full pads. He was not quite the mountain I had expected with all the gear on, but then again, I had Godzilla in mind. The team is being careful with him, and he still has a knee brace on his right knee. He is rotating in with the third string line, and looked good yesterday taking on blocks. His performance today was not as promising. There is some tentativeness in his game that may be due to the knee. The hope that he would be a monster demanding double teams out of the gate appears to be premature. Plenty of time and games remain to change that outlook.

O'Brien Schofield
Schofield is practicing exclusively with the linebackers while wearing #93. He is learning the LEO position, but mostly backing up Irvin at SAM. He looks quick, but has not distinguished himself yet through two practices.

Chris Harper
Harper caught a beautiful deep ball from Wilson today, and now in the mix much more in terms of targets. People that are looking to him to be part of the solution for Harvin's injury are barking up the wrong tree. Harper is a developmental player that probably has the best chance to see game time around the part of the season when Harvin is due back.

Bryan Walters
Walters has been Mr. Consistency. He runs solid routes, and gets separation that makes him a popular target. He is catching what comes his way, and may challenge Stephen Williams for a roster spot as Williams has slowed after a fast start.

Arceto Clark
Clark is an intriguing player. He is quick and athletic. The production is not showing up every day, but there is something there that makes me think he will play on Sundays eventually.


SIDELINED PLAYERS
Zach Miller, Chris Clemons, Tharold Simon, Robert Turbin, Chandler Fenner, Korey Toomer, Sidney Rice, Ron Parker, Cliff Avril, Michael Palmer, Darren Fells, Michael Brooks, Jeremy Lane, Bobby Wagner, Kenneth Boatright

THINGS I NOW KNOW


1.  Jaye Howard is going to get some snaps this year
Howard has been used both at 3-tech and 5-tech and is bringing effort every play, almost matching Hill in that regard. He is more athletic than Hill, but it is hard to tell where he will make his biggest impact. One would hope Michael Bennett would take him under his wing, as their skill sets are similar. 

2. Brady Quinn is not conceding the backup quarterback battle
Tarvaris Jackson stopped a four day trend of being the third-best quarterback on the field. Quinn had been more productive with better decisions and better throws than Jackson. He was rewarded with some time running the #2 offense yesterday. Jackson has a massive advantage in that competition, but he has to up his play.

3. Rishaw Johnson is not in the mix at guard
I have been plugging Johnson as a guy that could be a darkhorse in the guard competition, but he has not acquitted himself that well in camp so far. He looks like a fine depth player, but his physical ability should allow much more.


GENERAL IMPRESSIONS
The injury report grew quite long today, but nothing beyond the Harvin news seemed particularly alarming. Wagner being out gave Allen Bradford a chance to run with the first unit at middle linebacker, and he continues to look like a guy that could contribute if he was called upon this season. He was a blur on a blitz today that was a quick sack.

Bruce Irvin appears to have moved ahead of Malcolm Smith in the base 4-3 defense. He played ahead of a healthy Smith both yesterday and today. Many people have questioned his ability to drop into coverage. My larger concern is his gap discipline to hold contain on the edge. There were a few times in the practices when a running back was able to cutback to an open backside of the play where Irvin should have been stationed. He got caught pursuing and was sucked into the line too far to force the running back toward the middle. That cannot happen. Smith demonstrated he had that discipline last season while subbing for Leroy Hill. Irvin must prove he can do that.

The injury to Harvin makes the receiving competition more intriguing. Rice, Baldwin, Tate and Kearse are locks. Harper is a good bet as he was a reasonably high draft pick. That leaves Williams and Walters really battling for that last spot. Williams is an outside receiver. Walters is more of a slot player, but could play outside as well. Again, the comparable there is Charly Martin. Walters may be more of a special teams player as well, which could give him the edge. Williams has unique physical traits that nobody else in the group has. Word is the team tried out Early Doucet as well, so this position may see more qualified competition soon.

Pass protection has notably improved over the last few days. It was not long ago that the quarterbacks were not even able to complete their drop without having a defender in their face. There have been fewer blitzes, but the improvement is clear nonetheless. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Next Man Up


Seattle began training camp last season with a ton of talent. They already had a great secondary, a respected defense, and a promising pair of quarterbacks in Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson. They had added Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Jason Jones. Anyone that was paying attention could see the team was ready to make a large step forward. Yet, there was little national attention until they signed a player named Terrell Owens. The day Owens stepped onto the field for the first time, the amount of press covering the team grew five times over. Only, they were not really covering the team. They were covering Owens. Talking heads on various sports networks started talking about how Seattle might be a team ready to make a splash during the season with the addition of a player of Owens caliber. Ludicrous. Seattle went on to prove they were plenty ready to make a splash, and the national wonks and fans outside the Northwest were forced to learn to respect new names. Golden Tate had room to emerge into the dynamic playmaker he was made to be. Russell Wilson evolved from a short joke to a phenomenon. The team earned every accolade together. The 2012 season was not about one man.

Percy Harvin should not be mistaken for an over-the-hill receiver with money problems. His presence, though, brings some of the same misplaced credit, and his absence will create opportunity for new growth. The story of the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 with Harvin would have been something close to, "they were pretty good last year, but Harvin makes them great this year." Consider the Seahawks story if they 10-2 or 9-3 by the time Harvin might return. Consider the space it provides Tate to grow further, for Doug Baldwin to re-establish his value, for Luke Willson and Sean McGrath to sneak up on people. This opens the door for Jermaine Kearse to become a player many of us did not think he could be, but that he continues to demonstrate in camp. It means a player like Stephen Williams, all 6'5"of him, could add a dimension the receiving corps lacked.

There is no credible case to be made for why this offense should take a step back this season. Any objective analysis would find far more reasons for it to improve, and they were already 9th in the NFL in scoring despite a knuckle-dragging 17.5 ppg in the first half of the 2012 season. Both guard spots on the line can only get better. James Carpenter is finally healthy. J.R. Sweezy was a rookie converted defensive lineman that earned a start in week one, and he is battling with John Moffitt who looks more determined than ever to regain his spot. Willson provides a speed dimension at tight end the team completely lacked a season ago. Baldwin is healthy and looks like a different player. Tate looks better. Marshawn Lynch now has two credible back-ups to share the load. And Wilson gets his first full off-season to study, prepare and improve.

Seattle's offense was as dangerous as any in the NFL when they ended the 2012 season. Harvin's addition was meant to keep Seattle one step ahead of defensive coordinators. He would add a unique dimension that must be accounted for on every play. He would create an unfair advantage that would sharpen the edge of every other weapon on offense. Or, at least, that was the idea.

Harvin is an unknown in Seattle. Football is not algebra. One plus one does not always equal two when it comes to personnel. There is some potential that Harvin's presence would change the complexion of the offense in a bad way. A few old fans may remember Mike Holmgren's first year in Seattle when Joey Galloway held out and Jon Kitna was forced to rely on Sean Dawkins and Derrick Mayes at receiver. The team miraculously went 6-2. Galloway came back for game nine, and the team proceeded to go 3-5 the rest of the way. The tendency is to always assume that adding great to great makes unbeatable. People need to acknowledge the possibility that Harvin may have actually complicated and slowed an offense that was just hitting its stride. Most will consider that insane spin doctoring, but the truth is nobody has seen Harvin play in Seattle, so there is no definitive truth.

What we do know is that it is very hard for a receiver to be central to a team's success. Cold Hard Football Facts has done a great job exploring this, and have coined it The Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law. The basic gist is that evidence suggest receivers are complimentary, not foundational to championship teams, and that teams with very strong foundational parts (e.g., QB, offensive line) are far more likely to be champions with a mediocre receiving corps than vice versa. Seattle fans have seen this with a player like Matt Hasselbeck leading the team to multiple division titles and a Super Bowl appearance without the benefit of a single Pro Bowl receiver.

If you believe in Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and this offensive line, today's news falls in the range of disappointing, but far from devastating. I see reason to be excited about the opportunity this creates for players that appear ready to shine brighter, and for the team to once again surprise people with how dangerous it is even without a game-changer like Harvin. Should he be ready to rejoin the team late in the year, he will have to blend in. The offense will not form around him the way things seemed to be shaping up during OTAs. That may serve him and the team well. The 2013 Seahawks season will not be about one man. It never was.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Misleading Depth Chart At Running Back


Christine Michael has deservedly started getting some attention after two eye-opening padded practices. I see a player that could eventually out-produce Marshawn Lynch if the offensive line stays together. He has more big play potential, and has a better ability to attack the edge and the interior. Nobody can replace the presence and heart Lynch brings to the offense, and the team. The effusive praise has led some to ask whether Michael could overtake Robert Turbin in the depth chart. The answer is both yes and no.

Teams are increasingly using running backs in different ways almost akin to the way a flanker is different than a slot receiver or a split end. Most fans are familiar with the short yardage back like a Mike Alstott, or the change-of-pace back (Kendall Hunter vs Frank Gore), or even the third-down back (Kevin Faulk) that can pick up a blitz and make a catch out of the back-field. We call them all running backs, but only a select few are capable of being a classic every-down running back that handles 20+ carries per game. Lynch is clearly one of them. Michael will become one of them. The jury is out on whether that is Turbin's future.

Turbin had an uneven rookie year that provided precious few chances to make his mark. He had some devastating blocks, including a memorable one on DeMarcus Ware against Dallas, and some inspiring runs like in the second half at St. Louis. His low point was the drop of a potential touchdown on a wheel route in San Francisco that was somewhat redeemed by almost the same play against Atlanta that he caught and helped the comeback keep rolling. He is smart, competitive, strong and fast. There is evidence that he is an above average receiver out of the back-field. What we do not know is how good his vision is to find open lanes, and how adept of an inside/outside runner he is.

His performance last season, and commitment to the off-season, means he deserves first crack at the lion's share of the snaps after Lynch. Not to say there are many snaps left with Lynch as the top dog. Turbin's early injury in camp opens the door for some competition, but his status should be safe if he can get back and play well within the next week or two. He may end up as second on the running backs depth chart, called on to take some third down snaps and spell Lynch, but that does not mean he is the second best back on the team.

In fact, should Lynch ever miss more than a game or two, the guess here is that Michael would leapfrog Turbin into the starting role. There is much left to learn about Turbin, and of course about Michael, but it is already becoming clear that Michael's ceiling is considerably higher. The guy Michael most reminds me of is Darren McFadden. He does not have the same speed as McFadden, but appears more durable and capable of breaking tackles. His signature move will be a spin in the open field. It shows up on tape at Texas A&M, and has shown up from day one of camp. Nobody outside of Earl Campbell breaks tackles like Lynch does, but Michael runs with a determination that will result in plenty of yards after contact.

The absolute wild card in all this is Spencer Ware. He is a guy who is making his own positive impression with one bruising run after another between the tackles. This was a player who was a running back in college that the Seahawks drafted with the idea of converting to fullback. It is not clear whether they have abandoned that experiment, or been forced to delay it with Turbin's injury, but the undeniable result is that Ware is going to be an NFL running back for someone. He does not show the same diversity of skill that a guy like Michael does, and would seem to be more of a third-down back that could threaten inside run on short yardage, block willingly on passes, or be a good receiver out of the back-field.

If Ware earns a roster spot as a running back, but not as a fullback, it is anyone's guess who loses their seat. He is making it tough on the front office. That is for sure. Plenty of camp remains to let things settle. Michael Robinson could be the starting fullback or off the roster. There is a remote chance that Turbin could find himself in another uniform. It just depends on what roles the coaching staff wants to fill at that position, and how many roster spots they want to dedicate to it.

A betting man would be wise to wager on Lynch, Turbin, Michael and Robinson making the team, and Turbin getting back-up carries (5-10/game), with Michael getting the rest (3-5/game). Turbin, however, will need to come back with a vengeance to recapture the imagination of the front office and coaches. He is on track to always be a bridesmaid, and never a bride, while Michael is getting sized for a ring.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

2013 Seahawks Training Camp News & Notes: July 28th Edition (4th practice)

Created by Cooper Crosby of Ratio
OFF THE CUFF
Alvin Bailey shines with the second unit
It was the second padded practice of camp, and after being impressed with Alvin Bailey's work as the third string left tackle on Saturday, I was captivated by his performance after being elevated to the second unit on Sunday. The game looks easy for Bailey. He is stoning every pass rusher during 1v1 drills without over-striding or reaching. The play that blew me away was during team drills when the defense ran a twist sending the LEO end crashing into Bailey on a bull rush to allow the 3-technique defensive tackle to curl around him to the outside. These types of plays often confuse young offensive lineman. They get taken out of position by falling for the trap of following the guy that engages them initially. Bailey stood up the initial defender, and then slid off him to block the defensive tackle. Neither player sniffed the pocket, as Bailey calmly blocked them both. Precocious stuff at a position the team needs young developing talent. Some may ask if he can play right tackle. He did that with the third string, and looked comfortable.

Good day for John Moffitt
Moffitt is quietly having a nice camp. He is not jumping out in any one way, but he looks reliable. Think a young Paul McQuistan or Chris Gray. He got the majority of the reps with the first unit from what I could see at right guard, and did well. J.R. Sweezy continues to be a superior run blocker, who may become an elite run blocker this season, but his pass protection continues to be suspect. He was beaten multiple times in 1v1 drills and also during team drills. Tom Cable will have to decide if he wants a plus blocker in one aspect that is a liability in the other, or a guy that is a little below average in both. That is where things stack up at the moment. Game time could determine the outcome of a competition I did not believe would even materialize. Sweezy has opened the door, and Moffitt is taking advantage.

Jermaine Kearse looking like more than JAG (Just Another Guy)
If you were to pick the standout player in camp so far, Jermaine Kearse would have to be in the conversation. He has played at all the receiver spots, and taken full advantage of Sidney Rice being limited the last two days. Russell Wilson went to him often on Sunday, with mostly good results. He made back-to-back catches during a two-minute drill, including a pretty back shoulder throw-and-catch that demonstrated the chemistry he is building with Wilson. His confidence has to be growing, and the receiver group clearly treats him as part of the crew. Today was the first day I started wondering if he had starting split end potential. An important question given the impending free agency of Golden Tate.

Kickoff coverage first unit revealing
It is unlikely many at the VMAC were paying attention to who was running down the field on kickoff coverage drills. The deciding factor in making the back-end of the roster almost always comes down to special teams play, and the special teams coach. That made it must-see practice minutes for me. It was no surprise to see guys like Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Michael Robinson and other mainstays. The ones to remember were Jeremy Lane, Byron Maxwell, Chris Maragos, Kearse, Malcolm Smith, Mike Morgan, and Allen Bradford. It was especially revealing to see Bradford, who is already having a strong camp at back-up middle linebacker. Heath Farwell has been sitting out with an injury, and has been a special teams ace. Farwell, however, is set to make $1.5M in 2013, while Bradford would make just $480K and is younger. If they are anywhere close to even on the field, Bradford will get the nod. Other noteworthy names were Lane and Maxwell, who could get the boost they need from special teams to beat out worthy competitors like Will Blackmon.


STAND-OUT NEW FACES
Christine Michael
Wowzers. This guy could challenge 2,000 yards in this offense with this line. He is tough, and has far more burst than Marshawn Lynch will ever have. Michael could bring chunk plays we rarely see from Lynch. Remember how funny it looked to see Lynch breaking a 70-yard run versus Detroit? Michael makes that look natural. His most impressive run today came between the tackles when he made four or five guys miss as he weaved his way down-field. He made a couple guys miss in a phonebooth. Special stuff.

Alvin Bailey
Maybe the league will overwhelm him as time goes on, but he looks like a baby Russell Okung right now.

Michael Bennett
Bennett played a lot of 3-technique today, along with LEO. This was the first glimpse of him at 3-tech so far. He is handful wherever he plays.

Benson Mayowa
Mayowa benefited from Cliff Avril sitting out, and got a decent amount of run with the first unit at LEO and at 5-technique in the nickel. He looked fast and determined while making a few plays. He got to the quarterback at least twice during team drills. He is not a guy that looks ready to contribute in the rotation, but may be a practice squad candidate.

Jordan Hill
Hill got the chance to take Tony McDaniel's snaps with the first team at 3-technique in the base defense, and got some time at nose tackle with the nickel. He had a good day. Bennett and Hill met at the quarterback in one flashy moment during team drills. There is little question about Hill's get-off and motor. He just will not physically dominate many people in the NFL, so he will have to be a technician and be at maximum effort on every snap.

Bryan Walters
Walters has put together a few great days. He had another today, making catches all over the field. There does not appear to be any path to a roster spot for him, but it will not be because of his performance at this rate.

Chris Harper
Harper had his best day on Saturday. Sunday was better yet. He still shows some inconsistency with catching the ball, but is looking more comfortable getting some separation and making plays during team drills. He had a great back shoulder catch today.

SIDELINED PLAYERS
Percy Harvin, Zach Miller, Chris Clemons, Tharold Simon, Robert Turbin, Chandler Fenner, Korey Toomer, Sidney Rice (limited, played a few snaps), Jesse Williams, Heath Farwell

THINGS I NOW KNOW


1.  Sean McGrath is building rapport with Wilson
There was a moment in 7v7 drills where every player was covered. This is fairly common so far in camp against this defense. Wilson scrambled to his left, and made eye contact with Sean McGrath streaking across the field and then up the sideline. He pointed to a spot, and McGrath instantly stopped and caught a pass for a nice gain. McGrath made a few other nice catches, including one he stretched out for. Solid camp so far.

2. Jeremy Lane still has a ways to go
Lane has undeniable physical gifts and is a fiery competitor. Those traits will take him a long ways, but his preparation and ability to handle adversity remain in question. He looks desperate at times when beaten in coverage, often resorting to blatant holds. More concerning is that he is missing assignments. How do I know? Call it an educated guess. He throws his arms in the air before the snap. His teammates are gesturing to him, a guy ends up open with Lane trailing behind, and then the coach calls him over after the play. He can be a starting caliber corner, but needs to put in the time necessary to be fully prepared.

3. Steven Hauschka has a clear early lead in the kicker competition
Carson Wiggs has a strong leg, but missed wide on a couple of 57-yard tries today, while Hauschka nailed his 57-yard attempt with the ball halfway up the uprights. Hauschka has been perfect, and looks far more consistent than Wiggs thus far. Wiggs will need to prove he can be reliable and not just a big leg to really push Hauschka.


GENERAL IMPRESSIONS
It is somewhat of a misnomer to call the blocking drills 1v1 since the offensive line all lines up. It just happens that one defensive player lines up across from them and attacks a single offensive lineman. Those drills were lively today as it appeared that two hard-edged players in Red Bryant and Breno Giacomini were growing tired of facing one another in camp. Giacomini managed to pancake Bryant on one play, something I have never seen before, and then came back and stoned Mayowa on the next snap. Giacomini celebrated by running through the crowd of defensive players in what looked like a silly boast. Bryant did not see the humor and lowered a shoulder into Giacomini as he ran by. The two ended up nose-to-nose before being separated. Bryant was not pleased.

Seahawks fans should be more than pleased to hear that Bryant looks ready for a dominating season. He is nearly unblockable in most drills, and just looks like a beast again. Nobody is more important to the Seahawks run defense than Bryant, and he looks ready to anchor it.

The offensive line did a better job in pass protection today. Quarterbacks had time to throw on more plays than not. The whistle was getting blown every other play yesterday as the QB was "sacked," but not nearly so much today. That allowed for more completions and the first sustained series of camp. It came in the two-minute drill with Wilson at the helm. He hit Kearse a couple of times, and then Lynch. They got down toward the goal line, but could not score a touchdown. Brady Quinn, who was a better player than Tarvaris Jackson today, guided his team down to the four-yard line, but could not convert. This was a clear improvement over past days when the offense was not even managing a first down in the two-minute drill. Still, I do not recall a touchdown by the offense yet. Sure, there have been some long runs, but those are bogus in this environment where tackling is not allowed. This was still a needed step in the right direction.

Bradford and John Lotulelei again looked solid in backup linebacker roles. Bradford chased down a reverse to Phil Bates from behind, flashing elite speed. Earlier, he filled a hole during run drills and met the ball carrier for little gain. Lotulelei was his best reading and reacting to plays where the QB checks down to his outlet. On back-to-back plays, he read a middle screen and forced Jackson to throw the ball into the ground, and then destroyed Spencer Ware on a swing pass. This guy is passing all the tests. It will be fun to see how he looks in a pre-season game.

New linebacker O'Brien Schofield was not at practice. It typically takes a day or two for a new player to report. The team is off tomorrow, and back at it on Tuesday.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Look At Seattle's Mutating Front Seven

Michael Bennett is everywhere on the defensive line for the Seahawks

Free agency started to unfold this off-season with a big splash acquisition of Percy Harvin via trade. That was surprising, but most people expected Seattle to add a wide receiver in one way or another. The team announced the signing of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett soon after. Signing one was a shock. Signing both was unthinkable. Just adding a pile of pass rushers does not improve your pass rush. They cannot all play at the same time, especially when there was already at least one healthy player at their position in Bruce Irvin. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, however, was not signing a string of defensive ends. The first three days of camp have revealed a different configuration and utilization of the talent than could have been predicated at the time of signing.

Mutating Positions

The first key to understand Quinn's plan is to realize that not every position will be played the same way in each scenario. The LEO position has been occupied by Chris Clemons the last three seasons. He played it on first, second, and third downs. He was in there against the run and against the pass. The LEO so far in camp has changed depending on the package on the field. Bennett appears to be the base LEO who play opposite Red Bryant on early downs. Avril becomes the LEO in nickel packages. Some would say that makes Bennett the starter. The truth is that the team will spend a significant amount of time in nickel this season for a variety of reasons, so while Avril may not be out there on the first snap, he will play a ton.

The 5-technique defensive end that Bryant plays also changes in nickel. That was the case last season as well, so not a lot new there, except who is taking on the nickel 5-technique duties, which will be covered in a bit.

Finally, the strongside linebacker (SAM) role will also change from base to nickel packages, and have different players take on each role. K.J. Wright was always the SAM last year, so this is a departure.

Your base front seven

Bennett is the base LEO. He brings the best combination of pass rush and run stuffing ability of any of the healthy LEOs. Clemons is a better edge pass rusher when healthy, but is not the run defender Bennett is. Having Bennett will help shore up the run defense, and could keep the weakside linebacker (WILL) more clean than in past seasons.

Tony McDaniel, the forgotten free agent addition, is the base 3-technique defensive tackle. This is the role Alan Branch occupied the last two seasons. McDaniel looks more fresh and more disruptive than Branch ever did.

Brandon Mebane is the base nose tackle. No change there.

Red Bryant is the base 5-technique. No change there, except he looks healthier.

Malcolm Smith will line up behind Bryant as the base SAM. Again, he is technically the starter, but the opponent and the defensive game plan will determine how much he plays versus the nickel SAM.

Bobby Wagner is the base middle linebacker (MIKE). No change.

K.J. Wright is the base WILL. He takes over for Leroy Hill, and could be the guy that benefits from better edge protection versus the run from Bennett.

Your nickel front seven

Avril joins the fray in nickel situations as the LEO. 

McDaniel remains as 3-technique in nickel, unlike Branch who was replaced by Jason Jones last year. Jesse Williams has also got some play here, but McDaniel appears to be leading this competition. I had expected Bennett to slide inside to 3-technique in nickel situations, and Quinn has glowed when asked about Bennett rushing inside, so it would seem they either like what McDaniel is doing more, or like what Bennett is doing as a different spot.

Mebane remains as nose tackle.

Bennett is the nickel 5-technique. This was the role Bruce Irvin played last season. 

Irvin is the nickel SAM. He lines up directly over the shoulder of Bennett on most snaps, but does drop into coverage on occasion and even slides along the line from time-to-time. He had a split-second sack today knifing right up the middle of the line when playing this position. Pete Carroll has said the SAM and LEO positions are somewhat interchangeable. More accurately, the nickel SAM and the nickel LEO are somewhat interchangeable. The base SAM will not rush the passer nearly as much as the nickel SAM will. Irvin is not in their to drop into zone on most plays. He is in there to attack.

Wagner and Wright are the remaining linebackers. 

Nickel may not be the right name

Nickel means there are five defensive backs on the field. When Antoine Winfield has come on as the nickel defender, the SAM (Irvin) has dropped off. That would imply there is another name for the defensive configuration that brings Irvin and Avril onto the field. It may be a sub-package that they will switch to on any down. It may depend on opponent and game plan more than down and distance. Only snaps against real opponents will determine that. What is clear is that there are two very distinct personnel packages at play here that bring different players and different position definitions. 

Back-ups

Jaye Howard has spent time as both base 3-technique and nickel 5-technique. He shows the most promise at 5-technique so far. Jesse Williams also has played at the 3-tech and 5-tech. We still have not seen him in pads, but the guess is he could be a monster 3-tech in the base defense. Jordan Hill has primarily been the nose tackle. Although, he has seen some snaps at 3-technique. There were at least a few times where Mebane shifted over to 3-tech and Hill played nose tackle. Ty Powell has seen the lion's share of backup duty at the nickel LEO spot. There does not appear to be anyone behind Irvin at the nickel SAM spot. Newly signed O'Brian Schofield might make sense ahead of Powell at nickel LEO and as an option to back-up Irvin at nickel SAM. 

Finding a guy to play Irvin's role becomes more important in the first four games of the season. That may be where Schofield finds a roster spot if he can prove a good fit. If he takes to the role well, he may see significant playing time while Irvin is out. If not, it is unclear what the team would do. Most likely, they would fall back to the classic nickel package with Winfield replacing the SAM. 

Corners getting into the act

If today was any indication, this new nickel package will signal that the pass rush could come from anywhere. Corners and safeties were regularly coming after the quarterback today. Jeremy Lane showed particular promise in using his speed to crash from the edge while Irvin would drop back into coverage. Quinn is likely experimenting early on to see what he likes. It has been a long time since the Seahawks had an unpredictable pass rush, possibly all the way back to the Jim Johnson days in the late 90s. That was easily the most fun defense I ever watched in Seattle. This new package looks like it was designed to destroy opposing quarterbacks. None of it matters until it shows success in the regular season, but the plan is a promising one.

2013 Seahawks Training Camp News & Notes: July 27th Edition (3rd practice, 1st with pads)

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. I will pick the first one I like, so get them in quickly! The winner will have their name and logo show up on each post. 

OFF THE CUFF
Padtastic
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.

Golden Day
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
Tony McDaniel
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.

Alvin Bailey
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.

Michael Bennett
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.

Stephen Williams
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.

Chris Harper
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.

SIDELINED PLAYERS
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
Willson took part in plenty of run blocking and pass blocking drills and fared well enough. He was not John Carlson out there whiffing on blocks or getting reverse-pancaked. Irvin pushed him into the back-field a few times, setting the edge nicely for his defense, but Willson was not hopelessly over-matched. He looks to be a more competent pass blocker than run blocker, but all he needs to be is competent to be a valuable weapon. 

2. Red Bryant is back
Put the pads on, and you get the best out of Bryant. Today was no different. He spent much of the day in the back-field, and fouled up the offense more than his fair share.

3. Every CB on this roster is an NFL player
The typical situation with training camp is that by the time you get to the third string, and certainly the fourth string players, the quality is just not there. They are not NFL players. Every single one of the Seahawks cornerbacks should be on an NFL roster. It is unlike anything I have seen. Byron Maxwell is playing extremely well, and he may not make the team. Will Blackmon, Jeremy Lane, Ron Parker, DeShawn Shead all are flashing their credentials each day. This group may turn into draft picks via trade as the pre-season moves along.

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. 


GENERAL IMPRESSIONS
The defensive backs got a chance to prove the lineman are not the only tough guys during a tackling drill today. There was a single blocking sled that each defensive back lined up across from. Secondary Coach Kris Richard would send them into a backpedal, and then signal them to drive forward and tackle the sled. Kam Chancellor destroyed it, lifting if off the ground. Winston Guy blew it up as well. Brandon Browner literally picked it up off the ground and threw it on its side. I love watching that guy play. He very well may be my favorite player on this defense, even if I expect he will play elsewhere after this year. What a badass.

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.

Friday, July 26, 2013

2013 Seahawks Training Camp News & Notes: July 26th Edition (2nd practice)

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. I will pick the first one I like, so get them in quickly! The winner will have their name and logo show up on each post. 

OFF THE CUFF
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz....
Practices don't get much more boring than that one. The offense struggled throughout. The action was on the far field, and first chunk was dedicated to special teams. Don't get me wrong, special teams play is crucial, but it is nearly impossible to evaluate who is playing well until the games begin. Energy was a little low today overall. Call it workmanlike if you wish.

Lotulelei is quickly becoming a favorite
This guy looks legit. Moves with purpose and pace. Love his break on the ball on running backs coming out of the back-field. Seeing him shed blocks with pads on will be important.

Receiver spots 1-5 are clear. Spot #6....
Percy Harvin is in his own class, and is paid that way. Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are in the next tier, more closely bunched than people realize, albeit at different positions. What people may not realize is that Jermaine Kearse is very clearly a cut above the rest of the receivers in camp. He plays every spot, runs nice routes, and shows reliable hands (yes, I watched him at UW, and know his past problems). Russell Wilson clearly trusts him, and throws his direction with confidence.

That leaves the sixth receiver spot, that has been presumed to be Chris Harper's to lose, as a fourth round pick. Harper was added because he brought a dimension in size and strength that the other players do not have. He is not demonstrating anything that makes him stand out. He is not particularly tall at 6'1", and has not shown the ability to use his body to block off defenders, or route running that creates space. He does not appear very sudden or fast. Granted, this is all two days in, so any conclusions would be foolish. Still, there is a guy that has some clear strengths in Stephen Williams that is making plays early. Williams is 6'5" with ridiculously long arms and good leaping ability. He has put that collection of assets together to good use in the first two days, making arguably the best catch in each practice. Quarterbacks are tossing it up for him, and his success rate is not bad considering the coverage and throws he has had to work with.

Bryan Walters is another guy that had a good day, collecting a number of catches. He seems more like a Charly Martin-type. He is not the unique big body addition Carroll and Schneider have been looking to make. This battle is one to keep an eye on if you are the type of person that cares about the sixth receiver on the depth chart. Some of us are sick that way.

Carson Wiggs has leg
Wiggs and Steven Hauschka were practicing kicks on uprights I had not seen before. They were especially narrow to force greater accuracy. Wiggs was kicking with confidence through 50 yards, and was pushing himself out past 60. He hit a 60-yarder, but fell short on 65. Just a hunch here that Wiggs may wind up with the job.

STAND-OUT NEW FACES
John Lotulelei
He earned it two days in a row.

Bryan Walters
Walters had more catches than any other player. He caught some nice throws in the seam, and looked quick on crossing routes.

Michael Bennett
Bennett caused havoc during the full team two-minute drills, playing as the 5-technique in place of Red Bryant as they were in nickel (more on that later). He was getting around the edge and applying pressure consistently.

Antoine Winfield
Winfield was seen holding court with Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner. The guy may be new, but he has cred with these young players. It is clear.

Stephen Williams
Williams has shown he can win jump balls on occasion, and even looked good running a crossing route, which I didn't expect at his size. This is not a guy on the verge of stardom, but could be a valuable specialist.


SIDELINED PLAYERS
Percy Harvin, Zach Miller, Chris Clemons, Tharold Simon, Robert Turbin, Chandler Fenner, Korey Toomer, Michael Robinson

THINGS I NOW KNOW


1.  People should learn to get to practice late instead of early
Very little happens the first hour of practice. The most interesting and telling portion comes at the very end, but many people burn out before they get there. 

2. The nickel defensive line is not what I envisioned
Bennett is not playing inside at 3-tech defensive tackle in nickel situations. The current look is Bennett at 5-tech, Brandon Mebane at nose tackle, Tony McDaniel at 3-tech and Cliff Avril at leo. Many of Bennett's best pass pressures came on the interior part of the line against guards. We will have to see if his contributions can be maximized on the edge.

3. Jaye Howard is getting time at 5-technique
Howard has not flashed yet, but he has flickered. His number has caught my eye a couple of times, but there has not been anything spectacular yet. He was brought in to play defensive tackle, and still plays there, but he came in as a backup 5-tech end behind Red Bryant in one nickel drill. 


GENERAL IMPRESSIONS
One of the best drills at camp is when they work with the defensive backs on reading and reacting to a two-receiver split. The DB is positioned in the center of the hash marks, facing two receivers split on either side of him that are holding blocking pads. The receivers start their routes and a coach chooses a side to fire the ball. He also chooses whether to overthrow it aim at a receiver. The defensive back has to read the routes and the direction of the throw as they back-pedal and then break on the ball. If the ball is at the receiver, they attempt to pick it off. If the throw sails high, they drive through the blocking pads. Watch for it. It allows you to see defensive backs read throws and break on the ball. Earl Thomas is the master.

There was not a lot to conclude from today, so here are some quick hitter observations:


  • The team continued to work on back shoulder throws, without much success. 
  • Luke Willson was far less of a factor today, while Sean McGrath made a few plays. Word was after that he may be hurt. 
  • Brady Quinn seems to throw the ball up for grabs on a significant percentage of his snaps. There does not appear to be a good plan there, or the ability to execute throws in small windows. 
  • Tarvaris Jackson looked better today, but was still high on many throws. He did not move the team even a yard in his chance at two-minute.
  • Bruce Irvin looks dangerous at SAM. His explosion off the snap seems very promising coming from the angle he will be positioned at, and facing a tight end or right tackle instead of a left tackle. 
  • Doug Baldwin looks refreshed and ready to surprise people again. He has a bounce in his game that was missing early last year while battling injury. He is a big part of why people should not sweat the Harvin situation.
  • Christine Michael continued to run everything through to the end zone, including an 80-yarder today. That's commitment folks.
  • Benson Mayowa had a flash play today during team drills, creating pressure from the LEO spot and flushing the quarterback from the pocket. He has not shown much else yet.

A Look At Seahawks Offense Without Harvin

The prevailing story about the potential loss of Percy Harvin is that it would be a huge loss. Maybe it would be. Nobody really knows until the team takes the field with him. Anyone that says the Seahawks offense is in trouble without Harvin should take a look at last season.

  • Seattle finished #4 overall in FootballOutsiders.com offensive efficiency rankings, and #1 overall in their weighted offensive rankings. Weighted rankings take into account the opposing defenses the team faced. No offense in football performed better against better opponents than the Seahawks, without Harvin.
  • The team finished 9th in the NFL in scoring at 25.8 ppg. They averaged 26 ppg in their two playoff matches. The Green Bay Packers, one of the most feared offenses in the NFL averaged 27.1 ppg. The Atlanta Falcons were at 26.2 ppg. 

  • Seattle averaged 34 ppg in their last eight games of the regular season. The Patriots averaged the most points in the NFL last year at 34.8 ppg. 


Seattle's passing game got more explosive last year, even without Harvin

  • The Seahawks finished 3rd in rushing yards/game, and fifth in yards/carry. 
  • Seattle averaged 398.3 yards/game in the final eight games. That would be the 4th-best avg in the NFL over the course of a full season. Higher than Peyton Manning's Broncos.
None of this is to say Harvin is unimportant. He may help the offense be more consistently dominant against a wider variety of defenses. He was a big part of how an inferior Minnesota Vikings team beat up on the San Francisco 49ers last season. His presence simply is not necessary for this to be a Super Bowl-caliber offense. I had not been in favor of making a deal for him prior to the trade, but have been intrigued by how he could make the offense more diverse after. I need to see Harvin super-charging the offense before I shed a tear about his absence. That is not the case for every new addition. It is clear how players like Jesse Williams, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett can help the team vastly improve. Harvin was added to a receiving corps that was already underutilized. He will struggle to get 65 receptions in this offense, but those catches could be game-changers. Fans will have to settle for the trio of Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin that all look ready for stand-out seasons, and an offense that may only average 30 ppg instead of 32 ppg.



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.

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. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

PODCAST: Talking Seahawks Training Camp With Softy On KJR

I joined Dave Softy Mahler today to talk about what to look for heading into training camp.

Topics:
1:33:76- On what I will be looking for when training camp opens

3:43:59- On the importance of backup players

4:53:24- On which side of the ball I have more faith in, offense or defense

6:31:20- On how much better the defense will be in pressure situations

8:38:66- On who will make up the starting offensive line this coming season

11:36:39- On how many two tight end sets the Seahawks will run this season and who that second tight end will be




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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hawk Blogger 2013 Seahawks Training Camp Tips & Handout

It is almost that time. A new football season is about to begin. The Seahawks have sold out every public training camp for the first time ever. That means a lot of new faces will see players vying for a roster spot for the first time. I have spent more than a normal amount of time at these sessions in the past, and wanted to offer a few items to help make your visit even better.


Having a roster handout like this will help you know who all these unfamiliar players are. You will want to have this. Trust me! I've added my own notes on every player. This is especially useful for people who are bringing a loved one who is not as big of a fan as they are, so they can get an idea who is who.

TIPS:
- Bring sunscreen
They supply sometimes, but don't be caught without it!

- Don't sit down
It's a waste of time to sit down. The drills and action moves around. You should move with it. 

- Remember, this is general seating/standing
You do not have the right to the view in front of you. If someone is choosing to stand, move so you can see. 

- Wait for the three horns
The practices go longer than you think. It is not over until it's over.

- Use the bathroom on the way in
They are not convenient to get back to, and you'll miss the action!

Have fun, all. Happy Seahawks 2013! 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

PODCAST: Previewing 2013 Seahawks With Ryan Burns & FootballSickness.com

An old friend, Ryan Burns, of FootballSickness.com invited me on his podcast to preview the Seahawks. Burns and I met each other through our mutual football obsession on Twitter a few years back, and if you dig enough, you should find some old podcasts of talking about Pete Carroll in his very first season with the Seahawks. Burns gave me hope where I was skeptical early on.

I used to end each podcast asking him if the Seahawks were going to win the Super Bowl that year. Funny then. Not so funny now.

Check out their site. Be sure to follow him on Twitter, and enjoy the podcast.

Link to the story

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What If Russell Wilson Can Be Better?

Plenty of people are tapping the brakes on expectations for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks after a special second half of 2012 and a promising off-season of additions. Too much hype is unfair to the second year quarterback. Or, at least, that is the story line. That is a reasonable perspective given the other-worldly praise being heaped on a player only one season into his career that will face defenses more equipped to challenge him during his second year. What happens, though, if Wilson steps forward, not back? What happens if the end of last year was just the baseline for what is to come? There is at least as much evidence to support that future scenario as a step backwards.

First, take a look back at what Wilson did in his first season:

ATT: 393
CMP: 252
YDS: 3,118
CMP: 64.1%
YPA: 7.9
TD: 26
INT: 10
RATE: 100.0

He upped his game in the second half of the season:

ATT: 183
CMP: 123
YDS: 1,652
CMP: 67.2%
YPA: 9.0
TD: 16
INT: 2
RATE: 120.3


Those numbers give us the ability to work out per-game averages, and also identify the ratio of yards, touchdowns and interceptions per pass attempt. All the ingredients we need to project a range of possible futures.

The Seahawks averaged the fewest pass attempts in the NFL last year. Wilson put the ball up only 25 times per game. Many are surprised to learn that Wilson actually averaged fewer attempts in the second half (22.9/game), despite putting up such better numbers. He did this was fantastic efficiency numbers like an eye-popping 9.0 yards per attempt and a 9% touchdown rate.

Seattle will certainly put the ball up a little bit more this season. That is the most squishy part of the projections, so I stuck with a very conservative 27 attempts per game, just two more per game than last season. Here are the results:


These do not include Wilson's rushing totals at all. If he were to match what he did last year on the ground in the second half of the season, you can add another eight touchdowns to that total, which would bring his high-end projections up over 45 total touchdowns.

Keep in mind, these projections are not based on Wilson doing better than he has done before. They are based on him either performing at the average rate of his full rookie season, or the final eight games of the regular season. Many rookie quarterbacks experience a significant improvement in performance in year two.

These numbers also do not push the pass attempt totals closer to the more likely 30 pass attempts per game we will see this year, or include the impact of adding a player like Percy Harvin that could greatly increase the completion percentage due to simpler throws, while also possibly forcing the yards per attempt lower due to shorter passes.

The next time someone talks to you about sophomore slumps for Wilson, you may want to share these projections as what 2013 could look like if Wilson simply matches what he did in 2012.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Don't Fear The Reaper

Seahawks fans are watching their team climb to the highest point of the big top. All eyes on are them as they prepare to walk the tightrope toward a Super Bowl win. The distance is great. The dangers are real. And they have never successfully completed the journey. It is natural that some are bracing for the worst. The team could slip. It could fall. Life is full of moments worthy of caution. The 2013 Seahawks season is not one of them. Face the worst, and you will see it is not worthy of your fear.

A number of local radio hosts have asked what could derail this promising Seahawks season. Injury is the most common answer, but where and why? The following are the most vulnerable points of a remarkably armored Seahawks roster. All NFL teams have them. Teams that win either avoid injury in those areas, discover depth they were not aware they had, or adapt to new personnel (see Marquand Manuel in 2005).



Top Five Seahawks Injury Vulnerabilities

#5 Richard Sherman

Sherman has the talent to make a run at defensive player of the year. His 2012 season was reminscent of Charles Woodson's great years that resulted in winning the award. Losing him to injury would have an impact on the Seahawks ability to contain elite passing games. He, more than any corner on the roster, changes the level of the Seahawks secondary. Seattle went 4-0 without Brandon Browner last season and played some of their best football. Cornerback may be the deepest position on the roster with players like Walter Thurmond III, Antoine Winfield, Byron Maxwell, and Jeremy Lane ready to step in. It is also a position that can be assisted with great safety play, which Seattle also possesses. These mitigating factors put Sherman lower on the Seahawks vulnerability list, but an impact player like him must be on the list.

#4 Russell Okung

Okung was a Pro Bowl player in 2012, and has the capacity to be an All-Pro. Seattle is a different team with him in the lineup, and have already seen what they look like without him due to past injuries. There is no proven depth behind him. Paul McQuistan played a few games at left tackle in 2011, and played reasonably well. Mike Person and Michael Bowie are unproven youngsters. Losing Okung would be higher on the list of vulnerabilities if Seattle did not employ Tom Cable as line coach. He has been a magician so far, and while the efficiency and potency of the offense would suffer, it would not be grounded.

#3 Max Unger

Unger was voted a first-team All-Pro center in 2012, as the best center in football. He is the leader of the offensive line, and a captain on the team. Seattle is a running team that often lives between the tackles. Russell Wilson, more than most quarterbacks, needs the middle of pocket to be strong to create sight lines. Lemuel Juanpierre is the backup center, and is a player that could surprise some should he need to fill in, but he is nowhere near Unger. Most people focus on the tackles as the most important part of the offensive line, but problems in the middle of the line will kill a passing and rushing attack far faster than problems on the edge.

#2 Russell Wilson

Seeing Wilson as #2 on the list is certain to be a surprise to some. Wilson is the key to winning a Super Bowl, as there is no other player on the roster that could rise to the occasion on the biggest stage. Tarvaris Jackson, however, could lead the team to the playoffs, and possibly even a few wins given the talent surrounding him. That slides Wilson down a spot. 

#1 Earl Thomas

Thomas was the number one safety in football last season by All-Pro voting. He grabs the top spot of vulnerabilities because there is not only no player on the roster that could replace him if he went down, but no player in the NFL that could play the type of safety Seattle asks Thomas to play. His speed and instincts are elite, and his discipline is quickly improving. The entire defensive scheme is predicated on being able to play Thomas as a single-high safety. He allows the corners to play aggressively, Kam Chancellor to crowd the line, and the defensive line to focus on the stuffing the run on early downs. Losing Thomas would force the team to elevate a player like Winston Guy, Chris Maragos, or Jeron Johnson. They could also consider switching Winfield to safety. The rest of the defense would have to step up significantly to keep the team competitive, or the offense would have to be lethal. Basically, the mitigation plans are least defined, and the results would be the most unpredictable and far-reaching.

Adding it up

Losing any player is a problem. Anthony McCoy is already out for the year, and his absence will be felt. Injuries could pile up at particular positions, or a combination of the key guys mentioned above could go down. The team has the rare potential to withstand some of those things and still compete for a playoff spot.

Seattle is a team with 14+ win talent that could fall as far as 8-8 if catastrophe hits. It is also a team built to contend for the ring next year and the year after. Not only do they have a young franchise QB, but they have young franchise players at key positions like left tackle, safety, linebacker and cornerback. They have managed their cap space well, and are well-positioned to pay these young players and still fill out the roster. This year is simply attempt number two at crossing the tightrope. They fell in their first attempt last year, and landed safely in the net, only to come back stronger this year. There is little reason to think the same would not happen if they were to fall again in 2013. Appreciate this moment in franchise history. Winning a Super Bowl is a game of probabilities, much like the NBA draft lottery. The Seahawks have more ping pong balls in the hopper than at any time before, and that will not change for years to come. Disappointment is just a step on the road to exhilaration. Fear not, Seahawks fans. This is but one season of a golden age.