Friday, July 25, 2014

2014 Training Camp News & Notes: July 25th Edition (Opening Practice)


OFF THE CUFF
A very healthy bunch
The team enters camp in pretty good shape. Most of the players sitting out are recovering from off-season surgeries, and appear close to being ready. The team feels younger somehow. It may have to do with players like Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan moving on while young guys like Michael Bowie, Justin Britt, Greg Scruggs, Benson Mayowa and others are being asked to step forward. The fresh legs of players like Paul Richardson, Kevin Norwood and Christine Michael also help.



Wide receivers for days
This unit was famously called out for lack of explosiveness last year. They could be nuclear this season. Doug Baldwin looked great beating Earl Thomas deep for an early touchdown. Paul Richardson is as fast as reported, but also has some run-after-catch jitterbug in him that was good to see. Percy Harvin is a blur, and is being built into the offense from practice one. But the guy who stole the show was Kevin Norwood. He may allow me to resurrect my #81 jersey (formerly of Koren Robinson fame). He is big, runs decisive routes, and plucks the ball out of the air. He made a couple of eye-opening grabs outside his frame while in full stride. My very first thought when seeing him was that he looked a little like Anquan Boldin. It's one practice, but I've learned to trust my eyes after identifying guys like Richard Sherman, Doug Baldwin, Brandon Browner and others on first look. That doesn't even get us to Jermaine Kearse, who was mostly invisible today. This is a young and talented group.

Offensive line looks rejuvenated
James Carpenter does indeed look in far better shape than previous years. See for yourself.


He still needs to prove he can stay healthy. That starts with participating in every practice. One down. J.R. Sweezy, on the flip side, looks thicker. I remember how strikingly slim he was for a lineman his rookie year. That is no longer the case. He had some trouble blocking Kevin Williams, but more on that later. Justin Britt and Michael Bowie, Gary Gilliam and Alvin Bailey have the looks of a damn fine tackle quartet. I did not get to see pass rush drills as much today, but will see how they all hold up in the coming practices. This group may have the chance to take the biggest step forward in 2014.

Kevin Williams still has it
This guy was disrupting the interior whenever he stepped onto the field. Tony McDaniel may have trouble holding onto his starting job, and not because he has slipped. Williams and McDaniel are sure to rotate frequently, and he has the look of a major upgrade to the line.
Seahawks starting line may include #94, Kevin Williams
Strongside linebacker depth tested
One position where the team was not healthy was strongside linebacker. Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith, and Korey Toomer were all out with injury. That left Mike Morgan as the starting SAM linebacker. Smith looked very close to returning, and participated in warm-ups. Toomer came out pretty late and looked pretty down. Irvin was designated as a pre-season PUP player, which means he could end up on the PUP list down the road. Time will tell how this plays out. If Smith is back soon, it would not shock me if K.J. Wright swaps to SAM and Smith plays WILL, which is where both players are strongest.


STAND-OUT NEW FACES
WR Kevin Norwood
Norwood made every play he could during practice. Great start to camp for the rookie.

WR Chris Mathews 
Mathews is the 6'5" CFL star who missed most of OTAs with injuries. It was exciting to see him available to play, and it appeared as if the quarterbacks had been asked to see what he had. He didn't have much. They threw him a lot of balls, and he caught none that I saw. What's worse is that he often looked disinterested in competing for the contested ball. This is a very tall man, and guys like Philip Adams were winning position on jump balls with him. He did not appear to have the ability to adjust to passes that were off-target, and seemed to be going half-speed. I'd never write a player off after one practice, but this guy better turns things around quickly if he wants to last past the first week of practice.

DE/DT Cassius Marsh
Marsh swapped inside and out, but caught my eye the most on the edge. He chased down the quarterback from behind a couple of times, and was quicker off the corner than I expected. I did not see as much activity on the inside, but need to watch him more. It's worth noting that he was practicing with the first team punt coverage unit.

WR Kevin Smith
The former Husky was recently signed, and had a nice day. He made a couple of long catches, and took advantage of his chances. It's amazing that seeing the #17 on a player still reminds me of Mike Williams; a guy who played one year. He was a fun one.

WR Paul Richardson
Fast and productive. Did not see as many throws his way, but looked good when he got them.

DT Kevin Williams
Difference-maker on the inside.

SIDELINED PLAYERS
Marshawn Lynch, Garrett Scott, Erik Pinkins, Kam Chancellor, Malcolm Smith, Bruce Irvin, Korey Toomer, Russell Okung (partial participant)


THINGS I NOW KNOW

1.  Michael Bennett looks to be the starting 5-technique and Cliff Avril the starting LEO
That was the pairing with the first unit today. This was much as expected.

2. Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams could see the field at the same time
McDaniel got some time at defensive end, allowing someone like Williams to play inside and go for a beefier run-stuffing group.

3. Greg Scruggs was the backup 5-tech and O'Brien Schofield was the backup LEO
Schofield had a nice practice.

4. Right tackle competition is for real
This might seem obvious, but it was a surprise to see Britt get all the first-team reps in the first practice. Bowie is the guy who came in with the best odds to land the job. This could be a situation like the three-headed quarterback competition two years ago where a different player takes first team reps each day, but the ordered those reps by spot on the depth chart. That would mean Britt is first on the depth chart. If Bowie gets first team reps tomorrow, this is less of a story. If Britt gets them again, it is very much a story.

5. Terrance Parks will get time at safety
Parks is listed as a cornerback, but played safety exclusively from what I saw.


GENERAL IMPRESSIONS
Russell Wilson looked sharp. His timing was impressive given it was the first practice. There was a comeback route to Smith that was particularly well synchronized. The passing game with Wilson was in pretty good form all around. Terrelle Pryor is inaccurate, but even he connected on a few. Tarvaris Jackson never seems to shine in practice, and had a few throws in the dirt. He will likely shine when the lights come on in pre-season like last year.

Robert Turbin continues to get first-team reps. I saw nothing new with him that makes me think he is a future feature back. Christine Michael, on the other hand, looks like lightning. But I've beat that horse enough.

Richard Sherman looked like he was playing at half-speed and was still unbeatable. He is nearing the nexus of preparation, experience and physical peak. Colin Kaepernick would be no wiser to throw at him this year than he was last. And yes, Sherman tipped multiple passes today.

On Marshawn Lynch and his holdout, I would rate this as a 3 out of 10 on the meaningful story scale. He wants more money, but is losing money by holding out. He will losing millions if he walks away, which certainly does not sound like a good way to make more money. My expectation for how this resolves is that he sits out nearly all of camp, the team cuts some veterans (Heath Farwell?) and replace them with younger and cheaper options. The money they save can be applied to Lynch. They give a little. He gives a little. Even if he was in camp, he would not be playing much at all. The key here is to keep it as professional as possible in the media so that the two sides don't develop hard feelings that will sour the relationship.
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