OFF THE CUFF
McNeil moves to cornerback
Pete Carroll is the happiest mad scientist in the NFL. There is no coach more committed to finding a way to maximize the potential of every player he encounters. He converts defensive tackles to defensive ends and offensive lineman. He converts defensive ends to linebackers, and quarterbacks to wide receivers. The latest experiment to emerge from his VMAC lab came in the form of a talented 6’3″ receiver, Douglas McNeil, wearing a white jersey signifying he was playing defense, specifically cornerback.

Early returns were mixed as Kris Richard and the coaching staff eased McNeil in. Richard Sherman, a converted receiver himself, gave McNeil a lot of personal attention during drills, and McNeil deserves a ton of credit for trying this transformation. As good as he has been at receiver, he is a practice squad candidate due to the extreme depth at that position. Corner is the thinnest position on the roster, so if McNeil catches on, Carroll may heard cackling again.

Don’t count out Ricardo Lockette just yet
Count me as one of the people who has been assuming Ricardo Lockette was as good as gone. He is older, has limited upside as a receiver, and was running with the second team on kickoff coverage earlier this week. He was still the top gunner on the depth chart during practice today and made a series of nice catches. His fate is not yet set.

This team looks better
Training camp is an imperfect barometer for the quality of players and teams. Nothing is quite real, and that collection of subtleties adds up to something quite different from true game day football. Heck, even preseason games are not great indicators for regular season success. Knowing all that, it is still hard to watch this team practice, knowing what we know of the core players that have a proven track record, and not come to the conclusion that this team is better than last year’s squad. They feel significantly better. If true, that means some other NFL team will need to make a quantum leap to derail this freight train.

Double trouble
Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett took turns shaking corners in single coverage today. Much of the attention has gone to Jimmy Graham adding to the attack with his height and athleticism, and for good reason. The combination of Lockett and Baldwin could be nearly as challenging for opposing defenses. Graham will demand extra attention, and very few corners will be able to stay with either Lockett or Baldwin in single coverage.

Offense way ahead of where they typically are
The usual story during the first week of camp is that the defense dominates the offense. It takes some time for the offense to find their rhythm and the Seahawks defense is pretty darn good. Not this year. The offense looks potent and efficient. Cynics will ask if that is good offense or a defense not playing great football. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will obviously make a difference, but give credit where it is due to an offense that appears ready to carry a heavier load this season.

Not yet
I was pumped to watch Earl Thomas back on the field, but he sat out again. He will hopefully get back on the field in the next few days. Jesse Williams was back on the field and went through a few drills before sitting out most of the day.

I’m always surprised by who is reading this blog and my tweets…

DEPTH CHARTS
I present these with a few very important caveats:

  1. These are not official. They are based on what I observed.
  2. The team does varies their rotations based on different drills, so I have to guess based on what I have seen to be predictive of their depth chart patterns in the past.
  3. There is a lot going on, and I can only watch one group at any one time, so I absolutely miss things.
  4. Important! These represent practice depth charts. The actual fourth linebacker or third offensive tackle is not represented, and that is how the team would judge things (i.e., Garry Gilliam would backup right tackle if Justin Britt got hurt even though Jesse Davis is playing backup RT in practice) 
Let’s talk punt coverage teams today. They run the gunner drill for the first time. It involves one gunner going against two blockers and trying to get past them to get the punt returner. The depth chart looked something like this:

I didn’t even try to keep track of the inside guys. It was my first time seeing this drill, so I tend to focus on the players who I have the most questions about in terms of roster spots. Lockette and Kearse were the gunners last year, so no surprise there. Seeing Norwood as a second string gunner is good news for him, and he did pretty well during the drill.

Eric Pinkins looked like the best gunner of the group today. He is a potential core special teams player, which would greatly increase his chances of sticking on the final 53.

Steven Terrell was also starting on the kickoff coverage group, so this is a good sign for him. Mohammed Seisay also was thrown in as a starter, and did well. He seems like a natural special teams player. Of note was Christine Michael taking part. He gets a lot of flack for not growing into the responsibilities of a pro, but he deserves credit for trying something that Robert Turbin and Marshawn Lynch do not do. Compliments aside, he did not look particularly well suited for this role.

STAND-OUT NEW FACES
WR CB Douglas McNeil 
McNeil had trouble tracking Lockette down the field a few times, and then did a great job a few others. He mistakenly left Lockett alone, thinking it was a handoff or zone coverage, as he went into motion and gave up an easy catch, but hustled his butt off to make the tackle.

Sherman (25) coaching up McNeil (in stance)

WR Deshon Foxx
This guy has had a nice camp, and has come on lately. He is super fast, and gets nice separation. He made a handful of nice catches today.

LB Eric Pinkins
Pinkins made some nice plays at linebacker crashing the line to support the run defense. He is now wearing #47, which threw me for half the practice, as I was scrambling to figure out who the new guy was that was flashing into the backfield.

DE/DT Frank Clark
The team drafted Cassius Marsh with an eye on finding another Michael Bennett-type player who could rush inside and out. They have found that guy a year later in Clark. He took starting snaps today at the 5-technique DE position that Bennett plays for the first time. That doesn’t mean he has surpassed Bennett on the depth chart. It does give a pretty strong indication that Clark is going to be able to spell Bennett, keeping him fresher, and making the pass rush that much filthier.

CB Tristan Wade
Wade was frequently getting burned earlier in camp, but he has come on as he got acclimated. He is special teams contributor and his spirit shines through his performance. I’m fond of the kid, and find myself watching him and cheering for him more and more.

SIDELINED PLAYERS
Jeremy Lane, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor (holdout), Tharold Simon, Paul Richardson, Derrick Coleman, Ryan Murphy (wearing a boot), Demarcus Dobbs, Anthony McCoy, Kevin Smith

THINGS I NOW KNOW


1.  There is a formation that features both Lynch and Michael in the backfield

That was the first time I had seen that combination. They were split back behind Russell Wilson. The play was a swing screen to Lynch. I’ll be curious to see if that shows up again, as it would give Michael more chances to get on the field without reducing Lynch’s snaps.

2. Tye Smith is getting reps at nickel
Carroll alluded to this before, but now it is actually happening. Smith was exclusively playing inside today.


GENERAL IMPRESSIONS
Kristjan Sokoli got most of the reps with the first team offense at left guard. Alvin Bailey, though, finished practice with the first unit. Tom Cable is notoriously hard to predict, but from what I saw, this looks like a crash course for Sokoli and maybe a little wake-up call to Bailey. The line looks more settled with Bailey in there.

The consistency of the players in camp has been impressive. The same guys are making the same plays for the most part. That gives me that much more confidence that these are not mirages. My expectations are pretty darn high for next Friday’s game. The pass blocking could be problematic and the pass coverage will struggle, but the offense should look far more potent and the pass rush should be relentless.

Expect a relatively tame practice tomorrow, as I’m guessing Saturday will be the scrimmage. I will be skipping tomorrow, but will be there to cover things on Saturday. 

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