One thing I have learned over the years of attending Seahawks training camp is that you better come with a plan. There are as many as five or six different groups doing different drills at the same time. You cannot possibly watch them all. Once you accept that, it becomes a simple process of prioritization and organization. Who do you want to see? What do you want to learn? You see, I am not there to watch my favorite Seahawk players run around and make plays, as fun as that is. I am there to learn what the coaches are thinking, and which players stand out.
There are press conferences and interviews where Pete Carroll and John Schneider will say a lot of words, but they rarely reveal any absolute truths. Listeners are left to read between the lines and connect dots to create a picture. That is not the case on the practice field. The words do not matter. Depth charts, schemes and plays are there for all to see.
Building out a depth chart
The first thing I do in preparing for training camp is print out my roster. Certain guys catch my eye just walking on the field and I can quickly scan the printout to see who is who. It takes three or four practices before I have memorized all the new faces and numbers. Even more challenging is building out a depth chart.
This was not something I did my first two or three years attending training camp. It is a little like they say about players hitting their second or third year; the game slowed down a bit and I was able to start thinking ahead and absorbing more of what I was seeing.
My method is pretty simple. I use a combination of my phone and the back of my printed handout. Instead of trying to write names, I simply write numbers, knowing that I can cross-reference the roster later. Coaches have depth charts from the very first day.
The first string offensive line will get the first reps. Then, you will see a new line come in. Then, a third. The same thing happens for every position. It would be nearly impossible to build out a full depth chart in one practice as an observer. It usually takes me at least two practices to get there. You will find my progress captured in my camp notes on the blog so you can follow along.
Noticing scheme changes
One of the most challenging aspects of building a depth chart is that the team switches to different sub-packages without warning. You have to look for clues based on players whose position and role you know, as well as contextual clues like what down it is. It is pretty obvious when the defense is in nickel because a linebacker leaves the field and a cornerback enters.
At least, that has been pretty easy the last few years. The introduction of Brandon Browner’s safety role means we will need to be on the lookout for what that scheme looks like and when they utilize it. Usually, they go to nickel when there are three receivers on the field. Will they still do that? I am assuming Browner’s role will get called into use more for specific tight end packages or specific types of tight ends. That will be something to learn.
Meanwhile, your depth chart has to reflect different sub-packages. The “starting” defensive ends for a nickel package will be different than the starting defensive ends for the base defense. I address this by simply leaving a different part in my notes for nickel versus base on defense, and 3WR vs base on offense. This year, I will also be looking for this “Big Dime” package that features three safeties and any new tight end packages with Nick Vannett expected to play more the in-line role and Jimmy Graham more the detached role.
Specific players on my mind
It is not all work. The little kid in me still loves seeing a new player for the first time and getting that first impression. Here are a few of the guys I know I will want to watch right away.
RG Germain Ifedi
I am braced for him to be a project, and hope to be pleasantly surprised. I want to see how he moves, but more than anything, I want to see him in 1v1 pass rush drills. That may not happen until day three or day four.
RT J’Marcus Webb
DT Quinton Jefferson
What kind of athlete is he? How are they using him?
S Tanner McEvoy
I wrote about him earlier. How in the world will Carroll utilize a 6’6″ safety? I want to know.
DT Brandin Bryant
I’ve hyped him just due to his athletic ability and position. I hope to see a player worth some continued excitement.
RB C.J. Prosise
Speaking of hype. How does he look with the ball in his hands? How are they using him?
RB Zac Brooks
Seems like a sleeper to me. Can’t say why. Just a feeling.
TE Nick Vannett
Had praise heaped on him during mini-camps. I can’t wait to see what all the talk is about.
DT Jarran Reed
I don’t believe you can really learn much of anything about a run-stuffing DT in practices, even when they are padded. Still, I’d like to see how he moves and whether there is any pass rush potential there.
I better stop there, or I will list all 90 players. Camp on!