Off the cuff
Fighting is notable, but not yet concerning
The shoulder pads came on and the feistiness came with it. Tuesday was the first padded practice and the team followed that up with another on Thursday after a day off. There were three separate fights across those practices. The first was surprisingly involving Thomas Rawls. It came during a 9 v 7 run drill when Rawls barrelled into a defender (I had written down Delano Hill, but was unsure and there have been reports of different guys). This was the garden variety camp scuffle. Some pointing and shoving and the offense and defense coming to the aid of their guy. It was over in 30 seconds.
The second fight was during team drills when Frank Clark trucked Luke Joeckel with a bull rush, flattening him on his back, and then shoved him back on the ground when he tried to get up. This one got really heated. A huge scrum of offensive and defensive players got involved and it took multiple guys to separate the guys before it settled down. The last fight happened Thursday when Will Pericak was engaged in a block with Rodney Coe in 1 v 1 pass rush drills. They kept going past the whistle and outside the drill until Coe knocked Pericak over a table full of water. Again, both sides swarmed and it took some time calm folks down. Just as they were headed back to start the drill again, Clark decked a helmetless Germain Ifedi, who appeared to saying something to the defensive line. Ifedi dropped, and laid motionless at the bottom of another scrum before it was broken up and he was helped to his feet. Clark was kicked out of practice and Ifedi left practice after the trainers looked at him for a while. It is worth noting that Ifedi and Clark got into it earlier in practice during run drills and Ifedi showed remarkable restraint by immediately turning around and walking away. I had a note written about the young tackle showing some maturity after a series of fights last year in camp.
Peter King came out on Twitter saying he attended the Tuesday practice and thinks things were “too chippy.” He made reference to the Seth Wickersham article about unrest in the locker room. King is better than that. While it is true that these last two fights were more heated than typical camp fare, they are not indicative of some larger team issue.
What I have noticed is an increased intensity and edginess through four practices thus far. It has been good to see. The Seahawks have been their best on the edge. Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Doug Baldwin, J.R. Sweezy, Michael Bennett, and others have taken turns toeing the line and sometimes crossing over it. This team is not built to out-maneuver you. They are built to physically dominate you and force submission. That takes a certain mentality that has been missing the past couple of seasons. There has been a palpable energy during these practices that is different. I see a team full of passion and vigor. It is up to the veterans and the coaches to harness and direct it. As any manager will tell you, it is far easier to channel someone’s energy than to motivate someone who doesn’t have it.
Frank Clark is an exception
Clark is one of the happiest, friendliest, funniest guys you will meet off the field. He has also become one of the most feared Seahawks pass rushers on it. One of my questions heading into this year is how he would handle a taste of success. He knew he needed to be on his best behavior coming out of school due to the off-field trouble he was in. Some players tend to fall back into old habits once they feel secure in their place in the league. One good season does not a career make. The fact that Clark has been involved in both the most volcanic aspects of these fights at least causes me to wonder if his head is where it needs to be. Bennett and Cliff Avril will not always be here, and Clark is the guy who will have to take the lead of that line. He has to find a way to be great, be physical, be productive, and be a respectable leader. His development cannot only be as a pass rusher.
Ethan Pocic gets his chance
About five minutes before the big fight in Thursday’s practice, I had written a note during some team drills, “Pocic yet to look overmatched. Needs tougher competition.” He had only been facing the second and third string defense. I wanted to see him against someone like Avril. That chance came once Ifedi left practice. Pocic took over the right tackle snaps for the first and second units. What I saw was a very steady and capable pass blocker. He is never off balance, and does not seem to panic or get out of position. The moment was not too big for him. He even picked up a stunt like a vet, handing his guy off and taking the guy who swung around. It was good to see.
Before you get too excited, he has a fair amount of work to do as a run blocker in this scheme. Pocic looks light, almost big tight end light. That shows up in run drills where he does not get great push. He also whiffed multiple times in run blocking, allowing his man to get into the backfield and blow up the play. He needs to put on 10-15 pounds, which will not happen this year. Ifedi is already NFL strong and was far more effective in the run drills than Pocic.
The team appears headed for a situation where they can pick the player who will help their run game or the one who can help their pass game. They could push Ifedi back inside and have Pocic play tackle, but it is not clear that leaving Oday Aboushi or Mark Glowinski out of the lineup is a net gain. I have Aboushi as one of the more complete linemen thus far and Glowinski has played quite well. It is hard to see any scenario where the team would sit Ifedi. That leaves the most likely outcome to be Ifedi at right tackle and Aboushi or Glowinski at right guard with Pocic as a backup. There are worse things than having a talented backup. Keep an eye out for Pocic getting more chances with the starters. That would be the sign the team is at least considering the possibility of giving him the job.
Running backs vs linebackers
A critical, but often overlooked, drill is the 1 v 1 pass rush drill that pits blitzing linebackers against running backs and fullbacks. Michael Wilhoite stood out as a bully, in a very good way. He is exactly the kind of player this team loves and needs. He bull rushed a number of backs, and slid around others. He is not going to back down in a physical battle, and opponents are not going to look forward to lining up against him.
Thomas Rawls stood up to him on one bull rush. The collision was thunderous, and Rawls got cheers for standing his ground. His eyes were like saucers, conveying a feeling of somewhere between, “Damn! That hurt.” and “I did it!” Other backs who showed promise as pass blockers were Chris Carson, Kyle Coleman, Mike Davis, and Marcel Reece. It was not a good showing for Eddie Lacy or C.J. Prosise.
Linebackers that impressed as pass rushers were Wilhoite, Bobby Wagner, and D.J. Alexander. Wagner was filthy on a few reps. On one rush, he looked more like the running back as he made a ridiculous lateral cut that left Coleman blocking air as Wager then strode past him. Alexander was interesting to see, as he has not stood out in other linebacker drills. He is almost certain to make the team with his special teams ability, but it looks like he might be able to utilize some of those same skills that allow him to slip past blockers when covering kicks to get to the quarterback.
One thought I had watching this drill was people should not hand the third down role to Prosise too quickly. Reece may be the more well-rounded option.
Chris Carson emerging
The Seahawks seventh round pick has been getting a lot of hype from his performances over the last couple of days. I am not as bullish as others…yet. I want to see him in games. What I have liked is his lack of wasted motion and his pass blocking. Seeing him stand up to Wilhoite in blitz drills and stone other guys was impressive. His runs have been good, but not necessarily special, until one play on Thursday. He ran around the left end and burst through a hole for what was about a 20 yard gain before being touched. Those do not happen very often in practice.
He is more of a strider than a sprinter. His speed is not remarkable, but he appears to reach his accelerate quickly. There is very little wasted motion. He reminds me a little of former Seahawks Pro Bowler Chris Warren.
He had a couple of touchdowns on Tuesday, and was productive again on Thursday. The fact that he started to show up once the pads went on is a good sign. It is way too early to project Carson as anything more than possible practice squad player, but he is earning some attention.
Richard Sherman is damn good
I admit to spending most of my time watching new guys to see if anyone can bring something new to the table. The Seahawks vets deserve more mention. Sherman, for instance, continues to be a master of his craft. On the second day of camp, he baited a receiver and quarterback during 1 v 1 passing drills and easily accelerated in between the receiver and the ball for a near interception. Those are pretty rare in that drill due to the immense advantage for the receivers. He did almost the same thing on Tuesday, shadowing Kasen Williams in that drill before easily batting the ball down. On Thursday, he gave Amara Darboh a lesson in press coverage by keeping the rookie from ever getting off the line and eventually throwing him to the ground before extending his hand to help him back up and patting him on the helmet. The only player I have seen beat Sherman this camp is Doug Baldwin, who made sure he knew it after hauling in a big gain on Thursday.
Earl Thomas is yoked
I had this in my notes through the first two practices but failed to share it. Thomas looks stronger than I ever remember him being. Specifically, his legs are like tree trunks. His thighs are massive. He posted a short video of his rehab on Twitter showing some of what he took on, and his trainer has come out saying Thomas was a monster in the gym. New guys might get most of the attention, but if Earl Thomas is poised to have his best season in the NFL, watch out.
Shaq Griffin coming along nicely
I thought Griffin was one of the standout performers on Tuesday. He was battling through 1 v 1s with a number of wins, and then shadowed the speedy Cyril Grayson deep down field in an impressive display of athleticism. Grayson is the fastest player on the roster, and Griffin could not have been closer to him on that play without being in his jersey. He continued to play well on Thursday. He is starting to make some noise and could begin to push guys like Neiko Thorpe and Deandre Elliott ahead of him.
J.D. McKissic continues to intrigue
McKissic has looked great in punt and kick return drills and has been dynamic as a receiver. He beat Thomas deep by three steps in 1 v 1 drills on Tuesday. That does not happen very often. He is finding space and making plays regularly each practice. Grayson has done well these last two practices as well, pulling in one beautiful toe-tipping catch along the sidelines Thursday that initially had me writing down Baldwin’s name, only to realize it was Grayson. These two players are similar in stature and how they could fit into the offense. McKissic feels more refined and durable. Neither may make the roster, but given the team’s desire to incorporate short passes as they have done the last two seasons, players like McKissic and Grayson are arguably more valuable than guys like Kasen Williams or Tanner McEvoy who are more downfield targets.
Players who caught my eye
CB Demetrius McCray
McCray wears #39 and sometimes reminds me of Brandon Browner. He is big and physical. His coverage skills are inconsistent, but he has made a number of nice plays to knock away passes.
WR Doug Baldwin Jr
Baldwin made a ridiculous catch on Tuesday on third down by getting a fingertip on an errant pass and tipping it to himself for a first down. He has looked sharp.
TE Jimmy Graham
Graham has been everywhere. He also had the only catch better than Baldwin’s. His required two or three tips to bring down and get 20 yards or so. He has been fleet of foot and sure of hands. He caught at least two touchdowns during red zone drills on Tuesday, followed by his customary leaping spike of the ball in defenders faces. All signs are positive here.
DL Michael Bennett
Bennett has been notable in his lack of flash so far. He has not been abusing linemen in pass rush drills. It is way too early to think he is declining, but the usually disruptive Bennett is typically hard to miss. That has not been the case so far.
DT Jarran Reed
Reed has been playing with a high motor, especially in pass rush drills. All the energy has helped, but the pass rush results remain mixed. Either way, it has been nice to see the effort.
QB Austin Davis
Davis appeared to take over the backup spot on Thursday as Trevone Boykin continued an inconsistent camp. Boykin was pretty strong on Tuesday, but was pretty bad on Thursday. He nearly threw one pick and then immediately did throw one. He seems to be making one read and then scrambling around. Davis has been more consistent, leading a nice touchdown drive during team drills on Thursday.
TE Tyrone Swoopes
The former college QB was invisible the first couple of practices, but has made a number of nice plays since the pads came on. He had a big touchdown catch on Thursday.
The offense has taken a few steps forward the past two practices after looking dismal on day two. They are not a fine-tuned machine by any stretch, but there have been flashes in the running game and the passing game. Protection has been better. Even Ifedi has shown improvement. There is a clear emphasis on getting more physical across the board and a renewed emphasis on the run game. That has been really nice to see.
The talent at the running back position appears to be everything the team could have hoped for, and the additions of Pocic and Aboushi look like they could help right away. Griffin appears to have the right combination of skills, athleticism, and coachability to become a starter, possibly even at some point this season. The safety room looks stocked with Bradley McDougald, Delano Hill, and Tedric Thompson all living up to their billing, and Thomas and Chancellor apparently primed for terrific seasons.
The linebackers look stronger with Wilhoite and Terence Garvin giving the team depth they have missed since Malcolm Smith moved on.
Special teams could be the best it has ever been in terms of kick coverage.
There is a lot to like about what has transpired thus far. The biggest questions are how the offensive line will perform against live competition and whether Jeremy Lane and Neiko Thorpe can hold up at cornerback if younger guys are not ready to start. The Malik McDowell situation is still hanging over camp, and has made the defensive line a bigger question mark given the lack of replacements available for his interior pass rush role.
The team scrimmage is scheduled for Monday. That is always a great barometer for where the coaches see the depth chart. We are roughly a week away from the first preseason game. That represents a major milestone in shaping how this roster and player roles will shake out.