2011 Seahawks Training Camp: August 4th News & Notes
This is the third in a series of four training camp visits I will be making this year.
STAND-OUT NEW FACES WR Sidney Rice
Sidney Rice turned a concerned skeptic into a fan in about two plays. After watching two practices prior to this one, and a few the previous years, I can safely say the Seahawks have never had a receiver like this on the roster. Koren Robinson stood out with his speed and breaks in his first year, but Rice screams “special player.” He rose to bring down 3-5 passes that required full leap and full extension of his 6’4″ frame. He runs with grace and precision. Seahawk fans are going to fall in love with him very, very fast.
CB Brandon Browner
Browner stands out at CB just because he is 6’4″, but his play demands even more attention. He was once again running with the “ones” in practice opposite Marcus Trufant. Walt Thurmond may want to hurry up and get back from his injury because Browner is gaining steam in every practice. Today, he stoned Mike Williams at the line a couple of times and then ran with him stride-for-stride before swatting the pass away. Williams appeared a little befuddled about how to match up against a guy that big and smooth. Browner has convinced me he is a starting caliber practice player. Let’s see what the games reveal.
TE Zach Miller
Perhaps, the most embarrassing moment of the day came when Miller and his teammates wandered over to the fans to shake hands and sign autographs. Miller looked a little awkward since most fans don’t know who he is yet. I decided to scream, “Welcome to Seattle, Zach Miller!” He smiled a little confusedly. It was only later I realized I had screamed, “Welcome to Seattle, Heath Miller!” Face palm. Oh well, he looked good in practice, regularly finding space underneath and giving the QB someone to dump off to other than the RBs. On one play, in particular, Tarvaris Jackson was running out of the pocket near the goal line and Miller broke his route to run with him and Jackson found him for a nice catch that was almost a touchdown.
QB Tarvaris Jackson
Jackson’s presence was palpable. He showed command of the offense, and was very comfortable in and out of the huddle. His passing was just average. He was high quite a bit, and overthrowing two 6’4″+ receivers should not happen all that often. Some of it was surely rust, but it looked very much like throws he made in games when he played in Minnesota. Some fans will read this and start screaming about how it proves Jackson was a bad pick-up. Others will read it and scream that I’m not giving the guy a chance since it was only one practice. Neither is true. Jackson got through his first practice and looked very much like the quarterback I expected him to be. He’ll be a good leader, an average thrower, and will get the team in the offense without a problem. That’s why he is only signed for two years at $4M per season. If he starts to show he can be more than that, terrific. Until then, he’s nothing more or less than how he performs on the field. And today, he looked like Tarvaris Jackson (which by the way, is still better than Charlie Whitehurst).
Walter Thurmond, Roy Lewis, Colin Cole, Cameron Morrah, Deon Butler, Dexter Davis did not practice.
THINGS I NOW KNOW
Leroy Hill still has the athletic skills he once did. If healthy, he could be the steal of the off-season.
John Carlson will continue to get a fair amount of playing time, and will be used more down-field while Heath…err…Zach Miller works underneath. Carlson appears faster than Miller.
John Moffit is always the first person out on the field for practice, usually a full 30 minutes before it starts.
Alan Branch is not just big. He’s a big athlete. He weight is evenly distributed. There’s no belly, and that’s saying something for a 325 lb guy.
Today was the day that free agents could report to camp and practice for the first time. The energy at the VMAC was palpable as players filed out, lots of players. Having almost all 90 players out there filled the field unlike the previous practices. Just as the team started to go through some light warm-ups, word came down that the CBA was not quite finalized, so Pete Carroll sent the entire team over the to the fence to shake hands and sign autographs. It was quite a sight. Every single Seahawk, player and coach, came over. I was sitting right at the fence, so I was able to see nearly every guy walk by. It was a great chance to yell, “Thanks for coming back!” to Brandon Mebane and “Welcome to Seattle,” to guys like Alan Branch, Ryan Sims, Zach Miller and others. Robert Gallery and James Carpenter are eye-poppingly big individuals. Wow. The team then had to awkwardly mill around for almost 30 minutes until they got word it was okay to begin practice. Mebane was the lone player that stayed and signed autographs nearly that whole time.
The impact of the new faces had to sink in pretty quickly for guys like John Carlson and Charlie Whitehurst. In one instance, the QBs were on one part of the field throwing to Sidney Rice, Mike Williams and Zach Miller. Ouch, John Carlson. Later, Jackson ran through some plays with the first unit while Whitehurst was over with the special teams group. Ouch, Charlie Whitehurst. Both players responded with a good practice. Carlson, in particular, has had a strong camp. He continues to have success getting vertical down the seam, and is probably better at that than Miller. It may have just been a first practice thing, but a pattern emerged of Miller working the middle and underneath, and Carlson stretching the seams and sidelines. Carlson’s strong camp is part of the reason I don’t believe the team is eager to shop him. That’s not to say a trade won’t happen, but Carlson is earning snaps in practice, not losing them. Miller’s ability to be the #1 tight end could be just what Carlson needs to blossom.
Whitehurst made some nice throws. The team runs mock drives at the end of practice. The first unit offense faces first defense, and so on. Jackson’s unit got into the end zone on one-of-two tries. Neither drive was particularly smooth. Whitehurst’s first series was three plays and a touchdown. He got a big chunk on a throw to Golden Tate, and then got a TD on a swing to Justin Forsett. Practice ended before he could finish his second series. Whitehurst was not fantastic, but he was better today.
Forsett deserves mention. He looks to be the most explosive of the three backs. He has shined in every practice I’ve been to. It looks as though he is establishing himself as a viable rotation halfback in the NFL, and might be ready for a breakout year.
Sidney Rice ran nice routes, and is just a pleasure to watch go up for a jump ball. I can see why people compare him to Larry Fitzgerald. He’s not as strong as Fitzgerald, but his ability to leap and snare the ball is right there. He did not dominate, but he did demand the attention of defense.
Leroy Hill flashed in an odd place. The linebackers do a drill where they duck under a canopy and shift back-and-forth before bursting forward to knock down tackling dummies. The drill helps teach them to stay low in their stance and move quickly side-to-side before planting and driving forward. Every linebacker went through the drill, and linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr was screaming at them to get lower, or to move laterally more quickly. Hill was the last linebacker to go, and he got under there and looked completely different than every other player. He was low and lighting quick. Norton Jr smiled and urged Hill on. Other linebackers started hooting and then the crowd around the drill noticed and started screaming for him. After he knocked down the dummy, the linebackers, coaches and fans were clapping for him. Leroy is back.
Alan Branch and Ryan Sims are big new bodies. Both looked to be in good shape, and Branch stood out with his quickness. I can see why the coaches are hoping to unlock something in him. It is almost impossible to judge either offensive or defensive lineman in practice since it is only modest contact. Would the running back have gotten 1-yard on that play or 15? Would the QB have been sacked there or not? I look for speed, quickness and power during drills. The games will tell us much, much more about where both lines stand.
It is worth noting that the team did something new today. They split the first teams away from the 2nd and 3rd teams for a long while, and had the first teams work exclusively on running plays. It was a chance to focus on both the running plays and stopping the run. This was not something I saw them do at any point last year, or in Mora or Holmgren camps. I liked the concept, and hope they continue to emphasize both establishing the run and stopping it.
The entire practice took place on the far side of the field, so it was much tougher to see who was doing what today. I’ll try to get some last thoughts when I attend next Tuesday.