OFF THE CUFF Offense steps forward
This was the first practice I was able to attend after the pre-season game last week. The thing that struck me how nicely the offense has come along since the first few days of camp. The pass protection, in particular, has gotten better. The passing game has improved along with it. Not that the improvement in one completely explains the other, but they are obviously related. There were numerous big plays, and the secondary has not regressed. This weekend’s game will be very telling for the offense, and my hunch is they will impress.
** Amber Alert ** Doug Baldwin underutilized
There is something wrong here. Baldwin continues to get open and make plays when given the chance, but he is not getting the ball enough. Part of the reason for my early indifference regarding the Percy Harvin injury was the seeming re-emergence of Baldwin in the slot. He is a player that could put up 90+ catches and 1,100+ yards in a different offense. He would tear things up with guys like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Russell Wilson and Darrell Bevell need to use Baldwin more to unlock a more reliable passing game. Golden Tate and Sidney Rice are terrific, but Baldwin will be in the right place at the right time and open on a regular basis. Time to use him.
Chris Harper struggles
Harper had shown improvement in the first two weeks of camp, but today was not a good day for him. His routes were sloppy, but his effort was the bigger issue. One ball was thrown to him down the left seam that he saw coming and chose not to compete for it as two defenders were converging. The very next play saw fellow receiver Brett Swain put himself in harm’s way on a pass over the middle that Richard Sherman was driving on. Swain stole the ball away from Sherman, much to Sherman’s surprise. Harper has the body language of a guy that has decided his fate is sealed. I hope to see a glimpse of the talent the front office thought it was adding when they drafted him. Three pre-season games remain, although Harper is far enough down the depth chart that he may not see much time in either of the next two.
STAND-OUT NEW FACES DE Benson Mayowa
Mayowa was playing at a different speed today. He abused Russell Okung in some team drills and multiple times in 1v1. After a few cycles through 1v1, he could be seen slouched over, hands on knees, trying to catch his breath. This is a guy that has the caught the scent of a roster spot, and is hunting it down. Impressive day, and a guy who makes it easy to cheer for him to make it.
LB John Lotulelei
Flash! BAM! WHOOSH! CRRRAAAACK! Yeah, Lotulelei is a walking onomonopia generator. The team has not used him much in blitz packages, but his performance last week left me wondering how long that would continue. He has the fearlessness, instincts and timing to be an assassin. Sure enough, the team sent him up the middle on a blitz during team drills. Brady Quinn was in shotgun and Lotulelei arrived at nearly the same time the ball hit Quinn’s hands from the snap. No exaggeration. Receivers had barely started their routes before the whistle blew. Later, he raced toward the sideline and smacked Phil Bates out of bounds after a reception. Bates, to his credit, patted Lotulelei on the head. The ceiling is undefined for this guy.
WR Stephen Williams
Lots of sports radio this week started talking about Williams after his game performance, and nearly all of them talk about him as if he is just a deep threat. He is more than that. Today showed him making plays down the sideline on deep routes, across the middle on crossing routes, and down the seam between the corner and safety.
DE/LB O’Brien Schofield
Schofield saw his first reps at LEO. He challenged every tackle he faced, and continues to look like a steal.
WR Arceto Clark
Clark is a guy I have enjoyed watching through camp. He has a suddenness to his game that projects well in the slot, but today was not a good day. He dropped at least four passes.
WR Bryan Walters
Walters only did position drills and routes against air, but he still drew some oohs and ahhs for his speed and catches on deep throws from the quarterbacks. He will surprise people if he can just get into a game.
Zach Miller, Chris Clemons, Tharold Simon, Chandler Fenner, Korey Toomer, Ron Parker, Tony McDaniel, Jaye Howard, Ty Powell, James Carpenter, Christine Michael
THINGS I NOW KNOW
1. Tarvaris Jackson has reclaimed the backup role
Jackson parlayed his virtuoso performance versus San Diego into a climb up the depth chart as he took all the #2 reps. That is not likely to change unless something shocking happens.
2. Robert Turbin looks fine
This was my first look at Turbin this year, and he looks fast as ever. He is still someone who is likely to get more reps the Christine Michael this season, but he has a lot of work to do if he wants to be considered next-in-line to be a featured back should Marshawn Lynch get injured or move on in future years.
3. Breno annoys all defenders
Red Bryant took exception to Giacomini’s play and attitude a few weeks ago. Today, it was Michael Bennett’s turn. The two tangled during 1v1, and Bennett took exception to something Giacomini did. He was screaming at him for a few minutes before teammates cooled him down.
Sidney Rice took more reps today than he has all of camp. He looks strong and fast, even if he did not get many passes thrown his way. One cool moment came when he lined up across from Sherman during team drills, presumably for the first time this year, and the two players extended their arms and gave a “good to see you” high five before the ball was snapped. Talent knows talent.
Cooper Helfet is someone who deserves more coverage than I have given him. He is surprisingly fast and agile, and makes plays every practice. His upside is limited, as he is not big enough to be a reliable blocker, but he has some potential as an H-back. He had another couple of nice plays getting behind the defense today.
It was encouraging to see Byron Maxwell out there practicing after he hurt his ankle in the game. Durability has been the major concern for Maxwell, who has actually had more chronic injury problems than the more publicized Walter Thurmond. He could have taken the easy road and sat out a few more practices after such a stellar opening game, but he was out there competing hard for every ball.
Thurmond, however, had one of the plays of the day when he undercut an out route thrown by Jackson and took it to the house, sliding feet first into the endzone before popping up and making a safe sign with his arms.
The other two plays of the day belonged to Kam Chancellor and Lynch. Turbin broke a run and was cutting between defenders at high speed until he ran into Chancellor. Boom. He went 60-to-0 in less than a second. Lynch was caught in the back field by defensive tackle Michael Brooks, but pulled out a wicked dead leg move that had Brooks leaning in the completely wrong direction as Lynch skittered away untouched.
Jermaine Kearse may have had the best catch of the day as he made a beautiful adjustment to a Jackson throw deep down the right sideline. Kearse had been by the right hash mark, but tracked the ball all the way to the sideline while keeping his back to the line of scrimmage. He caught the pass over-the-shoulder, Willie Mays-style. Good stuff.
The rest of the battles will unfold behind closed doors, and during pre-season games. Plenty more coverage to come.