OFF THE CUFF Receivers for days
The Seahawks are not known for their receiving corps. This offense will make it hard for that to change. What they deserve a lot of credit for is finding quality receivers who fit well within the offense and take advantage of the chances they are given. A year after the likes of Bryan Walters got significant reps and even regular season snaps, this crew looks deeper and more talented than at any time in the Pete Carroll and John Schneider era. They come in all shapes and sizes, but their most remarkable attribute is height. If opponents do not have three cornerbacks over 6’0′, there will be a mismatch whenever Seattle wants one.
Jimmy Graham being Jimmy Graham
Stop me if you hate repetitive reports of Jimmy Graham dominating. Reporting about practice without talking about the guy who changes the whole passing game would be poor form. He caught another bushel of passes today, many in the middle third of the field. He has been impersonating 7-Eleven better Chris Hogan ever will. This man is always open.
Frank Clark working inside
Clark spent some time yesterday working as a defensive end, but got the majority of his reps today on the interior of the line in nickel pass rush situations. He appears to be mirroring Michael Bennett’s role so far. He is a base defense 5-technique defensive end, behind Bennett and Greg Scruggs, and a backup nickel rush defensive tackle. He is also getting plenty of work on special teams, and looked solid in space during coverage drills. I have some questions about his size as an interior rusher. Bennett is only listed as one inch taller than Clark, and only three pounds heavier, but the difference appears greater to my eye. Clark has yet to stand out on the field, but appears to be a hard worker asking for coaching and listening. That bodes well.
Chris Matthews in the slot
Interesting to see the 6’5″ Chris Matthews taking some snaps as the slot receiver. It would be fun to see the Seahawks throw out a three-receiver set in the preseason that features 6’3″ Douglas McNeil on one side, 6’2″ Kevin Norwood on the other and 6’5″ Matthews in the slot. Go ahead and throw in 6’7″ Graham for fun. This is not an assault on Doug Baldwin’s or Tyler Lockett’s role in the slot. It is giving the team options of how to use Matthews. Jermaine Kearse was the backup at every receiver spot in 2013. That helped him get on the field and was very valuable to the staff. Matthews is a guy the want to utilize more, and moving him around in the slot can create a red zone mismatch. We will learn more when they do red zone drills in the coming days.
Renewed focus on special teams
Carroll practices have almost always started with special teams drills. This year, there appears to be additional emphasis being put on that aspect of the team. There have been new drills, and a significant portion of the team participating. One drill that was terrific to watch was simulating punt coverage. It involved punting the ball downfield to a returner with two coverage players converging on him. Their primary goal was to set the edge and keep the returner from breaking to the outside. Their secondary goal was to coordinate collapsing on the returner so he could not squeeze between them up the middle. It showcased how well players are able to play in space.
They also ran a drill where players had to block for the punter and then turn into a coverage player and break away from the guy who was now attempting to block them. It was a great window into which players have natural special teams ability. Clark, Cassius Marsh, Eric Pinkins and Scruggs stood out.
Douglas McNeil and Kevin Smith want a job
There is no point in getting too attached to any receiver down the depth chart list in camp. There are a few every year who look like Pro Bowlers, and rarely do we see them make the opening roster. McNeil and Kevin Smith are not quite playing to the level of Kearse when he was an undrafted free agent or Stephen Williams who made the team in 2013, but they had a great practice that will surely earn them more looks. McNeil is the easy one to latch onto because of his body type and athletic ability, but Smith has that “nothing about is special except the way I play” vibe working. If either of these two can show out as a gunner on special teams during the preseason, Ricardo Lockette’s days are numbered.
I present these with a few very important caveats:
These are not official. They are based on what I observed.
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.
There is a lot going on, and I can only watch one group at any one time, so I absolutely miss things.
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)
Today, I am providing a limited update as I corrected some mistakes from yesterday, and learned a bit more. The offense is really tough to nail down thus far as they are mixing and matching personnel groups so often and flopping players up and down the depth chart, I won’t be able to tell who is where for a few more practices. My focus today was on the nickel defense, and defensive line, in particular.
Offense was a tough one as I was primarily following the defense, but I got a pretty good feel for the offensive line depth chart. As I alluded to above, Gilliam is clearly the third tackle. Davis looks very raw, and was beaten badly in 1v1 pass rush drills a few times.
You see a blank below Lockett at slot and that is because I did not see who subbed for him. What I did see is that he was playing slot with both the first and the second string receivers. They have Baldwin and Lockett, so they don’t really need anyone else there.
I cannot swear to whether Matthews was subbing for Baldwin or Kearse and vice versa with Ricardo Lockette. I also saw Matthews and Norwood alternating a bit, so that might not be a strict #2 and #3 situation. I did not get into depth on the receivers, so there are guys not showing up here. I will add them in the coming days as I see where they fall.
For tight ends, Graham was the top, but Luke Willson played plenty. I decided not to publish a 22 personnel (2 tight ends, 2 RBs, 1 WR) depth chart because I just didn’t see enough to say. I want to get a better grasp of when Graham is in versus Willson and McCoy.
There are a few corrections, and a little more detail in this version of the base defense. I know for a fact that DeShawn Shead was playing deep middle free safety and Steven Terrell was playing near the line yesterday, but there were reports that they were flopping positions, and then Carroll clearly said that Shead was stepping in for Kam Chancellor and Terrell was playing place of Earl Thomas. Sure enough, today, Terrell was playing free safety and Shead was playing strong. When Chancellor returns, I expect you will see Shead at free safety, but let’s cross that bridge once we get there.
Also fixed are the backup defensive tackles. Ahtyba Rubin is subbing for Tony McDaniel at the 3-technique and is not playing nose tackle. D’Anthony Smith is playing the nose. That is an important difference. It does not mean that Rubin could not step in for Mebane, but that is not the role the Seahawks appear to have him here to play.
Will Blackmon is essentially the third corner, and subs for Cary Williams on the outside. Tye Smith subs for Richard Sherman, and Tristan Wade is playing corner despite being listed as free safety on the Seahawks roster.
A bit more detail today. I am 100% sure of the first string. That second unit on the defensive line is also close to certain, with the one caveat that Obum Gwacham got more reps today than yesterday and may be swapped out tomorrow. Note Clark playing inside and Marsh subbing for Avril. I also saw combinations of Marsh, DeMarcus Dobbs and Jordan Hill in a three-man rush.
STAND-OUT NEW FACES TE Jimmy Graham
WR Douglas McNeil
Hard to not fall in love with this guy. He slices through the defense at 6’3″ and is graceful in the air. He made a few pretty catches today. Special teams is going to be paramount for him.
WR Kevin Smith
Not technically a new face since he was in camp last year, but he finished practice with a diving catch after making a great catch on a deep touchdown earlier. He plays with infectious energy, and clearly loves the game. He reminds me a bit of Darrell Jackson in that way. Jackson was a master technician as a route runner, which I cannot say Smith is. They both, though, are players whose sum is clearly greater than their measurable parts.
QB RJ Archer
It is easy to see why the team gave Archer an extended look as the backup QB before bringing in Tarvaris Jackson again. He throws a nice ball, and is better than many of the third-string guys they have featured in the past. He won’t make the team, but he had a nice day throwing today.
Jeremy Lane, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor (holdout), Jesse Williams, Dion Bailey, Tharold Simon, Paul Richardson, Derrick Coleman
THINGS I NOW KNOW
1. Cornerback is among the thinnest positions on the roster
Things will get considerably better when Tharold Simon returns from injury, but the current slate of corners looks about three or four deep at most. Williams has not stood out one way or another so far. Will Blackmon is a veteran known quantity, but is neither well above average nor a young kid with room to grow. Marcus Burley is solid, but has yet to show he is more than a decent slot corner. Tye Smith has not showed much so far, and neither has Wade.
2. The team sees what I see in Cassius Marsh
Marsh barely left the field today. He was running with the first unit on special teams, and looks to be a core special teams player. He also got extensive time with the nickel and base defenses. I was unable to see most of the 1v1 pass rush drills today, but what I did see was Marsh flying around the edge against Russell Okung and continuing to battle even after Okung had blocked him past the QB, eventually breaking free and getting home. This guy has too much talent and motor to be anything less than a contributing rotational player. His ceiling could easily be quality starter in the next year or two.
3. Robert Turbin is still #2 on the RB depth chart
Turbin was officially back to full practice today, participating in team drills, and playing well. He was ahead of Christine Michael, which left very few reps for the other running backs on the team.
Don’t panic about Tyler Lockett not getting a bunch of coverage above. He was playing behind Matthews in the slot, and made at least one nice catch. He did fine in punt return practice and is a guy I think the coaches have a lot of confidence in already. This was not a marquee practice for him, but there is so much experimentation going on at receiver right now, it feels like the coaches want to see some other players.
We had our first fight of camp as Bruce Irvin got into it with Okung. The two had to be separated and Irvin walked away steamed.
Kevin Norwood was getting snaps with the first string receivers, with Doug Baldwin in his customary slot position and Kearse on the other side. Norwood made a gorgeous catch well over his head along the sideline and managed to keep his feet in. It was a definite flash play.
Eric Pinkins is definitely getting some chances to find a role, but it is not yet clear that they have found his spot. He looks like a promising special teams contributor which is huge, but I’m not yet convinced he is a linebacker. I have to watch him some more.
It was great to see Alvin Bailey stone Michael Bennett in 1v1 pass rush drills. That rarely happens to Bennett, and Bailey clapped his hands hard acknowledging the accomplishment.
Ahtyba Rubin has not made his presence known yet, but boy can the big man move for someone of his size. He was charging down the field after a runner broke to the outside, and would have made the tackle if it contact was allowed in practices.
I will be Periscoping my immediate thoughts after each practice I attend, so be sure to follow me on Twitter. Today’s instant analysis is below.