Welcome to what should prove to be the biggest challenge in franchise history, as your Seattle Seahawks prepare to retake their NFC West crown from the Arizona Cardinals, and once again propel themselves into another Super Bowl playoff chase.
I recently polled my Twitter followers @WDFordy360 regarding what would constitute a “successful” season for the Seahawks. See results below. The answer was unanimous. 12s are thinking, “Super Bowl or Bust!”
So let’s take a look at where we are coming out of the June Organized Team Activities (OTA) and what camp, and the season beyond, might likely have in-store for these Seattle Seahawks.
The Non-Off Season
In a nutshell, the key take-aways from the 2015 Season post-mortem were a replacement for the retiring Marshawn Lynch, improvement versus TE/slot receivers and a retooling of both offensive and defensive lines. Through the Draft and with the additions of free agents Browner, Webb and Clemons, the Seahawks have potentially addressed all those points. But what matters most is the level of competition and play on the field.
Fans got a brief glimpse of that play in OTAs these past 2 weeks, but the real camp competition begins with the formal, mandatory mini-camp on June 14th at the VMAC. To this point, it has been glorified warm-ups and no contact is permitted until mini-camp starts. You may recall in previous years when a frisky Doug Baldwin got into repeated tangles with various members of the Legion of Boom, resulting in lost practice dates as a league-mandated punishment for breaking the no-contact directives laid out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between players and teams. Every opportunity to practice, even in shorts, is critical as a lead-up to Bing Training Camp and hitting the ground running on a new season. They have been better behaved in the months since their past violations, though I sense an edge returning to this team and the swagger is back, as evidenced by tangles between none other than rookie Germain Ifedi and The Junk Yard Dawg, Frank Clark. Though initially reported as KJ Wright, it was ultimately determined to be Clark. I love to see the next generation get in there and mix it up. It doesn’t feel like a savvy veteran move or something contrived to set the tone for camps. It feels like some young bucks ready to make their mark, step-up and chew some uniforms off the competition.
Buy Or Sell?
Based on reports out of OTAs, here’s some quick thoughts going into the formal start of preseason later this month.
Stock Up: Play on the field showing confidence, grasp of concepts and support of coaching staff and fellows players.
The LOB – Browner is back and the band is back together. Don’t discount the importance of swagger and bravado to this group. It was missing last year and that was unmistakable. Get ready to be thrilled by more turn-overs and wild sub-packages all season long!
Alex Collins – Injuries to Thomas Rawls and CJ Prosise have paved the way for Collins to get a crash course in Featurebackanomics from Professor Tom Cable. The only thing between him and a 1,500 yard 350 carry season is C-Mike (PFFT) and some pins in Rawls reconstructed ankle. Mission critical here for #36 to know when to stop fighting for that extra yard that leads to a costly fumble. That will get fixed.
Tye Smith – Given the Richard Sherman stamp of approval, Smith came to work with his pro body supremely prepared for life in the fighting pit that is the defensive backfield of the Seattle Seahawks. If you want to be Alpha, you got come looking Alpha. No one is falling in-line behind the injured and unsure. The youngry get served first. Thank Goodness someone in this bench group is finally stepping up!
Kasen Williams – Williams, and his Husky mate Kevin Smith as well, are on-point this spring. Doug Baldwin has them believing they can run through a stone wall for their shot. It doesn’t hurt when you’re as big as an NBA player either. Go Dawgs.
Germain Ifedi – He is the biggest, smartest player on the team and is beginning to look like a guy that may one day put this line on his back in the same fashion that Big Walt did in the 2000’s. Positive change starts with character, but you can’t substitute size and athleticism. He has it all. He could be any kind of player. We’ll see, but he’s already making his move as a leader.
Russell Wilson – Could you love Russ anymore than you already do? Is he corny? Yes and Yes. But leaders lead, and his time is now. No one is looking anywhere but directly at Russell Wilson for faith & leadership in practice, pre-game and crunch time. Marshawn is gone, and so is his faction of dissent in the locker room. *COUGH* percyharvin *COUGH*
Stock Down: Getting passed on the depth chart or switching positions because they have given up on you in your intended role.
Chris Clemons – C’mon man. Returning to your former glory at 34 years of age does not start with skipping out on organized team activities. This feels like a swan song and they can cut him in camp saving $1.5M instantly to carry over into any number of other deals they need to get done. A lot of young pass rushers like Montese Overton and David Perkins are sure to make themselves known this summer and Clemons is big-timing the team. Not feeling this retread on what will be a bit player with 4 sack potential at best.
Justin Britt – There more you can do? Hmm, I’m thinking the more you CAN’T do, to be honest. Another position change? Bad snaps and no experience making line calls at Center? This feel more like a last opportunity to stick before they relegate Britt to a line-depth player. Too bad. I really like Justin Britt, the man. Unfortunately, he was set-up to fail, being a high selection with limited upside. So much for advanced analytics. Turn the page already.
Tharold Simon – Shit or get off the pot, bruh. No excuses. I can’t believe we’re STILL here on Simon. This is his last year in a Seahawks uniform. By comparison, at this point in his career, Richard Sherman was a 2x first team All Pro selection. It just ain’t happenin’ for Tharold.
J’Marcus Webb – Hard to blame a guy for getting injured, but not a good start for a marginal player that you’re just praying is able to hold his water until Ifedi is ready at RT. He may be the James Paxton of the 2016 season for this OL.
Cassius Marsh – Maybe Cassius is simply behind too many other talented players? May not. The ascension of Marsh would make the Chris Clemons move completely unnecessary. Yet, Clemons is here and Cassius is losing weight (yet again) and switching positions to SAM. Clemons is a dinosaur and Cliff Avril is long in the tooth. If they had any hope for Marsh at LEO, he wouldn’t be moving into a deemphasized role following the departure of Bruce Irvin. Marsh will need a new contract soon, and he stands to lose a lot of money on the position switch from DE to LB, as well. After 3 years, I think it’s an effort to stick with the team at all.
CJ Prosise – I know, I know. The Koolaid is STRONG with this one. But coming into to the summer as a rookie that switched positions repeatedly in college, has trouble holding onto the ball and has a bad hip? As much as he needs to get healthy, he needs to hold off the more conventional back in Alex Collins who is building precious momentum while CJP patrols the trainer’s table. While RB’s can traditionally get off to fast starts, young receivers, which is what Prosise essentially is, take more time to develop. The prospects for him to flourish early in his Seahawks career are just not good, despite his obvious athletic gifts. Don’t believe the hype until he earns his role in the backfield. It’s an uphill battle and good intentions are all that is real here, at the moment.
Most observers are noting that a clear return to confidence and depth on the roster is prevalent going into mini-camp. I recall excitedly strolling into the preseason games of the 2012 & 2013 seasons feeling that something tangible was happening with this squad and watched those tilts from beginning to end. I was as interested to see the 3rd string dominate as I was wanting to get a glimpse of the starters perform. Welp, I’ve got that old feeling again. Put the kids to bed, Baby, it’s go time! I’m expecting the momentum of an undefeated preseason to carry into the Week 1 home-opener versus the Miami Dolphins. Between here and there, however, we’re going to see some trademark camp battles across the OL & DL, OLB and maybe even contract extensions for Doug Baldwin, Pete Carroll and John Schneider. Let us pray at the alter of the Seahawks Church of Positivity. Amen, and thank you Reverend Moses, wherever you are! #12thManMania
Season Predictions – The Betting Man’s Take
Let me roll out the obligatory “Go Hawks” Super Bowl 51 victory prediction and we can all go get drunk. That makes 12s feel good, but if you want a bit more detail and aren’t afraid of spoilers changing the way you root for your hometown team week-to-week, feel free to read on.
Good news! The Seahawks are a legitimate contender for the NFL Championship again this year. Bad news, there’s only 1 winner and 31 losers each year. Luckily, the Seahawks chances of claiming The One Ring are somewhat better than 1 in 32. Las Vegas odds-makers currently have the Hawks as co-favorite to win SB51 at 8-to-1! That’s great news, unless you factor in that most favorites in horseracing win only about 34% of the time. It’s still a pretty darn good start to have the best determiners of game outcomes in the entire world, squarely in your corner. The odds to win the NFC Championship are even better at 5-to-1. Any given Sunday right? But it’s clear, from the people who put their money where their mouths are, that they are betting on the Seahawks to get to the NFC Championship game, if not the Super Bowl this season.
The seasons have an ebb and flow that typically follow a trajectory similar to previous years in the case of veteran ball clubs, but the party also has the potential to end very quickly due to unforeseen circumstances. I think there’s sufficient youth, experience and depth on the club to warrant optimism again in 2016. But there have been changes and changes take time to implement confidently. With this in mind, the tea leaves are telling me to expect a similar early-to-late progression in performance as we saw in 2015. The Seahawks will need time for the OL to once again gel and it will be touch and go early on.
A Tale of Two Cities
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens writes in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities as he paints a picture of life in colonial France and England. This couldn’t have been more true of the 2015 Seahawks either, as they raced to early leads against the best teams the league could offer, only to give ground and lose late in 4th quarters repeatedly. There is one key difference this year. While we can rightfully expect an acclimation period for new players across the OL and some scheme updates for the LOB and their communication in match-up vs base responsibilities, the competition they’ll be facing in Weeks 1 through 9 are a welcome change.
The First Half
The Seahawks will finally start off a season in the roaring confines of Century Link Field for the first time in years. This is critical for young players to get their feet wet without the stress and noise of a raucous away crowd taunting and whipping opponents into an Opening Day frenzy. Support of the 12s cocooning this team early in the C-Link couldn’t be a more welcome sight on the schedule. Games versus the Packers, Bengals, Panthers and Cowboys are being replaced by the Dolphins, Jets, Saints and Bills. This is about as soft a landing as you could hope, yet they will travel to both the Rams and Cardinals during that span as well. Certainly not going undefeated early, but you’d conservatively hope to win at least 5 of those first 8 games. That also includes a Week 5 Bye for an extra 2 weeks of practice time and home cooking after a friendly month of September. That can only be good for the new guys.
The Second Half
The challenge gets steadily tougher as the season progresses, culminating in epic road battles with the Patriots and Packers, as well as home games versus Rams, Panthers and Cardinals. This is the meat of the season and, like the first half, is placed right in the appropriate place in the expected performance arc of these 2016 Seahawks. Slow starters, they finish fast. These eventual playoff tune-ups give them a chance to see the current emanations of the league’s best teams with the safety net of it just being 1 of 16 regular season match-ups at that point. Give them road losses versus the best, but expect them to be holding serve at home by November. Account for another short-term lapse somewhere along the way, and again, give them at least 5 of the final 8 contests versus much better competition this time.
–“Playoffs? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!”
I can’t get enough of the former Jim Mora, that being the Senior Mora. The Junior remains ‘He who shall not be named’ in this town after going 5-11 in his one year with the Seahawks, then turning down the UW Huskies, as a Seattle native, to remain with UCLA… It’s tough to predict the specifics of the NFL Post Season because so much relies on the playoff seeding; home field being such a strong predictor of success in the league. And for the Seahawks, playing at least one home game in the playoffs is a fair goal to shoot for each year. If the Seahawks can propel themselves into the later rounds while remaining fresh, they’ve got a real shot to go all the way. Home field advantage is maybe even more important for the Hawks than any other club in the NFL, given the game-changing effect 12s exert on the visiting team. One team in the NFC truly stands between the Seahawks and a sure home game in January. The Arizona Cardinals.
While I give the Seahawks an Over/Under on total regular season wins at 11, the O/U on the Cardinals must be just slightly higher based on their ridiculously easy strength of schedule. Its inexplicable how a higher seeded team the previous year that went further in the playoffs gets such a cream puff slate, but the Cards did. And independent from whatever the Seahawks do in Weeks 1-17, the Cardinals could still go 14-2, even if we beat them twice. The Cardinals are no joke and they even get a Patriots team that will be without Brady due to the Deflate Gate suspension, while he looks to return well prior to the Seahawks match-up in Week 10. All things are falling in the Cardinals favor, and all 12s can do is hope they slip, or fall prey to rampant injury or old age. They are in win-now mode, and this season may come down to winning on the road, in hopes of getting back to Glendale in January. While I believe there’s a high likelihood AZ has the better overall record and a home game and possibly a 1st round bye, they naturally don’t scare anyone come playoff time. Palmer is an epic choker and yet another multi-pick effort is on the menu in front of his home crowd. Just brutal. The Cardinals can win, only so long as it screws the Seahawks.
A runner-up in the NFC West means a Wildcard Round at the Packers, Cowboys or Panthers depending on the seeding. Winning the WCR sends you to play the #1 or #2 seed in the NFC, followed by the NFC Championship, again, likely on the road. The Super Bowl is technically a neutral field, but how many games against the league’s very best would you expect the Seahawks to win in a row, away from Century Link Field? What would be asking too much of a team struggling to patch holes in the bottom of the boat that undid them just a few months before? I don’t know the answer to that. But this is certainly going to be one the biggest challenges ever faced by this franchise and they have the gravitas to rise to any occasion. If they successfully return to the Super Bowl in Feb 2017, it will be a hallmark of the team’s resiliency and expertise that they have grown beyond the need of a homefield advantage. Just reaching SB51 will be a victory march and I pity the fool that turns-up from the AFC for that royal ass-whoopin and the righteous smackdown that awaits. But whatever the outcome, don’t fall for the trap that is expectation. Live in the moment. BE #12. Enjoy the performance of the vets, get to know the young ones and expect a continual ascension to greatness. The window remains open for this core group for at least a couple more seasons. Be thankful and take nothing for granted. Go Hawks!