The SAM linebacker competition has been relatively uneventful thus far in camp. Michael Morgan looks like Michael Morgan. Cassius Marsh has looked more promising in coverage than expected and strong against the run. Then today happened. Eric Pinkins was arguably the most impactful player on the field. It started during team drills when they were working on running plays. Pinkins knifed through a couple blocks and would have blown up the play in the backfield if they were hitting. A few plays later, he was in the backfield again and pulled down the runner for a loss. He then picked off a pass in 7v7, which drew hoots and hollers from his teammates and the crowd. Toward the end of practice, the offense faced a 3rd and short. They ran the ball in Pinkins direction and he stuffed the play for no gain. Fourth down.
His energy was infectious. His play, inspired. It was just one practice, but it was one practice that set his ceiling higher, and in turn, did the same for the SAM position. I have seen moments like this in the past that indicated a player had found the right intersection of confidence and experience to grab an opportunity and never look back. That’s what this felt like today. Should Pinkins prove this was more than a one-day wonder, the Seahawks may have found a new playmaker for their defense.
Musical chairs on the offensive line
First, we get word that former Saints Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans is in town for a visit, and then we see a practice where players were shuffled in and out and up and down on the offensive line. J’Marcus Webb seemed the most negatively impacted today. He was getting reps with the second and third team lines, while still also playing with the first team at times. George Fant got some reps with the first team at left tackle while Garry Gilliam moved over to right tackle. Joey Hunt moved up and got snaps with the second string while Patrick Lewis slid to third string. Reed Odhiambo got some snaps at right tackle. Germain Ifedi got some hidden snaps at left tackle. It was hard to truly declare there was a first, second and third string with all the movement going on.
Ifedi at left tackle was only one snap that I saw, and it was on the far field during walkthroughs. Fant got his left tackle snaps during a red zone drill with the first team, and did fine. He stood out to be on the first day of camp, but has been less impressive in 1v1 pass blocking drills than I hoped. He did mostly fine today.
Odhiambo was ahead of Terry Poole at right tackle, and had some unfortunate moments trying to block Michael Bennett, who was dominant today. It is not a great sign that the team is already feeling the need to reshuffle and see different combinations. The glass half full interpretation is that they really like what they have seen from Odhiambo, Fant and Hunt and wanted to start seeing if there were more prominent roles possible for them sooner than expected. The half empty take would be that Webb is looking like the flawed player his career indicates he is, and the team is looking for ways to move forward without relying on him. It may be a little of both.
Jake Heaps continues to impress
There tends to be a huge dropoff in quarterback play after the starter, and definitely after the backup. It is often hard to watch. Not so in this camp. Jake Heaps has been productive every chance he has had during team drills. His very first pass in team drills today was a laser of a 35 yard gain to Kenny Lawler on a skinny post. The ball was delivered beautifully and on time, hitting Lawler in stride. If not for a great pass from Russell Wilson to Paul Richardson earlier, this would have been the pass of the day. He proceeded to convert a couple short 3rd down throws and then hit Tanner McEvoy in the hands for what should have been a 20 yard touchdown, only to have the rookie drop the ball.
Even the passes he was unable to complete were good throws. His wheel route to newly signed running back Cameron Marshall was perfectly thrown. Marshall was simply unable to get separation from his defender. Heaps does not offer the same athletic ability that Trevone Boykin does. The offense would probably look a little different with him in there compared to Wilson, so if that’s Pete Carroll’s priority, Heaps may not have a shot. Still, if you want the backup quarterback who looks most capable of playing the position, Heaps is beating out Boykin so far.
You will see from the injury report below that the team is getting down to very low numbers. After a remarkably healthy start to camp, the list of players who were either out altogether or only available for individual position drills to start practice was extraordinarily long. The team is scheduled to play their scrimmage this Sunday. It is not out of the realm of possibilities that they need to cut some players to make room for signing some new ones.
I present these with a few very important caveats:
These are not official. They are based on what I observed.
The team varies their rotations based on different drills and different days. My depth charts are based on what I have observed to be the rule, not the exception.
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., Bradley Sowell or Germain Ifedi might be the backup right tackle if J’Marcus Webb got hurt during the season even though Terry Poole is playing backup RT in practice)
There were so many injuries that putting a picture of the depth chart would be misleading. The “starting” kick coverage team today consisted of Steven Terrell, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Earl Thomas, Eric Pinkins, DeShawn Shead, Marsh, Kelcie McCray, Jermaine Kearse and two new names: Brandon Williams and Steve Longa. Williams might be a legitimate new first team coverage player. Longa was getting reps due to Brock Coyle being out injured. Still, it is meaningful that he was the guy they tapped for the job.
This was more interesting. I had a chance to watch gunner drills for the first time this year. In this drill, one gunner lines up on the line of scrimmage while two blockers line up opposite him. The ball is snapped, and the gunner attempts to get around the two blockers and reach the returner. Here is how things went:
DeAndre Elliot vs. Tharold Simon and Travon Reed
Elliott was unable to beat the blocks and wound up pinned along the sideline
Kelcie McCray vs. Marcus Burley and Brandon Browner
Browner knocked McCray to the ground, but he got back up and made a valiant effort to get toward the middle of the field
Tyvis Powell vs. Jeremy Lane and Steven Terrell
Lane and Terrell locked him up a little too much. Holding flag came flying in.
Douglas McNeil vs. Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Tye Smith
This was brutal. McNeil is pretty good at this drill, but Smith was able to get his hands on him and slam McNeil to the ground. Impressive.
George Farmer vs. Kasen Williams and Kenny Lawler
Really nice blocking from Williams. Farmer was completely out of the play.
Travon Reed vs. Kevin Smith and DeAndre Elliott
Tye Smith vs. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner
This was not fair. Sherman and Browner made Smith look like a grade schooler. The two of them working together on one side of the field for punt returns could mean some really special things for Tyler Lockett.
Jimmy Graham, Thomas Rawls, Sealver Siliga, C.J. Prosise, Brandon Cottom, Ronnie Shields, Tarvaris Barnes, Antwan Goodley, Jordan Hill, Brock Coyle, Doug Baldwin, Kam Chancellor, David Perkins, Pete Robertson, Zac Brooks, Tre Madden, Earl Thomas (individual drills only), Frank Clark (individual drills only), Jeremy Lane (came off late after having an issue with his foot)
LB Eric Pinkins
Eager to see if he can put a few practices together like the one we saw today.
CB Brandon Browner
It is looking more and more like this guy is going to make the team. He is contributing heavily on special teams, and made a couple nice plays on the ball at safety. He got extra run with Chancellor out, and he looked great.
DE/DT Michael Bennett
Bennett was unblockable early in practice. He did not get into it with any linemen, but he abused them in every other way.
WR Tyler Lockett
There were a lot of swing passes to Lockett today, and he was making the defense pay. That is a play the team could use often and get 3-7 yards with confidence.
WR Paul Richardson
Richardson continues to look good. He got extra reps with Baldwin out and made the most of them. He caught a great ball from Wilson up the sideline in the hurry up drill, and showed great shake after the catch later on. This is more than just a straight line sprinter. This guy is going to remind people that he is a complete receiver.
Things I learned
Tanani Tupou may be the starting fullback
Brandin Bryant’s number changed from 46 to 92 (Brandon Mebane’s old number)
Keenan Lambert is wearing #38
This was an odd practice. So many guys were injured, and so many players were switching between first, second or third string units that you never got a chance to really see first unit versus first unit. They even were having Wilson get snaps behind the third string line with the second string receivers. It was just jumbled.
You can bet the coaches got plenty of tape to watch and learn from. Tomorrow and Sunday will be instructive as the team starts to lock in who they will want to play in which situations next week when preseason opens. The biggest piece of good news was the play of Pinkins. As good of a player as Bruce Irvin was, he was never really a playmaker at the SAM spot. Pinkins flashed some ability to be more than just a guy who sets the edge.
We have seen the rise of the hybrid linebacker in the past few years with the likes of Deone Buchannon of the Cardinals and Mark Barron of the Rams and Shaq Thompson of the Panthers. Pinkins could be that guy for the Seahawks.
Richardson also reminded me today that he has something to offer after the catch. He offers so much more than Ricardo Lockette did at the fourth receiver spot last year. I realize that sounds cruel given what happened to Lockette, but it’s the truth. Add in a guy like Kasen Williams behind him, and the receiving corps could arguably be the deepest Seattle may have ever had.
Thomas Rawls and Jimmy Graham are only going to make this offense that much more dangerous. Watch out.