Nobody across the NFL was happier to be wearing a helmet today than Thomas Rawls. The breakout rookie running back fought his way back from a grisly ankle injury to pass his physical on Sunday and start practicing today. His enthusiasm was impossible to miss. He hopped, skipped and ran through warm-ups and early drills before the team put on the brakes and had him spend the remainder of practice working on non-contact conditioning drills. Nothing was wrong. The team prefers to ease injured players back into action. Rawls is unlikely to participate in team drills until late this week, and might even wait until next week. Regardless, the man is back, and we should all be as excited as he is.
Christine Michael reminds us why he was a second round pick
Most folks wrote off Christine Michael after he was traded last year. Even after he returned and put up some respectable numbers, many of us assumed he might be on the outside looking in after the team drafted three running backs they loved and were seeing Rawls recover at a fast clip. We were all wrong. Michael will make this team. Not only that, but he very well may push Rawls for snaps. Rawls is the more efficient runner, but Michael is a next-level athlete.
His explosion in and out of cuts is unparalleled on this club. His quickness is top of the charts as well. Alex Collins is a good back. He may be a very good back when all is said and done. Michael is better. At least, for the time being. I’m dying to see how this plays out in the preseason games, and into the regular season. I have been seduced by Michael’s physical talents before, only to be disappointed by his performance or opportunities.
I have a feeling everything is coming together for him in a way that could be far more beneficial for the Seahawks than anyone imagined.
Frank Clark back for team drills
Clark has been doing individual drills for the last 3-4 days, and finally got approval to take part in team drills. A missing piece thus far has been understanding how the Seahawks plan to utilize him in the pass rush. What I saw today was intriguing. The basic idea seems to be pairing Clark with Michael Bennett wherever possible to take advantage of the chaos Bennett creates. I saw Clark line up at left defensive tackle in the rush nickel, with Cliff Avril to his left at end, Bennett to his right and Ryan Robinson at right defensive end. I saw Clark line up at right defensive end. I saw Clark and Bennett bunched together at DT overloading the right side of the line with Robinson.
The team was not wearing pads, so it is hard to tell how effective Clark was at rushing the passer. It was clear that Pete Carroll and Kris Richard were not exaggerating when they said they would use him all over the place. This should be fun to watch.
Avril returns to his left end rush spot
One of the hidden storylines of camp is Avril getting to rush from the left side of the line more often. He rushed from that side his whole career in Detroit, and did the same his first year in Seattle. He was asked to take over the LEO spot after Chris Clemons left, which rushes from the right side. Even in rush nickel situations, he often stayed on the right side while Bruce Irvin rushed from the left. Avril did well, but has been honest that he feels more comfortable on the left.
The team still has him rushing from the right as part of the base defense, but has him exclusively going from the left side in rush nickel packages. This can only help his pass rush productivity.
Offensive line holding their own
1v1 pass rush drills are not a perfect predictor of pass protection ability for offensive linemen, but it certainly is a strong indicator. There is cause for hope here. Justin Britt stood strong against Bennett today on one play, but got left behind on a spin move on another. J’Marcus Webb is holding up far better on the edge than I expected. Bradley Sowell has looked consistently solid in this drill, and was dominating some guys today. Mark Glowinski has been solid, and sometimes dominating. Germain Ifedi has been fine. Nothing great. Nothing terrible. Garry Gilliam has been above average.
If these don’t sound like glowing endorsements, that is because they are not. What I can say with some confidence is that this group looks no worse than past Seahawks lines, and arguably looks better. This does not test ability to properly deal with stunts and the communication necessary to hand off rushers. Only games can really do that. It was no surprise that the line played so poorly in the first preseason game last year that they had to reshuffle things. It would be a surprise if that happened this year.
Jahri Evans worked exclusively at left guard and with the third or fourth string. He did not look particularly comfortable on the left side after playing his whole career on the right. It was just one practice.
Starting corner opposite Sherman
This continues to look like DeShawn Shead’s job to lose. He had a strong practice, breaking up multiple passes to Kenny Lawler, who looked too spindly to deal with Shead’s strength.
Brandon Williams still looks ahead of Nick Vannett, although both should make the team.
Mike Morgan is still the starter. It looks more and more like they plan to use Cassius Marsh in certain short yardage situations, further fragmenting just how many snaps this “starter” will get.
Left tackle and right tackle
Sowell is moving up the charts. I wrote in my last notes that the biggest threat to Webb was Sowell and not Evans. Gilliam’s job is not safe either. Sowell is not going to any Pro Bowls, but he handles his business. The Seahawks will look for the best two tackles. Gilliam and Sowell can play either left or right. Webb is only right.
Jimmy Graham, Sealver Siliga, C.J. Prosise, Tarvaris Barnes, Antwan Goodley, Jordan Hill, Zac Brooks, DeShon Foxx, Kasen Williams, Kevin Smith, Doug Baldwin, Montese Overton
T Bradley Sowell
Ryan Robinson will have nightmares about the physical display of domination Sowell put on against him in 1v1s. It’s rare to see a pass rusher go backwards in this drill. That’s what happened here.
DT Brandin Bryant
Got by Evans and Glowinski today. Looked agile and explosive. I want to see more of that.
RG Will Pericak
A player who may push Evans off the roster, Pericak had a notable practice today. He was stout in pass rush drills. You can be sure he knows what it means to have a former All-Pro right guard on the roster. Game on.
CB DeShawn Shead
Really nice day today. Playing with a lot of confidence and toughness.
RB Christine Michael
Nuclear powered cuts today. Dynamic.
Things I learned
The team may use former college quarterback turned wide receiver Tanner McEvoy for trick plays this preseason. Jake Heaps swung a pass to McEvoy today, who turned and threw it back to Heaps for a nice gain.
The team is prepping for their first preseason game. Practices are morphing from learning to game preparation. There is a ton to be learned in these first games, primarily about the offensive line. Can they avoid false starts? Can they protect? Can they create push in the run game? It would be foolish to expect them to play a polished game their first time as a unit. I am hopeful they will give us reason to have faith in their combined potential to at least match the level of the line’s play over the last half of 2015.