Nobody wants to hear negativity, but hopefully most of the folks coming here appreciate honest analysis. The headline for me while watching practice for the first time this summer was that this is a far less talented team than in past years. That might sound like a Captain Obvious comment after the likes of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Earl Thomas left or are not on the field, but none of that meant there were not new thoroughbreds taking their place. As my eyes scanned the field looking for eye-popping athletes, few new ones were to be found. Many guys who would have been competing for the backend of the roster the past five years are competing for starting roles on this team, especially on defense. That doesn’t mean there are not any promising athletes on this roster. You will see me call out a number of them below. What I can say with some measure of confidence is that there are less twitchy, imposing, athletes than this team has had since 2011. All this should be taken with a big grain of salt because there are players who stand out more between the lines than on the practice field.
Dion Jordan injury is a big deal
One of the places the talent issue shows up is on the defensive line. With both Frank Clark and Dion Jordan out, the starting ends were Marcus Smith II and Branden Jackson. There was almost no edge pressure generated all morning. Smith showed some wiggle, and there is a big caveat that this was a padless practice, but the depth behind Jordan and Clark very much looks like rotational players at best as opposed to guys who could step up into a starting role if necessary. Compare that to past years where there was real talk about how to find snaps for Clark his rookie year or even last year when Avril went down. Go back further and Bennett and Avril were not starters. I had hoped to see more of rookie Rasheem Green to help answer this concern, but I missed him this time around.
I have been hard on Thompson. He was a guy who was too light to be anything but a free safety, and too slow (4.6s 40-yard-dash) to cover the ground necessary in the Seahawks single-high defense. By comparison, Thomas has been clocked as fast as 4.30 in the 40 during some scouts during his Pro Day. That means he would cover a full three yards more than a guy like Thompson over a five second span. That’s a massive difference. What I saw on Friday was a guy who had added some weight, perhaps enough to be an option at strong safety. That, by itself, makes him a more intriguing option. Chancellor was a 4.69 guy. His game was not about speed, and the team found a role that accentuated his strength. Thompson will need to show he can tackle and engage blockers near the line of scrimmage for an in-the-box role to be a realistic option.
The other thing that stood out, though, was pre-snap. On one play, Thompson was near the line of scrimmage and then noticed something in the offenses alignment and quickly began making a hand signal to his other safety, Mike Tyson, while backpedalling quickly to a new alignment. Tyson was not quick to understand, but eventually got it and shifted as well. The difference between the two was stark. Not only had Thompson diagnosed something pre-snap, but he knew what to do about it. Later, Thompson adjusted again pre-snap either as part of disguising a coverage or what appeared again to be reading the formation on offense and anticipating what was coming. I was left with the impression that this was a guy who spent the offseason really studying his craft like a true professional.
None of this means Thompson can be great. It does give me hope he can more than a back-end of the roster player.
Tyler Lockett looks quick again
Super small sample size, but to my eyes, Tyler Lockett looked quicker than last season. His short area burst was back and was resulting in more separation on his routes. This is super crucial to the team’s offensive hopes this season.
Running back good…
Chris Carson looks every bit like the starter at tailback. He is bigger than everyone else at the position, and is among the fastest. He can run inside or out, and is a good blocker and receiver. When he is running full steam, he looks like a Mack truck at high speed. It is not clear to me why the team would need a rotation at the position. The guy everyone loves to count out and joke about, C.J. Prosise, was the twitchiest back of the bunch, showing special lateral quickness. He and Carson look like NFL athletes that catch your eye. J.D. McKissic was the blurriest back of the bunch. His straight-line speed and acceleration is the best of this group. He elicited the most oohs and ahhs from the crowd when he touched the ball. He is really small, though.
Running back not as good…
Rashaad Penny did not stand out as an athlete. He is not especially big or fast or laterally quick. Where the guys mentioned above demonstrated traits that really demand attention, Penny was lacking. His strongest impression was as a receiver out of the backfield. He looks extremely comfortable catching the ball and turning upfield. He might be a guy who shows better once the pads come on and in games against real tacklers. He might have special vision to find the right hole or surprisingly strength to break tackles as he was known to do in college. I just was left a little disappointed in the athletic first impression I walked away with for a first-round pick.
David Moore and Marcus Johnson stand out
The receiver group looks like a major weakness on paper. I am not as certain as others that it is a major step back from where it has been the past few seasons. Jaron Brown looked the part while making a few catches as the third receiver. Doug Baldwin is great. Lockett looks more like his old self. And then you have guys like David Moore and Marcus Johnson who could push for more snaps. Moore, especially, looks like a solid all-around athlete who can go over the middle, run past some corners, and jump over others. He did all of that in this one practice. He is a projectable player whose biggest question marks are route running and attention to detail.
Johnson is taller than Moore at 6’1″ but doesn’t look like it. He is fast and showed nice athleticism adjusting for a back-shoulder ball along the deep left sideline. He came over in the Bennett trade and seems like a viable candidate for the fourth receiver spot. Brandon Marshall noticed, and pulled him aside after one play to give him some pointers on his release. It was nice to see Marshall’s mentorship and investment in the team.
Sebastian Janikowski looks like an injury waiting to happen
Special teams drills are sprinkled throughout practice, and during kickoff drills, it is customary for the kickers to run toward the ball and then pull back there leg and step over the ball instead of actually kicking it while the coverage team practices running down the field. I have seen it hundreds of times at this point. This was the first time I winced each time because Janikowski looked like he was going to pull something every time. This dude is 40 and really overweight. My concern here is that he makes the team as the better kicker and then gets hurt. I miss Steven Hauschka.
Other players who caught my eye
LB Jacob Martin
A defensive end in college, Martin looks like a linebacker. This, in contrast to Marcus Smith last year who the team put through linebacker drills and always looked like a defensive lineman. Martin is thin through the hips and broad through the chest. I can see why the team is intrigued by him at the SAM spot.
S T.J. Mutcherson
This guy played college ball with the Griffin twins at UCF. What drew my attention was just the size of his legs. His quads were like tree trunks. Mutcherson is a squatty, 5’11” safety who created some buzz at mini-camp. He made a nice play to breakup a pass to Tyrone Swoopes during this practice.
LB Shaquem Griffin
Some folks see Griffin as a mascot. They categorize him as a feel-good inspirational story first. That sells him short as a football player. The team did not spend a draft pick on him to make people feel good. Griffin really was a DE in college. The team is having him work at WILL LB behind K.J. Wright. The test for him will be how he plays in space off the line of scrimmage. He showed great pursuit in college, but rarely was standing back from the line. That mirrors what the Seahawks ask their SAM LB to do, but Griffin is too small to play there. His coverage skills were encouraging during practice. He tracked players closely. My first impression was there is hope he can play off the ball and cover. Tackling in space and shedding blockers is going to be a key area of evaluation once the pads come on.
WR Amara Darboh
Unlike Moore, who leapt above a defender deep down the right sideline to snare a Russell Wilson throw, Darboh leapt above a defender only to have the ball travel between his hands and strike him in the facemask before falling to the ground. The good news was that Darboh had run past the defender and created separation of at least a yard, and he did make a catch late in practice.
LT Duane Brown
As is typical early in camp, there were countless false starts and pre-snap penalties. On one such instance, Brown was the culprit but he was none-to-happy with Wilson. He turned immediately toward him and barked something while gesturing before walking off to allow a different player to rotate in (as is the custom for penalized players).
WR Keenan Reynolds
This guy is a nice athlete who runs well and looks incredibly natural at receiver after playing quarterback in college. It would not surprise me to see him have a big preseason and make the practice squad.
TE Nick Vannett
Vannett got starter snaps with Ed Dickson sidelined, and he made the most of his chances, including a really tough catch with a defender hanging all over him and swiping at the ball as it flew into his hands.
Things I learned
Tom Johnson was paired with Jarran Reed as the starting interior pairing. I expected Johnson to be the pass-rush rotational player while Nazair Jones started. I’m interested to see how that ends up
It really hit me when I sat down and surveyed the field that guys like Sherman and Chancellor are never coming back. They leave behind a massive void that is super unlikely to be filled by anyone currently on the roster. Hall of Fame level talent demands attention. Your eyes keep getting pulled back to them even when watching other things. There are not a lot of players like that on the defense any longer. There are some great players, to be sure, but it is very tough to build a defense when your best talent is at linebacker. I see a below average pass rushing defensive line and below average secondary right now. Pete Carroll is smart enough to find ways to hide some of the weaknesses and harness the talent he has. There are limits to what can be achieved. None of this is to say the sky is falling. In some regards, it already fell. We are going through a reorientation about what this team can be, and when it can start a new ascent. My first impression is that this season might be tougher than I want to admit.