There are several areas of the team and many players that I had the opportunity to observe during the two and a half hour practice session on Aug. 4th. I'll provide as much detail about what I witnessed as I can, and hopefully keep my personal excitement and player-worship to a minimum.
Update: The link below is to a collection of about 300 or so photos I took during the event.
Offensive Line, Offensive Linemen
It was great to see Walter Jones just a few feet from my vantage point, and though he was without pads, he wasn't without his #71 jersey and a big smile.
On display first were a few of the linemen. Ray Willis working closely with who I believed (and later confirmed) was Mike Solari in individual drills; one-on-ones; and then full line practices. Willis went up against OL Ramsey for much of the one-on-one drills, with players reversing positions after a few reps on each side. Willis looked every bit the part of a starting RT: powerful, huge, and muscular. He displayed compact bursts of power - not out of control, with good hand-fighting and riding the 'defender' (Ramsey) as much as needed. Though Ramsey is taller and more gangly, Willis is cut and mean. He handled Ramsey with ease. He showed power and technique, with good hand-fighting. Most impressive was his initial burst and ability to just manhandle the larger man.
With all the linemen hanging around, Locklear, Willis, and Big Walt conferred on several occasions. Solari worked off of a sheet to run the practice sessions, always getting in the ear of a player who attacked the wrong shoulder with their hand-punch, and tapping another on the shoulder lightly and talking only to them in their ear-hole quietly. Solari was in command of everything, but the players didn't need much direction about what they were set up to do, that was either already understood or handled by the other staff members. Solari was about details and instruction, which was just how I pictured he'd be.
Unger was of course a player I targeted seeing, and had no problem doing that, as the OL practice was the closest portion of any of the fields we could get to. Players did drills of backpedaling in their stances one at a time which was interesting. Unger stood out in these drills. His stance was unwavering while he backpedaled with precision. Only the legs and feet seemed to move as he went backward, displaying the fluid footwork that gives him the 'technician' label. After seeing many of the linemen go through this drill, Unger looked different - better - than most of the others in this particular drill. But alas, he did have to face some humans, too.
Unger then worked mostly vs. Wrotto, who I'll include in this section. Wrotto has a very low base while in his stance. He has a big, thick waist and rear that sits not far off the grass when he set up to face off 1v1 with Unger. Both players engaged each other many times in these drills, switching positions after 6 or so reps so that each would simulate pass-pro while the other pressured. What stood out were both Wrotto's size and his ability to contain Unger easily with his power. Unger was clearly not as strong as Wrotto, but looked sound against him nonetheless. Unger had a higher base in his stance while simulating pass-pro vs. Wrotto. His technique was solid, clean backpedal, good hand-punch to Wrotto's chest. He managed correct shoulder (from what I could tell) and didn't lose contact or let his man by.
Something interesting I noted throughout the practices aside from full line vs. line scrimmaging was that the starting unit was: Locklear, Sims, Spencer, Nobody, Willis. The RG spot was vacant while the rest of those players lined up and did drills together side by side as they would be lined up in a game - minus the RG. It was as if a message was out for everyone to see (players mainly) that that job was open/up for grabs. This was while Unger and Wrotto faced off in other sections of practice.
Locklear looked really good in all the drills. His lanky arms and big frame really looked the part. He appears similar to Willis but with longer arms. He worked mostly at LT, though took some reps at RT, too.
During line drills the starting unit w/out Jones (listed above) interchanged parts at RG and RT, and most of the other spots, as well. This included Goddard, Ramsey, Vallos, Wrotto, Unger and others. Ramsey is huge, but looked raw in everything he did. Willis pounded on him, showing his forceful and explosive power, which delighted onlookers, myself included. He's primed for a job and blocked well during offensive series.
Offense, Partial Scrimmages
When the lines faced defenders in goal-line packages and what looked to be red-zone type offensive sets, I often witnessed Sims pulling and running into the space vacated by the RG (usually Wrotto with the first team). Sims was quick to pull and block and the team had success running behind him with Duckett during many plays. These sessions had full offensive and defensive lines, but no secondary.
Duckett ran and caught as much as anyone, if not more. Plays featured him many different ways. Offensive formations would shift and motion often. They ran Duckett every which way, and somewhat surprisingly, threw to him frequently, too. Duckett caught everything thrown his way, receiving and turning upfield with ease. He quickly caught and tucked the ball away and powered ahead with speed that belies his size and stature. Standing next to FB Justin Griffith, it's hard to tell the two apart, but the cut, muscle-laden Duckett still manages to stand out. His gut is not a six-pack. More like a keg or a 24-pack. Plays to him included play-action passes, run-fakes, and direct handoffs all of which went off without a hitch. Spencer cleared holes along with the guards on runs up the middle. Spencer was the spearhead on several handoffs, displaying his strength and power.
They ran some sets that featured two TEs and a single back (Duckett again). Again they ran misdirection, run fakes, and formation shifts to throw passes and run out of, but the highlights were from the TEs this time. Carlson ran after a fade from Hasselbeck headed towards us watching nearby and though he caught the ball nicely, a couple feet further and I'd have caught it instead. More plays from these same sets went in the direction of TE John Owens. He caught the ball every time, showing good hands catches and the ability to turn upfield for YAC. Owens catching the ball? How can this be? I mean, he's the blocking TE, right? Like everyone else, he did catch it and caught it well on both sides of the end-zone for would-be touchdowns.
Jones, Forsett, and Moore took some handoffs and caught passes. Griffith caught a short pass or two but was not handed the ball. Schmitt didn't touch the ball.
Wide receivers caught balls in drills. Burleson was the only one interactive for moments with the crowd, obviously enjoying attention from fans. What I noticed was that unless a pass hit the dirt in drills, the ball was caught. Everything was caught by everyone. Courtney Taylor looked okay catching the ball, as did most everyone included in the drill. Bumpus, Hass, Payne, lots of guys ran through them. Most noticeable were the hands of Deion Branch. He featured smooth, sticky paws that sucked up everything with ease.
There were drills that featured LBs covering TEs and RBs, which were a blast to see. The routes were mostly about 5-10yds deep. Tatupu vs. Carlson: Carlson catch and run. Hill vs. Carlson: Carlson catch and run. Neither could cover Carlson, though they were fairly tight in coverage - Hill more than Tatupu, the catches were still made with accurate throws from the QBs. Herring did the best job shadowing Carlson. Owen Schmitt dove for a pass his way that was incomplete. Moore and Forsett made plays. A couple passes were incomplete, just out of reach. Still, not a single drop to this point the whole day that I saw. Guys were catching everything. You would think a high-stakes bounty was implemented in the team's kangaroo court on dropped passes. Seriously.
Scrimmages (Offense vs. Defense)
Defensive Highlights and Observations:
When the defensive players faced off vs. the offense there were many situations to observe. Firstly, Brian Russell looks like a high school senior in a Seahawk practice uniform. There is no missing Colin Cole on the field. There is also no missing Red Bryant. Both men are absolutely HUGE. Though, to be fair, Bryant is just as big and less fat. In a Gilbert Brown-Warren Sapp kind of way, I guess. Bryant held up his end of the deal and disrupted several plays, though usually playing with the 2nd team. Cole once chased Hasselbeck out of the pocket and back about 10 or more yards until Hass realized he wouldn't be eluding the swift big-man and went out of bounds. It looked like a Benny Hill show. Redding once absolutely blew up Julius Jones right at the line. Kerney worked some plays, after earlier participating in all the blocking-sled drills. Tapp recorded a sure sack and FF on Hasselbeck after toasting his blocker in a flash (Locklear, I believe). A Wallace pass was tipped and intercepted by Babineaux then returned a long way. Like Ed Reed return-style with eluding and picking up blockers (okay, Reed may be a stretch, but it was nice). Hobbs intercepted a pass intended for Butler down the left sideline. Butler was doubled on the play and the Wallace pass was slightly underthrown. All three players had to slow to find the ball. Adams had a bone-jarring hit on one of the RBs. It was so loud you could hear the 'crack' of the pads. It brought loud cheers from the crowd (est. 1,500 people). Greene made a leaping interception which he promptly returned for a TD of a Mike Teel pass. Grant and Lucas covered Burleson deep left sideline forcing and incomplete pass. The LBs sniffed out running plays and clogged inside runs regularly at the line. The interior starting line did a nice job of keeping Cole and Mebane clogged up without giving ground, but also didn't get much push on them. Early in practice, Leroy Hill worked on pass-rushing moves individually with a coach.
Offensive Highlights and Observations:
Housh catching the ball high in traffic for a first down. Devin Moore making a midrange to deep fingertip catch. Burleson catching everything and getting good YAC. Obomanu made several catches (4 or 5). Usually, he caught short-midrange passes in tight passing-lanes. Butler often being covered by Hobbs, caught a short pass and gained good YAC while following his blockers patiently for a fairly long gain. Moore bent a long run after a series of cuts to the right side of the line along his blockers. His small, subtle cuts all went right, allowing him to follow the flow of blocking ahead of him. Forsett made similar cuts himself on some decent runs. Both caught the ball well and ran better outside than inside. There were no jump-cuts, shake-and-bakes, and not much change of direction after receptions or during runs from anyone. Jordan Kent made a leaping grab high above the defenders and also caught a bomb after burning by the corner. Kent caught everything thrown to him. Butler set a pick for a pass to Obomanu that was completed. Courtney Taylor made a couple of catches. Hasselbeck threw the ball very well, with excellent zip on shorter throws and even lofted a couple nice deep balls. Wallace threw the most and there was both good and bad. Teel showed a stronger arm than I would have thought. Rowe got some snaps.
Finally, there were a few return drills which included Wilson, Taylor, Forsett, Moore, Kent and maybe few others. Special Teams players practiced blocking groups ahead of the returners and some return setups for a number of returns one after another.
More Offensive Skill Players:
I may rehash some info here, but wanted to get the details out there.
Deion Branch: Lime green gloves and all were on full display. He has the smoothest, stickiest hands of all the Hawks players. In catching drills he snagged everything even remotely catchable: high, low, right side, left side all with ease unless a pass was in the dirt. No doubt his hands are the class of the team. In team drills he split double coverage down the deep middle, tracked the ball over his shoulder about 30 yards deep, plucked it quickly out of the air and ran into the endzone untouched. There were many loud cheers and it was one of the top-3 highlights of the day's practice. I saw no restrictions for him, though both he and Housh were not as frequently played as the younger receivers were.
Jordan Kent: It was a nice day for Kent and he got a lot of run. He hands-caught everything. He leaped up for the high passes catching and bringing down nicely. If he was supposed to catch it he did. He was targeted on several plays and made all the catches, including a deep ball he glided under and caught with ease highlighting good speed and tracking skills. Also, he leaped up and caught a pass over double-coverage high in the air.
Justin Forsett: This guy also caught it all: short passes, screens; everything. He once ducked behind his linemen on a run, virtually disappearing then suddenly emerged after the defense lost him and produced a nice long run to the left side. His catches were all about head level or chin level with his hands. Nary a body-catch even on short, quick passes. He probably carried the ball as much as anyone and certainly more than Julius Jones. He made subtle cuts and followed blockers patiently, but was stuffed on inside runs a few times - similar plays that Duckett ran through successfully. The bread and butter plays for him often included misdirection or fake handoffs into a short, quick pass. Often they were out of single-back sets. He did not pass-block that I saw. He fielded cleanly a couple of returns.
Devin Moore: I would hardly be able to tell Devin Moore from Justin Forsett without seeing their jersey numbers (30 and 20). In stature and build; thickness of upper-body and muscle tone of arms and lower legs these guys look just alike. Almost clones. But, a close look showed me that Moore appears slightly taller, while Forsett's upper thigh area is a bit thicker. Moore did everything that Forsett did interchangeably. He caught it the same and most often ran it the same. Except for one play: Moore was absolutely smashed like a truck on one running play but bounced off without giving ground and just kept on moving. It was a fantastic display of balance and determination. Since we all could hear the pads clash together and the diminutive Moore was un-phased and deftly burned by the defender for a huge run, the cheers were loud and it was one of the best plays of the day. Another good play from him was one in which he lined up in a single-back set then motioned into the slot. The play broke down for the QB and Moore worked his way back to the passer after a brief stay in the assigned area of his route and made himself a target and was rewarded with a completion. It was a heady play for this stage of his first season. Along with Forsett, there wasn't much inside running, save for the big-play mentioned earlier. He was very comfortable in the offense and never looked out of place or confused. He performed in practice like he had been there before and did everything asked of Forsett just as capably. All hands-catches and put the ball away cleanly. Handoffs never stood out. Pass-pro was not asked of him that I could tell. He cleanly fielded a couple of returns.
END (Yes, it's over)