Last year, I wrote up a summary of what I observed, it was as detailed as I dared and I had a lot of enthusiasm for it as it was the first time I had watched the Seahawks practice. Of course, I had expected that plenty of people here would write about their experiences, and for whatever reason it was not done very often.
Well, I am hoping that this year is different, and I'll kick it off with more of the same, and hopefully it will cause more of you to write about practices this year. I still live in Northern California, am still in the Air Force, and I will head back out of town Monday night after taking my wife and two daughters to see Monday's practice
When I arrived in The Landing this morning, I had trouble finding my way around. The registration area for the Seahawks has moved to the area where the Regal Theater is. I went to where it was last year, and a lone security person was there to direct those idiots who are like me, relying on memory, to go to the new location. After being sent the right direction, registration was not too bad, and the walk to the bus was much shorter as well. All in all, the location improved.
After arriving at the VMAC, I looked over the tents, where most of the free stuff was kids-only, and had a little cheerleader poster signed by two of our Seahawks cheerleaders, then focused on football.
Individual drills were not too revealing. Watching linebackers hit other linebackers who are holding pads does not really reveal much about how the linebackers are doing, the offensive drills were on the far field so I cannot even tell you about who's hands were looking the best. One thing I did really enjoy was watching a drill where the linebackers were being taught to respond to an offensive shift. The coaches false-started a couple times and were getting heated, but then it smoothed out and it was interesting to watch the linebackers go from a traditional 4-3 to an over or under, after the fullback would shift to a tight end, or a tight end would switch sides.
Carroll ran a drill with the back 7 players (secondary and linebackers) where coaches made up two receivers, but all defenders were following his eyes, and would run to the ball. The interception rate was over 60%, and the defenders got their hands on more than that, but dropped some that were right at them. Chance made a very fluid "deep ball" interception (probably only a 35 yard pass) and Curry made a nice leaping grab, but the drill was purposely easy, and obviously focused on having zone defenders with eyes on the quarterback.
7 vs 7
The offense and defense came together, and the first real interesting plays began. This is still a drill that favors the offense, and of the three QBs I thought Hasselbeck looked the most in command and finding the most open man. Over and over, he'd complete a pass over linebackers and under safety or corner coverage, especially to Carlson, but really to anyone who broke free. Whitehurst had a very impressive pass to Housh, just in between the intermediate and deep zones, timed just as he broke inside. If the ball was bobbled, it seemed as though 5 defenders would have had a chance at the ball. In general, he did not look like he could find the medium chunks of yardage that Hasselbeck was finding, at least not consistently, but it's tough to really judge whether he had the same wide open players or not. I did not get much else out of it, most passes were caught, Thurmond looked fluid and fast enough, but not super explosive like I would imagine him to be at full strength. I expected him to at least look like he was slow, and he did not. I did watch him get shoved to the turf by #19, who then made a quick catch, otherwise Thurmond looked good, including a couple of very impressive pass breakups coming back to a receiver's outside shoulder.
11 vs 11
This is when it started to get fun. When the HB was being swarmed by the OL and defense, coaches for the O and coaches for the D would run at the pile yelling at their players to push, egging them on. Our ball carriers, primarily the HBs, are being told to run to the end zone. The defense did not hold back on their initial hits, but wouldn't fight a ball-carrier to the ground. One WR screen resulted in Obomanu being leveled immediately, although he took a couple others at least 10 yards. Carlson got a hand on one ball, started to juggle it and Milloy came up and gave him a pop, easily separating him from the ball. Rankin got loose down the right sideline for a good 25-30 yards, at the end of which he was sent flying to the turf. The physicality was surprising, but fun, and nothing was getting out of hand.
Washington did not take part in 7 on 7, or 11 on 11, and I never saw him catching balls for punt returning at the end of the practice. Seahawks.com has him as 33, a number I never saw playing, but if he did HB individual drills, it was on the far field and I would have missed it. Forsett was far and away better than Ganther, JJ, or Rankin. As much as the ZBS in theory is perfect for him, in practice it seems equally as perfect. JJ certainly broke a couple, Rankin's speed looked good, and Ganther looked ordinary, but thicker than the other backs. It is tough to gauge when a defender puts two hands on a back and then lets him go, so I couldn't tell you if 20% or 80% of the yards after contact were legit, I'd bet close to 20%, but Forsett was either not touched or barely touched for the first 3-6 yards of nearly every run. His initial quickness, and his ability to change direction without slowing down is what separates him from JJ, Ganther, and Rankin, and those initial yards were there for him almost every time, even with blocks breaking down at times. At full speed I could not separate good blocks and bad blocks from good and bad front 7 play, especially from the angle I was at, but the difference between Forsett and the others was distinct, and it just feels inevitable that Forsett gets the most carries, at least until Washington's skills are seen in the system.
In the passing game, I could not see everything. If I watched the QB, pass blocking, and the QB's response to pressure, I could not watch the routes develop and see which WR was beating which corner with what move. Likewise, if I was watching the development in the secondary, I sometimes missed runs, and always missed what a QB did with pressure and his eyes. So on passes I just watched the pocket long enough to see the 3 or 5 step drop, or playaction, then moved onto the secondary.
If it was based on this day, Mike Williams will make the team and start. He did not play with the first unit often, rather he was on the second unit. But he made catch after catch, away from his body, low and behind him, coming back to the ball at the highest point, on a post and outrunning Roy Lewis, it did not matter. He looked like the real deal, just like we all hope.
If he looked great, Golden Tate looked just about as great. He certainly got his hands on the ball, and made some great plays with the ball in the air. As much as Branch does not seem to fight the coverage for the ball, Tate does, like he's going for a rebound. The kind of plays you expect a tall possession receiver to make, or a power forward type of TE like Antonio Gates, you see #81 up there making. It's like seeing Rajon Rondo up around the rim, coming down with the rebound, you ask why he's even there, but time after time he's the one coming down with the ball. Tate made one really great one on the sideline, coming back to the ball and leaping over tight coverage to make a catch before tumbling to the ground.
Besides the Milloy-induced drop, he was sure handed. Pretty much the only moderately deep balls being completed were to Carlson or Williams. Interesting, since they are the two players that might have the largest catch radius. Back when Joe Jurevicious was a Seahawk, Hasselbeck seemed to have no problem getting him the ball down the field, while Branch is infinitely more athletic and Hasselbeck missed him on every deep pass he tries to make. I think there is something to be said for having a big target to hit down-field, and I am excited for a Mike Williams and John Carlson offense for Hasselbeck. John Carlson caught pass after pass, he caught more passes in 7 vs 7 and 11 vs 11 than any single WR, and it was not close. There really is nothing more to be said, he was split out wide, he played from TE, he occasionally lined up at FB, but if he was running a route, he was an option that was rarely neglected.
I did not see enough of the receivers to really make any judgement calls. Branch does not fight defenders to go up for the ball, he still is really quick laterally, he caught one ball that a defender knocked up in the air and that fell straight into his hands, and some others in the middle. If he was split out wide and targeted deep, the passes were usually poor. I have never seen Hasselbeck hit Branch in stride going deep, it's always quite short or overthrown, and Branch has not adjusted well to the short deep ball that I've ever seen, including today. Butler juked Josh Wilson and ran a quick out that Wilson was unhappy about in WR vs CB, other than that I did not see him with the ball too often. Never saw a good pass to Stanbeck, including an overthrown deep ball, but he is still fast, quick, explosive. A ridiculous athlete, but I never saw anything resembling a wildcat. I'm guessing that this year we will not, with the entire offense being new, but it's possible that if Stanbeck sticks we'd see some this year with him and/or Tate. Housh looked good when he was being thrown to, good hands, good routes. That's what you get with him.
Trufant completely dominated Branch on an out, perfect position, knocked the ball out. I didn't see him running deep or being particularly challenged, but when I saw him he looked fine. No idea if he's special Tru or ordinary Tru, not really enough to tell. The Vickerson injury I brought up earlier was on the second to last play of the first practice. Looked like his left knee, and he never went to the ground. He started to walk it off, stood for a few seconds, then practice ended and he went into the huddle. Watched him limp a little afterward, and watched him practice in the second practice, so nothing major apparently. I like Milloy when he is in the box. He's a fun combination of intelligence and bad-ass, a hitter that knows how to be where the ball is. Out of the box, I didn't really notice him, or the other safeties. A tough position to watch already, but in a practice without Earl Thomas I really didn't watch the safeties too much. Mare hit all of his FGs, but Pete stopped him after a 38 yarder was his longest, not really challenged today.
The second practice had some cool moments, and some awkward ones. The LB drill under the trampoline to get them in a low stance and explode from it was interesting, and the quarterbacks threw a yoga ball at each other to simulate a pass rusher and work on mobility. But after that the entire team was taken to the far field, too far away to see much other than Williams and Carlson eating up chunks of yardage. Got bored, looked for John Morgan, asked two skinny blond dudes if their name was John, got tired of getting awkward "no" responses to my awkward questioning. Met Stanbeck's girlfriend, talked about him making the team on special teams with Morey retiring, his time at UW, how tough it might be to make this team as a wide receiver. It was almost a waste of time going to that practice, but once again Lofa Tatupu autographed until there was no one left. PC came out for a very quick autograph session, mostly kids, Leroy Hill stuck around almost as long as Lofa, and Stanbeck did a few. Further down, I think some offensive linemen were giving some out, but I never got down that far until they were long gone. Lofa's autograph is on my new Seahawks hat, which looks awesome. Up close he doesn't look too barrel chested, at least after the two practices were over. He still has big arms, and is still the nicest guy out there, but he doesn't look like he's bulging or too thick and not short armed beyond what he already is. Carroll asked fan opinions on who was great out there while he did his autographs, Golden, then Mike Williams was brought up, and when BMW was brought up Carroll agreed quickly with that. He said something like "Mike Williams, wow, what a day for him" and the topic dissipated.
All in all, it was a good time, and an opportunity to see the Seahawks up close.