Here's our first 2012 Rookie Report, looking at the first four weeks of the season, and ranking each of the Seahawks' rookies according to what they've shown us so far this year.
1. Russell Wilson - QB - There's been so much talk about Wilson and whether or not he's measuring up to the expectations that the team has set for him, that it's almost boring to get into it again here. However, I've watched every throw that Wilson has made this season - at least three times - and one thing is clear - he is improving. Novice and low-level analysts will go to stats. Competent analysts will watch tape. I've chosen to do the latter. And even the former (his stats) aren't horrible. We've heard a lot of criticism concerning how Wilson has played in/from the pocket as a passer, and in some cases, rightfully so. I'm not concerned about his ability to see as much as I am about his ability to move and make a play when he can't see.
Think about it - do you think 6'3 and 6'4 QBs in this league don't have sight issues? How many 6'1 or 6'2 O-linemen are there starting in the NFL right now? Not many. Sure, height helps, but even tall QBs with big, strong arms struggle to make it in the NFL. Ask Hugh Millen. Back to my point... Not only do I think Russell Wilson can be an effective long-term starting QB in the NFL without being able to sit in the pocket the whole time, I also think that the Seahawks would be doing themselves a disservice by keeping him in the pocket, even if he proves he can make all the throws from there.
Considering what he can do outside of the pocket, and considering the damage that a strong running team can do with play action and bootlegs, you want this guy outside the pocket a lot. So, my focus has been on two things with Russell Wilson -
1. When the pocket collapses or lanes close, how does he move to extend the play? If the answer is "backward", that's bad. We saw that in the first couple of weeks, a few times. If the answer is "sideways or forward", that's a positive sign, particularly if he's keeping his eyes down the field. Even on the first interception against St. Louis, he slid sideways, kept his eyes down field, and found an open target, who subsequently neglected to secure the football.
2. Progression speed inside and outside of the pocket - Does he go through his reads rapidly and exhibit decisiveness in choosing his target. We know he can locate the ball, and we know he has plenty of arm strength to get it there. But it's what happens before the throw that I'm watching closer than anything. The pre-throw decision-making process and information-deciphering are what he needs to gain consistency in, and everything else will fall into place.
Considering these criteria, Wilson's progressions have become more rapid, and his reaction to pressure has become more positive in terms of sliding and keeping his eyes down field. The rest should fall into place if he's given the time necessary to full acclimate.
2. Bobby Wagner - LB - I'm really impressed with the play of Bobby Wagner so far this season. He's been a bit quieter than some of the other rookies, but it has been a result of him minding his assignments with regularity, and not trying to get too anxious to make the big play. What I mean by this is that he has been disciplined in his gap control, rarely over-pursuing the ball, and his diagnostics have shown up early against the run. Another thing he does well is utilize his arm extension to fight blocks and keep himself clean.
Much like K.J. Wright last year, I haven't seen a whole lot ofexplosive plays early from Wagner, but a closer look shows that he hasn't been extremely proactive in terms of trying to beat his teammates to the ball. He has relied on his front-4 and his outside ‘backers to make the plays that they can get to, allowing him to not have to take too many risks by abandoning his post or leaving a particular gap or zone vulnerable.
That said, and again like Wright last year, Wagner has begun to fire through gaps more, and take more chances with his athleticism. Part of a linebacker's adjustment to the NFL game, is determining how his speed and athleticism fit in his new scheme. Wagner has shown instincts and anticipation so far this year, more than he has shown explosiveness or athleticism, but now that he is getting a feel for how his speed fits the scheme and sizes up to the competition, you can see him gaining confidence.
He made some crucial run stops against St. Louis and really turned his athleticism loose like we haven't seen yet this year. Look for that to increase with each week, and also look for his tackles numbers to creep up as the season goes on. He hasn't played a ton in nickel/pass situations as Wright's length and Hill's experience make them better fits there at the moment, but it shouldn't be that way for long, considering Wagner's speed and range.
3. Bruce Irvin - DE - Irvin appeared to come alive against Green Bay in week 3 when he notched 2 sacks and nearly picked up 2 more. He was giving Bryan Bulaga fits on that right side. He wasn't nearly as disruptive against St. Louis in week 4, but still looked a lot better than he did in the first two weeks and the preseason. Irvin's improvement and expectation fulfillment will come quickly, if he keeps it simple and focuses on two things -
1. doesn't neglect his speed, and explodes off the line on every play. We've seen far too often, Irvin come off the snap at a "wide" angle or square up with his opponent and try to "juke" or "stop-start" on him. No. Fail. He needs to get to edge as fast as he can on every play.
Then, 2. Continue to develop a move back to the inside. Here's where he has flashed some great natural power (see first sack against Green Bay when he bull-rushed, drove his opponent off the block, and then threw him aside to clear a path to the QB), but hasn't attempted nearly enough rips, humps or spins back to the interior. He possesses the natural quickness and explosiveness to make it happen, and he's able to consistently establish low leverage (2 keys to developing a move like this), but he's clearly still very raw instinctively in terms of knowing when to unleash a move like this. I've seen him attempt a couple spins, and both have been telegraphed pretty early in the play rendering him easy to block.
That's it, Bruce - two things to focus on. Get to the edge as quickly as possible, and develop a move back to the inside. Meanwhile, he'll be a double-digit sack guy this year on speed an natural power alone. He's got to get better and more active with his hands as well, in terms of keeping his arms extended, and "punching" his opponent to disengage. He tends to lock on early and then struggles to shed.
4. Robert Turbin - RB - It was great to see Turbin finally break loose in Week 4 against St. Louis. What a lot of people may not realize is that beyond J.R. Sweezy, Turbin has shown more improvement than any of the other rookies. Early in preseason, we saw a powerful ‘back who was a bit timid approaching the hole, lacked the initial explosion that he displayed at Utah State, and wasn't finishing through contact to extend plays. But Turbin's understanding of this blocking scheme has clearly grown.
He's much more decisive when cutting back and committing to the hole, he's much more dynamic on contact, and he can really catch the football. Turbin is proving that you don't need a small, compact "scat"-type ‘back to be a "change-of-pace" runner in your backfield. You can have it with a guy who's 5'11 and 220+ pounds. What's unique about Turbin - and forgive me if I sound like a broken record here, because I've said this a lot - is that he is much quicker laterally in a short, small area, than Lynch is.
He can break down and re-direct in space much more effectively, and has a more explosive natural first step than Lynch. So you're getting the quickness that you want in that change-of-pace ‘back, but you're getting it in a package that contains a fair amount of power as well, so you effectively have a backup running back who can either spell your No. 1 ‘back with regularity, or switch up the tempo as a complimentary runner. Not to mention what he brings you in the passing game.
5. J.R. Sweezy - OG - Since Week 2, we haven't seen a whole lot of Sweezy, although he has filled in on a few drives for John Moffitt (injuries). We probably won't see a whole lot more of Sweezy for the rest of the season now that James Carpenter has returned, and is clearly up to form at left guard, and McQuistain gives Seattle the veteran experience in this blocking scheme to be a better short-term solution at right guard while Moffitt is hurt (and maybe even when he's not).
Sweezy took a lot of heat for his week 1 performance, and rightfully so. He dropped his head frequently, bent at the waist when engaged with defenders (usually Darnell Dockett), and was over powered when he tried to anchor on contact. In his limited duty since that game, he has looked a lot better. Head has been up, back has been flat, impact has been absorbed with his lower half (as it should be), and he has kept his arms extended rather than diving head or shoulder-first at his opponent.
He's clearly on his way to being something special, and will get his chance soon enough. Depth along the front line is a good thing, and the fact that he's not starting right now shouldn't be taken as a negative at all. He's the most athletic of the O-linemen, the most agile, nimble, and more naturally explosive with his hands. Just be patient. He has shown improvement with every game that he's played, and the performance against Arizona was the best way to get him going - throw him right into the fire with one of the league's best (Dockett) and let him figure it out.
6. Greg Scruggs - DT/DE - Scruggs has had some limited pass-pressure duty (see Green Bay game) but has also been nicked up here and there with a bit of an injury bug. He was double-teamed for the most part against Green Bay on passing downs, but stayed active with his hands, and still exhibits that quick get-off we saw in the preseason. Like Sweezy, Scruggs will get his chance and should be an ideal regular in passing situations next season if the Seahawks don't retain Jason Jones.
The fact that Scruggs is versatile enough to rotate outside and rush from the 5-technique helps him quite a bit as well, giving him the ability to spell Red Bryant, or even move Bruce Irvin to a stand-up, outside rush ‘backer position. The combination of Scruggs with Jones, Clemons and Irvin makes for one fast package, so watch for the ‘Hawks to continue working him in to more sub-packages as the season progresses. I'm watching for him to continue with what we saw in the preseason -
1. explosive, well-timed get-off;
2. violent, active hands and good use of arm length to keep himself clean,
3. and the continued development of a repertoire of moves - spin, swim, rip - all of which he used effectively in preseason.
7. Jeremy Lane - CB - Lane has been a special teams regular, and has contributed there as a gunner. We've seen him in on several special teams tackles, but thus far, he hasn't been in on defense. As I wrote pre-season, Lane is primarily an outside press-corner and has a better skill set to play there, than in the slot, so don't expect him to get a ton of defensive reps this season.
I can see the team developing and working with him to become an inside (slot) corner considering his natural agility and change-of-direction ability, and he could be groomed to take that spot over once Trufant is out. He looked pretty raw in the preseason, but there's no doubt he could have a future in the league, particularly if he gets better at playing inside.
8. Winston Guy - Safety - Guy has been on and off the active list this season, and hasn't seen a whole lot of the field on defense. When he has been in, he's primarily been featured as a rusher in the "Bandit" package, with the occasional drop-back. He flashes some good explosiveness both off the edge, as well as when asked to rush an inside gap, and he's more sudden from a stop, than I had initially seen on his college tape.
His size and physical style of play make him a long-term fit, but right now Jeron Johnson (3rd Safety) and Chris Maragos (Special Teams and 4th Safety) are playing well enough to warrant leaving Guy off the active list, to make room for an extra linebacker or corner. Lane appears to be more active on special teams and gives Seattle a better pass-coverage option than Guy, so when it comes down to deciding on a back-end active DB for game time, Lane makes more sense.
Jaye Howard - DT - Howard simply hasn't been active for us to see him perform. He has been listed inactive due to a sore foot.
In addition to contributing here, I've transitioned from doing league-wide NFL Draft analysis at my blog to a more focused and specific Seahawks-centric draft - free agency - pro player personnel site called "ScoutTheSeahawks." It's now up, so please take a minute to head over there.