Ok so Seahawks' training camp technically starts today so I better bang these last few Training Camp positional group previews out. I'm going to keep this short and sweet. (Edit - I tried, but didn't really keep it short).
Many people believed that the Seahawks would take a linebacker early in the Draft this year - prior to the Percy Harvin trade, there were even thoughts that the Hawks would possibly use their first round pick on a weakside guy in order to complete the trifecta of stud first rounder, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Not only did Seattle trade away their first-rounder for a tiny, breakable slot receiver (sarcasm), they eschewed the chance to select any linebackers at all.
After it was said and done, it came out that the Hawks' front office felt they could more easily recruit UDFA linebackers that they liked to come play in the Pacific Northwest, because of their fluid depth charts at that position, and, as it turned out, or so they say, they were able to get a guy they had graded in the fifth round in John Lotulelei to come aboard.
Seattle also recruited Craig Wilkens to come aboard, and technically speaking, 7th round draft pick Ty Powell is listed as a linebacker (though I think most still think of him as a LEO defensive end). Because there is a bit of a gray area between the LEO and the SAM LB, you may also sort of consider Bruce Irvin and maybe even Cliff Avril as 'linebacker' types as well.
All this vagueness and fluidity creates a really interesting camp position battle and it will be fun to not only see which players the Seahawks keep, but to see the numbers at each position that they end up running with on the 53-man roster.
Here's the group.
52 Bradford, Allen
55 Farwell, Heath
43 Knox, Kyle
46 Lotulelei, John
57 Morgan, Mike
58 Powell, Ty
53 Smith, Malcolm
59 Toomer, Korey
54 Wagner, Bobby
45 Wilkins, Craig
50 Wright, K.J.
Here's what I know: Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are locks, and are both very good players in this Seattle defense. Wagner has the potential to be a Pro Bowler, and I'd say that Wright still has a lot of untapped upside even despite the fact he's played a lot better than the hype around him would indicate. Wright is long, instinctive, smart, versatile, tough, fast - pretty much all the attributes you'd hope for in a linebacker, and best of all, he can play all three spots. He's slated to play the weakside this year, and despite the idea that he might be a bit slow for that particular side, I think his instincts and anticipation ability - his ability to read the play and put himself in a position to make a play - will more than make up for that.
So, for now, Wagner/Wright are good to go.
Malcolm Smith came on last year as a weakside rotational player for the Hawks and did some good things and some not-so-good things. I am a Smith fan though - he's probably on par with Wagner when it comes to his speed, and if he can clean up his tackling a little bit, he could see a significant amount of snaps. Pete Carroll has said that they'll try Smith at the SAM role starting out this year, so that will be interesting to see. I'm assuming Smith would play the SAM in some of Seattle's 'over' fronts, where he'd find himself off the line and in space, which would maximize his skillset. In Seattle's 'under' defensive fronts, though, the SAM linebacker is a force player on the line of scrimmage, meant to take on tight ends and force run plays back inside, so this is a role that I'll have to see Smith perform in before I make any conclusions. Either way, Smith might offer some versatility as a coverage linebacker in nickel packages because of his movement skills, and he'll probably be a core special teams contributor.
Here's a piece that Ben Harbaugh put together on Smith that's worth revisiting:
Speaking of core special teamers: Heath Farwell. Farwell is the oldest of the group. His main role was on special teams last year and I don't think he got many snaps in Seattle's defense. I'm assuming that he'll face stiff competition from Korey Toomer and John Lotulelei in particular for his roster spot. Both Toomer and Lotulelei boast above-average athleticism and physicality for a special teams role, and higher-upside in terms of a role in the regular defense. Allen Bradford is a darkhorse at the position as well, because he does have a good amount of experience at the NFL level on special teams, I believe (from his time in Tampa Bay as a backup RB).
Further down the depth chart is Kyle Knox - and I don't know enough about this guy to really offer much of an opinion - other to say that he seems like long-shots for the roster. Knox is 6'1, 230, ran the 40 in 4.72 coming out of Fresno State last year, had strong times in the 3-cone (6.95) and short shuttle (4.44) and showed explosiveness in the vert (36.5") and broad jump (10'11") at his Pro Day back in March 2012.
Now - we've talked about how the Seahawks have inherited some of the Al Davis philosophies on defense that call for, especially at linebacker, big hands and long arms, and I frequently recall a segment Michael Lombardi did on Path to the Draft a few years back where he was asked about Davis' draft philosophy. Responding to a comment on Davis' predilection for guys with big hands and long arms, Lombardi noted - "That was huge. He believed big hands were like weapons, especially for defensive players. Because, when you could push those hands into somebody, they were really like weapons. The long arms, the length, really helped, especially as we got into a one-gap scheme in the NFL - because the longer the length, the better the defender could close out the gap. He used to love the basketball teams of Syracuse - they played a 2-3 zone, that became a 3-3 zone because of the long arms. That's what he wanted - he wanted a long team, and he wanted a big-hand team."
Like the late Al Davis, the Seahawks tend to evaluate potential based on measureables, and to go along with Knox's short-area quickness, he also has the advantage of possessing very long arms (33", 79.5" wingspan) and very large hands (10 1'8"). His hand size and wingspan are, not surprisingly, almost identical to Bobby Wagner. Little things like this are something the Seahawks have shown interest in, particularly towards the back-end of the roster when trying to find that competitive edge with every single player on the payroll. We'll see how much he's improved with a full NFL offseason with the Hawks.
Craig Wilkens and John Lotulelei are a couple of players I'm very excited to watch. Lotulelei in particular. As I wrote about earlier this offseason, Brian McIntyre pointed out that the Seahawks spent $50,000 of their $78,000 UDFA allotment on three main guys: LB John Lotulelei ($25k), LB Craig Wilkins ($12.5k) & DE Kenneth Boatright ($12.5k). Unsurprisingly, those three guys have been making some noise in mini-camps and OTAs.
John Lotulelei, in particular, has been singled out by Dan Quinn and Pete Carroll the most, though, and at this point, in my mind, has a possibly the best shot of making the final roster of all the UDFAs. It's not necessarily an indicator of who does and doesn't make final rosters, but as BMac points out, "The largest signing bonus issued to [any] undrafted rookie [in the entire NFL] this year belongs to UNLV linebacker John Lotulelei, who received $25,000 to sign with the Seattle Seahawks."
Carroll and Schneider have both noted that the Seahawks had a 5th round grade on Lotulelei, and if you watch the video below, it's pretty easy to see why. He's an instinctive playmaker that racked up 120 tackles his senior season and was All-Conference Mountain West at UNLV.
While Lotulelei's 40 time isn't on par with some of the current Seahawks linebackers' 4.4/4.5 standards (he ran it in 4.78 at the Combine and 4.65 at his Pro Day), his lateral agility is damn near elite: his 6.91 seconds in the three-cone drill was the second-best among linebackers at the Combine, and his 4.30 short shuttle was good for seventh. His 35.5" vert ranked fourth among linebackers and his 25 reps on bench press tied him for sixth. The dude is an athlete, even if he lacks in straight-line long-speed, a little bit. This is also evident in his highlight video below, where he routinely chases down receivers and backs in short distances. It also helps that he has long arms (32"+) and huge hands (10.6").
The Maui News recollected recently the process that went into his Seahawks' recruitment:
"After the draft, coach [Ken] Norton was trying to convince me to sign," Lotulelei said. "He coached Kaluka [Maiava, another Maui linebacker that went to Carroll/Norton's USC and is now in the NFL]. He's had a lot of experience. He's played linebacker. He has three rings. He's been to Pro Bowls."
Lotulelei said he also talked with the Chicago Bears, but noted that they have seven-time Pro Bowl pick Lance Briggs, and drafted two linebackers (Jon Bostic out of Florida in the second round and Khaseem Greene out of Rutgers in the fourth).
Lotulelei also spoke with the Washington Redskins, and was intrigued by the idea of learning from three-time Pro Bowler and 15-year NFL veteran London Fletcher, but said he felt the Seahawks ultimately made a better offer, which included a $25,000 signing bonus.
"It was exactly like college recruiting. It was a pressuring experience," said Lotulelei, who spent two seasons at UNLV after first playing at Merced (Calif.) College. "I've never really been recruited like that, though, out of high school or junior college, so it was a nice experience."
With Seattle's roster already fairly stacked, it's going to be tough for any UDFA type to catch on. That said, special teams is the place where Lotulelei might carve out a role early, and he seems perfectly suited for it. As pointed out above, special teams ace Heath Farwell is the old man of the group - and is entering the final year of his deal and has a cap hit of $1.67M - a fairly large number for that role, so Seattle is undoubtedly looking for a player that could either take Farwell's spot this year or succeed him once his contract is up.
Korey Toomer. the measurables for Toomer: 6'2" 1/4, 234 lbs, 4.53 forty, 42 inch vert, 10'10" broad jump, 4.00 short shuttle, 6.87 three cone, 20 reps on the bench. Holy shit. Here are some terms John Schneider used to describe Toomer in the recent "Rookie Spotlight" video on Seahawks.com:
"Speed", "a ton of range", "incredible athlete", "raw", "explosive hitter", and "covers a ton of ground".
Toomer was cut and placed on the practice squad last year but with a full season to acclimate to the pro game after coming from a small-school at Idaho, look for the former Vandal to make a jump. Toomer is long, fast, extremely athletic, and has a higher upside than probably anyone else in the group of 'bubble' guys.
I'll talk about Irvin/Avril in the defensive line addition, but because Mike Morgan and Ty Powell are technically listed as linebackers, they go here. Powell is one of Seattle's 7th round picks from this year, and the small school standout from Harding measured in at 6-2, weighs 249, and ran the 40 in 4.60 seconds with a blistering 1.58 10-yard split. Powell also put up an impressive 28 reps on bench with a 37" vertical and 6.98 3-cone drill. He registered 10'2" in the broad jump with a 4.4 short shuttle time.
From what I can gather, without watching any tape on him, Powell has an explosive first step and fluid athleticism, which initially raised questions about what position he'll be slated for with the Hawks - outside linebacker or defensive end. It's looking like, with all the talk of Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin possibly dabbling in both spots, Powell will be tested at both as well. (Pete Carroll alluded to this as well).
Derek Stephens provided the following scouting report on Powell, after a quick scouting flyby on Draft day:
Harding tape isn't exactly flying around so I didn't get a chance to scout Powell, but here's what friend and fellow NFL Draft Network member (and small-school prospect expert) Matt Elder of Buffalobillsdraft.com had to say about him, in a conversation I had with Matt immediately after the pick:
"Explosive out of his stance or standing up. Has little technical ability and really struggles to use his hands. Footwork is inconsistent. He's a big hitter and closes like a train. Reminds me a lot of Bruce Irvin actually."
Initial thoughts are that Powell could be a potential developmental WLB candidate, or could be another LEO depth-fill.
Interestingly, CBSSports and NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang listed Powell as one of his Diamonds in the Rough this year. Said Rang:
Having played defensive end, linebacker and safety for Harding, scouts knew Powell was versatile and he certainly appeared to be quite athletic. He demonstrated just how athletic at the combine, when he ranked among the most explosive in his position group in the vertical jump (37") and three-cone drill (6.98-seconds). The athleticism shows up on tape, as Harding has an explosive burst off the snap, as well as impressive change of direction. These traits helped him rack up 12 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks and block a school-record four kicks in 2012. Powell could hear his name called as early as the late third round. No Harding player has been selected in the draft since the Denver Broncos selected defensive back Bruce Baldwin in the fifth round 30 years ago.
Powell also scored well in Football Outsiders' SackSEER rating/projections, so that's encouraging.
A similar player to watch in this vein is Mike Morgan. Morgan has been with the team for a few years now and boasts elite speed at the position. He's a little shaky in his fills and reads at the SAM spot, and Carroll got on him a bit about his positioning last season for his couple of starts (I believe Minnesota and New York). Nonetheless, he's been seeing time at LEO as well, and with Bruce Irvin out for the first four games and Chris Clemons' availability still unknown, he could be a factor early. Watch for how the Hawks use him in camps.
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