This past Thursday, I got the awesome opportunity to head to the Seahawks' first preseason game against the Chargers. I live about four hours north of San Diego (during the summer), but in California, pretty much everywhere is considered "reasonable driving distance." This reasonable closeness, combined with preseason ticket prices ($30 bucks to sit in the first section behind the 'Hawks sideline!) gave me all the incentive I needed to haul ass down to almost Mexico.
Being close to the players during the game is something special. As I'm sure many of you can attest, the ability to see the team up close paints a whole new picture of what's happening in the game. You get to observe things like body language, interactions with coaches, and which players truly have friendships with one another. As far as the game goes, it is my opinion that you can gain a truer sense of a player's speed and ability while seeing it live, which gives you a new appreciation for the guys that transcend their position.
Naturally, I couldn't just watch the game live and be content with it. Watching game film is what I do when I'm bored. There's something inherently entertaining about enriching one's understanding of a sport. I've poured over the replay of this game multiple times, looking to see if what I saw in person matched up to what was on film. In many ways, the film reinforced notions I got on the field.
For this article, I will comment on two main things: Interesting anecdotes from Seattle's sideline that should hopefully fire you up about the team and players that stood out to me in person who on game rewind were confirmed to have played well (in my opinion). Here goes...
The first thing to note is how many freaking 12s were in the stadium. I'm sure you guys heard the "SEA-HAWKS" chants at various points in the game, but truthfully I would say one out of every three fans in attendance donned a Seattle jersey. It was that nuts. The players certainly noticed it (as you saw in their tweets that Danny posted earlier).
Before the game, while the majority of the San Diego fans were either tailgating outside/ stuck in traffic, Seattle fans effectively took over the stadium. When the players raced onto the field for warm ups, there were lots of cheers. LOUD cheers. Quite an amazing thing to see while located at the opposite end of the West Coast from Seattle.
Speaking of warm ups, Pete Carroll's pre-game tradition of playing catch was actually fascinating to behold. Perhaps I'm just a nerd who spends way too much time analyzing throwing motions but for a 62-year-old man, he still can fire that thing like nobody's business. But he has probably the "snappiest" throwing motion I've ever seen. It almost looks uncomfortable to see him contort his body the way he does with the speed in which he does it. It doesn't look natural, but he's been throwing a football way longer than I have and what he does works just fine.
Pete also spent a solid 15 minutes having a 1 on 1 conversation with man in a wheelchair who was on the sidelines during warm ups. His apparent earnestness while talking to the man was touching. It made me happy that no matter what happens on the field, off the field our coach has a heart for others.
One cool thing to witness was Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner warming up together. Those two ran every drill together (most drills ran two people at a time), and were basically inseparable during the whole period.
When the game started, the enthusiasm was palpable. After the first few drives fizzled out; however, the players admittedly seemed to have a damper mood, with little movement on the sideline. That all changed when Brady Quinn threw the game's first touchdown to Jermaine Kearse. The mood instantly changed, and it was pretty much a party for the rest of the game (aided of course by the constant defensive and offensive success of the second half).
No matter what the mood: one player never changed his attitude. I'll give you three guesses as to who it was. That's right. Russell Wilson came onto the field (after his short stint was over) and high fived all of the offensive players after each series was over. The result didn't matter. I recall one of Brady Quinn's drives ending in a punt, and while the unit trotted off the field there was Wilson about ten yards from the sideline, individually congratulating and talking to every player. It was a sight to behold, alright.
Late in the game, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, with their arms over each other's shoulders, turned to the crowd (of predominantly Seahawk fans) behind the bench and started pointing to various fans and waving. This went on for several minutes and elicited HUGE cheers from everybody. You could tell all of the guys were having tons of fun out there.
The last thing I want to point out is how long touchdown celebrations lasted on the field and on the sideline. When I said the sideline was like a party, I wasn't kidding. Each scoring player would be met with an onslaught of teammates from the sideline, and they would exchange plenty of mid-air hip bumps, high fives, fist pounds, and helmet slaps. Every score was like this, but easily the guy who got the most congratulations was Spencer Ware. I believe this was because his score was closest to the Seahawks' sideline, but the guys seemed genuinely happy that he ran one in.
Overall, the team chemistry was excellent.
On the Field Stuff
I love John Lotulelei. I think his athletic skillset is phenomenal, and he has that all-important burst to him. During the game, he seemed to be gravitating towards the ball on every snap. He routinely stopped the run, and even if he didn't make the tackle himself he clogged line gaps and forced the ball carrier elsewhere. I know we've heard in practice that he is more of a run stopper than a coverage LB, but I saw some excellent man coverage from the man while watching tape. He showed total hip flexibility as he blanketed receivers and tight ends in man coverage, sometimes deep down the field. On one of Benson Mayowa's sacks, Charlie Whitehurst's read was to Lotulelei's man, but Lotulelei covered him so well that Charlie had to look elsewhere - which gave Mayowa extra time to take down the Clipboard Jesus. Overall, I was incredibly impressed with Lotulelei, and I hope he sees playing time this year.
Speaking of Mayowa, I didn't like his game as much as everyone else did. He had a good game, but I wouldn't say he was the best pass rusher on the field that night. Mayowa's sack numbers came as a result of his pursuit, not his initial move. In fact, a simple step up in the pocket by Charlie Whitehurst completely neutralized most of Mayowa's initial pass rush moves. Good thing Whitehurst held on to the ball for too long (partly due to Lotulelei and other providing blanket coverage), because facing a quick release QB Mayowa would not have any sacks that night. To his credit, pursuit of the QB is a skill in and of itself. He does have the balance to recover when initially beaten by the Offensive lineman, but his first step (as Derek Stephens talks about extensively on his Twitter account) and off-the-line pass rush moves aren't quite up to snuff yet.
On the topic of pass rush, I loved what Michael Bennett did on the field. At first, I forgot what number he was, but couldn't help but notice 72 literally throwing offensive linemen to the side. On tape, it appears that Bennett has this uncanny ability to keep his momentum going forward as he does his pass rush moves. He is always headed towards the target, be it the running back or quarterback. Rarely does he waste movement. I attribute this to excellent hip and feet positioning.
Last thing on the defensive side of the ball: Mike Morgan did not have himself a good game. When tiny Eddie Royal can stiff arm you into oblivion despite you having an excellent angle on him, that's pretty embarrassing. He also was totally ineffective coming off the edge as far as I saw. I'm not a fan.
Moving to the offensive side of things, let me just say that I agree with what everyone else is already saying about Alvin Bailey. To me, I loved him on the field because he was effectively invisible. In a good way. You never had to look his way because he never let anything up. I hope he keeps up this success, because I'm desperately wanting a replacement for Breno Giacomini. Breno was the main reason (that I saw) that Russell was getting pressured so early. Every pass rusher that the Chargers matched up against Breno was able to Bull Rush him and push him off the line. When you're 6'8" and one of the biggest guys on the team, that is simply inexcusable. The sooner someone steps up to challenge him, the better in my opinion.
Michael Bowie also stepped up this game. Bowie delivered some excellent seal blocks, and was key to opening up some of the huge holes that Christine Michael enjoyed during the second half of the game. This was reassuring to hear considering that multiple reports surfaced that Bowie was struggling in camp.
There are a lot of things to look forward to on this Seahawks squad. The team chemistry is through the roof. Many players who we were hoping would jump out definitely jumped out. Overall, an awesome experience.