The Field Gulls community has done an excellent job of documenting observations, notes and musings of training camp thus far and seeings as I finally was able to attend practice, I thought I'd join in on the party. My first thought, after thinking that I should put something together about Monday's practice, was that I don't really know what I thought about it. I find that it's exceedingly tough to really know what you're seeing at any given time - there's no All-22, there's no rewind button, there's no slow-mo - you're just sitting there, trying to take in all the action and focus on one player and the whole field at the same time. So, I'd just say, take my notes with a grain of salt, because it's somewhat chaotic to watch, but here are a few things that stuck out to me.
First of all, it always kind of baffles me that the Hawks spend the first 30 or 40 minutes of their practices doing seemingly basic drills. They spend 10-15 minutes stretching, then they do the wholly unimportant but somehow integral 'bag drill', with coaches firing up their players as they run, stepping over speed bump bags. This seems like something you'd see 12-year olds doing before practice but with Pete Carroll's program, it's ostensibly meant as a rite of passage into the practice you're about to undertake. Maybe he does it to stir some nostalgia in his players - take them back to their days of playing Pop Warner, where they played for the love of the game and not glory or a game-check. Maybe Carroll's just a dork. Either way, it gets the players fired up and the crowd fired up as well.
Once the team runs through the bag drill, the positional groups split and work on fundamentals. These drills, in my mind, are meant as 'muscle memory' exercises, and I can appreciate the fact that Carroll's teams spend time with this. The famous Carroll fumble-recovery drills - these engrain the technique of falling on a ball and wrapping your body around it, in the hopes that it becomes instinctual when the 'bullets are flying'. There are many other less obvious drills though, and I tried to pay close attention to those.
The first I noticed took place between John Lotulelei and one of the linebackers' coaches (not Ken Norton). In this drill, Lotu placed his hand on the coach's hip, following him closely whilst mirroring his steps precisely. The coach chopped his feet, then cut left, away from Lotu, fake-running a pass route as a tight end or slot receiver. This was done in slow motion and Lotu chopped his feet in as close to a unison with his coach as possible, and closed on the route behind him. They then repeated the exercise in full speed, and you could see the technique that was being ingrained in the linebacker - it was a trailing coverage drill, meant to prepare the defender to trail a receiver or tight end, mirroring footsteps (running step for step) - to the point that the receiver or tight end chops their feet to stem their route. The technique was then, for the linebacker, to do the exact same thing, closing over the top and attempting to disrupt the passing lane with an arm or hand. It was pretty interesting to watch.
K.J. Wright mentioned Monday that the Seahawks, under new DC Dan Quinn, will be running a lot more man coverage across the board. It would make sense that the linebackers familiarize themselves with techniques in running man coverages.
"As you can see, we are running a lot of man-to-man coverages, so we are really locking onto guys, making sure we stay tight to them and don't stay back in zones and let them pick us apart," Wright told Bob Condotta. "So [Dan Quinn's] really aggressive with his calls and we are going to be on guys to see who the best defender is.''
The other drill that stood out to me yesterday morning - and there were many, ranging from special teams coverage to corner-safety run fills - was the simple bump-and-run drill for corners. We know that Seattle has one of the best, if not the best, defensive backfields in the NFL (ok, it's obviously the best, who are we kidding). We know that Pete Carroll and John Schneider have said time and again that they draft with the thought in mind that they trust their coaching staff to coach up and develop players. It's partly how they turned fifth-round picks into Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. They turned a CFL All Star into an NFL Pro Bowler. Techniques. Not asking players to do what they can't do. Fundamentals. Repetition. This drill reinforced that thought in me, because watching each and every Seahawks corner run through it, you could see absolutely pinpoint fundamental technique, footwork, hand placement, and importantly, eye discipline at play.
Simple drill - the receiver runs a route - the corner re-routes the receiver outside with inside leverage and a brisk inside hand shiver, trails, then turns to find the ball only after the receiver looks for it. It was like watching robots execute it, because they all ran it almost exactly the same way. Stare at the receiver's face while running step for step, when the receiver looks back, the corner then turns his head and locates the ball, maintaining contact with the downfield arm and/or their back. We've seen Richard Sherman perfect this in games, and I saw, up close, Sherman display this drill technique later in scrimmage time. Muscle memory. Technique. Fundamentals.
-- I saw Will Blackmon, Golden Tate, Arceto Clark, Christine Michael, and Jeremy Lane returning kicks. If I had to wager on it, I'd say the battle will come down to Michael and Lane as the frontrunners, with Lane eventually winning the job. You may have heard Pete Carroll say it from time to time recently in pressers, that Lane is maybe the fastest guy on the team, but I kind of always just figured Carroll was paying him lip service. After one practice of watching Lane return kicks, I can see why Carroll has been saying that. He accelerates faster than just about anyone on the field, and once he gets up to speed (which happens quickly), his gait and posture actually really reminds me of Ted Ginn, Jr. Ginn might go down as a 'bust' because of where he was picked and what he ended up becoming (a return specialist), but he's a damn good return specialist, as Seahawks' fans know all too well.
Lane reminded me of Ginn - steady helmet even running at full speed - smooth cuts rather than the rigid choppy cuts you saw from Leon Washington last year, and he didn't drop/muff any of the kicks I saw on Monday. Of course, he'll have to prove me right in games (starting Thursday), but I could see Lane becoming a dynamic weapon in the return game. He's already proven to be a ballsy gunner on punt/kick coverage teams, but I have the feeling he may win the job returning kicks as well. If anyone is going to beat him out for the job, it might be Michael though, who is also noticeably faster than just about everyone else on the field. Michael did muff one kick during the drill, and he was stripped from behind (by Lane!) on another run drill, so the ball security issue might put him behind.
-- The receivers battle was the main thing I was interested in on Monday. Golden Tate had himself a day - catching one ball on the sideline, while pirouetting and keeping himself inbounds. I believe this was on a pass from Russell Wilson, if memory serves, and the 'hole shot' behind the corner and in front of the safety was a beauty. Tate also caught a bomb downfield (effectively underthrown by Tarvaris) between two defenders, and generally looked like the breakout player we're expecting him to be this year.
Brett Swain got some good pub after practice because he did catch approximately 8-10 passes on the day, but I just couldn't get past two bad doink drops he had as well. The first was on a rollout by Wilson in which Wilson hit him in the back of the endzone - it would have been a fairly difficult catch as Swain was falling down/sliding at the time, but the ball bounced off of his hands strongly. He had another similar episode later as he ran up the seam - Wilson hit him with a well-timed and located beauty about 20 yards downfield, just past the outstretched hands of an unnamed linebacker, and Swain dropped it.
I'm probably biased in my view on Swain's chances, because I'm personally higher on the potential of a couple of other receivers. Let me expand.
Mudshark posted a funny little anecdote in his training camp musings post and I nearly made the comment that we had seen the exact same play, and that I had also been impressed by it. He said -
Rice to Stephen Williams - one-handed catch.
I didn't notice Sidney Rice much but he did run down the sideline towards me (He was running very naturally, by the way, didn't look like his knee(s) bothered him at all.) then he turned and threw a high-arching pass to Williams who stood flat-footed and simply extended his right arm straight upwards and allowed the ball to find it - as if it was magnetically attracted. It was pretty amazing.
Only after reading the title more carefully did my spider senses notice that Mudshark was talking about Sunday and I in fact was in attendance on an entirely different day than Sunday (Monday). So, apparently, Stephen Williams just plays catch with Sidney Rice with one hand while he's nursing a sore neck because I saw the same damn thing as Mudshark and it honestly impressed the hell out of me too.
I remember the first time I ever went to Seahawks training camp - it was 2011 and Mike Williams was just dicking around with some of the other receivers as I crested the berm, and my introduction to the VMAC field was seeing Big Mike just one-hand grab a p-rod of a pass like it was a tennis ball. Obviously, this was impressive. Not many people are equipped to catch flying objects like some NFL receivers and after seeing little Stephen Williams catch several passes with one hand, I can now see why Larry Fitzgerald once called him his eventual successor. I can also say that Williams reminds me of Big Mike Williams a little bit as well - obviously, a skinny version, and a looks-like-Eggs-from-True-Blood version.
Needless to say, as I was a big Big Mike Williams fan, I'm starting to become a big Stephen Williams fan and I really like his potential in this offense. The Seahawks' preliminary depth chart lists him as an X receiver, which makes sense, considering the recurring thing I've heard about him is that he's beaten Brandon Browner off the press downfield a few times (even beating Richard Sherman once, I believe).
Past Williams, who didn't even practice when I was there, I did come away fairly impressed with Chris Harper. He didn't have a ton of catches but in just watching some of his attributes, I think he can find himself a role. On one particular play, he beat a Walter Thurmond press, angled to the inside up the field (a no-no for Thurmond, I believe, as it appeared he wanted to be pushing Harper outside), set up his stem and gave a subtle yet effective push off to get open inside. I don't know who threw him the ball, but it was located well and Harper made the catch.
Phil Bates is a bit of a Harper clone (or visa versa). He's not quite as big, but runs a little bit like Golden Tate (just his gait and feet remind me of Tate) and has the physicality to beat press a lot like Harper. He caught a deep bomb down the sideline late in the 11-on-11 drills and laid out to do so, which drew a lot of cheers from the crowd.
These two guys bring that Alquan Boldin toughness factor to the offense and it will be interesting to see if Seattle goes with one or both of Harper and Bates on their final roster in lieu of some of the smaller, speedier guys. I don't know exactly what Seattle wants for that 5th and 6th spot, but I know that Harper and Bates bring an size/speed intimidation factor to special teams, at the very worst. The Seahawks want to beat you up, and that's where Harper/Bates come in. I am sure they want to be faster than you too - so that's where some of the smaller/speedier guys can make their mark - separation. It's a tossup as to what characteristics win out.
- Jermaine Kearse had a quiet day. I didn't really notice him. Same with Doug Baldwin. Sidney Rice practices, but didn't do a ton.
- Marshawn Lynch broke one run out where he looked FAST. Like, faster than he's looked in a Seahawks uniform. I don't know if it was my imagination, but that was the impression I got. Maybe Lynch has improved his speed over the offseason?
- Jameson Konz played a little H-back. I saw him at one point arranged right next to Russell Wilson prior to the shotgun snap. That was literally the only time I noticed him though.
- Cooper Helfet looked much faster than Sean McGrath. I'm assuming McGrath has the edge in blocking, but don't count Helfet out. I believe he scored a touchdown in 7-on-7 - or at least had a very long, nice reception.
- Russell Wilson didn't really seem to get a ton of snaps. His play was average. I wasn't wowed at any time, but I also wasn't disappointed. It was just kind of a boring day for Russ. It seemed like Brady Quinn and Tarvaris Jackson got a ton of reps. They were also very boring to watch, but for different reasons.
- Spencer Ware played both running back and fullback during this practice. He looks quick and shifty. That's about all I can say at this point. No hitting, no pads, kind of tough to gauge. Derrick Coleman looks good too - and he's a guy that could factor in to the equation if Robert Turbin's injury doesn't start healing up soon.
Even More Notes...
Walter Thurmond had a great day. He has insanely long arms - he used them to bat away a Russell Wilson deep bomb that was about to land in Golden Tate's breadbasket down the sideline. Golden showed frustration at first, then pointed to Thurmond as if to say "you got me, you sonofabitch". I'm not even going to say it, but you know what I'm thinking (Oh boy if Thurmond can stay healthy this is going to be fun to watch).
DeShawn Shead had a nice play in zone coverage from the free safety spot to break up a Russell Wilson pass intended for Doug Baldwin, I believe. Shead certainly looks the part at 220 pounds, and is smooth enough of an athlete to have been challenging at corner last year, so color me intrigued.