Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the number of players a team can bring to camp has been expanded to 90, a change no doubt welcomed by head coach Pete Carroll. Since taking over captaincy of the good ship Seahawk, Carroll has shuffled through his inherited roster like an over-caffeinated blackjack dealer, and the roster enlargement has allowed he and general manager John Schneider to bring even more potential players into the competition arena.
On Tuesday, that 90 must be trimmed to 80, and for ten hopefuls, the callousness of the NFL will be made quite clear. I'm not going to try and predict the ten players who will be let go tomorrow, mostly because anyone who is cut loose then wasn't going to make the final* 53 anyhow. Instead, I'm going to use it as an opportunity to predict the 53-man squad that Seattle will take into opening day in San Francisco.
*"Final" is not the most accurate word, per say. It is, however, a workable term for all intents and purposes related to this post (and is also alliterative if read out loud. I'm all about alliteration).
Any time an article like this is written, it involves a certain amount of risk on the part of the prognosticator. Roster management is not a science, and the number of players kept at each position vacillates from year to year depending on scheme, salary, and personnel. The 2011 Seahawks are no different, as the depth charts portend to be as volatile as can be. With that in mind, remember that the following predictions are subjective and neither my charming personality or gigantic biceps are indicative of my roster acumen.
Of course, these projections are subject to change should someone get hurt or traded. (Author's note: This was written pre-Kelly Jennings trade)
Quarterback (3) -- IN: Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Josh Portis OUT: No one
~ Seattle has only considered the above trio as potential QBs and, barring injury, aren't likely to bring anyone new in to compete for a roster spot (although I still wish Nate Davis was given a chance). This will be the most boring positional group in the article, which is a nice change.
Running Back (4) -- IN: Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, Justin Forsett, Michael Robinson OUT: Dorson Boyce, Thomas Clayton, Vai Taua
~ I'd love to see Tommy Guns make this team, but with three proven halfbacks already fighting for touches, there's just no room for him. Robinson's versatility and knowledge of the system make him the de facto fullback, although I'm a little disappointed Seattle didn't bring in a bruising lead blocker to challenge for that spot. JS/PC have had Taua on a yo-yo throughout camp, which doesn't bode well for him sticking around, although I see him surviving tomorrow's chop. Dorson Boyce doesn't even sound like a real person.
Wide Receiver (6) -- IN: Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, Golden Tate, Ben Obomanu, Kris Durham, Doug Baldwin OUT: Chris Carter, Isaiah Stanbeck, Ricardo Lockette, Brandon Smith, Patrick Williams PUP: Deon Butler
~ Rice and Williams are no brainers, and frankly so are Tate and Obamanu. There has been a lot of rabble-rousing going on regarding the cutability of Tate, but I chalk that up as over-reaction to pre-season performance. Since that statement is likely to cause some commotion in the comments section, I'll take a minute to explain why I feel this way. While Golden has yet to approach his considerable potential, he is still a sizable investment hand-picked by the current front office. He is an extremely raw athlete who is still learning the nuances of his position, and attempting to do that at the highest conceivable level.
I'll admit that Tate seems to be in or around Carroll's doghouse, but there just isn't anyone on the outside of this group with the play-making potential that Tate possesses and there's no visible benefit to cutting him outright. Baldwin is the surprise of this group and his performance thus far seems to have solidified his spot on the roster. He and the recently extended Obomanu threaten to take playing time away from Tate, to be sure, but again, aren't likely to eliminate him completely.
Durham hasn't made much of a splash yet, but he seems to be doing everything that's been asked of him and offers the size and strength that Carroll values so highly. Stanbeck is a fan favorite with great athleticism, but is in the unenviable position of of fighting for a roster spot on a team that doesn't need him. I expect him to be snatched up by someone else. Lockette's athleticism will keep him in the fold on the practice squad, I would think, but he has yet to show legitimate receiving skills to compliment his fantastic straight-line speed.
Tight End (4) -- IN: Zach Miller, John Carlson, Anthony McCoy, Dominique Byrd OUT: Jameson Konz*, Ryan Travis PUP: Cameron Morrah
~ I'll be honest, I'd really like to see Seattle move forward with just three TEs, as that would open up a spot for an extra offensive lineman or defensive back, but Carroll's penchant for two-TE sets seems to necessitate a fourth. In theory, Miller and Carlson provide a quandary for opposing coverage schemes, and that alone is a benefit for the 'Hawks, but it remains to be seen if the O-line can provide enough protection for that to matter. McCoy is a guy that I really like, and he seems much more comfortable this year than last. Byrd has been very good this pre-season, and it's hard to make a case against including him on the 53-man roster. Also, I won't be shocked if Schneider works out a trade involving Carlson.
*Konz has been seeing time as a defensive end.
Offensive Line (9) -- IN: James Carpenter, John Moffitt, Max Unger, Robert Gallery, Russell Okung, Tyler Polumbus, Paul McQuistan, Mike Gibson, Paul Fanaika OUT: William Robinson, Zach Hurd, Brent Osborne, Lemuel Jeanpierre, Breno Giacomini (Giacomini remains in the running for the Most Italian Name Ever award)
~ The O-line is a positional group that has seen a lot of variation in the number of guys carried. Last season, the Seahawks kept 11 OLs, as injuries haunted the unit like the memory of a gravely sinful past. I'd like to see Seattle keep ten this year, but I don't really see an NFL-quality tenth OL on the current roster. The offensive line has been, well, offensive through three games and their collective inability to impose any sort of will on the opposition has kept us from seeing how good the rest of the offense is.
The rose amongst the thorns, however, is that this is a group (the starters, at least) that has been brought together with the next few years in mind. Okung, Gallery, Unger, Moffitt, and Carpenter are under contract for an average of 3.5 years, and I'd be willing to bet that Seattle is the only team that can make that claim. This season will see some ugly performances by the hogs, to be sure, but it's important to remember that this is a brand new group with the potential to grow and mature together. It's rare that a team can boast that sort of solidarity up front.
A lot of people be hating on Polumbus right now, and I'm not even going to defend him, other than to say that he is not being kept to be a starting tackle or guard. Rather, TP provides versatility to fill in somewhat competently at four of the five OL positions, and there is value in that. McQuistan and Gibson have shown enough to earn a spot on this team, at least, while I'll openly admit that Fanaika looks fairly interchangeable with Robinson or Giacomini.
Defensive Line (9) --- IN: Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Jimmy Wilkerson, Junior Siavii, Alan Branch, Pep Livingston, Dexter Davis OUT: Pierre Allen, Maurice Fountain, Jameson Konz, David Howard, Teryl White, AJ Schable, Jay Alford PUP: Colin Cole
~ There is a lot to be gained by frequently rotating defensive lineman in and out of the lineup. Since the O-line remains fairly static throughout the game, bringing in fresh bodies to attack can give the defense an edge. Considering how much trouble Seattle has creating pressure without blitzing, they'll take every edge they can get, which is why I see them keeping nine D-linemen. Last year, Brock and Clemons showed some ability to harass opposing QBs off the end, and Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane can clog up a running game like a couple of stubborn bulls.
Whether all of that comes together remains to be seen, but regardless, those four are absolute locks for roster spots. The five depth positions are fiercely contested, but new deals for Siavii and Branch ensure their safety and Wilkerson has looked borderline explosive off the ball. Livingston and Davis are hunches (I originally had Fountain making it until a conversation with Danny reminded me that he's a 28 year-old rookie), based on my personal observations, but both are pretty expendable as well, I would imagine. Konz is an athlete without a position right now, and as much as I'd love to see him stick, I just don't see it happening.
Linebackers (6) -- IN: Leroy Hill, David Hawthorne, Aaron Curry, KJ Wright, David Vobora, Malcolm Smith OUT: Michael Morgan, Matt McCoy, Michael Johnson, Neal Howey
~ The first five members of this group seem to be locks, and to be honest, I could see Seattle opening up with only five LBs. However, Smith has been excellent so far and deserves a spot on the roster, if not meaningful playing time. McCoy is the heart-breaker here, as he provides sensational special teams coverage as well as linebacking versatility, but the acquisition of metric-sweetheart Vobora makes him expendable. I see him catching on elsewhere, however. As far as the regular rotation guys go, LB could prove to be a strength of the defense.
Even with Lofa Tatupu's departure, Seattle has a very high-ceiling collection of tacklers backing up the D-line. Hill's felonious past proved to be a blessing in disguise for the 'Hawks (I'm speaking purely in football terms, so don't get worked up), as Seattle was able to re-acquire him for a lot less money than his skills alone would demand. Curry, while restructured, is still the guy that was considered among the safest picks of the 2009 draft and if he can just figure out how to fit the last piece into the jigsaw puzzle, could be a heck of a player.
I love Hawthorne; the Heater is a missile hell-bent on making everybody regret everything and he is an absolutely sadistic joy to watch when he gets the ball-carrier in his sights. Wright has been arguably the most pleasant surprise of all the rookies, as his colossal frame hasn't hindered his nose for the football. In a few years, I could easily see Wright being looked back on as the steal of our draft. Vobora is custom-fit for playing OLB in a 4-3 scheme and I see him as a significant under-the-radar contributor this year. Morgan looks like the ideal linebacker on paper, but his inconsistent tackling / assignment-awareness will most likely relegate him to the practice squad until / if he gets his shit together from play to play. I'm not writing him off yet.
Cornerbacks (5) -- IN: Marcus Trufant, Walter Thurmond III, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Byron Maxwell OUT: Kelly Jennings, Kennard Cox, Jesse Hoffman, Ron Parker PUP: Roy Lewis
~ Let me preface this by saying that I think that the constant bemoaning of Kelly Jennings is played out. Not quite Golden-Tate-doughnut-jokes played out, but overdone enough that I just roll my eyes whenever someone says that Jennings sucks. In my first draft of this article, I had Jennings making the squad because of his experience and athleticism, but I reneged after considering that JS/PC have no built-in loyalty to him and that he lacks the prototypical size that Carroll covets in his CBs. As Thomas reported last night, Trufant's contract encountered the cold, unforgiving blade of the current FO, effectively turning this season into a high-stakes contract year for the Truf.
If Marcus is truly healthy, I fully expect him to be the veteran leader this young group requires him to be. I believe that Trufant can still be a league-average #1 CB, and never underestimate the value of a league-average #1 anything in the NFL. Furthermore, I think WT3 is totally capable of negating big contributions from opposing #2 WRs as long as he stays healthy. Dude's got the quicks and instincts of a 2nd or 3rd round draftee and could be one of the better investments this team has made if he can remain uninjured. Sherman, by all accounts, is a workout junkie bent on proving that he can hang, and I see him making at least a couple of noteworthy plays this season.
Perhaps the biggest curiosity of the 90 guys invited to Seahawks Camp has been Browner, who looks like a WR that accidentally lined up on defense when he's out there. Still, his footwork has been clean and his wingspan must be a nightmare for opposing receivers when the ball is in the air. I have to think that Carroll gets a bit giddy when he sees his 6'4" CFL corner showing the agility of a 5'11" NFL cover man. As far as Lewis is concerned, I think that his return will mean the automatic removal of someone in the current secondary.
Safety (4) -- IN: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Josh Pinkard, Atari Bigby OUT: Mark LeGree, , Ricky Thenarse
~ No positional group will see the elimination of more talent than safety. This was far and away the most difficult list to decide on for me, as I see tremendous potential in Johnson and Field Gulls sweet`heart LeGree. It's almost too cruel that my projected roster only includes four safeties, but with the coaching staff's confidence in Pinkard to play the nickel, I just don't see room for Shaft LeGree or Johnson starting this season on the 53-man. That said, my guess is that both will be kept on the practice squad and will be one play away from snagging a game-day spot.
We all know and appreciate what we have in Thomas, and from everything I've heard, Chancellor has made enormous strides as a strong safety in the past year. While Pinkard definitely has a sense for forcing the issue, which is a great asset, I'd like to see him shore up his tackling a bit. Bigby is the guy I'm not totally sold on in this group. I get that he has experience, and that Schneider is familiar with him from his time in Green Bay, but when i watch him play, I see an exaggerated version of Jordan Babineaux -- a guy so eager to make the big hit or pick that he's often out of position to do either. Still, if LeGree or Johnson were doing enough in the coaches' eyes to justify a roster spot, they wouldn't have bothered bringing Bigby in in the first place.
While I'm here, let me just say that the most underrated aspect of the lockout is the stacking of the deck against late-round draft picks. Early-rounders are enough of an investment that they are generally granted clemency, but later-round picks and UDFAs are the ones most hurt by the lack of OTAs and early access to playbooks. It is my genuine hope that the borderline guys get a chance to prove themselves with increased exposure and education throughout the season.
Kicker (1) -- IN: Jeff Reed. OUT: No one who's still in camp.
~ I might have said this here before, but Seahawks fan Jacson is dismayed that Jeff Reed is Seattle's kicker; Seahawks writer Jacson, however, has found his muse.
Punter (1) -- IN: Jon Ryan OUT: John Gold
~ They're punters. Ryan's good. As long as he's good, no need to sweat it.
Long Snapper (1) -- IN: Clint Gresham OUT: No one
~ Long-snapper is the one position that makes you wish another positional player was good enough to handle it. Long snapper is akin to being a referee, in that you're never noticed unless you screw up. From what I can tell, Gresham doesn't screw up much, ergo, he gets an NFL paycheck.
Practice Squad (8) -- IN: LeGree, Johnson, Morgan, Hurd, Lockette, Taua, Osborne, Parker OUT: Everyone else