I went out to Seahawks training camp this afternoon so I wanted to share a quick few notes. Regrettably, I won't get into as much detail as I did with my prior camp reports, because frankly, it was much more difficult to see what was going on today as the team practiced on the far field, closest to the water. I had some binoculars so I had two options: one - follow one player for the entirety of a play in unsteady Admiral Nelson through a telescope fashion and have no idea what happened with the other 21 guys, or two - squint at the big picture, try and see through and over the players standing around on the sideline obstructing my clear view, and do my best to get a vague idea of the schemes and personnel involved in a vain attempt to provide even a little bit of insight into what the hell was going on way over there. I felt like I was watching a little kids' soccer game that was going on three fields over where all the children are just crammed together around the ball with coaches yelling for everyone to spread out and play a position. Ok, I'm exaggerating, but it was a bit frustrating not to be able to get a better view of the action. With that said -- here are my notes!
- Because I know you're wondering, Russell Wilson looked like the best quarterback out there today. It just seems striking to me how much more physically talented he appears than Matt Flynn and even Tarvaris Jackson. His throws look easy, he moves around well behind the line, stepping up into the pocket, has great balance, and of course looks very quick when he decides to tuck the ball and run it, though I still think that might happen a little too often. Just from a physical standpoint, and I realize this is not a novel observation, but Russ just looks like far and away the best pure talent of the group.
That said, as Brian Nemhauser pointed out, Matt Flynn did get the majority of reps with the offense today - 35 - to WIlson's 22 and Jackson's 15. Flynn looked good at times, throwing confidently and in rhythm on one particular series that I remember, but in what was more of a theme for the day, the momentum would stall. Most of the day, he, and by extension, the offense, just looked sluggish. Too many incompletions, a few throwaways, one interception to Brandon Browner that I believe was called back on a defensive penalty. The team ran almost exclusively in red-zone drills, and the defense was not giving up much.
Even though they were in full pads today, it's tough to glean too much from what the defensive line is doing from play to play, but the linebackers and defensive backs covered very well in these passing drills and I like that they tightened things up as the offense got closer to the endzone. In the full-team scrimmages, I don't think the offense accomplished much in terms of getting into the endzone.
- Phil Bates showed up the most to me in the receivers drills. Prior to scrimmaging with the defense, the receivers and corners did some one-on-one route running and I believe at one point that Bates scored three straight touchdowns on varying routes (they were doing all red-zone style throws - back shoulder throws, fades, post-corners). He just looks natural running routes, and though I might be the only one that ever says this, I just think that his running gait looks a little bit similar to that of Leon Washington. Always balanced, can bounce off contact, explosive and jerky. Anyway, if there's going to be a 'surprise' addition to the 53-man roster this season, I'd put my money on Bates.
- I watched Kris Durham closely during these drills today too because of all the speculation lately on his dwindling chances to make the team, and I thought he had a strong day. On one particular play during the red-zone receiver/corner drills, he beat Jeremy Lane's press and got to the inside (both no-no's I think, in this case, for Lane), headfaked to the corner and ran a slant for a nice gain. It looked smooth and natural and my sense is that he's really fighting right now after some big drops earlier in the week. The Hawks gave him looks in the slot too (or, at least, he ended up in 'the slot' after a running back motioned to the wing) and threw a few of the "Sidney Rice" style screen passes that we saw a lot of last year. The thing about Durham that I keep coming back to is that he does have experience on both outside and in the slot from his days at Georgia, so I don't think the team has him pigeonholed into that X-spot or nothing. He still has what they liked from him when they drafted him -- a huge catch radius, agility, speed, and versatility. So, we'll see.
- I didn't see much from Deon Butler, Ricardo Lockette or Ben Obomanu today. Course, I didn't see a whole lot of completions from the offense in general, but these three didn't impress particularly in the individual drills either. Braylon Edwards certainly looks the part - he's big and smooth - but he still looks like he could knock a little rust off before he's up to full speed and able to show his true value as a big, physical outside receiver and redzone threat. He just wasn't super noticeable today.
- Again, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate looked very good. Smooth, explosive, steady - both also looked really elusive after the catch - you'll see them catch a ball and change direction on a dime with their back still to the defense - and I think this is going to show up this season.
- Kellen Winslow practiced today and he too just looks like a pro. He's smooth in and out of his cuts and catches everything thrown his way. In general, the Seahawks have been doing a lot of really interesting things with their tight end group, which included a lot of "Jacob Tamme/Dallas Clark" style tight ending from lookalikes Sean McGrath and Cooper Helfet in particular -- flexing them to the outside and into the backfield as H-backs - using motion, etc. I get the sense that "12" and "22" personnel (two tight end groupings) will be used a lot but it's not always going to look like a tight-set heavy I-formation.
At times, it almost looks like the Seahawks are running a spread offense (FLYNN FLYNN FLYNN) because you'll see two tight ends split out to the same side on the wing, or the running backs motioning to the wing, or tight ends split out off the line on each side, or things of that nature, and though you're looking at "22" personnel, it's a five-wide formation. I'm very excited to see how this offense evolves in 2012 with the changing and improving talent on that side of the ball and as defenses react and substitute based on Seattle's personnel.
- Along the same lines, one underrated camp battle that I can see becoming interesting is the Michael Robinson versus Kregg Lumpkin fight for fullback duties. This is a theory I've been formulating for a little while but it showed up a bit today, as the Seahawks used Lumpkin in the passing game on several occasions. At 5'11, 235 or 240, he's roughly the same size as Michael Robinson but his one main talent is in catching passes (he had a 16.7% DVOA, 79 DYAR last year with the Bucs, 41 catches for 291 yards and 5.5 yards after the catch on average, according to the Football Outsiders' Almanac. He caught 77% of the passes that went his way and though I realize almost all of them were on dumpoffs and checkdowns, there is no arguing that he was very dependable in that role.
I noticed this while scouting Kellen Winslow, but from time to time the Bucs would also motion Lumpkin into the slot to run a quick under route as well and though he doesn't offer much in the way of carrying the ball (neither does Robinson), he's shown soft hands and an ability to run routes and get to the right spot, or the open spot, which is more and more important to NFL offenses at the FB position these days (just look at Marcel Reece's role in Tom Cable's offense with the Raiders). Now, I'm not saying that Lumpkin will beat out Michael Robinson as the team's fullback nor am I saying he's Marcel Reece -- and I have no real idea on how highly the Seahawks value Robinson's leadership and I know that he made huge improvements in his lead blocking, but the fact of the matter is that the Seahawks could save $2 million dollars of cap space by going with Lumpkin over Mike. Just something to consider for a team that you know wants to roll over cap room.
Here's one example of a play later in the year in which the Seahawks utilized their fullback in the passing game, and this was Mike Robinson's only touchdown on the year. Seahawks were actually in 23 personnel, two backs and three tight ends, and used play action after Anthony McCoy motioned to the formation left. Mike slipped down into the flats on a short wheel route and was wide open.
- I realize that I've talked very little about the defense this whole time and the fact of the matter is, I've been watching the offense a lot more closely because there is much more concern there. The defense, more or less, has dominated every one of the three practices I've been to, and there is a lot to be optimistic about. One note that I would share is that in my close watch of the receivers today and over the weekend, I would have to predict that there are few players in the NFL right now that can put as physical of a jam on a receiver as Brandon Browner. He's literally knocked several guys on their asses in drills and in 11-on-11 and not only does his strong jam disrupt the route in terms of location of the receiver, it severely throws off the timing if that receiver cannot get past him in one or two steps. Now, obviously, he'll get burned at times if the receiver does get a clean release, so that's one thing he must improve on this year. Honestly, though Browner may be the defense's weakest link, he's also going to take receivers completely out of play designs on many occasions.
- Some defensive sleepers that I've been trying to keep an eye on though, are Coye Francies, Deshawn Shead, and Kyle Knox. Francies has made a few very nice plays on deep passes in the practices I've seen and has the size/speed ratio that really intrigues. I heard Rob Rang talk about Francies on last weekend's Chalk Talk radio show and Rang noted he was very high on the San Jose State product when he was coming out of college in 2009. He's got a shot for the roster, I think. Shead just really looks the part as a core special teamer (dude is big and fast) that can come on in relief as a press corner. He has been very physical at the line the times I've keyed in on him in drills.
The only real analysis I can bring on Kyle Knox is that he just looks the part as possible backup middle linebacker core special teamer. It's tough to evaluate linebackers when real hitting and tackling isn't allowed, but Knox just looks like a carbon copy of Bobby Wagner. Both players are 6'0, 230/240, with absurdly long arms and big hands. Wagner has the edge in speed, obviously, but Knox tested very well in short-area burst (3-cone, short shuttle) and explosiveness (vert/broad jump), so as a long-shot back of the roster or practice squad candidate, he should give Mike Morgans and Allen Bradfords, and the Heath Farwells and Matt McCoys someone to compete with.