With the 2014 training camp coming to a close, the Seattle Seahawks strapped up and went full pads Saturday afternoon, giving those in attendance a glimpse of what to look for as the team transitions into the preseason. The intensity, always high at 'Hawks camp, was further buoyed by perfect weather and fighter jet flyovers. The team started out with positional drills and one-on-ones, so I will too. I was seated on the berm (a HUGE thank you to David Thornton for the passes), which granted me a much better view of the defense than of the offense and as I don't want to pass along poorly viewed info, I'll stick with those I saw up front during the drill sessions.
The defensive line unit is really aggressive, which we already knew, but to see that aggression unleashed, even in simple blocking sled drills, is quite a thing to behold. The explosion that guys like Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Cliff Avril, et al can generate is amazing, given how little space they have to generate it. And this wasn't the redirection of accelerated force that highlights "skill position" explosion, this was carnal mass launched from a state of inertia like bears waking up to find their offspring in danger. No positional group had a better scrimmage than the D-line, but we'll get to that later.
The linebackers worked on pretty basic agility drills. A lot of the starting LBs sat out, giving us a great chance to check out some of the freaky athletes laying beneath the surface of the presumed first team. The guy I was most curious to see was Brock Coyle, a relative unknown whose name has found its way into the mouths of the coaches a fairly frequently this summer. He is very smooth in the way he changes direction which is impressive given that he plays high, more like KJ Wright than Bobby Wagner.
Jackson Jeffcoat was working with the LBs and he attacked the drills with the fervency of a kid who just got home from trick-or-treating would his bag of candy. The thing about Jeffcoat, however, is that he's got a lot of moving parts and while he's an impressive athlete, he was pretty loose getting in and out of his breaks. My favorite guy from the group on Saturday, however, was Horace Miller, a "SPARQgawd", as Davis put it. He's another guy I'll come back to in a moment.
The DBs just worked on some basic ball-skills stuff without anything too eye-popping. I went to one of these practices a couple years ago and the thing that stood out to me then is the same thing that stood out to me on Saturday: Earl Thomas just moves differently. I mean, this was a field dripping with elite athleticism and you could still pick Thomas out in an instant, even with his jersey tucked up under his shoulder pads too far to see his jersey number. It's like watching a Doberman in a pack of Labradors.
With the various drills spread out over three full-size football fields, and without the benefit of replay screens, it's impossible to watch more than one battle at a time and it was immediately apparent which ones were the most interesting. Where line drills can be difficult to make out from a perpendicular viewpoint, WR-vs-DB battles shine. Paul Richardson, who sat out the scrimmage, had a couple of nice catches against Byron Maxwell who gave him way more room than any other receiver enjoyed.
Richardson took advantage of it by twice closing the gap on Maxwell enough to force the DB's hips to commit one way or another and since hips don't lie, he broke off his route the moment Maxwell did so, catching the ball cleanly along the sideline between 10-15 yards. If you ever go back and watch Richardson's college highlights, you're likely to notice not only the massive acreage he's granted by opposing players but by how quickly he closes those gaps. It's arguably his best asset as a receiver and it appears to be a skill that will translate to the NFL.
No other battles leaped out at me save one- the absolute marquee match-up of this, or perhaps any other, training camp; I'm talking Percy Harvin v. Earl Thomas. If you watched the SportsCenter special on 'Hawks training camp this week, you saw the two of them go at it, moving at a different pace than the world around them -- Neo and Agent Smith unbound by the rules that govern the rest of us. Well, the two of them only matched up twice during the drills with one of them resulting in a nondescript incompletion and the other dropping my jaw through the grass. As Harvin settled into his starting position, Thomas brazenly lined up less than five yards away.
It's the first tactical error I can remember seeing Thomas make. Percy exploded out of his stance like a cheetah that's spotted his prey, as soon as he got to Thomas, he stepped left and then crossed over all in one fluid motion -- two steps when it would've taken anyone else four -- and he was gone. It wasn't that Thomas got juked badly, it was that no one, not even the best defensive back in the world, can stay with Olympic speed that doesn't have to break down in order to change direction. By the time Percy had gone 15 yards, Earl was five yards behind him. Harvin caught the post route a Cadillac-length ahead of Thomas and coasted into the endzone.
QBs - After the horn blew, the defense and offense coagulated into two separate groups and the scrimmage commenced. With a number of presumed starters sitting out, it was sometimes difficult to make out which units were "first team" but it appeared that Terrelle Pryor got the majority of the snaps against the #1 defense while Russell Wilson and BJ Daniels took turns against the backups. I only saw Tarvaris Jackson a little bit today, maybe just a drive or two; my guess is that Jackson is a known commodity to Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell whereas Pryor is not. Throwing him in against the top defensive unit was probably the coaches wanting to see more of Pryor against high level competition.
Pryor, for his part, looked pretty good. I didn't see anything from him that made me catch my breath, but he seemed willing to go through his reads even in collapsing pockets and while his throwing motion is long, he generated more good throws than bad. He kind of throws like a catapult, now that I think about it, or, perhaps more accurately, like the 1:25 mark of this. He's an impressive looking dude, to be sure, and he showed his well-hailed speed on a couple of scrambles, I just don't see him running this offense at full speed with any success as long as it takes him that long to get through his throwing motion. He was very accurate when he had the luxury of stepping into his throws but was erratic when he didn't.
Wilson was his usual self, his superfluous energy bubbling just beneath his beautiful maple skin as he bounced around the field like my pug when he knows he's about to go for a walk. He delivered almost all of his passes effortlessly, spreading his passes around the entire route tree. His best throw was a 35-yard redline dart to Harvin in close coverage, a toss that Percy could have caught with his eyes closed given the teacup accuracy on the ball.
Wilson's best play of the day was also, paradoxically, his worst. With an and-goal from the opposing 10-yard line, Wilson stepped up into a pocket unchecked by the second level of the defense. Wilson could have somersaulted in for a TD before anyone touched him but he curiously chose to try and thread a pass into the back of the endzone, aiming for a thrice-covered receiver running a back-line drag.
His pass was deflected and batted high in the air. It was then that Russell did something I've never seen before: he sprinted the nearly 20 yards between him and the pack of DBs anxiously waiting to pick off the fluttering football like a bunch of cats watching you open a can of food. As the group of defensive backs jumped for the ball, Wilson flung himself into the fray in a desperate attempt to break up the interception. In fucking August.
It was not the effort of a guy who had just stepped through the door of stardom and who is one season away from a monster pay-raise, it was the effort of a scrappy, undersized QB prospect bent on proving his worth in the NFL. It was the effort of a guy who wanted to win more than anything else, even a summertime practice. The pass still got picked off though.
BJ Daniels is a pretty decent looking QB himself and would probably earn a regular paycheck on a number of teams but I just don't see how he's anything more than a practice squad guy with this roster. He is agile and accurate, but it seems that he has to lean into second- and third-level throws and that most likely won't cut it on a team devoted to winning at the redline.
RBs - If you read anything I wrote last year, or have watched any of the Hangouts I've done with Kenneth, you know that I'm a huge Christine Michael fan. I think he has superstar potential and I think we'll get to start seeing that this season. Even so, Robert Turbin was the best back on the field Saturday. Turbin has always been an impressive straight-line runner and can be very dangerous when given space but he's been hampered by a proclivity for getting tackled around his feet and struggling to move laterally in confined space. Not this day.
He received the majority of the touches during the scrimmage and ran decisively and with a lower pad level than I've seen from him to this point. Turbin broke off a couple of sharp second-level runs, including a nifty 25-yard scamper on a read-option play that required him to beat the linebacker to his angle, which he did with seeming ease. He added a very good catch on a wheel route with coverage all over him, too. He had his share of short runs and was caught for a big loss when a couple of guys came through untouched, but overall he had a great day.
Michael didn't see very many touches but even in small doses the kid still wows you. Nothing from him that would make the highlight reel during this practice but he moves around the field like a McLaren in first gear, ready to open up the engine and throttle past you in a blink. Given the coaching staff's very public support of Michael this summer, I'm curious to know why Turbin got such a big share. Not that I didn't mind seeing it, I just wonder if it's indicative of the current depth chart.
Spencer Ware is in full tailback mode this year. He runs really aggressively and absolutely does not shy away from contact. Looked every bit as good as he could've, given that his unit's O-line got completely scorched on almost every play.
Demitrius Bronson is kind of a badass too. He had a pass go just beyond his reach on a circle route when Earl Thomas blew him up. It wasn't just a little extra contact on a hot day, it was a midseason, attitude adjusting layout that left Bronson sprawled on the turf with Thomas standing over him and beating his own chest like King Kong. A few plays later, Bronson ran through the whistle on a short carry and aimed straight for Thomas, putting his shoulder directly into the sternum of Seattle's All-Pro safety.
I didn't see much worth noting from either Kiero Small or Derrick Coleman but I think a large part of that is due to the team not running many plays for the fullbacks as well as the fact that fullback assignments are hard to pay attention to when trying to keep track of everything else in a live play.
WRs/TEs - I was really interested in seeing Kevin Norwood but he was a DNP so I guess that will have to wait. With Richardson out and Baldwin playing only a few snaps, it left the bulk of the WR workload to Harvin, Jermaine Kearse, Kevin Smith, Ricardo Lockette, and Phil Bates. Kearse had a couple of short catches, Smith had a couple of long catches, and Phil Bates won his battles more often than not, including a deep sideline grab.
Lockette is a personal favorite of mine and I know the field-position-obsessed coaching staff love his abilities as a gunner, but as a pure receiver I think Bates is better. That's going to be one of the most interesting roster battles to watch over the next month. Collectively, the receivers looked pretty good, but it was difficult to judge them due to the fact that route-timing was consistently thrown off by a pass rush that dominated almost every snap.
Zach Miller had a couple of nice catches in that soft spot behind the linebackers he likes so much. He runs like he's knee-deep in gravy. Luke Willson, on the other hand, can really get going when he has the space. He got loose a couple of times but his QBs were just a hair off on both occasions. RaShaun Allen is an enormous target but he moves like like an 8-bit player on a 64-bit gaming system. I hope he smooths that out, cuz he's a monster.
Percy Harvin is made from different parts than everyone else. Alien parts, probably.
OL - Not good. I'll admit to two things right off the top: 1. from my vantage point (perpendicular to the flow of the game), judgments on line play are almost strictly outcome-based as I lacked the view to see how cohesive or assignment-correct they were and 2. I'm not an master of O-line play.
Still, going off what I could see, the defensive line spent the entire afternoon eating the O-line's lunch. Justin Britt started at right tackle with the first team and was okay but left practice halfway through with a reported twinge in his shoulder. Eric Winston took his place and was mostly good. There wasn't a lot of pressure up the middle (aside from a couple of blitzes that got home) so I take that to mean that Unger held his own pretty well but again, tough to tell from where I sat.
Everything else looked terrible. Granted, Russell Okung and James Carpenter were out but by and large, the O-line spent far too much time chasing the guys they were supposed to block and not nearly enough time engaging them. It's absolutely worth noting something that @_BVM (who is a must-follow if you're on Twitter) said: "OL is always going to start slow. Can't cut-block in camp. Guys are gonna need more snaps to get up to speed." That being said, I'd still liked to have seen them win a few more battles than they did. I even noticed QBs taking five-step drops out of the shotgun, presumably to give receivers time to finish their routes before the pass rush got home.
Also, Michael Bowie is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. The team has let him go, making Britt and Winston very important men.
DL - Awesome. Michael Bennett was the best defensive player on the field on Saturday. Blew past everyone who tried to block him all day. One of his two sacks on a three-step drop. He danced every time. Cliff Avril is no less impressive. Raw, uncut edge speed. When those two had eaten their fill, Benson Mayowa came in and went bonkers. I swear he didn't move like this last year. I'm really excited about him in 2014. Brandon Mebane, Kevin Williams, Tony McDaniel, and Jordan Hill were stout but I'll cop to not being able to see the interior linemen's individual efforts very clearly for the reasons stated above. Still, the post-snap line was consistently established half a yard to a yard behind the LOS.
LBs - Malcolm Smith, Bobby Wagner, and Bruce Irvin were all spectators which, as I mentioned before, gave some of the other guys a chance to show out. KJ did his thing, namely be exactly where he's supposed to and mirroring his man in coverage. Coyle moves really well and never seemed like he was guessing but I don't remember any wow-moments from him. No matter, I'm sure they're coming.
My main dude was the aforementioned Horace Miller. He was everywhere. I can't even remember how many times I said "who was that?" only to see that it was #47. He broke up passes in the deep middle, he made open-field tackles, he caught Percy muhfuggin' Harvin from behind on a lightning sweep. His swagger is so Seahawkian, too. Guy is a beast and he has come to terms with it. Really really excited to watch more of him. Not sure there will be a place on the 53 for Miller but I'm gonna enjoy every play he makes until then.
DBs - I haven't even mentioned Richard Sherman today. I'm glad that guy is such a self-motivator because he's so good that he'd get bored otherwise. I tried to keep an eye on him whenever he was out there and all he did was the same shit he always does. he got in his man's hip pocket and essentially ran his route for him. Having a guy like that in camp might be something of a blessing/curse situation.
It's a blessing for all the obvious reasons but he completely erases anyone who runs a route against him*. It'd be one thing if he was merely a good cornerback because then your young receivers could show whether they could get loose or not. But Richard Sherman is not a good cornerback, he's the best cornerback and when Pro Bowlers can't shake him, Phil Bates or who(m)ever ain't gonna either (still love you Phil).
*Never saw him line up against Harvin, though. Would love to see how that would go down.
Earl never stopped talking. He was turned up all day long. Pretty rad to watch. He doesn't play defense so much as he stalks prey. Maxwell looked sharp but no one's worried about him anyway. He will continue to be a super solid CB in this league. The DBs I really like are DeShawn Shead and Jeron Johnson. Shead is prototypically Carrollian in his size and speed but it's his CB/S versatility that makes him really valuable. Johnson was bodying fools all afternoon. Kept hitting everyone like he was trying to earn a job. The physicality bar in that secondary is real high and Johnson belongs in the group.
Didn't pay as much attention to Jeremy Lane as I would've liked, as I have a soft spot for him. Never got burned or anything that I saw, although it did look like he lost a couple of contested balls on deeper routes. Nothing to sweat about even so.
Kam Chancellor is majestic. Saw him standing with the rest of the LOB during drills and it took me a minute to realize he wasn't wearing pads. He is a mountain. A dangerous, sexy mountain.
K - One cool thing Carroll does (and I have no idea if this is unique or not) is moving the uprights to half their normal width. His kickers have no margin for error in practice. Didn't seem to bother Steven Hauschka much, as he made all three of the field goal attempts that I saw, including a calm 53-yarder from the hashmark.
P - There were no punts but Jon Ryan is a national treasure. Not this nation.
I haven't heard the dia/prog-nosis on Britt but he sat out the second half of the scrimmage with a wrap on his shoulder. It just became pretty critical that he be okay.
The only scary moment in practice was when safety Dion Bailey came down from a jump ball against Baldwin and fell to the turf writhing around and punching the ground. he was helped off the field by two trainers and missed the rest of practice. The report is that it's a sprained ankle and that he avoided further damage. Don't know how much longer Bailey was gonna stick around but I'm glad to hear that it sounds like he'll be able to keep giving the NFL a go after he recovers.
The whole practice was a really cool thing to witness. I've never been to another team's training camp so I can't say anything with absolute certainty, but I can't imagine that many other teams practice with the sort of relentless energy that the Seahawks do. The music was banging non-stop, the Blue Angels were flying close enough to feel, and still no one looked focused on anything other than what was happening between the lines. It's a great thing to be allowed to see.
Real (sort of) Seahawks football starts in four days as Seattle takes on the Denver Broncos in what is sure to be the most important game in the history of the Broncos/Seahawks rivalry. This region's first Super Bowl defense is about to begin and if Saturday was any indication, they're in a great position to do it successfully. If you want to ask about anything/anyone I didn't cover, or want clarification on something I did, let me know in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer.