Thanks to the generosity of a couple of readers, I had the opportunity to attend consecutive Seahawks practices at the VMAC over the last couple of days. On Sunday, I was the guest of the hilarious Garth Purkett and his dad and Monday I got the hook up from @MommyUnit, who is somehow even better in person than she is online. And if you've never been to an open practice at the VMAC and get the chance to go, I highly encourage it. With the goal of recreating as closely as possible the pomp, pageantry, and p...excitement of game day, the Seahawks practice facility is transformed into a festive, almost tailgate-y atmosphere.
The coolest thing about watching the practices in person, for me at least, is getting to see how the players look and move and interact with each other. Having never attended the practices of other NFL teams, I can't say with certainty that Seattle's training camp has a higher energy than others around the league but given the constant movement, noise, and intensity I'd be surprised if many of them are on the same level. With that in mind, here are a few of the things I saw while down there:
Sunday, August 2nd
After training camp kicked off on Friday with the news that Russell Wilson had signed an extension to stay with the Seahawks, it was Bobby Wagner's turn to enjoy the comfort, security, and spotlight of a new high-end deal. And while I always assumed that both Wilson and Wagner would sign extensions in Seattle, it was still a great relief to see those two W's staying on the Seahawks ledger. Those new agreements put both players at or near the top of their position in terms of scrilla and officially locks up the core of Seattle's 2013 and 2014 Super Bowl runs. Consider this:
2015: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril
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2016: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril
2017: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril
The Seattle Seahawks may be coming off of one of the most bitter losses in American sports history, but that hasn't stopped them from assembling and insuring the deepest core of elite talent in professional football. Teams that amass the sort of accumulative badassery that Seattle has are typically limited to a short window of opportunity to run the jewels, as the demands of free agency and the reality of a hard cap make it difficult for most franchises to keep bunches of All Pro talent together for long. Not so for the 'Hawks, as they have not only acquired an unfair amount of high end players but have managed to navigate the treacherous waters of modern NFL salary financing in keeping them together. To put it simply, the Seattle Seahawks are staring at as open-ended a title run as any team in the salary cap era. Whether they can turn it into the sort of bling that the mid-90s Cowboys and recent memory Patriots did remains to be seen, but no squad in the league is perched on as high a vantage point as the 'Hawks. They are primed for an incredible three year run, but all of that starts on the practice field.
As you might expect, the biggest introductory cheer of the day was reserved for Wagner as he jogged past the fans to go through his warm-ups. Unfortunately, and as Bobby crypted on Friday, the Seahawks couldn't keep everyone and that meant that the leviathan Tony McDaniel was sent to lurk beneath other seas. The good news is that McD's monstrous void appears to be adequately filled by former Browns DT and rumored Seahawks draft target Ahtyba Rubin. And while I'd love to add some scintillating personal insights on Rubin's impact at practice, no positional groups' performance is as obscured by the sideline view granted to fans than interior linemen. Unless someone gets knocked over or completely breaks through, it's difficult to judge individual and collective success from the berm, so I'll leave it to Pete Carroll to describe what he's seen in Rubin:
"We're really excited about him. This is a very physical guy at the point of attack, he moves right up into that role of the big guy who can stop the line of scrimmage. He's an unusual player in pursuit for a big man- he chases the ball like crazy. So we have a really good alternative now."
Now, you can disregard the first part of the quote, as Carroll is also really excited about the socks he's going to wear tomorrow and the toothpaste that his wife just bought and the smell of his sidewalk and the sound that a rubber band makes when you chew it but it's the rest of what he said that is really meaty. Rubin has a specific skillset; stout enough to hold the point of attack yet quick enough and hungry enough to chase down ball carriers from the interior. We'll obviously need to see more before drawing any hard conclusions but there's no reason to believe that the Seahawks haven't landed a good rotational member of the defensive line.
The player I noticed the most on the defensive side of the ball, however, was Cassius Marsh. While what I said above about having difficulty judging linemen from the sideline is true, Marsh flashed anyway. In positional drills he had a consistently lower pad level than the guys blocking him and when the team scrimmaged later in the day he was a greasy-haired hellion, harassing Seattle's QBs and disrupting plays with regularity. Marsh had begun to show some real promise as an edge rusher before his injury last season and nothing I saw on Sunday would dissuade me from believing that he's right back on track.
Elsewhere on defense, KJ Wright trucked some poor fella on a blitz. I mean he straight flat-backed that lineman so completely that I'm sure his fallen opponent is grateful I didn't catch his name, assuming KJ didn't take that from him too.
There were a couple of standouts among the DBs, too, one of which was a cat by the name of Triston Wade. Wade seemed to stay hip-to-hip with the guys he was covering better than anyone else I watched on Sunday, denying passes in drills and scrimmage on all manner of routes. He clung to receivers like a cobweb and forced QBs to make perfect throws in order to give his man a chance. I'll be very curious to see how long he sticks around. The other guy that impressed me was DeShawn Shead, who made great use of the snaps at safety voided by Earl Thomas' injury and Kam Chancellor's holdout. Shead broke quickly on plays in front of him and even moved up to play some impressive man coverage against slot receivers.
No word from Kam, as far as I know, regarding his return which was a shame, given how impressive he is to watch up close. I'm still not concerned about him missing camp. His holdout wasn't some random decision he woke up with the day before camp started and I'm positive he has counted the cost of holding out. Players only get so many chances to take slices from the cake and I don't blame him for trying to exert what little leverage he has for an extra taste of frosting, even though I doubt the front office will capitulate. I won't stress the situaish until, say the third preseason game or so. Chancellor knows what his responsibilities are and will keep his body and mind ready in the meantime.
Earl for his part, was a non-participant in name only. While the vast majority of his teammates practiced in warmups and gym shorts, Thomas hopped around the field with his practice jersey tucked neatly into his game pants, offering encouragement and smacking butts with what appeared to be a play sheet. Even out of pads, he is the most mesmerizing Seahawks player to simply witness. He moves around the field like a bird of prey, aware of his surroundings but never taking his eyes off the mice in the field. He was as animated as any person out there, firing up his fellow DBs and even arguing a pass interference call on Wade with the ref and then stayed in the zebra's ear for like three plays afterward. Dude wanted his guys to win every rep of every drill.
On offense, there was a lot to like. The one guy that people around me talked about more than anyone else (on both days) was Jimmy Graham, and it was easy to see why. Graham is a standout on that field and by that I mean that in a world of genetically superior alpha athletes, Graham is still eminently noticeable. It's not just his towering stature, it's the ephemeral smoothness with which he moves. All around me, fans murmured about his size throughout practice and he gave them ample opportunity to comment on his skills. I have no idea what his stats were on Sunday, but I guarantee you he had the most catches in practice. Whether he was working one-on-ones vs LBs and DBs or running routes in scrimmage, he just seems impossible to guard with one man. He was, in my mind, the most excellent looking offensive player that day. As far as his blocking goes, all I can say is that he did a lot of it and while I didn't see any pancakes, I didn't see him get beat either.
The receiving unit as a whole had a great day. Jermaine Kearse looks comfortable in his role and performed like someone expecting to start. He made a number of catches by creating separation with what looked like some very skilled handfighting as well as showcasing sure hands in on a couple of tightly contested throws. One in particular was especially impressive, as he out-leaped Cary Williams (who had good coverage) to high-point an over the shoulder ball for a first down.
Tyler Lockett was a joy. He's slipperier than wet soap and seems to move in and out of his cuts without a hint of deceleration. The word that keeps coming up with Lockett is "suddenness" and while that may not be the most intimidating trait, it is a unique one- and we've all learned how valuable unique skillsets are to Carroll and John Schneider.
The one offensive player that really surprised me was Douglas McNeil. Early in practice he beat Richard Sherman on a deep redline route and hauled it in for a long score before giving Jon Ryan a private shimmy in the endzone. Twenty minutes later, he beat Sherman again on a 20ish-yard out route. Well, beat is overstating it- he got a few inches of separation and Tarvaris Jackson whipped a perfect throw into him on the sideline. Still, he got two big ones on football's best cornerback and that didn't go unnoticed by the coaches, or Sherman.
Doug Baldwin, Kevin Norwood, Chris Matthews, Kasen Williams, and Ricardo Lockette were all fine. Lockette did drop an easy pass but I'm not looking into it because a few minutes later, Baldwin dropped an even easier one. Over the course of thousands of reps, miscues will happen from time to time. Oh yeah, Lockette also caught a deep go route for a teeder in one-on-ones, although I'm not sure he'd get away with using his hands on the defender as much as he did come the regular season.
Thomas Rawls got some run at RB and looked, well, really fast. He gets through the line in a hurry and doesn't slow down a tick when he reaches the second level. He had a long run that he cut to the sidelines for 40+ yards and followed it up by slamming his way into the endzone from about seven yards out on the next play. Now, it's impossible to truly judge a player's ability to miss tackles when the tacklers aren't, you know, tackling but the force with which he met the goal line defender was eye opening.
Christine Michael is so impressive from a physiological standpoint that it almost drives you crazy that he hasn't become Adrian Peterson yet. He moves with an explosiveness that is undeniable and must be an absolute fucking terror to take on in the open field. That's why it's frustrating to see him struggle, as he appeared to on Sunday. He got a significant amount of reps and looked decisive and capable running the ball but I noticed that, at least on one play, he was still carrying the ball in his right hand when initiating contact on runs to the left. That's a habit the coaches have worked hard to break and I'm sure they noticed it too. There was another play where the offense sold a run to the right hard and Tarvaris flipped the ball back to Michael on a screen, who had endless pastures ahead of him for an easy score. the only problem was that C-Mike dropped it like a mixtape*. Still, Carroll seems excited about him and stated that he'd see a lot of opportunities during the preseason.
*This may not have been his wisest career decision, but C-Mike's project is the gooniest gym banger of the summer and I'm certainly glad he made it.
Marshawn Lynch mostly trundled around the field in warmups and a sweatshirt and bothered Richard Sherman so he appears to be in midseason form.
Monday, August 3rd
Observations were a little tougher yesterday, as the bulk of the action took place on the far field some 80 yards away from where we were sitting. Fortunately, MommyUnit came prepared and lent me her binocs for a good portion of practice. What I saw was some really shitty binoculars work on my part but there was still plenty to glean.
Practice opened up with the QBs and LBs working on some drills on the near field, so I took advantage of the unstrained visual and checked in on the linebackers. First of all, they're enormous. Like, I understand that everyone in the NFL is titanic but even by those standards, Bruce Irvin (6'3", 248 lbs), Bobby Wagner (6'0", 241), and KJ Wright (6'4", 246) are big boys at that position. Okay, fine, that's all well and good; but big is only an advantage if it can move. To that end, the three of them put on a clinic in mobility, as they worked on dropping into coverage together. As their coach Lofa Tatupu gave them cues with the ball, the three of them moved in perfect tandem, changing direction with the immediacy and synchronization of reeds blown by the same gusts of wind. It was a simple drill but the way they did it was impressive.
After that, it was all far field, with half the practice featuring O-line/D-line battles on one side while the skill position and LBs/DBs worked seven-on-seven on the other and the rest of the session spent scrimmaging. Here's what I saw:
None of the QBs looked particularly sharp, which hurt our ability to see who was doing what in the passing and coverage games. There were very few accurate throws deeper than 20 yeards, with Wilson and RJ Archer floating their deep balls too much and T-Jack overthrowing everyone. They all looked better on shorter throws, as one does, but tough to read too much into it without a true pass rush. As a result, there weren't as many receptions and PBUs as there were on Sunday but there were enough of them to notice the standouts. And by standouts, I mean Graham and Lockett. Graham, for his part, continues to look unguardable. He snagged a plethora of catches all over the field, including a 20-yard seam route where he worked back across the defender's body to get inside position and catch a Wilson rocket in stride for six, which he followed with a massive jumping spike. He's gonna be just fine.
Lockett continued to be shiftier than Odo, getting one to two steps of separation inside of ten yards, which is a rare skill. He appeared to get most of his production in the middle of the field Monday, which is interesting given how little the Seahawks have thrown to the short middle in the Russell Wilson era. Still, Seattle's second draft pick looks like a nightmare to cover and he's as confident in his hands as my fiance is in her opinions.
Seattle's first pick, Frank Clark, showed out a bit yesterday after being largely unnoticeable on Sunday. His strength is real and that was showcased on a couple of power moves during the scrimmages. On one play, Clark swam past the guy trying to block him and fragged fellow rookie Rod Smith in the backfield for a loss, to the howling delight of the rest of the DL. It was a man's play. Not to be outdone, Michael Bennett (who was hands down the most impressive D-lineman when I attended camp last year), broke through the line on one play and caught Rawls by the front of his pads. In one cataclysmic motion, Bennett slammed Rawls to the turf without breaking stride. Oh, and he did all of this with just one hand. I would hate having to block him while trying to impress coaches.
Jordan Hill and Demarcus Dobbs both showed promise with a couple of nice plays, Dobbs throwing his man away to force a coverage sack and Hill flattening a blocker en route to blowing up a run play.
Robert Turbin, who is apparently fully healthy after recovering from a hip injury, got the majority of the RB share today and he looked terrific. I know we're all waiting on Michael and I know that Rawls is an exciting prospect but neither of them change the fact that currently, Turbin looks like the best non-Lynch running back in the group. He broke a couple of long runs in scrimmage didn't hesitate to put distance between himself and defenders when in space. I'm going to be really curious to see how he and Michael compare in the exhibition games later this month.
I was hoping to see more of Mohammed Seisay, Seattle's latest CB acquisition, but he didn't seem to get a ton of reps and the ball was only thrown his way a couple of times and with apparently forgettable results. Still, he's big (6'2"), has long arms, and was apparently worth the 6th round draft pick Seattle gave the Lions in exchange for his services. Seattle's more heralded cornerback addition, Cary Williams, looks good but not great. He gave up some receptions over the weekend but was never beaten. He also made a great pass breakup up on a 10-yard out pattern. That's the money range for the RCB in Seattle's defense, as they tend to roll Thomas' coverage to that side to help with deeper routes while letting Sherman handle his third of the field more or less on his own. Williams doesn't have to be a great downfield defender to be successful in this defense. Brandon Browner wasn't. No, what that position requires is disruption inside of 15 yards and Williams is built for it.
The final play of practice was probably its biggest highlight as well. On a broken play, RJ Archer lofted a high quacker to the endzone. It was an old school Flyer's Up throw and Chris Matthews jumped way up above Tye Smith and Ronald Martin and came down with the ball tucked firmly in his massive hands for the touchdown. It was an impressive play reminiscent of the deep jump balls he caught in the Super Bowl. Matthews is far from polished but he knows how to use his size when the opportunity arises. he could be a fun one if Seattle picks their spots with him.
There was obviously a lot more going on than I could pay attention to so feel free to discuss anything I missed. In the meantime, onward and upward. It's good to be back
PS - A number of you have asked where I get my cigars (in today's case a Rocky Patel 10th Anniversary). The best place I've found to get stogies is from Famous Smoke Shop. Really nice selection, great prices.