With the Seattle Seahawks, along with the other 31 NFL clubs, set to pare their roster down to 53 players on Saturday the debate over who will make the cut and who will get cut will reach fever pitch over the next 24 hours. In particular, the Seahawks face serious decisions on the back end of their receiver corps, where the top four are set in Tyler Lockett, David Moore, Jaron Brown and DK Metcalf, but where a half dozen different players could end up filling the spots behind those players.
Add in a hairline fracture of the humerus for Moore and Metcalf just ten days removed from knee surgery, and the answer to the question could get even more complicated. Fighting for the right to back up Lockett in the slot are Keenan Reynolds, Terry Wright and John Ursua, while the competition from outside receivers appears to be between Gary Jennings, Malik Turner and Jazz Ferguson.
Ferguson and Ursua led the team in receiving production during the preseason, but preseason stats don’t really mean much simply because it’s preseason and those stats are being produced against players who aren’t likely to be employed once the regular season arrives. Thus, looking beyond production the other keys to focus on become those skills outside of production. How good of a route runner is a receiver? How much of the offense can a player execute well? Can a player play different positions?
As it pertains specifically to receivers, I’ve done a bit of explanation about why some receivers may have difficulty adapting to the NFL game coming from college. Wednesday Pete Carroll certainly laid out that theory as groundwork for an excuse for Jennings and Ursua regarding their knowledge of the playbook.
Pete Carroll said D.K. Metcalf has picked up the #Seahawks' system faster than the other rookies. John Ursua & Gary Jennings, who both missed time, are behind in the playbook, the coach said. "It's going to take those guys a while. They're not fully up to speed."— Chris Cluff (@CHawk_Talk) August 28, 2019
However, what sort of jumps out from Carroll’s quote is that while he mentions Metcalf has picked up the offense and Ursua and Jennings are having issues due to the time they missed, there is no mention of Ferguson. Ferguson, led the team in receiving during the preseason, and so now the time has come for the team to make a decision.
Jennings, Ferguson and Ursua combined for just three targets in the preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders, with Ferguson getting two of those three targets and the other coming nowhere near Jennings on what appeared to be a miscommunication between Jennings and Paxton Lynch. That leads into the question, however, of why Ferguson was seeing time in the first half of the preseason games, while Jennings and Ursua weren’t seeing time until the second half. Was this the Seahawks hiding Jennings and Ursua in order to keep from putting anything further on film? Was it part of a big disinformation ploy to make Jennings and Ursua look less attractive to the other 31 teams on a waiver claim because if a receiver can’t learn the playbook in six weeks of training camp, how long is it going to take them to learn the playbook after moving to a new system with a new team?
Or was it simply the result of the fact that Jazz Ferguson may have had a head start against the other rookie receivers when it came to learning the offense?
Fans are well aware that Ferguson played for FCS Northwestern State in 2018, playing in a spread offense against a lower level of competition. That means, just like Jennings, who played in an Air Raid system at West Virginia, and Ursua, who played in the Run and Shoot at Hawaii, he’d need to learn a pro style offense from the ground up after arriving in the NFL. Or would it?
Prior to destroying the competition at Northwestern State in 2018 and prior to spending the 2017 season on the scout team for the Northwestern State, Ferguson spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons at LSU. The reason that’s important is because of the offensive system that the Tigers used during his time there. While it’s true that Les Miles was fired four games into the 2016 season, if we look at the first four games of the 2016 season and the 2015 we find something very interesting. Specifically, when Les Miles was fired, LSU also fired his offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron.
Cam Cameron is a name that should be familiar to Seahawks fans. He is, of course, best known for having been the offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, but nearly two decades prior to that he was the quarterbacks coach for the Washington Redskins under Norv Turner. Turner, of course, is an offensive coach who is likely best known for leading the Dallas Cowboys to back to back Super Bowl titles in the early 1990s, but I’m more concerned with the offensive system he ran to do that. Specifically, Turner has been running the Air Coryell system for decades. It’s a system he used with the Cowboys, it’s a system he used with the Los Angeles Rams in the mid 1980s, and it’s a system he used with Washington, where he taught that system to Cam Cameron.
Cameron, in turn, went on to use that system with the then San Diego, but now Los Angeles Chargers from 2002 until 2006 as the offensive coordinator under a head coach by the name of Marty Schottenheimer. There was a second Schottenheimer on that Chargers staff for the first four years of that timeframe, as Brian Schottenheimer was the San Diego quarterbacks coach during that time, and it was during that period of time that Schottenheimer picked up the offensive system used by Cameron.
So, while there’s no question that the versions of the offense both Schottenheimer and Cameron use have evolved over the past thirteen plus years since the two coached together, the foundation of the offense remains the same. Regardless of how the offenses are currently deployed, the foundational route concepts of Cameron’s version of the offense remain the same foundational route concepts of Schottenheimer’s offense. So, there’s no question Ferguson likely forgot some of what he learned in the two years between leaving LSU and signing with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent. In addition, while the system he’d be learning for the Hawks would be slightly different that the system he played in at LSU, there are likely enough similarities that Ferguson would have started off a half step ahead of the other rookies.
And that could go a long way towards explaining why Ferguson was consistently on the field during the first half over the course of the preseason, while Jennings and Ursua were not. Now, the question, of course, is whether that half step head start will be enough to spare Ferguson from being waived on Saturday, and while we won’t know the answer until late in the day Saturday, Ferguson certainly did everything he could to make the decision as difficult as possible for the front office and coaching staff.