The Seahawks begin their second round of OTAs (organized team activities) this week. Here are a few things to keep in mind or to watch for.
1. Style of the practices
Last week, in the interest of staying in line with NFL CBA protocols on tempo and physicality (Seattle's been docked practices in the past because they went over the line per NFLPA standards), the Seahawks went without helmets -- and the general goal for the sessions, outside of conditioning and camaraderie, was to continue with the the installations of this year's schematics and systems. The idea, I presume, is to have everything installed and better-ingrained once training camp begins, so the teaching portion of the offense and defense is in the books and they can just focus on competing.
Still, it's worth watching to see if the Seahawks practice in helmets at all this week -- in Phase Three (which is where we are now), no shells or pads are allowed -- but we'll see if they ramp things up a little over last week.
2. Jimmy Graham's first appearance with the team
Jimmy Graham missed last week's session to attend the funeral of his mentor and close friend, but I would assume he'll be back into the fold this week with the team. I'm guessing beat reporters and the like won't be able to share much about how the Seahawks incorporate him into their offense, but it will nonetheless be interesting to hear anecdotally how he looks out there, catching passes from Russell Wilson. Overall questions for his usage down the line: Will he become a de facto receiver for Seattle, mostly lined up outside the formation, or will the Seahawks use him as an in-line tight end that releases at the snap? Will he be asked to block primarily inside, or more so on the move from the slot? How will Seattle incorporate him into their redzone offense and what kinds of plays will we see from them in that area?
Obviously, most of these questions will have to wait, but it will just be interesting to see Graham in a Seahawks uniform for the first time.
3. Cary Williams, Will Blackmon in the secondary
The two biggest question marks on defense right now are at the cornerback spot opposite Richard Sherman and at the nickel cornerback spot in the slot. Presumably, Cary Williams will take over the Byron Maxwell role outside -- but that's no given, of course. Tharold Simon will be in the mix, as will Will Blackmon and rookie Tye Smith. Blackmon's more likely role will be inside at the nickel spot, where he'll battle with Marcus Burley for snaps.
It's a role that really doesn't get enough attention, considering league-wide (per PFF), teams played with five defensive backs over 60% of the time. I don't know the exact number for the Seahawks (probably lower than that), but it likely approached 50% of the snaps -- meaning we could see Burley, Blackmon, or whoever it ends up being out there nearly half of Seattle's defensive snaps in 2015. It's a big time position.
4. Tyler Lockett, Chris Matthews, Kevin Norwood, Doug McNeil, and Kevin Smith
Pete Carroll spoke last week in optimistic terms with regards to Paul Richardson's return this season, but I still think it's likely he misses the first six weeks on the PUP list. With that in mind, the receiver spot behind Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse is up for grabs and a few guys could be in contention for a bigger role. In terms of receptions in Seattle's offense last year, behind Doug and Jermaine, Richardson was next (29), Percy Harvin followed (22), and Ricardo Lockette (11), Kevin Norwood (9), and Bryan Walters (6) rounded things out.
It's anybody's guess as to which receiver will potentially break out next year. Tyler Lockett has gotten rave reviews from just about everybody during the rookie mini-camp and first week of OTAs, and has a real shot at being an early contributor for Seattle. Chris Matthews, meanwhile, would like to follow up his breakout Super Bowl performance by becoming a regular downfield threat for the Seahawks as well. These two would be my favorites to fall in line behind Baldwin and Kearse in terms of productivity in this offense in 2015, but I can't discount Kevin Norwood's progression, and Douglas McNeil is a very intriguing size/speed prospect as well.
OTAs don't tell us a whole lot, but we might be able to glean a little bit about the skill position players on the outside -- receiver and corner -- more than any other position. Hands, route-running, separation, speed, playmaking, etc -- these are all observable in this setting.
5. Mike Morgan, Eric Pinkins, Kevin Pierre-Louis
The Seahawks recently declined to pick up Bruce Irvin's fifth-year option and while they've said that they'd like to extend him past 2015, there are a lot of mouths to feed still with Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, J.R. Sweezy, Russell Okung, and a few others still out there. If Seattle decides not to extend Irvin and lets him walk in free agency, there will still be guys waiting in the wings to take over his role. Two strongside linebackers to keep an eye on are Mike Morgan and Eric Pinkins -- in an idea world, Pinkins would be the heir apparent for that SAM role, but Morgan's a guy the team could likely re-sign at a lowish cap number, and he has years of experience playing in Carroll's system, dating back to his USC days.
On the other side, KPL will look to take over Malcolm Smith's role as the backup/spot weakside linebacker. Pierre-Louis' speed has been apparent from the start, and he may even be an upgrade over Smith this season.
6. Lemuel Jeanpierre, Patrick Lewis
The center position remains up for grabs. Last week, Lemuel Jeanpierre reportedly got all the first-team snaps as the Seahawks leaned on his veteran experience to help the process move along. Now, with Russell Wilson back in the fold and presumably keeping things running smoothly, will Seattle give Lewis a shot at center with the first-team group? It's worth watching for.