Seahawks Back To Business, Hungry For Another Title
By Corbin Smith
What's next? It's been the mantra for the Seattle Seahawks ever since they left MetLife Stadium as Super Bowl XLVIII champions this past February, and so much has happened since that historic evening. Several high profile players left for big contracts in free agency, a new group of rookies joined the fold in May, and the team met President Obama in Washington, D.C. With so much taking place over the past few months, it's easy to see why championship teams have such a hard time moving on after winning the Lombardi Trophy.
After finally receiving championship rings this past Thursday night, the team can now solely focus on the upcoming season. Seattle concluded offseason workouts following a three-day mandatory minicamp last week, leaving a little over a month until players report for training camp.
Here are a few of the biggest storylines that have emerged from the Seahawks' offseason program:
1. Big pay days and Super Bowl rings haven't altered the way Seattle competes at practice.
For anyone concerned about the defending champions becoming complacent, last week's mandatory minicamp should alleviate those concerns. The Seahawks paid big bucks to keep Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin locked up for the foreseeable future, but money hasn't changed how competitive this group is on the practice field. Several scuffles broke out during the finale last week and, while constant fighting wouldn't be a good thing for this team, the coaches had to love seeing the competitive juices flowing.
Thomas started the festivities by landing on receiver Bryan Walters during a non-contact scrimmage. Walters suffered a shoulder injury on the play, and Baldwin became angry because he felt Thomas had been too physical defending him. On the ensuing play, Sherman and receiver Phil Bates got locked up and started throwing punches at each other. Teammates came rushing in to break up the altercation, and head coach Pete Carroll ended up stopping practice for a few minutes.
Verbal sparring continued through the remainder of the session, but once practice concluded, players could be seen sharing a laugh with one another.
"We're all so competitive," Thomas said. "If you press one of our buttons, everybody is gonna clear the benches."
Seattle surprised many analysts when they opted not to select a guard in this year's draft. Carpenter has been hampered by injuries and inconsistent play since arriving as a first-round pick in 2011, and while fellow starter Sweezy has shown improvement, he's a work-in-progress in pass protection. With neither player standing out last year, guard appeared to be an area of major need, but offensive line coach Tom Cable likes the players he has at the position and expects big seasons from them.
During an interview with 710 ESPN Radio Seattle last Tuesday, Cable had nothing but positive feedback regarding his two starting guards. He also made it very clear that there won't be an open competition at either position during training camp.
"J.R. played so well last year. People question that, and that's foolish if you know football," Cable said. "He may be one of the best young guards in the game."
Cable hopes the converted defensive lineman will be able to prove his worth this season. He also spoke optimistically about Carpenter, who arrived at offseason workouts 15 pounds trimmer.
"Carp is healthy now," Cable said. "He's really playing at a much different level and pace."
The offensive line was Seattle's weakest link a year ago, but injuries may have been the biggest reason why. With Carpenter healthy and Sweezy ready for a breakout season, what once was viewed as a weakness could become a strength.
The past few weeks have been interesting for Lynch, as rumors circulated he was unhappy with his current contract and wanted to get paid. Reports surfaced that he would skip minicamp last week and potentially hold-out during training camp until he received a new deal. It was even rumored briefly that he would consider walking away from the game completely if the team didn't re-negotiate with him. He showed up at camp last week, but an ankle injury prevented him from practicing.
Michael has had an outstanding offseason, showing improvements in pass protection and a better understanding of the offense. He's a different kind of back than Lynch, as he's more capable of breaking long runs and has better moves in open field. From a physical skills standpoint, he's ready to start now, leaving some to wonder if all the drama surrounding Lynch would open up an opportunity for Michael to steal the starting job this season.
Barring injury, that's not going to happen. As impressive as Michael has been this spring, Lynch is still the heart and soul of this offense. His bruising style fits Seattle's offense to perfection, and as long as he's performing at a high level, he's going to receive the bulk of the carries. Robert Turbin also will get some snaps, too.
Carroll has backed Lynch during this entire process, re-iterating that he would be the starter moving forward.
"Turbo and Christine, those guys want some time, too, and they’re battling," Carroll said. "They’ve had great offseasons for us, but Marshawn has really been the guy for us and we love everything about the way he plays and what he brings to this team."
Michael has an extremely bright future, and he's going to be the starter in the backfield at some point, maybe sooner than later. For now, "Beast Mode" has a strong hold on the starting spot and should continue to be the focal point of the offense.
4. Paul Richardson has a chance to shine early as a dynamic receiving threat in Seattle's offense.
In the months leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, the Seahawks seemed primed to draft a big wide receiver early to complement Percy Harvin and Baldwin. Prospects like Cody Latimer were still available when Seattle picked in the second round after trading down twice, but instead of selecting a bigger target, the team chose Richardson out of Colorado. This surprised many because Richardson has a very similar make-up to Harvin, a smaller receiver who uses blazing speed to generate big plays.
It's no secret that Carroll and his staff covet speed across the field, but there may not be a position on the current roster where that is more evident than wide receiver. Harvin and Richardson can both run under 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and having both of them on the field at the same time could create nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. While Harvin excels on screens and in the running game, Richardson utilizes his elite speed to beat opponents deep and runs routes like DeSean Jackson. Durability issues remain a major concern for each player, but there's no doubt that they will spread the defense out if healthy.
Richardson already has developed quite a rapport with Russell Wilson and his ability to stretch the field vertically will add a new dimension to Seattle's offense. As a result, opponents will have to keep safeties at bay to prevent big plays, and that should allow under routes and the running game to thrive. Look for "P-Rich" to be an instant-impact player and a potential sleeper for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2014.
5. Healthy, physical corner Tharold Simon looks to have star potential to add to the Legion of Boom.
While the Seahawks have taken a few hits at other positions this offseason, both the corner and safety spots look set for years to come. Sure, losing Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond hurts depth, but the team proved that it could win without them last year. Simon, who was drafted in the fifth round in the 2013 NFL Draft, has been quite impressive since being cleared to return to the practice field a few weeks ago.
The former LSU star missed his entire rookie year with injuries to both of his feet, and while he's still got a great deal of catching up to do, recent play suggests he could see substantial playing time this season. Sherman and Byron Maxwell are the unquestioned starters at the top two corner spots, but after that, depth chart positioning is up for grabs. Veteran Jeremy Lane has been a special teams standout for Seattle and deserves the opportunity to see snaps at corner, but Simon has better physical tools and a much higher ceiling.
At 6-foot-3, 200 lbs., he has the size and athleticism that the Seahawks covet in the secondary and has already shown great instincts defending the deep ball in offseason workouts. He made two interceptions during the final practice of OTAs and his strong play carried over to minicamp, as he ran step-for-step with speedy receiver Ricardo Lockette to deflect a pass in the end zone.
“He’s competed well and he’s exactly the kind of guy we like, real tall and real long and runs really well downfield," Carroll said. "He covers the deep ball extremely well.”
Sherman and Maxwell form one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL today, and Seattle's top-ranked defense would be even scarier if Simon emerged during camp and took the third spot on the depth chart. Lane would become the primary nickel corner, and the depatures of Browner and Thurmond would become far less relevant.
6. Terrelle Pryor won't change positions, making his chances at a roster spot seem like a long shot.
When the Seahawks traded a seventh-round pick to the Oakland Raiders to acquire Pryor, most experts speculated that the team would try to move the incredibly athletic quarterback to a different position. With a 6-foot-4 frame and great breakaway speed, he'd be a great fit as a receiver or even a tight end, if he could catch the ball. Based on his comments in an interview last week with Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times, it looks like that type of move won't be happening.
"I don't know how to catch. I don't know how to run the ball as a running back," Pryor told Brewer. "I've been a quarterback my whole life."
It remains unknown if Seattle has actually approached him about changing positions. It's easy to understand why such a transition would make sense for both parties, as Pryor struggled completing 57-percent of his passes with Oakland last year and the Seahawks could use some size at wide receiver. Members of the coaching staff and front office have repeatedly stated that the team brought him on board to play quarterback and had no intention of trying him elsewhere. If that's the case, what's the likelihood Pryor makes the final roster?
Wilson is the starter, and Tarvaris Jackson nearly took the Seahawks to the playoffs in 2011 during his only season as the team's full-time starter. Jackson is highly-respected by teammates after playing through a nasty shoulder injury that season and, due to his familiarity with the playbook, it's hard to see Pryor over-taking him and becoming Wilson's primary backup. If Jackson holds onto that spot, it's unlikely the team would invest a roster spot on a third string signal-caller.
A strong training camp could work wonders for Pryor and vault him behind Wilson on the depth chart, but chances are the team will keep the reliable Jackson. Unless Pryor shows value elsewhere, he'll be on the outside looking in when final cuts arrive in late August.