Seattle Seahawks Have 3 Epic Battles Brewing
By Corbin Smith
The Fourth of July has officially passed, and that only means one thing: football is close to making its long-awaited return from hibernation.
The Founding Fathers may not agree, but Independance Day could almost be called National Pigskin Day because NFL teams will officially open training camp in three weeks. Players will finally get to tie up their cleats, put on the shoulder pads and helmets, and return to the gridiron for the first time in several months. Why not celebrate with friends, family, and fireworks a few weeks ahead of time?
Every team will have reported for training camp by July 27, bringing an end to a long offseason and generating new hope for each franchise. The Seattle Seahawks will report to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, WA on July 24th ready to put last season's Super Bowl victory in the rear view mirror and begin working towards repeating as NFL champions. It won't be an easy road, and with multiple key players defecting as free agents, rookies and newcomers will have four preseason games and nearly six weeks of grueling practices to prove their worth to the coaching staff. Roster spots aren't a given in the NFL, but when each team breaks camp at the end of this month, two things remain guaranteed: it will be the hardest month of the season and there will be competitive positional battles.
The Seahawks have managed to keep most of last year's title team together, leaving only a few starting spots up for grabs when camp opens in a few weeks. However, many key contributors like Golden Tate, Breno Giacomoni, and Walter Thurmond have fled to greener pastures and opened up opportunities for players to move up the depth chart and draw closer to a starting spot this season. Head coach Pete Carroll and his coaching staff always stress competition as the main priority during practice, and it will be no different at this year's camp.
While numerous training camp battles will take place across the board next month at the VMAC, here's a look at my top three positional battles to watch:
RIGHT TACKLE: Michael Bowie versus Justin Britt
When the Seahawks selected Britt with the final pick in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft this past May, most experts viewed the pick as a major reach. Most draft boards graded him as a fourth or fifth round pick, but offensive line coach Tom Cable loves his pedigree. Britt, a former state champion in wrestling, was an All-Southeastern Conference first team selection as a senior at Missouri last season and has enjoyed a strong first offseason as a Seahawk. Carroll and Cable have both been very complimentary of his work ethic and ability to pick up the offensive scheme quickly this summer, which should bode well for his chances to win the starting job at right tackle as a rookie.
With Giacomini now in New York, Britt's top competition will come from second-year player Bowie, a 2013 seventh round pick who started eight games last season. Bowie was thrown into the fire against the Houston Texans early last year, and while he struggled initially alternating between right tackle and both guard spots, he showed great growth as the season progressed and he played admirably in a playoff start against the New Orleans Saints. He showed up at organized team activities out of shape, but the coaching staff remains optimistic he'll be in top condition when camp starts.
With several NFL starts under his belt, Bowie has an edge in the experience department, but Britt's performance so far indicates he may have a higher ceiling. This will be an absolute dog fight between two tough-minded young tackles who love playing physical football in the trenches, and it may be the most intriguing battle on the entire roster. Ultimately, the player who holds up best during preseason in pass protection may get the nod as the team works to keep Russell Wilson upright more often.
RUNNING BACK: Christine Michael versus Robert Turbin
Marshawn Lynch is the undisputed starter in the backfield for the Seahawks, but the battle to steal carries behind him will be a sight to behold. Michael has received a lot of press as a breakout player candidate because of his impressive athletic traits and physical tools, and he's even drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson. The Seahawks hardly used him as a rookie, but he's shown great improvement in pass protection this summer and the team will have a hard time keeping him off the field this year. With Lynch nearing his 30th birthday and averaging over 300 carries per season the last three years, Michael would seem to be the obvious choice to replace him.
Counting Turbin out of the race completely would be a big mistake, however. While he lacks the burst and athletic ability that Michael brings to the table, he's a better runner between the tackles and interestingly enough, Cable has been highly-critical of Michael's issues reading blocks. In an interview with ESPN 710 Seattle in mid-June, Cable spoke about how Turbin had taken his game to a new level and was no longer "stomping snakes," meaning he has become much more decisive reading blocks and making cuts while running the football. He's no longer doing too much with his feet, which will make him a more explosive runner for Seattle.
While Cable said that Michael has improved his understanding of what to do in Seattle's system when he's not running the ball, he didn't appear to be as confident in his ability to produce as Turbin at this point. Carroll loves the big-play potential Michael adds to the offense, but he may need a strong preseason to sway Cable and officially pass Turbin to become the team's second running back on the depth chart.
WIDE RECEIVER: SIdney Rice versus Chris Matthews versus Ricardo Lockette
Barring injuries, there shouldn't be much drama at wide receiver at the top of the depth chart. Newly-signed Doug Baldwin, Percy Harvin, and Jermaine Kearse are locks to make the final roster, and rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood should also be safe bets. With five spots accounted for, there's only room for one or two more receivers on the active roster, and competition for that final roster spot will be fierce.
Rice re-signed with the Seahawks for a large discount after being released in February and testing the free agent market. He's coming off of a torn ACL, and while he's only 27 years old, he has a long injury history and hasn't been overly productive in three previous seasons with Seattle. He only caught 15 passes in eight games last year and hasn't caught more than 50 passes in a season since 2009, so he's not necessarily a lock at this point to make the team. If he comes to camp and looks like the player who put up 1,352 receiving yards back in 2009, then keeping him his a no-brainer. However, if he's not playing at a high level, Seattle has viable alternatives to choose from.
Earlier this spring, the Seahawks signed 6'5 CFL receiver Chris Matthews as an option to add size to the receiving core. He's a better athlete than Rice at this point, but he's battled his own minor ailments during the offseason while struggling to catch the football at times. After lighting up the CFL as a rookie with 1,192 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2012, he missed most of last season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with a turf toe injury. If he gets healthy and shows well in the preseason, it may be difficult for Seattle to cut him in favor of Rice.
Veterans Ricardo Lockette and Bryan Walters also will be under-the-radar competitors, though neither player offers near as much upside as an offensive player and would be primarily used on special teams. Lockette has elite speed and adds great value as a gunner on the punt coverage team, and Walters could be a steady option as a punt returner. It's possible Seattle could choose to keep Rice or Matthews while also placing either Lockette or Walters on the final roster because of special teams contributions, but such a move would be highly unlikely.
Rice will be the favorite to stay on the roster and now that he's under contract for a bargain price, he will make the final roster if he's fully recovered and looks explosive in camp. Matthews appears to be his biggest threat due to his comparable size and superior athleticism, while other candidates like Lockette and Walters will get a look because of their versatility.
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