Monday thoughts: London interviews & Frank Clark

October 15th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

Note — after publishing this piece, the news broke that Paul Allen had sadly passed away. Paul leaves an incredible legacy. A great man. He will be missed by many.

Before getting into some post-London thoughts on the future, culture, the running game and Frank Clark — here’s two interviews I conducted with D.J. Fluker and Justin Britt after the game:

My biggest takeaway from London

I went to London this week with an aim. I wanted a better understanding of two factors:

1. How important it is to establish a vision and commit to it

2. How the run helps create Seattle’s culture

There isn’t just one way of winning in the NFL. The key to success is talent, a clear plan and execution. At the moment, the Seahawks are delivering. They know what they want to do. And they’re doing it.

Having had the opportunity to ask a few questions of Pete Carroll and speak to some of the players, something is clearer to me. The preference for running the ball isn’t just about some dogged determination to have a certain approach on offense. It’s about culture. The Seahawks want to be more physical than the opponent. In every facet. They want to connect the defense and special teams to the offense. And Carroll believes the way to complete that circle is to run the ball with toughness and consistency.

On Thursday, I asked Carroll how the recent commitment to the run was helping his team and impacting the opponent (3:57 in the video here):

“…because the running game does fit with the defense and does fit with special teams — it all does fit together — and when you can close the circle with a really aggressive tough running game, then you can really make your style known. It’s a great formula, it’s always been a winning formula for us. We were just a little bit out of it the first couple of weeks of the season, then we got going, got back on track. And we can feel the connection of the whole team in how we’re trying to win our football games. It does affect them (the opponent), it’s a good observation, it does affect the entire style of the way we play.”

Everything connects. The sack or the big hit on defense combines with the tough running and controlling field position. Every unit can support the other. It creates a bond, a connection — and defines who you are.

I asked Carroll after the game yesterday if their success limiting Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Todd Gurley and Marshawn Lynch was as important as their recent establishing of the run. His answer revealed a lot about their whole approach:

“It’s always been the hallmark of what we’ve done in the past. Stopping that running game is so important… the good backs that you talked about, we’ve faced some really good guys, and our guys have taken that challenge and that’s how it fits together. It’s stopping the run on defense, no big plays — that we were able to do today — and then you circle it in with running the football like that and that attitude that prevails. That makes us the Seahawks. And that’s what we’ve been after forever. It’s been a while, really the last couple of years it’s been hard to find it. We’ve had so many issues with our running back situation and what’s going on up front but that’s not our issue any more. We’re in great shape and Duane Brown and Fluke and Britt and all those guys are doing a fantastic job up front. Sweezy’s been a great addition for us and of course Ifedi’s doing well too. So, fired up about it.”

(To watch the question and answer, click here and fast forward to 5:50):

It’s not old-fashioned, out-dated or stubborn. It’s culture. And it’s one way to build a successful football team.

There isn’t a single sport where every team wins and competes in the same way. It’s practically impossible. Not every team has an identical collection of talent or types of players. I cover soccer for a living. The Spanish national team is very different to the German or French. These three countries have won the last three World Cups. They’ve all done it differently.

There’s never going to be only one way of doing things. It’d be a duller sport if that were the case. Not everyone will be the Rams or Chiefs — in the same way not everyone could be the 2013 Seahawks. Having sat down and talked to D.J. Fluker and Justin Britt, asked Carroll different questions about running the ball and stopping the run — it’s clear to me. They have a conviction to play this way and their preference is to play this way. It suits them. The players and staff.

Everything is connected again. They believe in this approach, they’re enjoying it. And they’re moving in the right direction.

The Seahawks will invest in their new core

I previously thought the Seahawks would be big spenders in the off-season. I thought they might invest in a free agent pass rusher (Jadeveon Clowney arguably being the most appealing target). I’ve changed my mind since the weekend.

Frank Clark’s price tag rises every week. Yes, he was playing a bad Oakland O-line starting two rookie tackles (and missing two key starters). However, Clark is taking the next step. He is flourishing as the star pass rusher on the team. He’s always had the physical talent to dominate and now he’s playing consistently well.

One way or another, Clark is going to be in Seattle next season. They won’t let him walk. He’ll either sign a big extension or he’ll be franchised. Ideally they spend the next week during the bye sorting out his long term future. If not, it’ll happen down the line. They can’t afford to let him walk — even if it costs a hefty sum.

Clark will likely be their splurge. He’s the one they’ll spend the big money on. And with D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy also priority re-signs, the chances of a big free agent splash seem increasingly slim. They have money to spend but they’ll also need to plan ahead for Jarran Reed’s second contract, a Russell Wilson extension and anything else they need to do.

It doesn’t prevent them from being active in free agency. They probably just take a calculated approach. It’s worth noting how significant this most recent off-season has been. While many over-analyse the decision to spend a first round pick on Rashaad Penny, let’s look at who they acquired in 2018:

D.J. Fluker
J.R. Sweezy
Tre Flowers
Will Dissly
Michael Dickson
Barkevious Mingo

All six players appear destined to be part of a new developing core. There’s plenty of time for Penny, Rasheem Green, Shaquem Griffin, Jacob Martin and Poona Ford to warrant similar consideration. And this follows a 2017 season where Duane Brown, Chris Carson, David Moore, Shaquill Griffin, Mike Davis, Tedric Thompson and Justin Coleman were added.

For all the negativity about Seattle’s recent drafts, this is a significant step towards a decent re-set. It’s far from complete but nobody expected it to be finalised this year. They’re on their way. And even with only a few picks to use in 2019 — they’ve shown some of the old personnel magic is returning.

What would be the top draft priority as things stand?

It’s still the pass rush. The Seahawks do need help there going forward — whether it’s the interior rush or another EDGE. The front seven could use a speed rusher to compliment what they already have. They could go for another base-end to match-up with Clark or an inside/out type (unless Rasheem Green takes on that role). They could look for a defensive tackle to partner with Jarran Reed.

The 2019 class will have multiple options. Here’s a reminder of some of the names to keep on your radar:

Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
Devin White (LB, LSU)
Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
Dexter Lawrence (DT, Clemson)
Jachai Polite (DE, Florida)
D’Andre Walker (DE/LB, Georgia)
Brian Burns (DE, Florida State)
Zach Allen (DE, Boston College)
Joe Jackson (DE, Miami)
Ed Oliver (DT, Houston)
Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama)
Derrick Brown (DT, Auburn)
Isaiah Buggs (DE, Alabama)
Josh Allen (DE/LB, Kentucky)
Austin Bryant (DE, Clemson)

These are all pass rush or front seven defenders. This will be a draft to go defensive front seven. It’s set up perfectly for the Seahawks.

Three of the names above — Polite, Burns and Jackson — all wear the same number (#99) and feature in this highlight reel:

Finally for now, here’s a video I took of the players leaving the Wembley field yesterday:

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Instant reaction: Seahawks thump Raiders in London

October 14th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

Something is building here.

The commitment to the run. A new, developing core. The Seahawks, finally, establishing who they want to be.

Playing this way, nobody will enjoy facing the Seahawks. They’ll batter the bad teams and compete with the good ones. Today was a battering. Oakland were never in the game.

Firstly, Seattle’s preparation was a clear difference maker. Pete Carroll spoke glowingly about ‘The Grove’ — their Watford base providing the perfect base camp. The Seahawks arrived on Thursday, held a practise immediately and appeared focused and organised in the two media sessions.

Oakland arrived a day later and stayed in the hotel across the road from the stadium. Presumably their only physical preparation in England was a walkthrough on Saturday. Marshawn Lynch opened a pop-up Beast Mode store at 4:30pm on Saturday.

What a contrast between the two. And it showed.

The last five Wembley games have been blow-outs. Preparation is key. The Seahawks got it right this week.

It enabled them to fly around the field, hit on defense and run with authority on offense. I asked Pete Carroll after the game about their recent success vs the run. Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Todd Gurley and now Marshawn Lynch — all kept in relative check.

You can hear his answer at the 5:50 mark in this video:

“That’s what makes us the Seahawks”

Carroll went on to declare he wants to be the most physical running team in the league. They’re already there. How could you argue otherwise? Three tough running backs, complimenting an offensive line that has become, officially, a team strength.

I interviewed D.J. Fluker after the game. We talked about Seattle’s offense, but also discussed his long term future. Having asked Carroll on Friday whether he wanted to extend Fluker and J.R. Sweezy’s contracts (“absolutely” being the response), I put a similar question to Seattle’s star off-season acquisition:

Here are some quick notes:

— Frank Clark’s price tag is increasing every week. A contract extension might be a priority during this bye week. He’s always had the talent to develop into one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. Clark has arrived.

— I interviewed Justin Britt after the game. Both he and D.J. Fluker were great, by the way. Britt feels Seattle already has the most physical running game in the league, talked up the rest of the O-line and made a point of praising Brian Schottenheimer. It’s an important point. The Seahawks have found their rhythm. They look comfortable. Maybe it was always going to take a few weeks to get going? Now they’ve found their identity. And the play-caller deserves some praise.

— Wembley NFL games aren’t known for a great atmosphere. This was by far the best I’ve heard. The Seahawks fans — from Europe and the US — made this a home game for Seattle. The noise on the first Oakland drive was Century Link-esque. The noise levels only dipped when the win was pretty secure. Kudos to the Seahawks fans.

— Carroll noted he’d happily come back to London in the future. Bring it on.

— These last few days will live long in the memory. Having the opportunity to report on the Seahawks, ask questions of Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson and others. Meeting Dave Wyman was a highlight. Capped off with a win. What a week.

I’ll have more on the game and the London experience tomorrow. I’ll probably do a podcast or Google Hangout too.

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Thoughts from London & CFB week 7 notes

October 14th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

Greetings from London. A lot of the talk from the Oakland press events here is that they haven’t had the best preparation. In fact there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm and organisation. ‘Shambles’ was a word that has been used. On the contrary, the Seahawks appeared to have a particularly competent strategy and plan for this trip. We’ll see if this translates into the game. Hopefully it will.

The weather is appalling in London today. Heavy rain. Yesterday was the complete opposite — sunny and unseasonably warm. It’s set up to be a day to run the ball.

I’ll be at the game so the ‘instant reaction’ post might not be quite so instant this week. However, I will be attending the press conference after and will see if I can get some player interviews. I might also consider doing a live Google Hangout too.

So how did the top draft prospects get on yesterday in CFB?

— Georgia’s D’Andre Walker remains an underrated prospect. He started the LSU game perfectly with a big sack on the first drive, showing great speed to stunt inside. The guard was holding on, desperately trying not to get flagged. Walker’s quickness and explosive athleticism could get him into round one. LSU’s brilliant Devin White, a future top-10 pick, had 13 tackles in the Tigers win (including sharing a TFL).

— Dre’Mont Jones’ big season continues. He had another sack against Minnesota and now has 5.5 for the season. He only had one sack in 2017 despite decent playing time. Jones is quick and probably the most agile interior rusher eligible for 2019. The question will be — can he play early downs and avoid getting washed out against the run (which still happens occasionally).

— We highlighted Florida’s Jachai Polite last week and he had another sack on Saturday in a victory against Vanderbilt. Polite has seven sacks in his last five games and has been unstoppable at times. He’s another player who isn’t getting as much attention as he deserves. Teams are keying in on him, identifying him as the best player on Florida’s defense. He will go early next year if he stays healthy.

— There are a number of good interior defensive linemen eligible for next years draft. Auburn’s Derrick Brown could go in the top-20. In a disappointing defeat to Tennessee, Brown recorded two TFL’s. It’s also worth noting how quarterback Jarrett Stidham has not taken the next step this season. None of the touted quarterbacks have. For me, Colorado’s Steven Montez remains the best prospect (although the Buffs lost for the first time this weekend against USC). Many people expect Justin Herbert at Oregon to stay in school. It’s hard to imagine a top-10 QB from this class as things stand.

— Boston College’s Zach Allen has been fun to watch this season. He’s a lot quicker than he looks and he’s been incredibly productive. In a victory against Louisville, Allen had three TFL’s and a sack. Very few defensive linemen have played as well as Allen in 2018. If he tests well at the combine he could go very early.

— Isaiah Buggs’ great year just keeps on rolling. He had another 1.5 sacks against Missouri to take his total to 7.5 for the season so far. Buggs is a great run defender but he’s developing into a terrific pass rusher too. Like Allen, if he tests well at the combine he could become a big riser. Team mate Raekwon Davis, another first round talent, had to apologise after the Mizzou game for punching an opponent three times.

— Ed Oliver collected his first two sacks of the season in a win against East Carolina. Oliver is extremely athletic, quick and talented. But he’s about 275lbs. And as we’ve said so many times — that is going to bother some teams. Can he play early downs? Can he even play defensive tackle at the next level? Can he control the LOS and play the run? Can he kick outside? There’s a lot to like about Oliver but there are lots of question marks too.

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London notes: Seahawks want to keep Sweezy & Fluker

October 12th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

— The Seahawks are based in Watford on the outskirts of London. Several teams have stayed at ‘the Grove’ golf resort before. As noted yesterday, this is the first time they’re doing the press conferences in what was officially dubbed ‘the potting shed’ instead of the bigger room next door. It was amusing being told to ‘return to the potting shed‘ when the media access to practise ended. You half expected to see someone watering the plants during Pete Carroll’s conference.

— The music at practise today had a particularly British theme. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie & Freddie Mercury, Billy Idol. Gracefully, there was no Ed Sheeran.

— I asked Carroll whether he wanted to keep J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker ‘long term’ with both players on one-year deals. Carroll’s response was an emphatic “absolutely” before adding both players were part of a developing core. This was interesting if not surprising. Both players are playing well enough to warrant longer contracts. Carroll’s reference to the core of the team, however, highlighted just how integral they’ve become. They’re not just players who happen to be doing a good job this year who you’d ideally keep. It seems they’re part of a group that is becoming the new foundation of the team.

— My question comes at the 3:42 mark (note Carroll’s amusement at hearing ‘Sweezy’ and ‘Fluker’ in a British accent):

— Russell Wilson walked into his press conference shouting, ‘apples and pears, apples and pears‘. If you’re unfamiliar with cockney rhyming slang, google it. He held back on doing a ‘cockney walk’ though which was disappointing. Wilson was very relaxed as you’d expect. I asked him how the running game has helped him in the last three games. You can watch his answer here (8:19 in):

— There was a lot of buzz in England when it was revealed the Baltimore Ravens were coming to London last year. They lost 44-7 to the Jaguars. After the game, John Harbaugh said the following:

“To be honest with you — and maybe I’ll get into trouble for saying this — don’t plan on going over there any time soon to play again. So, somebody else can have that job.”

Harbaugh also noted Jacksonville’s experience in travelling to London several times (they’ve won three straight Wembley games). It’s a big challenge for a team. The jet lag, having to travel to a different country. Even the weather (which isn’t too bad in London currently, but it’s very windy). The Seahawks aren’t guaranteed to win on Sunday but based on my brief experience at the two media days — I think they’ve at least given themselves the best possible opportunity. They arrived a day earlier than Oakland, they’re staying at a hotel with a practise facility on site. The Raiders are in a hotel across the road from the stadium (which is located in a busy industrial and commercial district). The players appear relaxed and comfortable. Hopefully this leads to a successful day at Wembley on Sunday.

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Seahawks in London: Thoughts from the camp

October 11th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

I’m in London and will be here until Monday. Here are my thoughts from today’s practise and press conference…

— The media were granted around 30 minutes to watch practise. One player stood out. Brandon Marshall. The only person on the field who came close to Marshall physically was Frank Clark. I’ve never seen a human being like Marshall. He’s had a slow start to the year but I can see why the Seahawks might persevere with him. He needs to start making some plays but I wouldn’t be so quick to write him off. He looks like a beast.

— None of the players appeared sluggish or frustrated after the long flight. The last four NFL games in London have been disappointing blowouts. This is a challenging trip if you’re not mentally right. Approaching it positively and not dwelling on the travel and time difference is key. There was no sign of any malaise today. I asked the Griffin brothers how the players were approaching the challenge of playing in London:

Shaquem:

“A lot of guys are excited. On the plane, we didn’t leave until late night so it’s kind of the time when we start sleeping so it kind of worked out just fine. We were on the plane talking to each other and interacting with the coaches and stuff so it wasn’t a bad flight… everyone was interacting with each other and walking around. We got here and we’re ready to work and everybody came in tuned in and ready. I think that’s one thing that was very important was being able to, you know, be able to relax but as soon as it’s time to work, turn it on. And I think we do a very good job at that.”

Shaquill:

“Yeah, you can see everybody dialled in. As soon as we got off the flight, everybody got their rest, came in and got a quick meal and hit the practise field and you can see how everybody hit the ground running. So you can see the focus there but you can tell everybody’s having fun and kind of just enjoying the experience of being here in London and out of the country but you can see we’re still here for business, everybody hitting the ground running… fast and competing.”

— Seattle made the trip earlier than the Raiders and are staying in a plush base outside of central London, often used by the England soccer team. They’ll have plenty of time to adjust in an isolated setting. The Raiders arrive tomorrow and are staying in a hotel across the road from Wembley Stadium. The two teams are approaching this very differently.

— I asked Pete Carroll a question about the impact of the running game during his press conference. If you watch the video at the top of the page, my question is at the 3:57 mark.

— I’ve attended hundreds of press conferences. One even took place in a toilet (don’t ask). However, today’s setting was particularly unique. The Seahawks are staying in a golf resort/hotel. Other NFL teams have stayed here before but usually the press conferences occur in the other (bigger) room. Today’s took place in what Carroll described as a ‘potting shed’. We had to reassure the Seattle media this wasn’t a usual setting for a press conference over here. And we gave that reassurance among the tomatoes and cabbages.

Here’s a video from practise featuring team warm-ups, then the O-line/QB/RB drills:

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New podcast: Looking ahead to London

October 9th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

If you missed it yesterday, don’t forget to check out this breakdown of 30 draft prospects separated into four tiers. It’s early but already the 2019 draft is taking shape in a really good way for the Seahawks.

Here’s this weeks podcast, reflecting on Seattle’s strong performance against the Rams and looking ahead to the Wembley game:

 

2019 draft: Early projections for 30 prospects

October 8th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

The stated aim in the off-season was to fix the run. It’s fixed. The offensive line is a team strength and looks terrific. The Seahawks offense is physical and explosive. It’s fair to wonder whether they would benefit from another dynamic target. Generally though, this is a unit they can win with.

The defense will need some help going forward.

That’s where the 2019 draft comes in.

We’ve said it so many times already — this is going to be a fantastic defensive line class. We could see a record number of front seven defenders taken in the first round. It’ll be the clear strength of the draft. The Seahawks, wherever they pick in round one, should be able to find a defensive linemen or linebacker they like.

With money to spend in free agency we could see an off-season plan like this:

1. Re-sign Frank Clark

No wonder it’s been the reported priority. Clark is showing he’s worthy of keeping. He’s developing into a leader to match fantastic production and consistency. He’s a must-keep and a new deal seems inevitable.

2. At least one free agent splash

To me, Jadeveon Clowney remains the most appealing option. He’s a freakish athlete with true game-breaking ability. If you’re going to spend, pay someone with the potential to be great. Yes he’s had some injury issues — but you’d hope to create a dynamic rotation. Clowney doesn’t even turn 26 until late February.

3. Spend your first pick on a front seven defender

This could be a linebacker depending on what happens with K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks. Ideally Wright returns quickly and finishes the year strongly, or Kendricks avoids jail and you keep one if not both. If that happens you can focus on an interior pass rusher or someone with great speed to rush the EDGE. It feels like that’s something that’s missing. Speed. Someone with that great 1.5 10-yard split. A combination of Clark, Clowney, Rasheem Green and then some speed — that’d be a killer rotation. The elusive interior rush-threat would also provide a major boost.

We’re well into the college football season now so here are my October gradings for 30 players. Notice the sheer number of possible options to fill the needs discussed above.

Early first round

Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
Ed Oliver (DT, Houston)
Devin White (LB, LSU)
Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
Brian Burns (DE, Florida State)

For me these are the standouts so far and the players most likely to go early in round one (top-10 range)

In a year without a highly touted quarterback prospect, Nick Bosa has to be the favourite to go #1 overall. Bosa, Clelin Ferrell and Ed Oliver would be potential top-five picks in any draft class. Devin White was recruited as an ‘athlete’ by LSU with a 122.19 SPARQ rating (the highest of the ‘athletes’ tested). He’s a class-act and a pillar of consistency. Christian Wilkins is somehow underrated by some but his play, personality and expected combine performance should secure a place near the top of round one. Brian Burns warrants such a high mark. He’s been unstoppable at times — with great length, quickness and production (seven sacks, 9.5 TFL’s).

Good chance of the first round

Steven Montez (QB, Colorado)
Dexter Lawrence (DT, Clemson)
Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama)
David Edwards (T, Wisconsin)
Jachai Polite (DE, Florida)

This group could go very early but I’m listing them as ‘expected first round prospects’ based on what I’ve seen so far

Quarterback Steven Montez is the real deal. Great size, mobility, deep accuracy and he can innovate. He’s elevating Colorado to a new level. He’s a first round talent and the clear #1 quarterback prospect. Dexter Lawrence is a monster — an athletic nose tackle who could work his way into the top-12. You’d like to see a bit more production from Raekwon Davis but he has Calais Campbell size with a little more quickness. David Edwards is the best offensive line prospect albeit strictly as a right tackle. Jachai Polite is an X-factor player and one to watch for Seattle. He’s extremely quick and relentless and LSU double teamed him all day on Sunday. Polite still made plays.

First round potential

D’Andre Walker (LB, Georgia)
Derrick Brown (DT, Auburn)
Rashan Gary (DE, Michigan)
Dre’Mont Jones (DT, Ohio State)
Damien Harris (RB, Alabama)
Greg Little (T, Ole Miss)

This group are a notch below the second tier but still have a really good chance to go in the first round

D’Andre Walker is fantastic. Really aggressive, quick to the ball and a top candidate to play SAM/LEO. Derrick Brown is also a physical presence albeit inside. His best football is yet to come. Rashan Gary flatters to deceive sometimes but there’s no doubting his physical potential. Dre’Mont Jones has really flashed as a pass rusher this season. Damien Harris is a long time favourite a complete running back. Greg Little is the next best offensive lineman after the superb David Edwards.

Possible top-50

Kaden Smith (TE, Stanford)
Isaiah Buggs (DE, Alabama)
Austin Bryant (DE, Clemson)
Zach Allen (DE, Boston College)
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (CB/S, Florida)
Josh Allen (LB, Kentucky)
Greedy Williams (CB, LSU)
Joe Jackson (DE, Miami)
A.J. Brown (WR, Ole Miss)
Taylor Rapp (S, Washington)
Bryce Love (RB, Stanford)
Jerry Tillery (DT, Notre Dame)
Benny Snell Jr (RB, Kentucky)

This group could go in the first round but the top-50 is very possible

It’s not a good year for tight ends again but Kaden Smith has a chance to go in round one. He’s a big, athletic target and a capable blocker. Isaiah Buggs has the size to play the run superbly but has also been a pass rush terror so far (six sacks, 6.5 TFL’s). Austin Bryant completes the big-name Clemson quartet but he’s had a quieter last couple of games. Zach Allen is really quick for his size and is having a great season. Testing will be key for him.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has switched from free safety to the nickel this year and he had a tremendous game against LSU on Saturday. He could play either position at the next level. Josh Allen has made a lot of plays for Kentucky (10.5 TFL’s) but his testing results will determine how early he goes as a 3-4 rusher. Greedy Williams looks the part but isn’t quite the finished article. Joe Jackson is quietly making a lot of plays for Miami.

A.J. Brown is a real weapon for Ole Miss but it’s hard to shake his 27.5 inch vertical at the SPARQ combine. He’ll need to do better in the pro version. Taylor Rapp and Greg Gaines are both really fun to watch on the Washington defense. Bryce Love is an electric runner but can he handle a big workload at his size? Keep an eye on Benny Snell Jr at Kentucky — he’s really good. Jerry Tillery is having a big year as a disruptive interior force for Notre Dame (nine TFL’s).

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Instant reaction: Seahawks compete and that’s alright

October 7th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

Fans went into this game fearing the worst. Even in defeat, there should be a renewed sense of optimism afterwards.

The Seahawks were competitive. They played their style of football. Last time these teams met the final score was 42-7. They were missing key starters (Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright).

Everything was set up for a Rams win. And they won. Kudos to them. They’re a good team. They ought to be too — they spent an off-season preparing to make this the year. And while LA added stars, the Seahawks cut and traded some of theirs.

It’s frustrating not to win because they had a shot. But ultimately this was a step forward. And the lasting thought should be — imagine how good this group will be?

Seattle’s O-line was shoved around and abused by Aaron Donald and co. for years. Today? they were finally a match. The O-line set the tone up front, continuously opened holes for the running game and protected Russell Wilson.

The line is a team strength. Take that in. The offensive line is a strength.

They’re tough, physical and will take you on.

The Seahawks ran the ball with authority. They committed to it, played to the way they’ve been built up front and it certainly aided Russell Wilson. This was a dynamic, explosive offense — with a running game at the heart of everything.

Rushing yards — 190
Passing touchdowns — 3
Commitment to the run — 100%

If anyone tries to tell you the run is overrated, outdated and a commitment to it doesn’t work — just walk away. Afford them their echo chamber.

Wilson looked a lot more comfortable this week and it’s fair to say — time is a healer. It’s perhaps unsurprising that the offense took a few weeks to get going. When has that ever not been the case in the Pete Carroll era? Throw in the fact this is Wilson’s first change of play caller. This style will do for me. Onto the Raiders.

Seattle couldn’t compliment their dynamic offense with equally good play on defense or special teams. Against a team like the Rams, all three units have to play at a high level. Too often the Seahawks conceded good field position on kick-offs and they just couldn’t make enough stops on defense. Tackling was also an issue.

Even so, there’s a positive to be had here. The defense didn’t capitulate. They were competitive. They just lack numbers. Add a couple of pass-rushers in the off-season and they’ll be even more competitive. Carroll is playing a blinder with this group.

They just need help.

They will get it. It’ll come in March or April. For now, we have to accept what’s available.

In this form, nobody will look forward to playing the Seahawks. They will punish opponents. They won’t win every week but they’ll give you a game. And if they win in London next week to get to 3-3, they’ll go into their bye believing they can make a post-season run.

That’s all we could’ve asked for this year.

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CFB week 6: Jachai Polite could be the answer

October 7th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

It’ll be interesting to see how the Seahawks approach their off-season plan — although adding to the front seven seems like an obvious priority. K.J. Wright is out of contract, Mychal Kendricks might be unavailable to be re-signed, Dion Jordan so far hasn’t done enough to warrant any long term faith and Frank Clark is a free agent.

Assuming they keep Clark, that could leave the following target areas:

— Linebacker
— Speedy DE
— Interior rusher

This would work perfectly with the options expected to be available in the 2019 draft. The strength of the class, without doubt, will be the defensive front seven. That was further highlighted on Saturday.

The combine will be fun to watch this year. The Seahawks don’t draft mediocre athletes to rush the passer. They’ll look for quickness, explosive athleticism and upside. We saw that with Rasheem Green and we’ve seen it with Clark and Bruce Irvin too. It’s easy to forget what an amazing athlete Cliff Avril was with his sensational 1.50 10-yard split.

They want great athletic qualities. It’s why I think they might take a look look at Jadeveon Clowney if he reaches free agency.

The D-line 10-yard splits will be a key test in 2019. Seattle has the bigger, explosive base-end types. They perhaps lack that quickness off the edge. Florida State’s Brian Burns (discussed below) could be a big-time option here to add some great speed and length. He might be pushing his stock out of range for Seattle. Another name to keep an eye on is Jachai Polite at Florida.

The LSU @ Florida game was a fascinating watch. LSU linebacker Devin White was again terrific (and will be a very early pick in the 2019 draft). Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has been playing nickel corner this season having previously featured at safety — but he had a big impact on the game and could be an option for Seattle with Earl Thomas departing and Justin Coleman also a free agent.

But the most impressive player was Polite. He’s been on our radar before. A year ago we highlighted his effort and possible interest to the Seahawks.

LSU consistently shifted two blockers to Polite’s side to chip and disrupt his flow. The plan failed. Despite the extra attention he lived in the backfield — recording two sacks, a QB hurry, a forced fumble and several pressures.

He’s not the longest at 6-2 and 260lbs but he’s well put together. FSU’s Burns is long, lean and athletic. Polite is extremely fast but more compact. His first-step quickness is exceptional and he often wins with get-off and the ability to bend and straighten to the QB. On one pressure he used a terrific spin move:

Florida’s D-line is talented. Jabari Zuniga — also draft eligible — is no slouch either. He had a sack and 1.5 TFL’s in the game. It was interesting to see LSU make it abundantly clear who they feared the most. Polite was doubled on nearly every snap and still made plays. That’s the kind of thing NFL teams notice.

Combining a quick, dynamic pass rusher like Polite with Clark and Green could be a way forward for Seattle. He looks like he’ll have a fantastic 10-yard split. If he gets to the combine and puts on a performance, remember the name Jachai Polite as an early round option for Seattle. He has six sacks so far this season.

— Brian Burns is a name to keep at the forefront of any Seahawks/draft discussion. He’s really quick, long and athletic. He’s having a fantastic season and is probably the only bright spot for Florida State so far. In a one-point loss to Miami, Burns recorded two more sacks (now seven for the season) and three TFL’s. He’s the real deal. I’m starting to think he could go in the top-12 range:

— Miami’s Joe Jackson also had two sacks in the game and is another name to monitor in this loaded D-line class. He’s up to five sacks for the season.

— Another week, another great performance by Colorado quarterback Steven Montez. We’ve been saying for weeks — he’s the top QB eligible for 2019. While the other big names have generally flopped or been far too inconsistent, Montez is the one who looks special. Size, deep-accuracy, great arm, mobility, improvisation. He led the Buffs to a 28-21 win over Arizona State and they remain unbeaten.

— It’s a shame we have to wait a year for Montez’s team mate Laviska Shenault Jr. to be draft eligible. He’s the most dynamic weapon in the PAC-12 by far and a future star. He scored four touchdowns against ASU.

— Tight End isn’t going to be a strong position (again) in the draft in 2019 but one player who could work his way into the top-40 is Stanford’s Kaden Smith. He has the size and athletic traits to work as a blocker and receiver. He caught eight passes for 120 yards against Utah at the weekend in a disappointing Cardinal defeat. A lot of the focus is on Bryce Love but Smith could be the higher pick.

— Isaiah Buggs has six sacks already. Alabama’s had a pretty easy route to 6-0 so far but it’ll be interesting to see how Buggs gets on in the tougher games ahead. Going into the year I thought he was the best run-defending DE eligible for the draft. His sack production on top of that could push him into the top-45 range.

— Damien Harris is being used in a rotation of running backs at Alabama. Don’t be mislead by that. He’s still the real deal. Ideal size, explosive traits, speed, power. Harris will be coveted by NFL teams and for me is the clear #1 back in this class ahead of Benny Snell Jr and Bryce Love.

— Dre’Mont Jones is having a big season for Ohio State and that continued in a win against Indiana. He collected another sack to take him to 4.5 for the season and also recovered a fumble. He’s done as much as anyone to bolster his stock this year.

— If you draft a Clemson defender in the first round next year, you’ve probably made a smart move. The Tigers defense smothered Wake Forest. Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are first-round locks but Clelin Ferrell will likely be the first name off the board. He had another sack on Saturday and will probably go in the top-five.

— I’m not sure how much of a problem this is because I’ve only seen one Houston game this season but Ed Oliver doesn’t have a sack in five games so far. He had 1.5 TFL’s in a win against Tulsa on Thursday. He’s extremely quick and will likely have a fantastic combine. You’d like to see a bit more production though.

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Wednesday thoughts — things I think this week

October 3rd, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

1. Mike Davis deserves an opportunity to win the starting running back job full time. When he’s had an opportunity to start he hasn’t let anyone down. He’s explosive, powerful and seemingly equipped to take on a big workload. Nobody can dispute Chris Carson is the most physically talented running back on the roster. Yet the Seahawks need consistency at the position — they haven’t had it since 2014. Davis and Rashaad Penny showed last week they can be a duo. Let’s see how they get on not just against the Rams but also against the Raiders in London.

2. Contrary to what many will tell you, there’s nothing wrong with Seattle’s approach of emphasising the run and complimenting it with defense and special teams. That’s how they won a Super Bowl in 2013 and it’s how Denver did it in 2015. This idea that it’s suddenly an ‘outdated’ ideology is nonsense. The defense needs more parts and they could probably use another weapon on offense. That would give them a fighting chance to control games, set the tempo and win. They need another off-season and unfortunately on Sunday the Rams could exploit Seattle’s injuries and lack of D-line depth. It’s hard to stay committed to the run if you’re chasing a double-digit deficit. That’s what they have to avoid on Sunday. Not easy. LA are legit. You might want to settle for a competitive game and a bit more ambition in the passing game.

3. Of all the prospective free agents the Seahawks could target, I think Jadeveon Clowney is the one I’d most like to see in Seattle. He’s never truly put together a full season due to injuries or consistency. Yet anyone who saw Clowney in college will be well aware that he’s a freak of nature with game-wrecking talent. Last Sunday was a great example of that. He had four TFL’s, two sacks, a fumble recovery and a touchdown against the Colts. When he’s on it, he’s unstoppable. We saw that when he played the Seahawks last season. He also has the size to play inside/out and hold up against the run. Seattle isn’t going to be in range for a Nick Bosa, Clelin Ferrell or Ed Oliver in the 2019 draft. If you’re hoping for a D-line off-season boost, the best bet might be to pair someone like Clowney with a contract extension for Frank Clark and then add some front-seven speed in the first round. Go and get the quickest EDGE you can find. Alternatively, go and get that forever elusive interior rusher.

4. People are probably going to overreact to the Earl Thomas injury and inevitable departure and start mocking safeties to Seattle when draft season comes around. Bradley McDougald, Tre Flowers, Justin Coleman and Shaquill Griffin have been fantastic. Pete Carroll is a master at developing defensive backs. Thomas is a legendary player and one of the all-time greats at his position. There won’t be another Earl sat waiting in the first round in 2019. They’ll have to come up with a solution but Carroll is the man to unearth one. Hopefully a replacement emerges from Tedric Thompson, Delano Hill, newly signed T.J. Green, Shalom Luani or Maurice Alexander. If not, they’ll likely do what they’ve consistently done. Find an unexpected diamond.

5. Next week I’ll be attending the Seahawks press conferences leading up to the Raiders game in London (which I will also be attending). I intend to head down to London on the Thursday and will be there until Monday morning.

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