Archive for October, 2018

Seahawks in London: Thoughts from the camp

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

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

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

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

Monday, October 8th, 2018

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

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

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

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

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

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

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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