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The pressure’s on Tom as Cable aims to get Seattle’s line rolling

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Seahawks O-line coach Tom Cable has a big job on his hands this year

I don’t like the cliché that football games are ‘won in the trenches’. You only have to look at some of the more recent Super Bowl winners. Elite quarterbacks win Championships behind porous lines.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat… or win at football. And so it is for the Seahawks.

Russell Wilson will still avoid trouble. Seattle will still run the ball with authority. The defense will make plays.

And yet there’s this nagging little itch you just can’t scratch.

The offensive line was an area for improvement especially after Breno Giacomini’s departure. So why is there justified concern that it could be even worse in 2014?

Snake-bitten Russell Okung is recovering from surgery again while rookie Justin Britt has also been nursing a sore shoulder.

Aside from Giacomini’s crucial and somewhat underrated departure to New York, they’ve also lost veteran guard/tackle Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie is now in Cleveland.

That’s some change given the two starters at right tackle have moved on, as well as a backup (if not ideal) left tackle who started multiple games. With Bowie struggling and then leaving, in came the previously unemployed Eric Winston plus Wade Smith and Cory Brandon.

With Okung and James Carpenter not 100% (although Carpenter will dress against the Broncos) the starting offensive line tomorrow could be: Bailey, Smith, Unger, Sweezy, Winston. It’s unlikely, but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that will be the starting line against the Packers.

That’s going to put some pressure on Tom Cable to get the best out of this unit.

(And for all the talk of Cable going after ‘his’ guys, a line of Bailey, Smith, Unger, Sweezy and Winston would only include two he’d developed from the start. Swap Okung for Bailey and it’s down to just one.)

It’s a serious investment of trust in Cable. Not misplaced trust, I’d add. But they’re relying on possibly the most high-profile line-coach in the NFL delivering an improvement without major new additions.

At times last year the line nearly cost Seattle some key games. Rams on the road, Cards on the road. It did contribute to the Seahawks losing their undefeated record at Century Link against Arizona.

All of those games came in the NFC West — the battleground where playoff destiny will be decided this year.

The Cardinals (signed Jared Veldheer, regained Jonathan Cooper) and Rams (drafted Greg Robinson, regained Jake Long) reinforced their protection. They needed to — this division isn’t going to get any easier. All four teams sport elite defenses — with the Rams adding another first round pick (Aaron Donald) to their front four.

It’s possible, as we saw, for the Seahawks to play badly on the offensive line and still win tough road games. History could repeat itself.

To some extent there’s not a great deal they could’ve done. Clearly they weren’t going to spend big on a guard or tackle in free agency — they couldn’t. They passed on Joel Bitonio in the draft but added Justin Britt in round two. None of the alternatives were especially alluring.

In terms of last minute veteran signings, Winston isn’t a bad one. He’s scheme familiar and although he struggled in Arizona for the most part, he played on an inexperienced O-line really lacking in quality.

(Some of you will draw comparisons I’m sure, but Seattle’s line won’t be that bad in 2014… I think).

Picking at #32 doesn’t offer much opportunity to go after a top offensive lineman — guard or tackle. The good ones go early — three in the top four in 2013, three in the top-12 this year.

When Cable, Carroll and Schneider took Britt at #64 they took the best remaining tackle on their board knowing they needed one. Unless they’re going to take Bitonio at #32 I’m not sure sleepless nights are necessary after missing out on Jack Mewhort.

Yet the pressure is there for Cable to make this a unit capable of dealing with adversity better. Bailey showed promise as a left tackle in pre-season last year and should be a superior stop-gap compared to McQuistan. J.R. Sweezy can continue to develop and Max Unger should bounce back from an inconsistent 2013.

It is though, sadly, the only unit with a big question mark. And it could be the difference between merely the playoffs and another shot at home-field advantage.

If Cable can get this group rolling, it’ll be a major shot in the arm to any ambitions he may have of becoming a Head Coach next year.

Seahawks waive Michael Bowie, Browns claim him

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Michael Bowie has a shoulder injury — serious enough it seems to end his 2014 season.

The Seahawks put him on the waived/injured list. The unwritten rule in the NFL is this usually allows you to stash the player on injured reserve when he goes unclaimed. Teams back off and don’t go cherry picking.

Not any more it seems. Last week the Patriots claimed running back Tyler Gaffney after Carolina put him on the waived/injured list. Technically they didn’t do anything wrong. A few eyebrows were raised, but there was plenty of, “that’s why they’re winners” sentiment. Belichick’s ruthless streak was applauded by some.

Now Cleveland has taken Bowie off waivers despite the fact he may not feature in 2014 and requires serious shoulder surgery (trying saying that quickly).

Right now the Seahawks are fashionable. Any young player drafted, developed and trained by this team is hot property. It was a chance the Browns couldn’t pass up.

It’s been quite a change in fortune for the 2013 7th round pick.

Last season Bowie showed some promise as a deputy right tackle and was praised by the coaching staff. Personally I felt he struggled badly at times too — he looked out of his depth in the Cardinals and Rams road games. But he was a 7th round rookie facing two elite defenses. It wasn’t a surprise.

As the year went on he grew into his role, before the inevitable return of Breno Giacomini saw a return to the bench.

In a shock move at the time he replaced James Carpenter at guard for the New Orleans playoff game, only to be displaced the following week against the Niners.

Despite the promise, clearly the Seahawks weren’t totally convinced he was the long term answer at right tackle. Why else would they spend a second round pick on Justin Britt? Mere depth?

Local media observers reported team displeasure with Bowie’s physical condition. Perhaps that played a part in the decision to take Britt — and perhaps by the summer the writing was on the wall, we just didn’t know it.

It does create an interesting dynamic going into 2014. Is Eric Winston a good enough stop gap if Justin Britt isn’t ready to start as a rookie? Winston struggled for the most part in Arizona, albeit on a shocking offensive line. If your two guards and your left tackle aren’t good enough — it’s pretty hard for the right tackle to work effectively.

But Winston has bounced around since a productive spell in Houston. Is scheme familiarity enough to make this work? Or is this the early signs of a problem position for the Seahawks?

Britt is an unknown commodity at this stage. Winston is only 31 but was unemployed until last week — and there are plenty of teams out there with O-line issues who could’ve used a serviceable tackle.

It’s a muddled situation it has to be said — although the news on Bowie was out of their hands. They couldn’t by rule put him straight on IR until the first round of cuts because of his status as a second year pro. They also used the same move (waived/injured) on Anthony McCoy and Jesse Williams. Both players went unclaimed.

Losing Bowie is just one of those things. The wider issue could be the line’s performance in general and whether they put enough focus on what was an injury-hit (and at times struggling) group in 2013.

The Seahawks can ill-afford the O-line to regress in a defensively stacked NFC West. And it’s within the NFC West that their playoff destiny could easily be decided. Bad offensive line play almost cost Seattle games in St. Louis and Arizona. Losing those games would’ve meant losing home field advantage last year — and potentially a safe passage to the Super Bowl.

Camp update: Marshawn arrives, McCoy to IR

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Marshawn Lynch is back. He’s ended his holdout but does so without a new deal. As Adam Schefter reports, Seattle maintained a firm stance with Lynch — they rewarded him two years ago with a new deal, and they were (quite rightly) wary of setting a bad precedent going forward.

If you pay Lynch this year after a holdout, do you do the same with Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman in a couple of years? They had to stick to their guns.

Lynch is paid handsomely in running back terms. He knew the team had a strong leverage position unlike the Chiefs with Jamaal Charles. Now it’s about calming the storm. Reports suggest the Seahawks won’t enforce the financial penalties Lynch accrued during his short holdout, plus they’ll escalate his pay for 2014. But there’s no true pay rise — just a re-working of the contract leading to a small top up.

If the options were play on or retire, thankfully for Seattle — Lynch has chosen not to call it a day just yet.

And yet I can’t help but feel it’s about time he showed up. As Dan Pompei puts it, “The team already makes a lot of exceptions for Lynch and has done a lot to accommodate his idiosyncrasies, many of which are becoming more pronounced as he becomes more successful.”

This isn’t me bad mouthing Lynch. He just appears to be treated differently to some other players. Whether it’s not turning up to OTA’s, appearing to give the finger to the sideline during the Cardinals road game last year or any of the other things that come with the Beast Mode package — sometimes you just need to accept when you’re onto a winner.

The Seahawks have been good to Marshawn Lynch, just as he has to them. Hopefully this fruitless holdout has led to an epiphany there.

This merely confirms what was feared yesterday. Surgery is likely and Williams’ NFL career may be over before it ever truly began. It’s a real shame for the player and the team. Yet this is why he was available in the 5th round last year.

Teams knew he had knee issues. He was at worst a second rounder without these complications. The Seahawks took a chance and had it paid off, they’d look great. But he fell because of the risk element involved.

Sadly, Williams’ knees wouldn’t afford him a shot in the pro’s.

The recent addition of Kevin Williams looks wiser and wiser with every passing week. Aside from the obvious experience/talent benefit — that extra depth looks crucial today.

It’s terrible news on McCoy as we touched on earlier in the week. It’s also a big blow for the Seahawks, who clearly had visions of big targets roaming the middle of the field in multi-TE sets.

People have asked about Jermichael Finley, a player they showed interest in during free agency. I’d say it’s unlikely. He’s due a sizeable insurance payout (approximately $10m) if he doesn’t play football again. Not only is he risking his long term health if he takes the field this year, he’s also taking a huge financial gamble.

Seattle won a Super Bowl without three assured tight ends and will be able to adapt to this. It’s still disappointing we won’t get to see what they were planning with McCoy, Luke Willson and Zach Miller.

Steve Maneri has been brought in on what appears to be a trial basis. They may look at other TE’s down the line. Maneri runs in the 4.8′s at 6-7 and 270lbs.

Jesse Williams hurts knee, leaves practise

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

This is unfortunate news for Williams who was hoping to prove he was healthy enough for a shot at a NFL career. There’s no report yet on the seriousness of this latest setback, but it doesn’t sound promising. At Alabama he showed minimal pass rush but an ability to anchor, hold his point and work against the run. At the very least he looked like a two-down run stuffer.

He may never get an opportunity to translate those skills to the NFL.

Seahawks add Eric Winston, McCoy injures Achilles

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Replacing Breno Giacomini isn’t going to be easy. Today’s addition of veteran right tackle Eric Winston explains why.

Michael Bowie has been slowed by injury while rookie Justin Britt is, well, a rookie. He was drafted highly in the second round but he’s also a Tom Cable project — not a decorated college prospect who was expected to go early in the draft.

At a time when neither Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman had signed new deals, you can understand the Seahawks not wanting to pay millions on a veteran right tackle. Even so, Giacomini was seriously underrated by many fans and media — a viewpoint seemingly based on a difficult start to the 2012 season. Having shaken off his liability tag regarding sloppy penalties, he’d gone beyond competent. There aren’t many better right tackles in the NFL.

Winston might be a decent make-shift tackle. He knows the ZBS — mastered it in fact during a lengthy and productive stint in Houston. He struggled somewhat in Arizona last year, albeit on a patchwork offensive line that offered little support.

If Britt isn’t ready and if Bowie isn’t healthy, he could end up winning a job in Seattle.

If that’s the case, at least he’ll only have to face Kam Chancellor on the practise field next year…

Meanwhile there was bad news regarding tight end Anthony McCoy today…

On the field at USC, McCoy flashed legit first round talent. It’s probably why Pete Carroll gave him a shot as a late round prospect while other teams sneered at his character red flags.

This will be his second serious Achilles injury (both legs have been injured) in two seasons. It’s too early to write him off, but this is a tough break. In 2012 he showed progression and greater consistency. He was trending upwards.

Now the Seahawks will be forced to look elsewhere.

They clearly wanted to utilise bigger targets over the middle having re-signed McCoy and looked at Jamichael Finley. This is a setback.

Seahawks add Terrell Thomas

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Thomas is an interesting case. He’s 6-0 with length, he worked with Pete Carroll at USC and in many ways a move to Seattle seemed inevitable. Eventually, he get gets here.

Back-to-back ACL injuries in 2011 and 2012 threatened to end his career, but the 29-year-old bounced back with a solid campaign last year. Now he gets the opportunity to compete in Seattle. He faces a battle.

The Seahawks are rich at corner as we know. Just a few days ago Earl Thomas compared Tharold Simon to Richard Sherman.

If Thomas is going to predominantly act as a nickel corner, he surely has to win the job outright. There really isn’t room for a veteran backup nickel corner (see: Antoine Winfield). And even then, I sense they want their nickel to have the ability to play outside.

Can Thomas do that?

Cassius Marsh off to a fast start

Monday, July 28th, 2014

More than anything, this is what I wanted to see at the start of training camp: Cassius Marsh fitting right in straight away.

This is just my personal preference, but the two things I want to see in a pass rusher is get off/speed and hand technique.

The speed aspect is pretty obvious. You need it if you’re going to work the edge and compete against increasingly mobile quarterbacks. It’s not just about the pass rush either — the QB’s move around so much more these days you also need to contain and work against the read-option. DE’s and linebackers have to be faster and smarter.

The thing is, it can’t just be about speed. Too many college DE’s dominate a college tackle on speed alone and look great doing it. Then they make the step up to the pro’s and suddenly the speed doesn’t have the same impact. NFL tackles are quicker, bigger and stronger. You need a counter, you need a repertoire. You can’t rely on just being quick off the edge.

How many athletic DE busts have there been in the last 10 years? Pass rushers who look great flying off the edge and rounding the tackle. Then they get into the league and can’t make it happen. Sometimes being a little slower in college helps because you’re FORCED to work on technique. Speed is not the be-all and end-all.

Hand use is so important. You need to be able to engage and get off a block. If you’re relying on speed what are you doing? The same edge rush time after time with the occasional stunt inside?

If you can engage contact and release effectively, you’re just making life harder for an OT. They’ll take awkward angles, it might draw a guard into a double team. They can’t just set, kick-slide and mirror over and over again. Edge speed is great — but it’s even better with strong hands and the ability to get off a block.

When I studied Marsh after the draft (you can read the full article here) — he showed excellent technique. He isn’t a burner (4.89 speed) and it’s clear he’s had to work on other aspects of his game to compensate. Here’s a quote from that piece:

When he gets pro-guidance and can concentrate exclusively on development, he could make immediate and drastic improvements to what was already a pretty solid college career. It’s going to be hard work. He didn’t look in great shape at the combine despite slimming down to 252lbs. He could gain another 10-15lbs and look better for it. If he’s prepared to put in the graft he could be an exciting player.

The Seahawks need another pass rusher. They didn’t just lose Chris Clemons this year, they also lost Clinton McDonald. Cliff Avril is a free agent in 2015. The defensive line is the one area Carroll and John Schneider haven’t had the midas touch in the draft. They’ve relied on veterans.

Marsh could break that duck.

He can work inside or out, he’s naturally strong and the extra weight gain will help here. He’s another Michael Bennett type of rusher. The Seahawks had a lot of success at the end of last season rushing Clemons, Avril and Bennett on obvious passing downs. It’d be a shame to lose such an aggressive and potent attack — and Marsh has an opportunity to fill the gap left by Clemons in these types of situations.

San Francisco and St. Louis both sport elite pass rushing units. Arizona has one of the best overall defenses in the NFL. Seattle’s defense is also right up there, but if they want to stay at #1 they’ll need the pass rush to continue to prosper. And that means some of the younger guys such as Marsh need to have an impact.

It’s early days but so far, so good.

Marshawn Lynch will hold out of training camp

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Nothing good was ever going to come out of Jamaal Charles holding out.

One of the best all-round playmakers in the game earning a relative pittance compared to his peers. It’s no wonder Kansas City promptly paid up. They have enough drama brewing with Alex Smith.

Here was a team rewarding its best offensive weapon. A guy they were building around. The moment Charles held out, it was inevitable Marshawn Lynch would do the same.

What chance is there Seattle will act like the Chiefs? Charles’ cap hit in 2014 is now $9.6m. Marshawn Lynch takes up $7m. Will they pony up a few extra million?

Is it just a hit and hope situation from Lynch? It’s not like anyone expects him to be pulling double time during camp. He might as well stay away and just see what happens. I doubt the team are overly concerned by his no-show, he’s usually rested at this time of year anyway.

They’ll want Lynch for the season opener that’s for sure. But they’ll also see this as an opportunity to really challenge Christine Michael and Robert Turbin. They drafted both players for a reason and won’t feel like they have to pay Lynch two years removed from signing him to an extension.

And let’s be right here — what alternative does Lynch have? Nobody is likely to trade for (and pay) a running back with his punishing style who turns 29 next year. Great player — yes — but not a long term investment for anyone. I’m not sure even Lynch expects to play beyond the next year or two.

Seattle’s offense and Beast Mode were made for each other. He may see this as a point of principal but time is running out. Surely he won’t turn his back on his career just yet to make a statement? Yet that seems to be the only realistic threat he can make. Perhaps, in light of Sidney Rice’s retirement, they’ll give him a little extra to calm the storm?

Or maybe they’ll call his bluff?

It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Sidney Rice retires from the NFL

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Sidney Rice always had the potential to be an exceptional NFL receiver.

Size, speed, incredible leaping ability and safe hands. Everything you look for. Plus that little extra something that usually separates the good from the great — an agitated, pissed off with the world attitude.

I never had a problem with Sidney’s fairly frequent visible frustration. He knew how to get open — and one of Russell Wilson’s major areas for improvement is to capitalise on missed chunk plays. I’m sure we can all remember one of the several times Rice — hands clasped to his helmet — knew his QB had missed a chance.

One sticks in the mind — an impressive scramble in the playoff victory over Washington 18 months ago. At the time it looks great on the TV — until they played the replay. Rice destroyed the coverage. He was wide open. One look and throw from Wilson — it would’ve been a touchdown. And but for a timely fourth quarter comeback that play could’ve been costly.

For all the clutch plays and grit shown by Seattle’s receivers last year, nobody quite knew how to get open like Rice. Even when he was covered he usually found a way to make things happen — a late knee to the turf, an elbow grazing the grass just as he was about to go out of bounds.

Who can forget his touchdown in Arizona? Brilliance from Wilson to scramble and throw off balance — but also brilliance from Rice to adjust his route and find a soft spot in the end zone. Textbook. Pure class.

I’m not sure why this announcement was made today. ‘Concussions’ seem to be the slightly vague determining factor. Has he received some fresh medical advice? Was this latest comeback from a serious knee injury a step too far? Did he secretly know deep inside he wouldn’t make the cut?

As talented as he was, Rice just couldn’t stay healthy. He’s one of those guys who always seemed to be banged up one way or another.

It cost him a potential shot at greatness. The talent, the physical qualities, the attitude. It was all there.

Yet his role in Seattle shouldn’t be underestimated. We talk about it a lot on here — but the 2010 Seahawks roster was a patchwork effort by Pete Carroll and John Schneider when they inherited a mess of a franchise. They needed to inject some proven quality in free agency to get it going.

When they signed Rice and Zach Miller during the 2011 off-season after a lengthy lockout, it continued the Beastquake momentum. It was the start of Seattle becoming a trendier destination for free agents. And as hoped, they made the team better. Good enough to contend and then eventually dominate.

He got a lot of cash for an injury hit spell with the Seahawks, but I highly doubt anyone in the front office will be second guessing the decision to sign Sidney Rice.

Seattle added Morrell Presley as a replacement — a TE/WR. Essentially, another big bodied target.

NFL Top-100 Google Hangout

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014