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Reaction: Seahawks well beaten by Raiders

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Seattle’s backups (and some of the starters) had an off-night in Oakland

Well, this was something of a surprise.

I settled in to watch the first half of this game at 3am GMT. By the end of the first drive I was already plotting an early exit. Russell Wilson dissected Oakland’s backup defense with three completions for 77 yards and a touchdown. Everything was going to plan.

Then the defense came out. What occurred next was totally unexpected.

Sleep? I couldn’t take my eyes off this. This was the football equivalent of slowing down to gawp at a car crash.

Dennis Allen has a very different approach to pre-season games compared to Pete Carroll. In this one for example he sat nearly every starter. Seattle gave both starting units a series and kept certain players (Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor) on the field for extra game time.

That’s why it was so surprising to see rookie Derek Carr (poor in his previous pre-season outings) pick apart Seattle’s defense on a long opening touchdown drive.

It might’ve raised a few eye brows, but it wasn’t inexplicable.

The defensive line simply got mauled. They created no pressure with the pass rush and couldn’t stop any run play. They were gashed.

Carr deserves credit for taking advantage, but even the sloppiest NFL quarterback will make a few plays in a squeaky clean pocket. There were some nice back shoulder throws and Carr was very accurate on the night. But he shouldn’t have had such an easy ride.

After the initial tying touchdown things escalated very quickly. Bryan Walters fumbled on the following kick off, gifting the Raiders great field position and an immediate second score. Phillip Adams got torched peaking into the backfield on a downfield throw and was beaten badly. The Raiders had 14 points in 15 seconds.

Pete Carroll preaches protecting the ball and limiting explosive plays. Through Walters and Adams, they betrayed both core philosophies in less than half a minute.

Tarvaris Jackson replaced Wilson for the subsequent drive and immediately had to drag a confused Paul Richardson into the right position. That badly organised play ended in a holding call and a botched snap on the next one almost led to another turnover. Punt time.

The special teams unit gave up a big return to follow and then Carr scored another touchdown immediately. It was certainly his night and a tipped pass by Malcolm Smith deflected kindly into the hands of a receiver.

One more three and out and yet another quick Oakland scoring drive completed one of the worst quarters of football in Carroll’s ultra-successful reign. In a flash 7-0 became 7-28.

Seattle regained its composure by half time and the rest of the game played out as a pretty even (if somewhat tedious) contest.

It’d be easy to overreact to this ultimately meaningless outing. A lot of the players who played badly here will be cut. It’s unlikely Seattle’s two starting units will perform this badly next week.

Yet there are some concerns that need to be addressed. The depth on the defensive line is the key one.

Michael Bennett, Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Cliff Avril are fine starters. O’Brien Schofield has possibly been Seattle’s brightest spark in August after Russell Wilson. It has to be of some concern, however, that beyond this group hardly anyone has stood out.

Gregg Scruggs has drifted between ineffective and at times a liability (see his needless hands-to-the-face penalty that torched Kevin Pierre-Louis’ interception). D’Anthony Smith was pushed around all night. Cassius Marsh looks like he needs a red-shirt year and left the game with a hip problem. Jordan Hill had a sack but hasn’t exactly filled Clinton McDonald’s shoes in pre-season. Veteran addition Kevin Williams hasn’t had much impact.

The pass rush will probably be OK if Bennett and Avril stay healthy. Schofield can provide some threat in the three man edge rush that worked so well at the end of last season. The interior line and rotation could be a problem though.

Will the line suffer when the starters aren’t in? How about the run defense? You could argue they had ugly games last season too (see: Tampa Bay). In fact the run-D was pretty patchy for the most part. It hasn’t improved. Not on this evidence.

The NFC West is a war of attrition and you need to be stout up front. Seattle needs to be effective against the run. They also need the ability to rotate like they did so brilliantly last year.

Carroll and John Schneider have done a fantastic job building this roster. One of the all-time great jobs in fact — they don’t get enough credit nationally, even despite all the plaudits this year. Yet they’ve struggled to draft for the defensive line.

They inherited Mebane and Bryant and traded for Clemons. They signed McDaniel as a free agent and traded for McDonald. They made cost-effective moves in free agency for Bennett and Avril. They went after Williams this off-season to add experience to a line now missing some key leaders.

The moves they’ve made should be applauded — it’s just as tough to find starters in free agency or via trades as it is in the draft. But with money getting tighter they need to find young, cheap talent for the DL. So far it’s the one thing they haven’t achieved.

They’ve avoided defensive linemen early in their five drafts. The highest pick they’ve spent is Jordan Hill in round three. Does it need more attention?

It’s also evident that Seattle’s incredible depth — created by excellent drafts between 2010-12 — is on the wane somewhat. Last year Seattle’s backups terrorised pre-season opponents and many were snapped up by rivals on cut day. That level of depth isn’t there any more.

The number of misses in 2013 is mostly to blame. From 11 picks last year only Christine Michael, Jordan Hill, Tharold Simon and Luke Willson remain, plus UDFA’s Alvin Bailey and Caylin Hauptmann. It was unfair to expect Seattle to retain the 2013 depth for years to come, but it does show the kind of pressure they’re under to keep hitting in the draft.

The 2014 class has already suffered some setbacks. Garrett Scott is unlikely to return, Jimmy Staten appears set for the practise squad along with potentially Kiero Small while Eric Pinkins is on the PUP list. Kevin Norwood is fighting to be healthy for the start of the season. Terrelle Pryor, who cost a seventh rounder, could be cut this weekend.

There are promising signs too. Cassius Marsh could develop into a versatile pass rusher while big things are expected of Paul Richardson. Both players probably require a red-shirt season, though. The only immediate starter to come out of the class could be Justin Britt — and coupled with a lack of starters in the 2013 class — it’s not surprising the depth is weaker this year.

It’s no reason to panic or be overly negative. But it’s also worthy of debate. We shouldn’t avoid talking about this.

On the positive side Russell Wilson appears ready to take a major step forward, Percy Harvin is healthy and sharp and the offensive line is moving in the right direction. Bruce Irvin is also facing a big year and could be set for a break-out season when he gets healthy.

It does raise the interesting point though of quality versus quantity in a draft. Seattle has traded down en masse for consecutive drafts selecting 20 players in 2013-14. The New England Patriots have taken a similar approach in recent years, with mixed results.

You can hardly blame the Seahawks for feeling confident about their ability to hit in the later rounds and find “their guys”. Yet a high number of picks doesn’t guarantee depth and quality. Sometimes less is more — picking higher and getting better players. I don’t expect their philosophy to change in 2015 and it’s not like they aren’t flexible. They’ll be aggressive when the time calls (see: Harvin trade).

It’s hard to criticise anything about their draft approach, but I also think there are lessons to be learnt from the Pats here. Did they get a bit cute? While they’ve been competitive for years, they’ve often fallen just short in recent seasons.

I’ll end with some final thoughts on a few players vs Oakland:

— Bryan Walters played really well despite the fumble. He scored a touchdown and had an impact as a receiver. If there’s no home for him in Seattle he’ll land somewhere else. It’s easy to linger on the fumble, but take that out of his performance and what more could he have done on the night?

— Terrelle Pryor just doesn’t look special enough. Yes he’s a great athlete, but at no point during this pre-season has he been truly exciting and worthy of stashing as a third QB. Keep two quarterbacks and bring in a player who can contribute to the DL or DB rotation.

— Phillip Adams and Akeem Auguste both made nice plays and had some big errors. With A.J. Jefferson injured it’s probably a safe bet Seattle’s final defensive back comes in from another team. On the plus side Deshawn Shead had a good performance.

— It was a tough night for any of the running backs to impress given Seattle quickly fell behind 28-7. I still think Spencer Ware will make the cut.

What I’m looking for tonight vs Oakland

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Terrelle Pryor could feature against his old team this evening

1. Can Terrelle Pryor earn a roster spot?
Who knows whether the Seahawks are willing to keep three quarterbacks — they have a secure 2014 backup in Tarvaris Jackson. If they keep Terrelle Pryor they’d have to re-sign him as a free agent next year. If he was on a cheap three-year contract it might be a no-brainer, but he isn’t. The ugly interception last week against Chicago stuck out like a sore thumb. It’s unclear how much he’ll play tonight. Here’s why he might stick around — Seattle probably wants to groom a new backup. Jackson is 32 next year and while not terribly old, he hasn’t got Pryor’s outstanding athleticism. He also has zero trade value these days. Pryor is similar to Russell Wilson as a mobile, potentially explosive playmaker. He could have trade value in the future. He’s also a good scout-QB when preparing to face the 49ers. If he gets some playing time tonight and he doesn’t mess up — there is room to stash him on the roster.

2. What is left to decide?
Not much. O’Brien Schofield easily won his battle with Benson Mayowa. Ricardo Lockette easily beat out any potential wide receiver competition. Heath Farwell needing surgery made life easy at linebacker. Korey Toomer gets another chance to stand out, while Mike Morgan has had a good summer. Akeem Auguste and Phillip Adams might be fighting over one spot. The fringe players may simply be fighting for an opportunity elsewhere.

3. Can they keep up the momentum?
In the last two weeks the offense has been on fire. Russell Wilson might take a drive and call it a night with the rest of the starters. It’d be nice to see the backups collect the baton and make it another productive display. In the grand scheme of things these games don’t matter and whatever happens tonight is unlikely to have much impact against the Packers next week. Yet last year the Seahawks started hot in pre-season and began the regular season in a similar fashion. It won’t hurt to keep things ticking along.

4. Stay healthy
This one is obvious. No injuries tonight — to the starters and key backups. These week four games carry a sense of desperation — players know this is their last chance to create an impression. Get what you need out of your key guys and move on. It’s staggering the NFL forces teams to cut down to 75 players before this game. Why not maintain the 90-man roster for another week and cut straight to 53? You play four pre-season games and this is the one where you want a large roster.

College football returns tomorrow

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Cedric Ogbuehi is a potential top ten pick at left tackle

Game #1 this year will be Texas A&M vs South Carolina. Who knows what to expect from these two in 2014 — both are sporting new quarterbacks. Both have lost top ten picks this year (Clowney, Matthews, Evans).

Most of the focus will be on the two offensive lines. Cedric Ogbuehi could easily make it a hat-trick of top-10 O-line picks for the Aggies. He moves over from right to left tackle just like Jake Matthews a year ago. SCAR’s Corey Robinson isn’t going to be a top pick in a loaded tackle group but he could generate some second day interest with a good season. Guard’s Germain Ifedi (TAMU), Mike Matthews and A.J. Cann (SCAR) plus center Mike Matthews (TAMU) are worth keeping an eye on, as is running back Mike Davis (SCAR).

On Saturday I’ve got three games on the schedule — Virginia vs UCLA, West Virginia vs Alabama and Florida State vs Oklahoma State.

I’m quite interested to see which players emerge from the SEC. It’s not a conference loaded with obvious first round picks this year. Ogbuehi should be one, but after that you might be struggling.

Alabama receiver Amari Cooper is a natural talent but lacks size and has inconsistency issues. He could suffer the same fate as Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri) has the potential to be a top pick as a former JUCO transfer — but he needs to fill the gap left by Michael Sam and Kony Ealy and deliver on his enormous potential.

Dante Fowler Jr (LB/DE, Florida) is an exciting athlete capable of playing anywhere on the line or dropping into space. He needs to make more big plays, however, and with the Gators hoping for a bounce back year he should be more of a consistent playmaker.

La’el Collins (T/G, LSU) could’ve been a first or second round pick this year but chose not to declare. Talented offensive linemen are popular in the early rounds but his stock will be impacted if teams see him as a guard and not a tackle.

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia) gets a lot of unfair Marshawn Lynch comparisons. He’s not Marshawn Lynch. He’s a capable playmaker with decent speed for his size. But he tired quickly in some games last year. At his size you want to see him wear down a defense over three or four quarters.

Players can and will emerge from a still deeply competitive SEC. But there isn’t the big name draw of previous years. It could be a wide open conference in 2014.

The Big Ten has an interesting crop of potential first rounders. Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa) is a sure-fire lock to go in round one if he stays healthy while Melvin Gordon (RB, Nebraska) is by far the most intriguing skill-position player eligible for the 2015 draft.

Devin Funchess (TE, Michigan) has ideal size and speed for his position and is so fluid running down field but he most improve his catching (he’s set to switch to wide receiver this year, apparently). Randy Gregory (LB, Nebraska) struggles to get off blocks attacking the edge but when he works in space he’s an effective blitzer. Noah Spence (DE, Ohio State) is another one to monitor when he returns from suspension.

In the PAC 12 you’ve got Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon) who should go on to be the top pick next year. Marcus Peters (CB, Washington), Leonard Williams (DT, USC), Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon), Andrus Peat (T, Stanford) and Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA) have their admirers. The depth is perhaps more impressive with Hroniss Grasu (C, Oregon), Hayes Pullard (LB, USC), Austin Hill (WR, Arizona), Shaq Thompson (S/LB, Washington), Kasen Williams (WR, Washington),
Hau’Oli Kikaha (DE, Washington) and Jake Fisher (T, Oregon) making this a conference to watch. Jaelen Strong (WR, Arizona State) is a bit overrated for me while USC’s Williams and Stanford’s Peat need to prove their worthy of the pre-season hype.

The ACC will be dominated by Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State) talk. He has the skills and the talent to be an effective NFL quarterback — but he must make technical improvements (throwing motion, delivery) and stay out of trouble. He’ll be protected by likely high pick Cameron Erving at left tackle — a defensive line convert. Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson) is the real deal, despite a lack of size.

Peter King picks against Seattle because ‘history’ tells him to

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Peter King shook this ball and it told him Seattle will not win the Super Bowl this season

Peter King says the Seahawks are the best team he’s seen during a 2014 camp tour.

Peter King says the Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl.

The reason?

History.

“… of the 27 teams I witnessed in person this summer (at 22 camps, four games and one joint practice session), Seattle’s the best I saw. Stubbornness is a good reason why one of the other 31 teams will be my call, but the reality of repeating is that it’s become the toughest thing to do in sports. Think of it: For eight straight years, the defending champ has either not made the playoffs or hasn’t gotten past its first playoff game.”

It’s nothing to do with any issues the Seahawks might face, or the quality of their potential opponents. It’s nothing about the motivational challenge of doing it all again…

Pete Carroll hasn’t focused on the R word. “Teams not repeating—that’s not topical to us,” he told me. “I just asked them to have the best offseason of their lives and to come back ready. They have.”

Nope. This prediction is all about other non-related teams failing to repeat in the past. It’s about Joe Flacco winning a title in a key contract year and failing to play at the same level with a $120.6m deal safely secured. It’s about the New York Giants — a 9-7 team during the 2011 regular season — failing to be anything more than a hot playoff outfit. It’s about an Aaron Rodgers-reliant Green Bay coming up against a killer pass rush and having no Plan B.

Because those teams failed, Seattle will too.

That’s the theory.

It’s not exactly a stretch to suggest the Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl this season. But if they don’t, it won’t be because history says it’s unlikely. The 2012 Baltimore Ravens, 2011 New York Giants and 2010 Green Bay Packers were not built for longevity. An ageing roster with a QB earning his pay day, a hot playoff team and a typically modern day QB-dependent franchise. The Seahawks are none of those things.

King knows this, he’s been at camp. He’d probably concede they’re different to the other recent Super Bowl winners.

He even knows there’s still room for improvement…

Hard for any team that won the Super Bowl by 35 points to look better the next year. But if Harvin plays every week—which is no lock, with his recent injury history—I could well be eating my prediction in five months. Which, as you know, will be nothing new.

It’s not just Percy Harvin either. Russell Wilson is only entering year three of his pro-career, after setting records in the first two. The entire defense is pretty much intact. They’ve tied up the key components of the roster. Carroll set out from the start to ‘Win Forever’. Forever’s a long time, but 3-4 years at the top isn’t unachievable.

History won’t beat the Seahawks but a loaded NFC might. Arizona beat Seattle at Century Link last year. Tampa Bay came close. So did San Francisco in the Championship game. The Seahawks are not unbeatable even at home and the NFC West is a war of attrition.

They can be beaten. They will be beaten at times in 2014.

Point to a resurgent Packers team, the rivalry with the 49ers, the Saints behind Drew Brees. Get on the Denver bandwagon or believe in Tom Brady. There are others too. There are teams capable of matching up with the best.

But history?

That’s the last thing that’s going to stop the Seahawks.

History says you can’t draft a 5-10 quarterback and start him as a rookie. History says college coaches don’t work in the NFL. History says a 5th rounder can’t turn into the best cornerback in the NFL.

King will pick somebody else to win the Super Bowl this week. Probably Denver, New England or Cincinnati. Maybe Green Bay or San Francisco. Who knows. But it won’t be Seattle.

And his reason for not picking the team he declares as the best will be because they are simply ‘Champions’.

Thoughts on the Bears game & Sam Bradford’s injury

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Rusell Wilson had another terrific performance against Chicago

— The offense hasn’t ever looked this devastating under Carroll. In the last two weeks it’s hit new heights. Russell Wilson is playing at a new level. The running game is rolling. The offensive line is doing a fine job. And with a healthy Percy Harvin, the Seahawks genuinely have one of the most explosive players in the NFL. Yes it’s pre-season, but this is incredibly encouraging.

— Jermaine Kearse had a big game. He’s still the best deep ball and contested-catch receiver on the team. His reliability catching in traffic and ability to make tough grabs should make him a key third down target. He’s incredibly underrated only because he doesn’t play on a pass-happy offense. He did a great job getting open in the first quarter and the touchdown on the third drive capped off an excellent display. Nobody stands to benefit more from Golden Tate’s departure than Kearse.

— For all the concern about the offensive line, James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy are ready. It’s taken a while for Carpenter — who had a superb career at tackle for Alabama. He’s in shape, he understands the scheme. Sweezy needed time. He was playing defense three years ago. Physically he’s ideally suited to the right guard spot. He had a solid 2013 and will only keep getting better. He’s ready to take another big step forward. The only concern at the moment on the O-line is Russell Okung’s ability to stay healthy and a rusty display here. He was easily beaten by Willie Young on a Wilson sack and had a false start in the red zone shortly after. Let’s hope this was just a loosener.

— If there’s any concern right now it’s probably the interior pass rush. We’re still not seeing any real game-plan from the defense and the Michael Bennett/Cliff Avril duo will be effective. Losing Clinton McDonald could be a problem though. McDonald was a consistent force in 2013. The Seahawks need some interior rush and nobody’s really stood out so far. An injury or two inside and the big-bodied depth also looks a little weak.

— O’Brien Schofield has been excellent. He had one big sack on Jay Cutler and nearly had another. The battle with Benson Mayowa is essentially over. Schofield will surely get the opportunity to replace Chris Clemons. Cassius Marsh had a sack against the Bears and has flashed at times — he looks good. But I fear we won’t see the best of him until 2015. He looks like a guy who needs a year.

— Byron Maxwell couldn’t get the better of Demaryius Thomas but since then he’s been lights out. The downfield coverage on Alshon Jeffrey in the first half here was exquisite. He looks assured and ready for a big (contract) year. Recovery speed is absolutely necessary to be a top corner and Maxwell has it in abundance. Technically he’s taken big strides from last season. Jeremy Lane also looked good in the slot against Chicago — getting one pick at the end of the first half and almost grabbing another. If there are a few question marks with the pass rush, there’s nothing to worry about in the secondary.

— The ref’s let the DB’s play. The so-called ‘Legion of Boom rule’ wasn’t a feature at all. This is interesting too:

— It seemed like they wanted to get Christine Michael involved and he ran the ball with authority and added a touchdown in the passing game. As much as Robert Turbin and Michael are competing, I suspect we’ll end up seeing both players spelling Lynch equally during the season — with Turbin remaining #2 on the depth chart for now.

— It seemed like Terrelle Pryor had a shot of making the roster as a #3 quarterback. That lousy interception late in the game (throwing one up for grabs) suggested otherwise. He’s an athletic freak but is there any real reason to keep a player out of contract in 2015 who’s capable of such poor decision making? The Seahawks preach ball protection and that was ugly. He’ll likely get significant playing time against the Raiders and he’ll need to make it count.

— Heath Farwell had a sack. For the last couple of seasons people have written him off, but he sticks on the roster because he’s a special teams dynamo and a fantastic leader. Brock Coyle’s performance in pre-season might spell the end for Farwell, but don’t count him out. They really appreciate his value and the cost saving on his salary isn’t quite as significant as some make out.

Meanwhile…

The Rams passed on Robert Griffin III in 2012 to collect draft picks and build around Sam Bradford.

That’s all well and good, but given the question marks surrounding Bradford’s play and health — why didn’t they draft an insurance policy?

He’ll miss the whole season with another torn ACL and this pretty much signals the end to his Rams career. Surely they won’t go through another year of this in 2015? Eventually enough is enough and you have to move on.

They face another season with an elite defensive front and a substandard quarterback under center. Shaun Hill is the next man up without some kind of trade. Maybe former SDB favourite Austin Davis will get a shot?

Either way it’s a big blow to the Rams… and they only have themselves to blame. OK, they passed on RGIII for a kings ransom. They backed Bradford. To avoid the position in the three drafts since is a head scratcher though.

Surely it was worth investing in a QB in this years draft before the 6th round (where they took Texas flop/transfer Garrett Gilbert)? What about last year, where a host of QB’s dropped in the draft presenting decent project value in the mid/late rounds? Surely it was worth entertaining the idea of bringing in someone to develop just in case?

It’s not like they’ve had a shortage of picks either. They drafted 18 players in 2013 and 2014.

They put all their eggs in the Bradford basket — and now what?

They enter a sellers market unless they truly want to run with Shaun Hill. Mike Glennon showed enough last year to warrant at least a call to Tampa Bay. He deserves a chance to start in this league — but he won’t be cheap.

What I’m looking out for tonight vs Chicago

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Marshawn Lynch will take some carries against the Bears

1. How will the refs call the game?
The new rules on illegal contact are incredibly frustrating. Who ever thought the NFL needed more defensive flags? Let’s hope it’s just the ref’s proving a point in pre-season. The Tharold Simon flag last week, ruling out a +100-yard pick-six, was a classic example of poor refereeing. It shouldn’t have been called and the league office have since admitted as much. Week three is the key game in pre-season, with the starters getting significant time on the field. It could also be the best gauge on how the officials will call the new rules during the regular season. The Bears have a productive passing game and Jay Cutler will no doubt take a few shots. Will the ref’s let the play flow? Or are we about to see what many are referring to as the ‘Legion of Boom’ rule having a significant impact on Seattle’s defense.

2. Can the pass rush slow down Cutler and co?
Last week Seattle’s starters shut down Philip Rivers in an encouraging display. Can they do the same to the Bears? Cliff Avril had a productive game against the Chargers and Michael Bennett could return. The competition between O’Brien Schofield and Benson Mayowa continues, with Schofield carrying a significant edge. There’s not much more to be settled on defense — but after losing Chris Clemons they need a third pass rusher to emerge. Schofield has really stepped up to the plate, impacting plays and coming close to 2-3 extra sacks. Mayowa had a nice edge rush last week but hasn’t had the same consistent impact. He’s running out of time.

3. Will the offensive line have another good week?
The O-line played well last week after a difficult game in Denver. Russell Okung could return. With James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy earning rave reviews during camp and Justin Britt looking particularly impressive against San Diego, a potential problem area is looking more positive. That has to continue though. Can they provide big running lanes like the one that sprung Robert Turbin last week? Can they keep Russell Wilson clean in the pocket? The Bears D-line is transitioning after several off-season moves but this will still be a good test.

4. Turbin vs Michael, part three
Last week belonged to Robert Turbin. He was superb. Yet Pete Carroll made a point this week of highlighting Christine Michael as the teams most improved player. They clearly want him to take the next step — it’s up to Turbin to stay ahead in this race. Both players will get plenty of snaps even if Marshawn Lynch gets a few early carries. Turbin can probably win the race with another big display, but there’s still time for Michael to catch up.

5. Is it too late for Korey Toomer?
He’s been touted as a potential impact player for a while now. He ticks pretty much every box for a Seattle linebacker. Injuries have had a major impact on his career — and that’s been the case again this off-season. Carroll admitted this week he’s running out of time with cuts upcoming. It’s harsh, but he pretty much has to stand out in his one and only pre-season game this summer to have any chance. Even then it might be too late. Mike Morgan has enjoyed a terrific pre-season, Brock Coyle has impressed and Kevin Pierre-Louis isn’t going anywhere. Don’t rule out Heath Farwell making it again either. He’s a key special teams leader and he’s been written off before.

Some thoughts on the possible 2015 draft class

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Marcus Mariota appears destined to be the #1 pick next year

Marcus Mariota deserves to be considered the consensus top prospect going into the new college season. Despite the continued dependence on conventional wisdom by various talking heads — the game is adapting. Not in the way many people think, but it is adapting.

This isn’t about the read option and running quarterbacks. It’s about elusiveness, playmaking and extending plays.

Robert Griffin III is a classic case on how not to handle and athletic, skilled quarterback. His ability to run is an asset, but that still needs to be managed. It has to be an accent, used to extend plays and provide moments of inspiration. When Pete Carroll talks about his desire to be the best scrambling team in the league it’s with good reason. Mobile quarterbacks who make plays when seemingly bottled up are incredibly difficult to defend.

RGIII seemingly wasn’t used in such a way (aka a point guard). The read-option became a staple of the Washington offense and the quarterback was asked to do too much running — even when clearly injured. We all know the consequences of that. The injuries are one thing, the more serious issue could be Griffin’s continued preference to run after one or two quick reads. The Shanahan’s never truly tackled that.

Seattle rarely uses the read-option. It’s added to specific game-plans but only in the same way they might emphasise the tight end against a favourable match-up or offer a specific look on defense. Russell Wilson runs, scrambles and makes plays. But you never sense any real recklessness. It’s managed by the team and he knows how to protect himself. The same can easily be said for Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Cam Newton in Carolina.

Being able to scramble is a vital component in the NFL these days. As we’ve debated many times, the best high school and college athletes are playing defense. Fewer elite athletes are playing on the offensive line. It’s why the top offensive tackles in each draft get snapped up so quickly. It’s why teams in the NCAA and NFL are moving defensive linemen to the offense in an attempt to get better athletes on the OL. It’s becoming increasingly harder to contain all of the explosive athletes rushing the passer.

That’s not to say you can’t be an orthodox pocket passer these days, but fewer quarterbacks can survive like that. You need to buy time. You need to offer the threat to run. You need to be able to get out of the pocket, avoid the rush and extend plays.

Mariota will no doubt be criticised by the old-school brigade for being mobile, athletic and exciting and not a 245lbs statue with simply a cannon arm. In reality he’s perfectly suited to the modern NFL. He’s an accomplished passer who ticks every physical box but he’s also elusive and capable of making plays outside of the pocket.

There are other positives too — he isn’t a careless runner, he doesn’t turn the ball over and you only hear good things about his character. Yes the Oregon offense is wide open, designed to create enormous passing windows and overmatch opponents with all the speed the Ducks have at receiver/running back. He’ll need to adjust to a pro-offense at the next level, but in 2014 he’s playing in an environment that almost guarantees huge numbers.

Teams will fall over themselves to draft Mariota and make him the face of their franchise. It probably won’t even be a close run thing. I suspect he’ll be seen as a Kaepernick clone with the potential to be a better passer. He is destined to be the #1 pick next year unless a team with a newly drafted or established quarterback owns the pick, which seems unlikely in 2015.

A lot of people are talking up the running back class. I just can’t buy into running backs in round one. Not any more.

Trent Richardson looked sensational at Alabama. Big, strong, fast, decisive. He was the complete package. Nobody was criticising him leading into the draft, nobody was projecting the totally underwhelming career he’d have at the next level.

He’s been a titanic flop, costing two first round picks in the process. Here’s the top-ten running backs from 2013, along with their draft cost:

LeSean McCoy — 2nd rounder
Matt Forte — 2nd rounder
Jamaal Charles — 3rd rounder
Alfred Morris — 6th rounder
Adrian Peterson — 1st rounder
Marshawn Lynch — 1st rounder initially, but traded to Seattle for a late round package
Ryan Mathews — 1st rounder
Eddie Lacy — 2nd rounder
Frank Gore — 3rd rounder
DeMarco Murray — 3rd rounder

Of the group, only freak-of-nature Adrian Peterson and Ryan Mathews cost their current team a first round pick. Mathews, until 2013, had been a total bust.

It’s not just Trent Richardson that’ll be scaring off teams either. Doug Martin and David Wilson were both first rounders in 2012 too. Wilson has since retired from football due to injury and Martin missed the 2013 season with a torn labrum.

Remember Mark Ingram? Former Heisman winner and another fantastic Alabama running back. He’s been a total shocking bust too and another former first rounder who appeared destined for big things.

The risk factor is too high unless you truly believes you’re getting another Peterson. Equally, the value later on is too good to go digging for a running back in round one.

Melvin Gordon is fun to watch and one of my favourite players going into the new season. He has speed, he’s competitive and patient. He’s such a graceful runner and he makes excellent cuts. He’s well spoken. Yet he offers precious little in the passing game and he’ll need time to adjust in protection. His best asset is his ability to avoid contact and act as a home run hitter. That’s not quite as easy to do at the next level. A fine player, certainly worthy of a high second round grade at least. If anyone can make it in 2015 it’s probably this guy.

Todd Gurley is a beast at Georgia — 6-1 and 226lbs, he runs with authority and can be a playmaker. You just wonder though if he’ll be quite as fearsome at the next level. Has he got the speed, fight and power to really challenge teams? People compare him to Marshawn Lynch but that’s unfair. Lynch is a unique player, we’ll not see another running back like that possibly ever. Gurley is big but with Lynch it isn’t about size — it’s about Beast Mode. It’s about being tough to bring down. It’s the attitude, the skill, the patience, the cut back ability. Lynch is a marvel. Does Gurley deserve a better grade than Eddie Lacy, a second rounder? Perhaps not.

T.J. Yeldon looked terrific when he burst onto the scene at Alabama. Since then he’s suffered ball-security issues and he looks lean. I’m not convinced he’s a special athlete, so what are you really getting? Someone who won’t operate as a between the tackles threat, but can work to the sideline and cut. He can be effective in the passing game. I’m just not sure you can get behind the idea of drafting him in the first round — especially if he keeps fumbling. Ideally he comes in to work with a power guy as a change of pace player, before possibly earning a greater role.

This trio is ‘the big three’ in terms of name recognition. Will any go in the first round? You’d have to be a really good team to justify it. Hey, you don’t rule it out in August. But I think we need to temper some of the expectation. Running backs going in round one should be a dying breed.

Of the defensive players I’ve watched so far I’m most excited about Missouri’s Markus Golden, Florida’s Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley at Clemson and Washington’s Marcus Peters.

Golden will get a ton of opportunities this year given the defensive exodus on Mizzou’s D-line. He’s fast, athletic, strong and he makes plays. Watch out for this guy because he’s the real deal.

Fowler can line up at linebacker or end. He really flies to the ball and can take on a left tackle, initiate contact and release. If he gets a sniff of a gap he’ll shoot through it to blow up a play. He forces fumbles, he has such fluid mobility. He can also work through traffic and line up inside. He’s an exciting talent.

We all know about Beasley by know and while he is undersized, you just can’t match-up to his speed off the edge. It’s explosive — and he should test well at next years combine. He didn’t declare for the 2014 draft but let’s not knock him for that. Undersized, nickel pass-rushers are no longer a no-no in round one. He can work the edge and he’ll have a big year for Clemson.

Peters just looks like a Seahawks cornerback. He’ll take chances and some teams won’t like that — yet he plays with such physicality and attitude. He’s big and fast and playing on a loaded defense at Washington.

There are others too — Baylor’s intriguing (and massive) Shawn Oakman plus Peters’ team mates Hau’oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson. A lot of people are talking up USC’s Leonard Williams and Nebraska’s Randy Gregory. I’d like to see more this year from both of those players.

There’s another crop of 4-5 good left tackle’s so expect another early rush — Cedric Ogbuehi, Brandon Scherff, La’el Collins and Cameron Erving could’ve been day one picks this year. Andrus Peat is highly rated but Stanford offensive linemen are just so difficult to grade for the NFL. It should be a better center class in 2015 with Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu and Auburn’s Reese Dismukes.

The receiver group appears underwhelming — a stark contract to 2014. Amari Cooper has natural talent but just made too many mental mistakes last season. He’s also undersized and that didn’t help Robert Woods or Marqise Lee. Nelson Agholor is a decent player but I just can’t see anything but a limited draft grade. Austin Hill is one to watch at Arizona but has durability issues. I’m not a big fan of Jalen Strong at Arizona State.

Dorial Green-Beckham is the big X-factor having transferred to Oklahoma. Will he play in 2014? Will he declare for the draft? What will teams make of his character background? In terms of talent and physical stature he’s a sure-fire first rounder, but there are so many question marks and potential red flags.

Keep an eye on Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell and Tennessee’s Pig Howard for multi-dimensional playmakers.

And what about Jameis Winston? Wear contact lenses, keep your nose clean and hope teams can trust you. I’m not sure I could. He has the talent, but he’s a long way off being ready for the NFL.

Instant reaction: Seahawks stroll through San Diego

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Robert Turbin had a big night vs San Diego

Russell Wilson put in possibly his best pre-season performance. The Chargers couldn’t stop him. He scrambled to extend plays, he rushed for first downs. More importantly he struck up an early connection with Percy Harvin and made use of the two starting tight ends.

It might only be pre-season but it goes to show — Wilson could and probably would be a touchdown machine on another team. He’s a natural playmaker. It’s only Seattle’s determination to make the run such a focal point (especially in the red zone) that prevents him from stacking up the points.

Harvin showed why he’s such a valuable commodity. Everywhere he lined up he drew attention. A late motion helped set up Robert Turbin’s 47-yard gain. When he moves around a defense has to react. If he’s healthy in 2014 the Seahawks offense has a chance to go to another level — even when he’s not catching or running with the ball.

As for Turbin — he surely has the edge over Christine Michael after an excellent showing here. He took advantage on the big run (kudos to Justin Britt for a superb block too) and ran with greater authority overall. Too often in the past he’s gone down after initial contact or struggled to find that second gear to make the big play. Against the Chargers he looked menacing and if he can recapture this form next week he’ll likely get the #2 job behind Marshawn Lynch.

Christine Michael didn’t have a bad game with 45 yards on eight carries. He did have a clumsy fumble for the second week in a row. This two-way battle is about fine margins and with Turbin ascending after this game, Michael needs a statement performance in week three.

The pass protection and run blocking across the board saw a big improvement. The return of James Carpenter helped. Wilson had a few broken plays where he had to scramble — but that’ll always happen. This was a reassuring performance for those concerned about the state of the O-line, especially with Russell Okung and Max Unger still to return.

It was a quiet night for the receivers. Paul Richardson didn’t have a catch and I think only had one target. Doug Baldwin just missed out on a touchdown thanks to a good defensive play and also drew a flag in the end zone. Phil Bates and Chris Matthews had one catch each. Bryan Walters impressed as a kick returner with some nice plays — even though he got away with a poor decision to field the ball at the end of the first half. It’s difficult to judge the position battle here, especially with Kevin Norwood’s expected return.

Terrelle Pryor had the most explosive play of the night — a 44-yard touchdown run. How many people with his size can make a play like that? Kaepernick? I think that’s it. He didn’t have much opportunity to flash as a passer (1/4 for 10 yards). When you see a guy with his build running so fluidly you can’t help but feel like you want to stick with him. He’s not ready to usurp Tarvaris Jackson (who didn’t play vs San Diego) but they might just find a spot on the roster to stash Pryor.

B.J. Daniels also looked sharp on a good night for Seattle quarterbacks. He also added a rushing touchdown (Seattle QB’s scored four on the night).

Defensively there were some improvements, even if certain areas need more work. Michael Bennett didn’t play but Cliff Avril gave D.J. Fluker a torrid time. O’Brien Schofield was busy, lining up in multiple looks and getting a late sack.

The second string defense still had a couple of issues. Against the Broncos they struggled against the stretch play and misdirection. Denver broke off big run after big run and San Diego had similar success early on. As Pete Carroll mentioned during the week — it’s just about getting off blocks. After a slow start they seemed to rectify the problem and shut down the run as the second half progressed.

The pass rush was hit and miss. Benson Mayowa and Mike Morgan split a sack, while Gregg Scruggs also got on the stat sheet. Kellen Clemens is more mobile than he looks and he managed to escape the rush a few times and find receivers downfield. The secondary looked a little exposed at times. Seattle is still missing some key starters at linebacker so some of the backups are acting as starters. This has to be playing a part, because the second string defense isn’t quite as smothering as it has been the last two years.

Tharold Simon had a busy night. He probably should’ve ended a drive with a pick in the end zone but he dropped the ball. Shortly after, a +100-yard pick-six was called back on an unfortunate penalty call. The drive ended in a Chargers touchdown, but I sense Simon will receive credit for his contribution. He was, at least, there to make the plays. You can see the potential, he just needs polish.

Mayowa did a great job bending around the edge for his half-sack, but I sense if it comes down to a straight shoot-out with Schofield the more experienced man will win. Schofield’s versatility and ability to impact a play stands out. Mayowa had an improved game here, but he’s still yet to match last year’s promise.

Cassius Marsh had a quiet night. That was probably to be expected after he suffered a slight knee sprain this week.

For the second week in a row, the opponent avoided Richard Sherman like the plague. Teams were willing to chance their arm against Sherman last year. He’s going to be pretty frustrated in 2014 if this continues. Byron Maxwell is going to get a ton of opportunities to make plays in a contract year.

What I’m looking out for tonight vs San Diego

Friday, August 15th, 2014

1. Can they get to the quarterback?
Philip Rivers is a pre-season dynamo. The Seahawks nearly always play San Diego in August and every time — Rivers shows up in mid-season form. This time the game is in Seattle and after a pretty mediocre performance against Denver the pass rush needs to turn up. I reference Rivers only because it’ll be encouraging to see the starting D-line looking threatening. The most important thing is the performance of the 2nd and 3rd stringers. Benson Mayowa was anonymous last week. Cassius Marsh had some splash plays but also a couple of missed opportunities and O’Brien Schofield was busy without making an impact. It’s not just the edge rushers either — the interior D-line needs a better showing. Mike Brooks was superb last pre-season but had a disappointing night last week. The Seahawks can’t just rely on the premier duo of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. They need a rotation. Tonight’s a big night for some of the young players on this team.

2. Just play better on defense
Again, this is focused on the 2nd and 3rd stringers. It was surprising to see just how porous Seattle’s defense was in the second half last week. We’re used to seeing this team dominate in pre-season, to the point where people ask how the backups would perform as a separate team in the NFL. Denver ran all over the Seahawks defense and Brock Osweiler had a comfortable night too. San Diego don’t have Denver’s depth and they’re playing on the road, so a vast improvement is to be expected. If there was any complacency last week (Hey! We’re playing for the Super Bowl champs!) that should be long gone by now. Tackle better, get off blocks, shut down the run and let’s see some pressure.

3. How will Alvin Bailey perform at left tackle?
Most of the offensive line starters are back tonight, with Carpenter, Unger, Sweezy and Britt all expected to feature. There’s no Russell Okung though, which means Alvin Bailey gets the start at left tackle. He’s shown well in that position before but still didn’t gain sufficient confidence to usurp struggling Paul McQuistan last season. It’s not unfair to suggest Okung will probably miss some time in 2014. Can Bailey put himself in contention to be a trusted backup at such a crucial position? And how will the line fair overall against an aggressive San Diego defense that loves to blitz?

4. Turbin vs Michael, part two
Robert Turbin didn’t get great blocking against Denver but it kind of emphasised a point. He needs good blocking to be effective. Christine Michael did a little behind the same line but hardly put in a flawless performance (one touchdown, one fumble). This is still an open competition and I sense Pete Carroll continues to trust Turbin a little more despite Michael’s apparent improved maturity. Michael is much more explosive and a natural cut-and-run back, but he needs to put in a rounded performance tonight to edge ahead in this race. He also has a knack of losing balance at crucial moments. That didn’t show up at Texas A&M too often, but it’s shown in Seattle. I hope that’s something he can rectify.

5. Can Terrelle Pryor earn a roster spot?
It seems doubtful that Pryor will beat Tarvaris Jackson to the backup role. Jackson has too much respect in the locker room and too much familiarity with the offense to make such a gamble. Yet Carroll continues to praise Pryor and talk about him with a long term view. That doesn’t mean they’ll definitely stash a quarterback whose contract expires after this season, but I sense it’s not out of the question. If he shows enough promise they might just keep him as the number three with a view to taking over from Jackson as the backup next year. They’re not opposed to red shirting players (see: Benson Mayowa). At the same time, they’ve only kept two quarterbacks in the past and also discussed Josh Portis with a long term view before he was cut. If Pryor is going to get a non-playing spot on the roster, he’ll need to earn it.

6. Can Paul Richardson build on a solid start?
Richardson looked bigger and sturdier against Denver, but he also looked reliable and smooth. We didn’t get a taste of his downfield threat (maybe we see that tonight?) but it was a really encouraging start by the second round rookie. Seattle needs to fill the hole left by Golden Tate. That’s a difficult job for a first year player. Yet nobody in the club is playing down Richardson’s role and they seem to be challenging him to get up to speed quickly. If he is going to have a quick impact this year, he almost has to prove he can be more than just a deep threat. Tate had a knack for making key plays — competitive grabs, YAC, drive extending first downs, difficult touchdowns. Last week was really promising, let’s see if Richardson can take another big step forward against the Chargers.

Jaworski-style conventional wisdom will keep Seahawks on top

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Here are some select quotes from Ron Jaworksi’s appearance on ESPN 710’s ‘the Brock and Salk’ show this week…

“I’m more the old school prototypical guy, plays the game from the pocket. Big strong quarterback that does a good job with reading progressions, throws with accuracy and velocity. I’ll probably give a little bit of a nod to Nick Foles (over Russell Wilson).”

He goes on to add…

“If I see this new wave of quarterbacks having success, let it be the Cam Newton’s, a Russell Wilson, maybe a Johnny Manziel this year… who really knows. But if I see this game now moving towards more option quarterbacks, zone read quarterbacks, making plays by extending plays outside the pocket — you know I might say, ‘OK, Chip Kelly’s offense… this works. These types of unique schemes, they work. This style of unique quarterback, you can win a Championship with.’ If it plays out that way, I will certainly change my opinion.”

And then…

“I’ve been around this league for 40 years. I came in as a rookie in 1973. I actually played against Johnny Unitas and George Blanda… that’s some experience guys you know. Through my years of experience, this game’s about winning a Championship. It’s not about padding numbers and putting up stats. It’s about winning Championships. And I always thought the best way through the years was to have that prototypical NFL quarterback”

Why have I highlighted these three quotes? I’m glad you asked.

Just under a year ago, Jaworski said: “I truly believe Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.” The story went viral, perhaps intentionally. It was somewhat of a surprise given Jaworski’s 2013 QB rankings only had Kaepernick at #11 below the likes of Matt Schaub.

If Jaworski is such a proponent of the “old school prototypical guy”, why such extreme praise for Kaepernick — one of the trailblazing new mobile-style quarterbacks he appears so hesitant to acknowledge?

Presumably he would also choose Nick Foles over the man he touted to be one of the best ever? Because while Kaepernick is big and strong and does throw with velocity — progressions and staying in the pocket aren’t exactly his forté. Is there much difference physically between Cam Newton and Kaepernick?

Jaws went on to say he’d be willing to change his stance on what he calls “unique” quarterbacks if Newton and Russell Wilson succeeded in the future. He’d also change his mind if Chip Kelly’s schemes work or if one of these ‘new-wave’ QB’s win a Championship.

*Ahem*

1. Cam Newton and Russell Wilson are awesome football players.

2. Chip Kelly’s schemes clearly work.

3. Russell Wilson won a Championship… this year.

What further evidence does he need?

The final quote references conventional wisdom within the NFL, putting such thinking on a pedestal as the unchallenged truth. The following sentence..

Through my years of experience, this game’s about winning a Championship. It’s not about padding numbers and putting up stats. It’s about winning Championships.”

…is perhaps the most confusing of the lot. The simple fact is Wilson won a Super Bowl. Newton was only beaten to the NFC Championship by Kaepernick’s 49ers.

The stat-padding, conventional quarterback in all of this has to be Peyton Manning. He didn’t win a Championship and yet put up record breaking numbers.

The top ten passers in terms of yardage last season included Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Tannehill. None made the playoffs. Cam Newton (15th), Russell Wilson (16th) and Colin Kaepernick (20th) were in the middle of the pack.

Nobody would ever accuse Wilson (or Newton/Kaepernick) of stat-padding. He’s not a 400-yard maestro or fantasy football dynamo. Yes, Seattle’s defense stole the show in the Super Bowl. Yet Wilson’s display shouldn’t be undermined — 72% completion rate, two touchdowns. This is what the Seahawks want. It’s probably what the Panthers and 49ers want too.

Playmaking inspiration and leadership, but not total dependence.

Wilson made the plays he needed to make. It was a classic performance. A performance that will never get the credit it deserves because he didn’t carry the team single-handed to glory with 50 passing attempts.

Seattle’s QB is the very definition of ‘stats don’t matter, Championships do’. If experience has led Jaws to that conclusion as he says, it might be time to put Wilson ahead of Nick Foles on the ranking list.

You may argue it’s unfair to single out Jaworski. Is it my position to criticise? Perhaps not. If you handed him a game tape and asked him to explain why something happened, he’d be in his element. He’s a brilliant football mind when it comes to breaking down a specific play or set of events. I thoroughly enjoy hearing his views, even if I disagree occasionally on matters like this.

Unfortunately he’s committed to conventional wisdom. He admits that. It too easily defines his opinion when scouting college players. It gets in the way. Breaking down X’s and O’s is one thing. Player assessment and team building is totally different.

He is married to the idea that what has worked in the past (in terms of size and skill set) will continue to work forever. He isn’t alone — and that’s the point I’m trying to make in this piece.

There are many people employed within the NFL who feel exactly the same way.

“You can only win in this league doing things the way they’ve always been done.”

It’s why people like Jaws, Greg Cosell and Merril Hoge get so much air time before the draft. Their views are respected and celebrated almost because they are so conventional. They refuse to budge — and it sounds great on air when they give someone like Johnny Manziel a fourth round grade because he isn’t 6-5 and 240lbs.

They’ll never change their minds and neither will many NFL employees.

Yet staring them in the face is the one team who constantly opposes conventional wisdom — almost goes out of its way to avoid it. They also happen to be the reigning Super Bowl Champions.

The NFL adapts all the time. Most sports do. There’s nothing wrong with maintaining core philosophies (Seattle focuses on the run game and good defense — classic traits). Aspects still change. Football’s fairly unrecognisable compared to 1973 when Jaws turned pro. Heck, it’s changed a fair bit between Seattle’s two visits to the Super Bowl in an eight year span.

The Seahawks have shown the benefits of keeping an open mind when it comes to player assessment. They’re leading the way and still there are those who refuse to follow. I have no doubt that includes people working in high profile positions within the NFL.

If I’m right, that’s really, really good news for Pete Carroll and co.