In game notes: Seahawks hammer Chargers 48-17

August 13th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

First half

— As first halves in opening pre-season games go, this couldn’t have gone much better. Turnovers, big plays from a backup quarterback, the receivers and defenders making a ton of plays, the pass pro was generally good, Blair Walsh was perfect and Seattle scored 34 first half points (unusually high for pre-season but that’s what turnovers do for a team).

— There were also obvious things to work on. Tedric Thompson’s blown coverage on the +70 yard touchdown was a pretty obvious mistake he can take away to work on. Delano Hill also lost the ball in the air late in the half, allowing LA to get a late field goal.

— The overriding positive is, however, how much Seattle dominated as soon as the starters left the field. In 2013 Seattle stormed through pre-season with their superior depth. It was a show of strength, a flexing of muscles. It’s entirely possible the Chargers are really bad but the Seahawks’ depth looked really competitive today in the first half.

— Turnovers. Three of them. Seattle got the ball and put points on the board (17 to be exact). This is Pete Carroll/Seahawks football.

— The first saw Michael Wilhoite tip a pass into the hands of Terence Garvin for a superb pick six. Wilhoite and Garvin could lock themselves in quickly as the two premier backups at LB. It was great to see Naz Jones make a similar deflection on the second for a Tylor Harris pick. Christian French was gifted a third turnover after a botched hand-off. He almost took it in for a second pick six before Chris Carson punched it in.

— Garrison Smith had a nice interior rush on the Garvin pick, forcing the quarterback to make an ill-advised throw. Cassius Marsh had a nice TFL and Bradley McDougald drew a holding penalty when running into the backfield. Dewey McDonald also managed a nice TFL vs the run and David Bass recorded a sack despite being held.

— Yes the first team defense gave up a straight forward TD to start the game. It’s worth noting Seattle has conceded points on their first pre-season defensive drive in five of the last six years. They played vanilla against the team that wrote the book on how to exploit Seattle’s zone coverage in 2014. In other words, it’s no big deal.

— Seattle’s third offensive drive was very encouraging for a number of reasons. The pass-protection was very good, Trevone Boykin made some nice completions and had an excellent run play and multiple receivers made big plays.

— Kasen Williams’ high-point grab in coverage, Tanner McEvoy finding a hole in the zone and Kenny Lawler’s smart red zone touchdown highlighted the talent and depth Seattle suddenly has at receiver. Lawler looks bigger and Williams’ catch will challenge Paul Richardson’s on the first drive for most impressive of the day. The receivers were a big positive in the first half.

— Boykin hasn’t received positive reviews for the way he’s performed in camp so far but he seems like a guy who’s able to turn it on when it matters during a game. He seems to thrive when surrounded by chaos, with ice in his veins and a knack for playmaking. He looked sensational in the first half, extending drives and making key conversions with his arm and legs. He was accurate, fast and methodical. Austin Davis has a job to match this in the second half.

— Kasen Williams had another great catch on the left sideline, almost a carbon copy of his first grab. It set up Seattle’s final touchdown before half time.

— Marcus Lucas found a way to have an impact wearing #85. He’s a name to watch going forward. It was interesting to see him featured on the first drive too. There’s not much room for a tight end to emerge with all the depth at receiver — but they carried four TE’s in 2016.

— Blair Walsh had a perfect half and looked comfortable, confident and on-point.

— J.D. McKissic was on kick-return duties and had a nice special teams tackle. Having a reliable return man given Tyler Lockett’s recent return from injury could be very important.

— I’m going to reserve judgement on the O-line performance until I can focus on each player. Overall the pass pro appeared competent with a few errors (which is to be expected). A positive start.

Second half

— Kasen Williams is playing his way onto the team in this game. Four catches for 119 yards, all very similar jump balls to the left hand side. The third he actively stole the ball away from a defensive back who looked certain to make an interception. His fourth catch was inches away from a touchdown, somehow getting both feet in bounds on a superb circus catch. He was arguably the big individual winner in the game for Seattle.

— Chris Carson looks as good as advertised. He hit the hole with authority, scoring two red zone touchdowns where he powered his way in for a score. This was an impressive start to his pre-season although he only had seven carries. Tellingly he came in before Alex Collins and Mike Davis — a suggestion he’s ahead of both and so far heading for a clear roster spot.

— Boykin’s first negative play of the night was a deep shot to Cyril Grayson leading to an interception. He was under pressure and didn’t get enough on the throw as a consequence — but Grayson appeared well covered.

— Christian French followed his fumble recovery with a sack. He was only signed this week after a tryout. He’ll warrant monitoring moving forward. He also had a couple of plays where he seemed to be absorbed.

— It was a shame Cyril Grayson couldn’t come down with the touchdown to the right corner of the end zone. He got open pretty quickly in the route but Austin Davis hesitated, abandoned a clean pocket and then threw a looping but accurate pass. Grayson just couldn’t get his second foot down. It was a nice effort.

— Alex Collins had to wait for his turn and had a couple of nice plays with his first few touches. However, on a fourth and one he failed to pull in a touch pass from Davis that should’ve been caught to extend the drive. He made up for it with a touchdown to finish a well executed Davis touchdown drive.

— Considering there was a fair bit of negativity about Seattle’s two backup QB’s in the first two weeks of camp, both looked more than competent here.

— One thing that was noticeable — Naz Jones doesn’t give up on plays. He finishes, plays to the whistle and will sprint to the ball carrier downfield when needed. He also hammered Cardale Jones for a QB hit. He’s a bad ass.

— Following on from Marcus Lucas’ good start earlier, Tyrone Swoopes made a couple of really nice plays. He’s a developmental TE but on this evidence worth keeping an eye on. He’s probably a guy they hope to slip onto the practise squad but this was a nice start to his pre-season.

— This isn’t unusual during a Seahawks pre-season but it was great to see the likes of Kam Chancellor, Russell Wilson, Jimmy Graham and Richard Sherman supporting their team mates, all focused on the game deep into the fourth quarter.

— Seattle only gave up two sacks in the game. On first watch the O-line played well when Joey Bosa wasn’t on the field and the running backs overall did a good job in pass pro too. The run blocking could’ve been better but it’s not always easy to judge in a pre-season game with so many moving parts and the D-lines generally staying fresh.

— It’s testament to Seattle’s sudden RB depth that a guy like Mike Davis almost ended up being an afterthought. He ran with physicality and toughness here and could yet make things interesting in pre-season.

— Blair Walsh had plenty of practise today with eight kicks. He nailed all of them with a long of 42-yards.

— Rookie Mike Tyson was well beaten on a downfield pass late in the fourth quarter. Seattle made up for it shortly after with a fourth turnover of the night to kill the game — Pierre Desir executing a well timed blitz to get a sack/fumble.

Final thoughts

It’s only one pre-season game and this might say more for LA’s depth than anything — but this was a mightily impressive opening game for the Seahawks. They forced turnovers, put points on the board and had big plays on both sides of the ball. The 2013 pre-season showed off Seattle’s depth in a similar fashion. This was a very encouraging start to 2017.

What did you think to the 48-17 win? Let me know in the comments section.

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Friday pre-season week one notes (@ Chargers)

August 11th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Thoughts ahead of Seattle’s first pre-season game against the Chargers…

— A year ago Seattle’s first choice O-line performed pretty well in pre-season. The three interior linemen in particular (Glowinski, Britt, Ifedi) impressed, even if there were question marks at tackle. For that reason it might be difficult to judge Seattle’s O-line over the next four games. The hope has to be that there’s a level of consistency whoever’s on the field. In 2016 the second choice O-line was tossed around and dominated. If the drop-off in performance isn’t as steep this year, that might be a good gauge that we’re seeing progress.

— Sunday is a big opportunity for Shaquill Griffin. He’ll be starting at outside cornerback with Jeremy Lane out injured. Lane’s lingering soft-tissue problem has presented an opportunity for someone to steal a job. Now it’s up to Griffin to prove he’s up to the task. In 2011 an injury to Marcus Trufant gave rookie Richard Sherman an opportunity and he never looked back. Let’s see if Griffin can emulate Seattle’s #1 corner.

— We know who the impact players are on Seattle’s D-line but it’d be nice to see some depth emerge. The injury to Malik McDowell has impacted the rotation. The Seahawks don’t necessarily need more stars, just contributors. Someone who can maybe get five sacks from the interior and someone else who can take some snaps off the edge. It’d be a relief if players like Quinton Jefferson, Naz Jones, Garrison Smith and Marcus Smith have a good outing. Seattle has studs up front but the depth is a question mark at the moment.

— I want to see a lot of Alex Collins and Chris Carson. We know Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise are going to make the team. There’s little need for any of the three to get a big workload this week. Collins has received praise for a productive off-season while Carson has been getting rave reviews in camp. Hopefully there’s an opportunity for Mike Davis to get some meaningful work in too.

— Nobody at camp has talked enthusiastically about the backup QB competition (even Pete Carroll has been unusually lukewarm). This is a chance for Austin Davis and Trevone Boykin to change a few minds. Seattle’s pre-season games last year turned into a difficult watch because of the inexperienced backup QB situation. If neither player performs well in this game, do the Seahawks stick it out or do they look elsewhere?

— It’s been a relatively quiet camp so far for Delano Hill, Tedric Thompson and Mike Tyson (at least in terms of camp reports in the media). Presumably all three will get plenty of reps in pre-season. It’d be nice to feel positive about Seattle’s depth in the secondary again following a 2016 season where it was somewhat exposed.

— Ethan Pocic has turned a few heads in camp and not just because of the shorts he’s been wearing. Is he legitimately going to bump Germain Ifedi at right tackle? Whoever starts at tackle (left or right) in this game is going to come up against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. That’ll be interesting.

— George Fant has also received praise for his weight gain. It’ll be hard to judge him in the first pre-season game alone but it’d be nice to see signs of development, comfort and playing with greater instinct (not overthinking).

— Can someone stand out in the return game and possibly win a job as a consequence? Tyler Lockett’s return to injury and apparent good health is a boost but do the Seahawks want him returning kicks as usual during the season? Do they need to manage his work load?

— How does Blair Walsh perform? He’s likely on a short leash. If he misses kicks in pre-season they can’t roll the dice. If Seattle’s backup QB’s can’t move the ball and score touchdowns he might get a few opportunities to prove he’s a reformed kicker.

A couple of thoughts on pre-season elsewhere…

— Mitch Trubisky belongs. His debut performance for the Bears against Denver was highly impressive. Just as he did for North Carolina, Trubisky threw on the run with accuracy and velocity, extended plays and looked assured moving the football down the field. He has a ways to go of course but in terms of pure talent, he has a very high ceiling. That was always the case at North Carolina too. Let’s not forget he was only a one-year starter. If the Bears manage him carefully, Trubisky could be an exciting, accomplished passer. The talent is there. He just needs time, development and a not totally useless supporting cast.

— With Malik McDowell injured, prepare for a lot of ‘the Seahawks should’ve drafted this guy instead’ talk over the next few weeks. It’s worth remembering, however, that other teams’ rookies are having growing pains too. Take Kevin King in Green Bay for example:

He’s beaten badly on this play by the winning combination of Matt McGloin and Bryce Treggs. It’ll happen to a rookie. And while McDowell’s injury situation is bitterly disappointing and frustrating — it’s worth remembering that neither the Seahawks or Packers were banking on their first picks in the 2017 draft to launch a Super Bowl tilt this year.

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Chris Carson is making a name for himself

August 5th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

When Pete Carroll was asked about Chris Carson early in the week, he gave that look that said, ‘I’m excited but I’m saying nothing‘.

Carroll grinned and uttered a few positive words before allowing the press conference to move swiftly on.

By the end of the week, he wasn’t holding back:

“I’m really excited about this guy. Really have high hopes for him. We’ll see how he does. We’re just getting started. He’s a very physical runner in the style that we like. You can’t tell all of that here because we’re not finishing the runs with tackling but I know it’s in his background and we keep chirping at him and we’ll see it happen when the time comes. We might have a really competitive guy at that spot.”

Carson has been one of the big talking points of training camp so far. In fairness, aside from Frank Clark and Germain Ifedi doing their best impression of Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, there hasn’t been too much to discuss. Seattle’s starters appear to be relatively set in place and a lot of the camp battles are about making up the 53.

The fight to collect the 15-20% of snaps at the SAM linebacker spot hasn’t captured the imagination of most fans just yet.

The praise for Carson hasn’t just come from Carroll. Speaking today, Doug Baldwin stated he was the most polished rookie he’d ever been around and that he has “all the tools”.

Baldwin isn’t one for offering effusive praise about rookies unless it’s warranted. Combined with the positive words and the excitable body language from Carroll, Carson is certainly creating an impression.

Sheil Kapadia’s ESPN report on Friday highlights why he’s had such a productive start to camp:

“Blitz pickup is something that rookies typically struggle with. But that was not the case with Carson.

During one drill early in practice, he got matched up with veteran linebacker Michael Wilhoite on multiple occasions and stoned him.”

Pass-pro is the thing that consistently prevents a talented rookie running back taking the field. It’s why Ezekiel Elliott was considered such a sure thing a year ago — his pass-pro and pass-catching ability were as dynamic as his running.

It’s promising to read Carson is doing well with the fundamentals.

It’s also not a big surprise the Seahawks ended up bringing him in as a seventh rounder.

Seattle has a type at running back in terms of body size and general athleticism — at least in terms of the players they’ve drafted (Eddie Lacy for example is not the body type they’ve selected so far). After the combine this year we noted the minimal number of running backs in the 2017 draft that fit this apparent preferred profile:

The Seahawks have a type (explosive tester, around 5-11 and 220lbs) and the ones best matching it are Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, Brian Hill and Chris Carson. Kamara might be a top-45 pick and out of contention but Jones, Hill and Carson could provide day three value and extra competition.

He’s 6-0 and 218lbs, jumped a 37 inch vertical and a 10-10 broad.

What he hasn’t had in his college career are breakaway runs for big yardage. Carson never managed a run of more than 26 yards during his 212 carries at Oklahoma State.

And that’s OK.

Marshawn Lynch, aside from two miraculous, career defining runs, wasn’t a breakaway runner either. It’s the physical punishment over four quarters, the tone-setting mentality and attitude that the Seahawks probably like about Carson (and it’s a trait we’ve seen with Alex Collins in college and Thomas Rawls in the NFL too).

This is the type of run that helps establish a tone:

He’s not the quickest (4.58 runner at the combine) but he’s tough and explosive. That’s a Seahawks running back.

He also never gave up a fumble at Oklahoma State. Another plus.

Carson will likely get plenty of opportunities to impress in the four pre-season games — but a note of caution. Thomas Rawls didn’t set the world alight in his rookie pre-season. He had nine carries for 31 yards against Denver, four carries for 20 yards against Kansas City and six carries for 20 yards against San Diego before a breakout performance in the final game against Oakland (11 carries, 87 yards). Rawls did receive rave reviews for his camp work and attitude. So even if Carson doesn’t get the big pre-season yardage, he might win a roster spot anyway.

The other thing to consider is the free stash Seattle has had on the 53-man roster over the years. They’ve red-shirted guys like Benson Mayowa, Kristjan Sokoli and DeAndre Elliott in the past. So even if Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins get ahead for the 2017 season — there might still be room to keep hold of Carson if they like him.

And let’s be right — Seattle running backs always get picked up by other teams when they’re cut. So trying to squeeze him onto the practise squad might be ambitious.

Better health, depth and quality at the running back position is vital for the Seahawks in 2017 as they look to regain their identity as a physical running offense. Carson seems to be right in the thick of the competition so far.

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Some early thoughts on 2018 draft prospects

August 2nd, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

At the end of the 2017 draft I listed 10 draft eligible names to watch for next year. You can see the original list here.

This could be a really good draft for running backs
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and LSU’s Derrius Guice are the two biggest names for good reason. Barkley is a gym-rat workaholic with great character, explosive athleticism, size and playmaking ability. Guice has a little bit of Thomas Rawls in him with that smaller frame but great tenacity. He’s also explosive with the ability to shift through the gears quickly. Some thought LSU played better when he replaced an injured Leonard Fournette last year.

According to Bruce Feldman, Guice can squat 650lbs, power clean 374lbs and he ran a 4.49 recently at 5-11 and 212lbs. Barkley was listed as Feldman’s celebrated #1 freak of nature for 2017, reportedly running a 4.33 at 228lbs (which seems a tad unrealistic) and defeating linemen Anthony Zettel’s school record in the power clean with a 405lbs effort.

Both players could mount Heisman campaigns depending on how their respective teams perform overall. The promising thing for this class is the other names that could also develop into high draft picks.

The player I’m most keen to see more of in 2017 is Auburn’s Kamryn Pettway. He was the first player in this draft cycle that made me sit up. He’s 6-0 and 235lbs and had some monster games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

So what stands out?

For a guy at his size he can really move. He has a gliding running style that eats up ground very quickly. His acceleration is highly impressive. When he hits the hole he isn’t always building up speed slowly, needing a running start. He hits it with authority and gets to top speed quickly. Once he’s moving he’s difficult to stop.

While he’s deceptively shifty with the ability to side-step defenders and stretch plays out, he’s also what you’d expect from a bigger back. He’ll get the extra yard or two on contact. He’ll avoid tackles or run through a defender. Arm tackles frequently don’t cut it and once he breaks into the open field, watch out.

He missed a few games last year so a full, durable 2017 season is critical for his stock. That said — he’s an exciting player with a lot of potential.

The two other names I wanted to mention are reasonably well known but didn’t quite live up to expectations in 2016. See the video at the top of the blog post if you want to take a look at him.

Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage is a fantastic athlete with great size (listed at 6-3 and 230lbs). He’s a possible freaky performer at the combine. Feldman has him jumping 37 inches in the vertical and running a 4.03 short shuttle (0.15 seconds faster than any RB at this years combine). Last year Ballage was let down by a weak supporting cast that crumbled down the stretch. He has tremendous personality and character and he’s not just a running back — he can score in many different ways.

Alabama’s Bo Scarborough will be well known to CFB fans after a strong end to the 2016 season. However, it took him a little while to earn Nick Saban’s trust. Billed as the heir apparent to Derrick Henry, Scarborough was a bit of a let down at the start of the season. His challenge now is to launch yet another Alabama RB Heisman campaign and become the focal point of a strong running offense. He has the size, speed, physicality and talent to be a next-level stud. Let’s hope for a consistent season in college to prove he can live up to expectations.

This is just five names to start with. Players like Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Alabama’s Damien Harris, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and Washington duo Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman are others who could turn the 2018 draft into a big year for running backs.

Clemson has even more talent coming through
They lost DeShaun Watson and Mike Williams but the production line at Clemson keeps churning out talent. Their D-line in particular is littered with studs, containing three possible future first round picks.

Dexter Lawrence could be a top-10 pick in the 2019 draft. Clelin Ferrell could go in the top-20 in 2018 and Christian Wilkins could certainly make a case for the first round too. Three big, angry, versatile defensive linemen with round one talent.

Ferrell as a draft eligible prospect for next year is really interesting. He’s listed at about 6-5 and 265lbs but he looks bigger. He has that Shaq Lawson type of frame and he’s capable of rushing inside/out, winning with technique/hands but also showing enough speed to rush the edge. He doesn’t quite have Harold Landry’s superb get-off but he’s a longer, more rounded NFL prospect. You can imagine him playing in the AFC North or NFC West. He had six sacks and 12.5 TFL’s last year and could easily double those numbers in 2017. I’m a big fan of Bradley Chubb’s at NC State — he and Ferrell could go in the same kind of range.

The big question is how much do the three help each other out? Working out who is the best of the trio is difficult. I suspect Lawrence has the greatest potential but Ferrell and Wilkins are very good. Clemson will again be a fun team to watch this year.

On offense the potential breakout star is receiver Deon Cain. He’s 6-1 and 210lbs. He high-points the ball nicely making a number of improbable grabs. He has the short area quickness and ability to separate. He’ll go long for a big gain from time-to-time and he’s proven to be a red zone threat. Cain had nine touchdowns last year.

More than anything he’s already tremendously polished. Clemson seem to do a better job than anyone coaching receivers. No, Sammy Watkins hasn’t delivered on the hype so far (how much of that is due to location?). Look at the success stories though, such as DeAndre Hopkins. Clemson receivers understand the game, usually can break down coverages during interviews and discuss how they exploit schemes to get open. They’re also highly competitive and athletic. Receivers and D-liners come out of Clemson regularly and enter the league. Keep an eye on Cain this year.

Who else stood out on early viewing?
Speaking of production lines, there’s another really cool linebacker at Ohio State. Jerome Baker flies around the field with terrific quickness. He makes plays in the backfield and working sideline-to-sideline. He’s more of a playmaker than Darron Lee who went in round one. There’s some Ryan Shazier to his game. He’s only 223lbs but reportedly ran a 4.37 this year. Baker just looks like a top-40 type of player already.

Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne is a massive mountain of a man who moves well for his size. He has shown he’s capable of a nice swim move (not often you see it from ‘Bama interior guys) and he can drop the anchor and carry two blockers before disengaging and making the stop vs the run. It’s unclear how good he is as an athlete and his stock might not be early pick. He’s a bad ass on that Alabama D-line though. I noticed him while trying to watch other Alabama D-liners and he was the one who stood out.

A lot of people know about Florida State’s Derwin James already. He was injured for most of last year but many praised his freshman season. I watched some of it to see what the fuss was about and was blown away by his speed, size, willingness to deliver a hammer blow and versatility to line-up in different defensive looks. He needs a healthy 2017 season but he’s as good as advertised and (health-permitting) will be an early pick.

Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki had a pretty consistent 2016 season. He’s a long strider with good size (6-6, 252lbs). He’s a modern day type of TE — better at working into space and finding a coverage mismatch than necessarily grinding it out in the run game. He’s capable of explosive plays downfield though and he gets into the open pretty quickly off the snap. His only catch in the Rose Bowl was a fantastic red zone touchdown against USC. Reportedly Gesicki manages 37.5 inches in the vertical and has jumped a 10-11 broad.

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Kam Chancellor has agreed a new contract

August 1st, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

This is the most important news the Seahawks could deliver at the start of training camp.

Kam Chancellor isn’t just a key part of the defense, a dominating strong safety and a physical tone-setter. He’s the nearest thing this league has to a Ray Lewis figure. A player who commands respect, can inspire a team by his mere presence on the field or in the locker room and personify the identity of an entire roster.

Don’t take my word for it.

“They (Patriots) think Michael Bennett is their best defensive player. I tend to think Kam Chancellor is the difference maker on that defense.”

Matt Hasselbeck on ESPN 710 before Seattle’s win in New england (listen here)

Keeping him happy, keeping him under contract — this was absolutely crucial.

There’s a reason why people like Matt Hasselbeck view him as the defensive MVP on the team. His ability to organise, be an intimidating force over the middle and contribute vs the run is unmatched in the NFL. There is only one player like Kam Chancellor. There’s unlikely to be another any time soon — he is unique.

He’s also a highly underrated playmaker. Just think of the many vital, critical plays he’s made in the last two and a bit years alone:

— Punching the ball out at the one-yard line vs Detroit in 2015, turning a probable loss into a win in a split second

— Forcing Adrian Peterson to fumble in the 2015 playoff game vs Minnesota — the subsequent drive led to a touchdown and a lead Seattle never surrendered

— Defending Rob Gronkowski on the final play in New England, matching up 1v1 in coverage against one of the best in the league and defending the pass

— Forcing Julian Edelman to fumble the ball at midfield and giving Seattle’s offense a chance to claim a winning seven point advantage on the next possession

— The pick-six against Carolina in the 2014 playoffs, sealing a vital victory in a game also known for Chancellor leaping over the LOS to try and block a field goal

This doesn’t account for all the other plays he made earlier in his career, such as the unforgettable hits of Vernon Davis or his inspired Super Bowl performance against Denver.

Here’s his influence summed up in one short video:

Team mates and fans alike will rejoice at today’s news.

The deal appears comparable to Reshad Jones’ in Miami. An average of $12m a year. At a time when Brandon Linder is earning $10m in Jacksonville, this seems perfectly fair.

The 2017 season starts in the best possible way.

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Malik McDowell hurt in vehicular accident, not at camp

July 30th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

If you were hoping the first day of training camp would pass by with relative insignificance, think again.

Malik McDowell hurt himself in a reported ATV accident two weeks ago. The suitably vague statement issued by the team adds a layer of intrigue and concern. What exactly happened here? Why are there no details about the severity or location of the injury? Why is there language like ‘we consider this a long term relationship’ included?

Pete Carroll couldn’t answer whether he’ll play this season. This report adds a little more detail:

A concussion and ‘facial injuries’ doesn’t seem to be anything too out of the ordinary and yet the talk has been suitably vague so far to hint at a very serious problem.

McDowell tweeted this a fortnight ago, presumably after the accident:

If McDowell can’t play in 2017 it’ll be a blow for the injury-hit Seahawks. They had more players on injured reserve than any other team last year and they start camp with this setback. They haven’t had a dynamic interior rusher for quite some time. That might be the case again this year.

That said, Seattle’s 2017 season was never going to be defined by a rookie. This is about a healthy Russell Wilson, a re-established running game, improvements on the O-line and finding a competent starter across from Richard Sherman.

It also hasn’t been confirmed that he will definitely miss the season. The vagueness surrounding the issue merely indicates that is a likely scenario. He hasn’t been placed on injured reserve yet, only the reserve/did not report list. That might be a good thing. We’ll see.

The news today is a disappointment but hardly cause for any hysteria.

UPDATE — this is from McDowell’s twitter account:

On the plus side Carroll was very positive about a new contract for Kam Chancellor, saying there were only a few things to conclude before a deal would be finalised. If Seahawks fans need a lift after the McDowell news, this should provide it. As we touched on in the week, Chancellor is Seattle’s answer to Ray Lewis. A contract extension would be welcomed by fans and teammates alike.

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Pre-training camp Seahawks mailbag

July 29th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

We got through some of these questions on the podcast (see above) but not all of them, so I wanted to do a mailbag piece covering the lot.

There were so many things going on last year that I’m inclined to praise Carroll. In week one Ndamukong Suh trod on Russell Wilson’s ankle and from that moment it was one thing after another. The injuries at running back, Tyler Lockett being banged up and then breaking his leg, Earl Thomas breaking his leg, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett missing time, Richard Sherman having a couple of meltdowns. The Seahawks had more people on injured reserve in 2016 than any other team. Despite this, they were a win against Arizona in week 16 away from a playoff bye, they won the NFC West and a wildcard game. Many other teams would’ve folded.

Wade Phillips will probably do a great job in LA because he has a proven track record. Assuming Aaron Donald doesn’t hold out for the year, his presence alone will make the Rams a tough opponent.

It’s hard to know what the 49ers will provide on defense. They look like a team that is at least a couple of years from being competent. They have high first round picks on the D-line but DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead haven’t shown to be impact linemen that take over a game and Solomon Thomas hasn’t played a snap in the league. There’s also a big question mark over how the Niners will utilise all three in a 4-3 under.

The Cardinals will surely feel the loss of Calais Campbell to the Jags. There’s a reason he’s earning $15m a year. He doesn’t have a peer. There isn’t another 6-8, 300lbs monster in the NFL.

That said, they do still have some talented defensive linemen and edge rushers. The creative blitz packages they use have given Seattle constant problems for years. As Bruce Arians so eloquently put it during the week 16 game last year, ‘we’ve dominated their offensive line for three years’. Sadly, he isn’t wrong.

All three teams have good players. Two will be well coached and the third is a mystery. On paper though, the Seahawks have enough talent on offense to offer a counter-punch. And despite some of the struggles against the Rams and Cardinals in recent years, they’ve also had some emphatic, comfortable victories.

As for Chris Carson, he’s one of the more interesting names to watch in training camp. He stood out at Oklahoma State last year. He was challenged to run with more authority and toughness and he answered the call. He fits Seattle’s size/physical profile to a tee. The running back battle in camp is going to be highly competitive. It’ll be so good in fact, hopefully they’ll be able to leave Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise on the sidelines for the majority of the pre-season snaps.

Carson the running back is a ‘sleeper’ to monitor, so is guard Justin Roos. Mike Davis is another to watch among the running backs.

As for the former picks returning to glory — the three on the roster that qualify are Luke Joeckel, Dion Jordan and Marcus Smith. Joeckel has the best chance — he’s a presumed starter at left guard or left tackle and he’s a former #2 overall pick. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility he develops into at least a serviceable starter.

Jordan needs to get healthy and take motivation from what is possibly his last chance to have a NFL career. They scraped a season out of Big Mike Williams in 2010 so maybe they can get into Jordan. Smith has to get stronger and refine his technique. It’s hard to do in one training camp — he might get a chance to compete at the SAM spot and he’ll need to show some special teams value.

I just want to hear the coaches talk positively about him. The big concern (and the reason he dropped in the draft) was due to attitude and effort concerns. If he has a rocky start to camp does he fight back? Can he get out there and show he’s ready to be an impact pro? He has the physical talent. Hearing the coaches speak well of his attitude will be reassuring.

Roos certainly appears ready to compete with the rest of the linemen. We know that’s a wide open race, it might not be a quick process to find the five starting O-liners.

Swoopes is intriguing as a converted quarterback/gimmick player at Texas. He has the size and athleticism. He’s worth a look. Yet with Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson and Nick Vannett seemingly assured of roster spots, he’ll have to stand out fairly substantially to warrant being stashed on the 53-man roster.

There are some nice battles across the board. Who wins the backup QB job? What happens at running back and receiver? Who wins the job across from Richard Sherman? Who’s the starting SAM and which linebackers make the cut? It should be a fun camp — but I suspect my personal favourite battle to follow is going to be at running back.

Morgan has been a great servant for this team and a Pete Carroll favourite but clearly they felt it was time to move on. It’s telling that nobody else has moved to sign him. He might still return if some of the guys they’ve brought in don’t shine.

The kicker situation is a curious one. When Blair Walsh signed I think most people assumed he would be part of a competition in pre-season. Instead as time has gone on, he now looks like the undisputed starter. He still needs to win the job. If he misses kicks in the pre-season games they’ll cut him and sign someone else. But he’s essentially only competing with himself right now.

I think the slot situation could end up being Jeremy Lane’s role again but with more variation. They might use that extra DB to get Bradley McDougald or Delano Hill on the field. They seem really high on McDougald so depending on the opponent, he could end up taking snaps away as a ‘Buffalo’. It’s hard to predict right now. Lane could start outside and kick inside. Shaquill Griffin, DeAndre Elliott, Pierre Desire or Neiko Thorpe might win a job at corner or in the slot. Mike Tyson might get into the mix. It’ll be fun to watch.

Michael Wilhoite maybe has an advantage given his snaps in San Francisco but Terence Garvin and D.J. Alexander are good special teamers and that is likely to be a big factor in the final decision. Arthur Brown was a big time college recruit but his NFL career never took off in Baltimore. I think it’s likely Cassius Marsh will be on the roster in 2017. It won’t be a major shock if someone like Kache Palacio wins a job.

1. Paul Richardson
2. Germain Ifedi
3. Pierre Desir

Richardson ended the 2016 season healthy and making big plays. With Tyler Lockett possibly facing an easing-in period following his broken leg, there could be an opportunity for Richardson to continue his good form. He’s also in a contract year.

Ifedi had moments of real quality as a rookie but also many moments where you didn’t want to look. That said, he might be more at home at right tackle where his athleticism and length can be put to good use.

I went with Desir here purely as a wild-card and to make the answer a bit more interesting. There are a handful of cornerbacks all vying for a start and really any could win the job across from Sherman. Desir, however, has an interesting backstory. He joined the Seahawks practise squad last November. During the season he was offered the chance to sign with the Detroit Lions as part of their 53-man roster. He turned it down, preferring to learn Seattle’s technique and take his chance at winning a job this year with the Seahawks.

That willingness to take a chance on himself could pay off. He’s essentially been waiting since November for this opportunity, with a lot more time spent trying to master Seattle’s technique than the rookies drafted in late April. We’ll see if that gives him an edge.

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New podcast: Training camp preview

July 29th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Kenny and I go through some pre-camp topics and answer some Twitter questions. We didn’t get through all the questions so I’ll do a ‘mailbag’ type piece tomorrow.


Seahawks sign Marcus Smith, trade KPL for D.J. Alexander

July 28th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Here’s what I wrote about Smith just before the 2014 draft:

The other two options and wildcards for #32 are Marcus Smith and Demarcus Lawrence. Smith might be the more intriguing option — he ran a 4.6 at the combine with a 1.57 ten yard split. He’s a former quarterback and needs time — his arms lack muscle definition and he can get stronger. Yet the potential is there.

The nagging doubt I’d carry would be the unpredictable nature of edge rushers transferring to the next level. For all the scaremongering about taking receivers early — pass rushers are the ones to worry about. Look how many surprising busts there have been over the years. The speed isn’t quite as effective at the next level and you have to be able to battle — hand use, strength, counter moves and speed-to-power are crucial. Smith’s a nice athlete, but he’s not a rare player. As good as he looked in college, he’d be a risky pick at #32.

That second paragraph ultimately sums up his time in Philadelphia. He was the #26 pick, taken because of his athletic potential. He ran a 1.5 split at 251lbs and had 34 inch arms. He was worth a flier in the first or second round. He’s not the same kind of athlete as Bruce Irvin or Vic Beasley but he’s that type of modern day EDGE/LEO/SAM.

When he got to the NFL and he couldn’t rely purely on speed, he was found wanting. That said, he’s a nice reclamation project. Much in the way Dion Jordan and Luke Joeckel are. It’s possible he’ll never develop and will always be more athlete than pass rusher. It’s still worth a look to find out.

It wasn’t the only move today…

This came out of nowhere, although Kevin Pierre-Louis’ career in Seattle has been underwhelming despite his obvious physical talent.

Alexander is a former fifth round pick from Oregon State (2015). He was a special teams Pro-Bowler last season.

He ran a 4.56 at his pro-day and a 1.56 split. He also jumped a 34.5 inch vertical and a 10-3 broad. His 4.24 short shuttle would’ve been fifth fastest among linebackers at this years combine. We highlighted before the draft the apparent importance of the short shuttle in Seattle’s linebacker assessments.

He’s their type of LB — excellent short shuttle, special teams demon.

Here’s some tape from his Oregon State days…

Finally, according to NFL Insider Guy Fieri (ahem), full back Marcel Reece will be reporting for training camp in Seattle. He ended last season strongly and this can only be considered good news.

If you missed yesterday’s piece on Seattle going into training camp, click here.

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Some random thoughts going into training camp & Patreon

July 27th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

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Are you having a good summer?

Before I get into this piece, a small announcement. I’ve started a Patreon account. During the 2017 draft coverage a few people requested a ‘donate’ button on the site. I’m not going to hide any content behind a paywall, I’m not going to do anything differently. Every podcast, every article, every thought will be free and available on the blog. This exists purely for the people who wish to contribute. If you’re interested, click the orange tab at the top of the article or the top of the sidebar.

Now let’s get into the 2017 season.

Tomorrow Kenneth and I will be recording a new podcast. I’m preparing an article looking at some draft prospects that caught my eye during a recent tape review.

Today I want to run through some random thoughts…

1. Wilson’s health & running game the key — not the O-line

A lot of people are going to be talking about the O-line in camp. Fans, the media. It’ll probably get discussed ad nauseam and described as the key to Seattle’s season.

Admittedly the offensive line has to get better. Many will argue it couldn’t get much worse. Yet it’s arguably even more important that Seattle gets a healthy Russell Wilson and re-establishes it’s physical running game.

Wilson’s ability to extend plays, make gains with his legs, master the read-option and scramble out of danger is a highly critical part of Seattle’s offense. Pete Carroll once declared he wanted to be the ‘best scrambling team in the league’. The offense is set up to play to Wilson’s strengths. When he’s nursing ankle and knee injuries (neither of which were the fault of the O-line a year ago) it impacts the running game, the O-line and the DNA of the offense.

And then there’s Marshawn Lynch. You don’t need me to detail how he set the tone for the entire team (both sides of the ball). The term ‘generational talent’ is overused. It fits the bill for Lynch.

The combination of physically dominating ground game and mobile/elusive/miraculous quarterback allowed the Seahawks to thrive and win games in 2013 even with Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie starting at tackle.

Russell Okung missed eight regular season games during the Super Bowl run, with McQuistan forced to fill in at left tackle. Breno Giacomini missed seven games with seventh round rookie Bowie starting at right tackle.

Max Unger also missed three games in 2013.

Aside from a typically brutal experience in St. Louis on Monday Night Football (a game Seattle still won), the O-line injuries didn’t derail Seattle’s Championship season even though they easily could have. That was largely due to the quality of the running game and the skill-set of the quarterback.

So while it’s important the likes of George Fant and Germaine Ifedi take a step forward, that Justin Britt continues to excel and newcomers like Luke Joeckel, Ethan Pocic and Oday Aboushi have an impact — the overall fate of the offense likely rests with the QB and running backs.

Wilson being his mobile best and Eddie Lacy and/or Thomas Rawls being physical and tough to bring down likely equals a return to form on offense in 2017.

2. All signs point to waiting it out with Justin Britt

Jacksonville center Brandon Linder agreed a $51.7m contract extension with the Jaguars this week, worth over $10m a year on average.

Any hopes of an imminent agreement with Just Britt suddenly seem highly unrealistic.

Even before Linder’s deal it might’ve been a stretch.

The O-line market exploded in free agency and teams are throwing money at second and third tier talent, not just the big names. Britt emerged as one of the best young center’s in the league in 2016. Aged 26, he’s hitting the prime of his career.

Britt surely has to test the market in a years time. There’s never been a more financially rewarding time to be a good, healthy, durable offensive linemen.

Alternatively the Seahawks need to see if he can build on a strong first year at center before they consider making him potentially a top-five earner on the roster.

If Britt was to sign a deal equal to Linder’s ($10.34m APY) he’d be the fifth best paid Seahawk on the roster behind only Russell Wilson ($21.9m), Richard Sherman ($14m), Doug Baldwin ($11.5m) and Bobby Wagner ($10.75m). While the likes of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Jimmy Graham might expect to earn more than $10.34m a year if and when they sign contract extensions, this would still be a bold move by Seattle based on a solitary season at center.

The drafting of Ethan Pocic felt like a hedge at the time and that seems even more likely now. The coaches have done a good job talking up his flexibility and credentials to compete at guard and tackle — but Pocic was a center at LSU and could easily slot into that position from 2018 if needed.

Britt might be so good at center in 2017 that they ultimately decide to pay the going rate. It’s nice to have a sensible backup plan though — something they clearly didn’t have when they traded Max Unger to New Orleans and ended up starting the season with Drew Nowak at the heart of the O-line.

Many fans will cringe at the thought of letting the only solid O-line performer from 2016 walk as a free agent. There are things to consider though:

— Is the drop-off in performance between Britt and Pocic at center going to be that significant?

— The difference in average salary could be $10.5m vs $1.1m, allowing them to potentially use the money to keep Kam Chancellor and Jimmy Graham or one of their ‘prove-it’ players in 2017 (Eddie Lacy, Luke Joeckel, Bradley McDougald).

— Will it be harder to replace Chancellor or Graham compared to swapping Pocic in for Britt?

— Letting Britt walk to get a +$10m a year deal likely nets you a third round comp pick for a player who cost you a late second round pick in 2014.

Whatever ultimately happens, it feels like a situation that possibly won’t come to a conclusion until the early days of free agency. It makes sense for Britt to test the market. The Seahawks can then make an educated decision on their next move — knowing if they have to move on, they’re sufficiently insured with Pocic on the roster.

3. It feels like a different situation with Frank Clark

The D-line market is also booming at the moment. Calais Campbell agreed a contract in Jacksonville worth $15m a year. Olivier Vernon gets $17m a year with the Giants. This week Everson Griffen signed a four-year contract with the Vikings worth $14.5m a year. And it’s a move that will hopefully inspire the Seahawks.

Griffen had two years left on his contract in Minnesota. The Vikings, likely seeing the way the market was going, got him to agree an extension that will look like a bargain by 2019 (when his original deal was set to expire).

Seattle’s best way to keep Frank Clark long term, if his career trajectory continues, is probably to try and get him to agree a contract at the end of the 2017 season (the first time he’ll be eligible to talk about an extension per the CBA).

His cap hit in 2018 is only $1.187m. It’d be a shame to lose that great value, especially when there are other players to consider (Chancellor, Graham). Yet Clark’s price will only keep rising if he continues to perform. Minnesota took a hit now with Griffen to see value down the line. The Seahawks might have to do the same with Clark.

Remember, he had 10 sacks in 2016 despite working in a rotation. As his role expands and if he stays healthy and productive — he will look very attractive to teams with an ever increasing pot of money to spend.

If he reaches free agency his price could be in the Vernon bracket. There might be a way to reward him a year early, take a hit in 2018 and still find value over the long term of the contract.

Of course, he still needs to go out and perform in 2017. He clearly has the talent, however, to work his way into at least the price range of Everson Griffen.

4. It’d be cool if the Seahawks could extend Chancellor’s contract ASAP

Kam Chancellor is the heart and soul of this team. Seattle’s answer to Ray Lewis. Even when Lewis began to age and his play regressed, his value to the Ravens was palpable. Chancellor has the same kind of aura.

A breaking news story that Chancellor has signed an extension would be celebrated by fans and team mates alike. A chance to establish early momentum and avoid any distractions.

It’s likely a complex situation though.

Reshad Jones is a month older than Chancellor and signed a new contract in Miami worth $12m a year with $35m in guarantees over five years.

Chancellor isn’t just a better player than Jones, he’s a greater locker room presence. He’s well within his rights to ask for a similar deal, if not a better deal.

Equally the Seahawks have to plan with their heads and not their hearts. Chancellor missed nine games in 2015 and 2016. He’ll be 30 next year. It’s a given they’d like to reward Kam but does it make financial sense to do a long term deal?

The franchise tag for a safety in 2017 was $10.896m. Assuming it stays at around that level, you could pay Chancellor $8m in 2017 and approximately $11m in 2018. By 2019 Chancellor would be 31 and Seattle could franchise him again or look to do an extension from a superior bargaining position with an older player.

It could also be a risky strategy if they were perceived to be playing moneyball with such an important figure in the locker room — a player who’s already held out once and might be obliged to do so again if he’s forced to play on the franchise tag.

Tagging Chancellor would also remove an option to keep Jimmy Graham for another year on a similar cap hit ($10m) to his current contract.

It’s a perfect illustration of the dilemma teams face at times. On the one hand you want to reward a highly respected, highly talented player. Precedent has been set with another similarly aged player. And yet from a business perspective, it makes more sense to manage the situation year-to-year.

Nevertheless, a Kam Chancellor contract announcement over the next few weeks would be the best possible start to the 2017 season.

5. Hope for an easier path to the playoffs

The Patriots have benefitted for years playing in a weak, mostly uncompetitive AFC East. If you can rely on 5-6 wins in your division, you’re half way to getting a #1 or #2 seed in the playoffs.

Here’s Seattle’s record in the NFC West over the last five years:

2012 — 4-2
2013 — 4-2
2014 — 5-1
2015 — 3-3
2016 — 3-2-1

Total — 19-10-1

A strong showing in 2014 pretty much secured the #1 seed, making up for losses against San Diego, Dallas and Kansas City. Last year the divisional record directly cost Seattle a bye in the playoffs.

The Seahawks are too good to be going 6-5-1 over the last two years even in a competitive NFC West. If the standard of the division was to drop, however, it’d make things easier.

It really is this simple. When the Seahawks only have to win two home games to make a Super Bowl — they have a great chance of making it happen against any opponent. See: 2005, 2013, 2014.

With San Francisco going through a major rebuild, the Rams trying to establish a new identity with a rookie Head Coach and the Cardinals ageing, minus Calais Campbell and seemingly focusing on one final tilt (at least in the eyes of Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald it seems) — this could be the year where the quality does drop after years of intense competition. Wether this occurs or not, the Seahawks have to go better than 3-2-1 or 3-3.

6. Who are the most interesting additions?

Going into camp, for me it’s Eddie Lacy and Malik McDowell.

Lacy appears to be benefitting from his fresh start and a re-commitment to a better diet. And while his size has become something of a running joke among pundits and fans — it’s easy to forget just how good he can be when healthy and in shape:

He’s not Marshawn. Nobody is. Yet he might be the nearest thing they were ever going to get for the type of back they needed to acquire. Big, tough to bring down, capable of getting the tough yards.

If the Panthers or Giants were fielding a healthy looking Lacy in week one, you’d be envious. If there were a few smirks when he joined the Seahawks as an unheralded free agent — he could end up being one of the steals of the off-season and a possible ‘comeback player of the year’ candidate. Especially for a team determined to run the ball.

Lacy also takes some of the pressure off Thomas Rawls — a fine player in his own right who might be at his best working in a one-two punch rather than needing to carry the load on his own.

McDowell meanwhile gives the Seahawks something they’ve lacked for a while — a dynamic interior rusher. With size, length, strength and the ability to make plays as an inside/out rusher — he’s the weapon they didn’t have in previous years. Hopefully they find a way to maximise his talent as a rookie without the need for a Frank Clark ‘learning year’ — and hopefully he can answer the call.

Carroll and Schneider casually name-dropped Calais Campbell when they reviewed the McDowell pick during the draft. You don’t do that on a whim. He has a long way to go to find that level of play (and Campbell took a few years to become a dominant force) but if he has even a solid rookie season — it could take the D-line and pass rush to a new level.