Month: August 2017 (Page 2 of 2)

In game notes: Seahawks hammer Chargers 48-17

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)

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

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

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. He needs a healthy 2017 season.

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

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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