Seattle Seahawks  

 

Russell Wilson Effect evident at Seattle Seahawks training camp

RENTON, Wash. -- With music blaring, the energy from the practice field is nearly as loud as the tunes. Pete Carroll has always been a high-octane guy who warmly welcomes all competition, and the Seattle Seahawks have assumed the form of their fourth-year coach.

Veterans who should be secure fear being cut. Rookies know they have a chance to start. In the gorgeous setting around the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, everything is placid -- except for the action on the field. Seattle is ready for Act 2 after playing a breakout role in 2012.

Here are five things I learned during my day in Renton:

1) The decision to start Russell Wilson has left its mark: The Seahawks' 2012 campaign began with a stunning move, as Carroll announced that Wilson -- and not free-agent signee Matt Flynn -- would be his starting quarterback. For most of us who hadn't watched the competition day in and day out, it was beyond explanation. "The fact that you guys didn't see it (made it a surprise)," Carroll told me. "The conventional wisdom was you'd never do that. But he's that good. And we could tell. He still has to go out and do it and prove it." Yes, he is that good. Wilson clearly established himself as one of the pillars of the franchise's future last season, guiding the Seahawks to an 11-5 mark and falling just short of the NFC Championship Game. Looking back on the move, Carroll said, "The bad thing would've been to not name Russell, because he was the guy. He won the job." Who cares that he was an unproven rookie? He earned it. A year later, this mentality is not lost on players. They know this: Everyone's job is simultaneously in jeopardy and attainable. One secure veteran recently went to his position coach and innocently asked if he's on the roster bubble. Meanwhile, 25-year-old corner Walter Thurmond knows he has a chance at the nickel job, despite the Seahawks signing 14-year veteran Antoine Winfield in free agency. The message is loud and clear: The depth chart is completely fluid. This is the way Carroll has always done it, but the Wilson decision really hammered home his unwavering devotion to open competition. "There comes a time when you have opportunities to really demonstrate that," Carroll said. "That was one of the best ones." The result is a stronger team with players who know they have to perform on a daily basis.

2) OK, so what's next for the Seahawks' sophomore signal-caller? One common misconception is that the Seahawks' offense is read-option based. Not true. Yes, they run some read option, but it's not the majority of their playbook. In fact, Wilson considers himself a quarterback who happens to run, not a running quarterback. This came up during my talk with creative offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. I openly wondered about what kind of adjustments Wilson will need to make, as teams gear up to stop him by diagnosing 2012 game film. Bevell seemed to move past last year to ... whatever this year's version is. "We're always looking for the next thing, the thing that can help us get better," Bevell told me. "(Read-option plays) were a small part of what we did. It wasn't a huge part of the offense. We have so many other things that we can do, that we feel like are strengths for us. It's not something that we hang our hat on. We hang our hat on running the ball, and we still have the ability to do that." Not what you're looking to hear as an opposing defensive coordinator.

3) Losing Percy Harvin stings, but Seattle can withstand it: In considering the question of how much the Seahawks "lost" when Harvin went down with a hip injury, think about this: They went on an offensive rampage in the back half of last season and won six of their final seven games (including the playoffs) without him. With Golden Tate having a strong camp and capable of playing inside, Sidney Rice back in the fold after a trip to Switzerland for a non-surgical treatment on his knee and a slew of other options at receiver (Early Doucet, Doug Baldwin, Stephen Williams), the cupboard isn't bare. "It's a loss in terms of the potential," Bevell said, "but it happened early. It wasn't like we had this whole new piece that we had to replace that has been in there a long time. We're just going as we have been." Seattle hopes Harvin can return for the stretch run, with a Dec. 2 game against the New Orleans Saints as a possible target. By the time surgery was recommended by Dr. Bryan Kelly in New York, Seattle's team doctors were behind the move, too. Everyone just wants the receiver to be healthy and productive, which they think he will be in time. Until then, the offense will simply look like last year's edition -- not the worst thing.

4) Pass rushers are waiting ... for now: The first thing I noticed upon entering the practice facility? Three key pass rushers sitting out. Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin were all reduced to watching the action, just like the throngs of fans on the hill. "If pass rushers or corners are watching, that does not fire you up," bright new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn quipped. Both Carroll and Quinn insinuated it was a short-term problem, though. Carroll said Avril (foot) should be back next week. The head coach also praised Clemons' rehab from a torn ACL: "Whether he makes it back for the opener, I don't know. He's going to be close, anyway. That means we get him soon after." In the meantime, though, much to Quinn's delight, other players have emerged. This, you see, is the defensive boss' favorite facet of camp: "What I love about preseason is, every year it's like, 'Where did that dude come from?' " This year, two rookies have caught Quinn's eye: outside linebacker John Lotulelei from UNLV and pass rusher Benson Mayowa from Idaho. I looked quizzically as he mentioned the names, seeing as both players went undrafted in April. "You haven't heard of these guys," Quinn said, "But you will. These dudes are going for it." Of course, when you have one of the NFL's nastiest secondaries in the "Legion of Boom," getting to the quarterback becomes an easier pursuit.

5) High expectations suit this club: The Seahawks are no longer under the radar. They aren't anybody's darlings or a cool pick to splash into the playoffs. They are, simply, a very good team expected to be very good. Their world has changed. What I wanted to know from Carroll, who spends considerable energy managing his team's emotions, is how the Seahawks are handling the public's view of them. How do you prepare for such an onslaught of hype? "By, along the way, first thing picturing it was going to be like this," Carroll said. "That was in our message from the day we got here. So that when it comes, it's not a surprise. And as the attention increases and the conversation develops, you have to handle it in normal fashion and treat it like you've been there before." It's a savvy approach, one based in knowing the team will eventually succeed. Carroll's goal is to talk about it, address it, get used to it, so it'll feel normal. The division will be tough, maybe the NFL's toughest. They are OK with that. And if the Seahawks hit it big this year, the players won't be surprised, because they've been expecting it. "This conversation's been going for four years," Carroll said. "And you got to embrace it."

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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