NFL.com has dispatched several writers to report on the 32 training camps. Bucky Brooks details his visit with the Seattle Seahawks. (Click here for the complete archive of Training Camp Reports.)
WHERE IS NFL.COM?
The Seahawks are holding training camp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash. The facility is nestled in a spot adjacent to Lake Washington that provides players and fans with a postcard-pretty view of the city of Seattle.
1. Signing Terrell Owens was certainly not just a publicity stunt.News that T.O. had landed in the Pacific Northwest brought an overflow crowd to practice on Wednesday, but I'm sure Seattle wants to do more with Owens than just gin up interest. The Seahawks are counting on Owens to be a key contributor; that he played flanker (behind Sidney Rice) reveals a lot about their future plans. Most outsiders expected Owens to battle with Braylon Edwards at split end for the right to complement Rice. But Owens will have a better chance to crack the starting lineup at flanker, where he could also fill in as the Seahawks' primary playmaker if Rice struggles with injuries.
That's a lot of responsibility for a 38-year-old veteran who hasn't played an NFL game in 20 months. However, after watching him work at practice, I think Owens will succeed. He ran his routes smoothly and fluidly, separating from defenders out of the break with some explosiveness. Owens caught the ball well in drills and didn't show any rust from his extended absence. He struggled a bit against press coverage in his first practice, but more reps should help in that area, as should the coaching staff, which is determined to design plays to get him open. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell could, for example, put Owens in motion to help him avoid press coverage at the line. I don't expect Owens to be the top-tier receiver he once was, but I do believe he can be an effective situational playmaker, capable of tallying 50-plus catches and eight to 10 touchdowns. The Seahawks' offense was not very explosive last season, and Owens could be a major upgrade.
2. Quarterback Matt Flynn is on track to start. The Seahawks recently announced that Flynn will start the first game of the preseason, and I fully expect him to have that job when the regular season opens. He looked completely comfortable directing the offense, displaying superb accuracy and ball placement in drills. I was impressed with Flynn's movement skills within the pocket during 11-on-11 drills, as well as his ability to extend plays with his feet. He repeatedly connected on deep throws after eluding pressure; that element of his game could enhance the Seahawks' offense. Veteran Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson certainly had their moments during camp, but the job seems like Flynn's to lose at this point.
3. The Seahawks' secondary might be the best in the NFL. Oh, I know that statement will cause a commotion in some locker rooms around the league, but there is not a more effective quartet than Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Everything starts with the big, imposing tandem of Sherman and Browner on the outside. Both are long, athletic and physical corners who excel in press coverage. They use strong jams to harass opposing receivers throughout their routes, forcing quarterbacks to try to fit the ball into tight windows. Neither player is perfect by any means (Browner runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range and shows limited movement skills, while Sherman's footwork and fundamentals are unrefined), but their collective toughness and effort allow them to consistently win on the perimeter.
Thomas and Chancellor are just as imposing in the middle of the field. Both are punishing hitters with outstanding instincts. Their knack for working near the line of scrimmage or in space creates problems for opponents between the hashes. Thomas, in particular, is a scrappy ball hawk with the speed and athleticism to float freely as a deep middle player. In the past two years, he's picked off seven passes while making a host of big plays in the back end. Chancellor isn't as well known as his counterpart, but he is equally effective. He has a nose for the football, finishing 2011 with four interceptions, 13 pass breakups and two forced fumbles. This imposing secondary will challenge the NFC's top aerial attacks.
4. Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider are not afraid to take calculated risks to upgrade the roster. The Seahawks have added talent at one of the most aggressive paces in the NFL, raising eyebrows with some of the players they've brought in. I count tight end Kellen Winslow, running back Marshawn Lynch, Edwards, rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin and Owens as players who have been viewed as questionable characters by others. They each possess special talents capable of carrying the Seahawks to the postseason, but they must fit into the ultra-competitive, family-like atmosphere that Carroll has created in the locker room.
It's easy to do that when things are going well. The challenge for the coaching staff will be to manage player egos during the difficult stretches of the regular season. I asked a few Seahawks officials about managing so many complex personalities. I was promptly told it wouldn't be an issue, based on frank conversations had with each player upon their arrival, as well as the strong leadership within the locker room. The Seahawks have quickly dismissed problematic players in the past (for example, see LenDale White, Antonio Bryant and Mike Williams), and they won't hesitate to walk away from a headache if it becomes a distraction during the season.
THE NEW GUYS
Robert Turbin: Lynch could be suspended after his July arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence. If he misses time, rookie runner Turbin could bear the load. The 5-foot-10, 222-pound Turbin is built to be a workhorse, given his combination of size, strength and speed, but he must acclimate to the pace of the pro game. I loved Turbin's physicality and the toughness he showed running between the tackles at practice, and I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He'd have a hard time matching Lynch's production exactly, but Turbin could be a solid short-term solution if the starter has to sit out.
Irvin: The Seahawks were initially criticized for selecting Irvin with the 15th overall pick in April's draft, but he has the physical tools to be an NFL star. He is freakishly explosive off the edge and has a relentless motor. He must continue to refine his rush skills and hold up better against the run, but I won't be surprised if Irvin collects 10 or more sacks as a situational rusher.
"It's all about, for me now, being a part of something rather than being the center of something."
- Golden Tate is having an outstanding training camp. The third-year receiver has finally adjusted to the speed and tempo of the pro game. He's starting to resemble the playmaker the Seahawks envisioned when they made him the 60th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Tate has impressed team officials with his speed, explosiveness and ball skills, routinely coming down with contested balls in crowded situations. Tate's success can partly be attributed to the decision to play him exclusively at split end after attempting to use him in multiple positions, including slot receiver. He no longer overthinks things on the field, playing faster and with more confidence.
- The Seahawks were smart to retain Lynch despite the possibility of a future suspension. He is an exceptionally skilled player who can impact the game as a runner or receiver from his tailback position. Watching Lynch work in drills, I was most impressed by his explosiveness and physicality on runs between the tackles. He runs with an urgency and violence that overwhelms opponents and sets the table for the Seahawks' offensive game plan. His absence would test Bevell's creativity, but the benefits of having a dynamic weapon in the backfield far outweigh the risk that he'll miss time.
- Russell Okung's health will be one of the biggest determining factors of the Seahawks' success. The former top-10 pick has shown glimpses of being a Pro Bowl-caliber blocker on the edge, but an assortment of injuries has prevented him from staying in the lineup consistently. Okung has missed 10 games in two seasons, failing to play at full strength in a majority of his starts, though his injuries have all resulted from freakish plays. The Seahawks need Okung to neutralize the athletic pass rushers (like the San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith, the St. Louis Rams' Chris Long and the Arizona Cardinals' O'Brien Schofield) emerging in the NFC West.
- I love coordinator Gus Bradley's aggressive defensive scheme. Seattle's defense flies to the ball with reckless abandon, and the group will produce turnovers by the bushel. The Seahawks are one of the few teams that extensively align the cornerbacks in press coverage, preventing receivers from releasing freely into their routes and forcing quarterbacks to fit the ball into tight windows on the perimeter. The Seahawks complement the aggressive coverage on the outside with deep-spot drops by linebackers. Interior defenders drop to designated spots on the field rather than matching up with receivers according to pattern reads, neutralizing the effectiveness of crossing routes. Defenders also get to read the quarterback's eyes, giving them a chance to make quicker breaks on throws. If the Seahawks can consistently pressure the passer without committing extra defenders to the rush, quarterbacks will have a difficult time against them.
The Seahawks are building a competitive squad behind a championship-caliber defense. However, their postseason fortunes will rest on an offense that has question marks at quarterback and wide receiver. With four preseason games to sort through the possibilities at both positions, the Seahawks are an intriguing team to watch as a possible contender.