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Larry Stone: Have Seahawks fallen from NFL’s elite? We’re about to find out

UPDATED: Thu., July 26, 2018, 10:30 p.m.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson stretches during  training camp Thursday in Renton, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson stretches during training camp Thursday in Renton, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

RENTON, Wash. – The Seahawks have seen the predictions of their impending demise, heard the talk that their era of dominance is over.

And they have an enthusiastic response: Bring. It. On.

As Seattle began training camp Thursday with free safety Earl Thomas nowhere in sight, with numerous other legends long gone, with sobering injury news involving Frank Clark and Dion Jordan, with question marks all over the field, there was inspiration to be found in the atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty.

In fact, some veteran players appeared almost gleeful in the opportunity to reboard the “no-respect” train. It’s hard to go that route, after all, when you’ve been to Super Bowls, are loaded with high-profile stars and are annually regarded as one of the game’s elite teams.

But the Seahawks have tumbled off the high road. Last season they didn’t make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, coach Pete Carroll’s second year. With the departure of defensive stars Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor, and with the Thomas contract mess still swirling, they are considered long shots by many to get back. Heck, USA Today just picked them to go 4-12, which is music to the ears of linebacker Bobby Wagner.

“You don’t got to make nothing up (for motivation),” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to make stuff up. Now you’re all giving us stuff to feed on.”

That might be a blessing and a curse. The blessing, of course, is the renewal of the drive and hunger that made the Seahawks what they were in those heady days of building toward a championship. Wagner rattled off the greatest-hits compilation of slights, perceived or otherwise: They said Wagner wasn’t big enough, quarterback Russell Wilson wasn’t tall enough, and so on and so forth. Wagner then spoke of the pride they took in proving people wrong. It was the foundation of a golden era.

“I feel like a lot of the young guys coming in have something to prove,” he said. “We understand there’s a lot of people sleeping on the talent we have, and we’re excited about that. We’re excited about that challenge. We’re excited to prove people wrong. That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve been doing since 2012 is proving people wrong. It’s not new territory from that standpoint.”

The downside is that the apprehension and skepticism is coming from a realistic place, not out of spite or ignorance. The Seahawks really do have a question about where their pass rush is going to come from. They really do have to almost completely revamp their vaunted “Legion of Boom.” They really do need to prove that having an improved running game, their primary goal, is legitimate.

But that challenge is precisely what was energizing them on Day 1, starting with their 66-year-old coach (he’ll be 67 before they play their second game). Dressed all in white, Carroll bounced all over the field during the 90-minute workout, slapping backs and liberally doling out encouragement.

“Today was a frickin’ blast,” Carroll exulted afterward. “You couldn’t ask for more.”

On the list of Seahawks personnel with something to prove, Carroll ranks high, perhaps pre-eminent. Departing comments from Sherman and Bennett painted a portrait of veteran players who had tuned out his message. Carroll needs to show that his style and words still resonate, and that he can still motivate a team as it reaches the downside of a typical NFL life cycle – building, succeeding and then, in many cases, crashing under the weight of their achievement.

Carroll and the Seahawks believe they can stave off the final chapter and show that last year was an aberration. The coach said he has sensed a mood of added urgency long before the team trooped out of the locker room at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“I think we’ve sensed it the whole time,” he said. “I think we’ve sensed it since the last game of the season, without question. It’s really been part of the mentality that’s made these guys in this mode of they’re really grinding.

“They’re really fired up about working and making right and all that. There’s so many areas for us to improve from last season. It’s so obvious. It’s already under way.”

Wagner calls it “a different energy, a different vibe. I feel like everybody’s hungry. Everybody has something to prove, and that brings an excitement.”

“Excellence is a tradition here,” offensive lineman Duane Brown said. “Year in and year out, you’re competing to win a division. You’re competing to be in a playoff. So when we’re overlooked by a lot of people, it’s definitely something that fuels our fire, working every day. Nothing like being an underdog. Nothing like it.”

So I guess that’s good news. The Seahawks have taken so many hits, and tumbled so far in the public’s estimation, that they are underdogs again.

Now we’ll find out if that’s their emotional ticket back to the top – or an accurate assessment of their plight.


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