SEATTLE – For the first time since the wild-card playoff loss this past January in Dallas, the Seattle Seahawks take the field as a whole this week at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, for what the NFL lovingly terms organized team activities (OTAs).
That’s a fancy way of saying that everyone – offense, defense and special teams – can all work together after having had to do any drills up until now separately (only offense, only defense, etc.), though the workouts are voluntary, are not held in full pads, and full contact is not allowed.
NFL teams can hold 10 OTAs over the next three weeks. Seattle first hit the field Monday afternoon. Starting today, the first of four OTAs will be open to the media.
Of the 53 players on Seattle’s roster for the 24-22 loss to the Cowboys, all but 11 return.
But of those 11, five were listed as starters, and another, Justin Coleman, was as valuable as any other defensive back.
Among those gone are leading pass rusher Frank Clark and Doug Baldwin, maybe the best receiver in team history other than Steve Largent.
And that list doesn’t include Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
But the 42 who return represent the core of how head coach Pete Carroll is hoping to move on successfully from the Legion of Boom era, now officially over with Chancellor’s recent release.
Seattle, in fact, takes the field for OTAs with just three players left from the team that beat Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014 – Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
Here are five things to watch as OTAs unfold:
1. How will the receiving corps come together? Baldwin’s departure leaves a big hole in the offense, even if he was likely never going to play again at the same level if he had returned, and the team has been preparing to replace him.
Seattle has Tyler Lockett as one sure thing at receiver, but that’s about it. Carroll has twice mentioned hoping to get more out of Jaron Brown in his second year with the team, and David Moore might also take a big leap in Year 3.
But the real key is going to be how quickly the three rookies the team drafted progress, particularly second-rounder D.K. Metcalf and fourth-rounder Gary Jennings.
Metcalf was the standout of the rookie minicamp, both for his obvious physical gifts and also for what Carroll said was a more advanced mastery of the position than the team had thought he might have at this stage.
But replicating that against veteran NFL players will be more of a challenge, and just how much the team can expect to get out of Metcalf this season will become clearer over the next three weeks.
Jennings and seventh-round pick John Ursua each sat out minicamp with hamstring issues; Ursua was said to be out only for precautionary reasons, and Jennings also may be back.
2. Who is where at the safety spots? The safety position is also among the most wide-open on the team, which, like the receiver spot, contains one sure thing — Bradley McDougald is going to start somewhere.
McDougald, though, can play either strong or free safety, and Seattle’s task now is to find the best combination on the back end — will it be McDougald at free safety and Delano Hill or rookie Marquise Blair at strong safety? Or McDougald at strong and Tedric Thompson at free?
And where will rookie Ugo Amadi fit in after being drafted with the initial thought that he would play free safety, but then spending much of rookie minicamp playing the nickel?
It’ll take a while to sort all that out, and Seattle can be expected to try a few different combos until making any final decisions.
3. Speaking of the nickel position: Coleman’s departure, via free agency to the Detroit Lions, also leaves a wide-open vacancy at the nickel cornerback spot.
Akeem King, who started one game at corner last year, played most of another, and also was used in some specialty packages as a slot corner, appears the leader at that spot at the moment.
Holdovers Kalan Reed and Jeremy Boykins are also in the running, and Seattle recently signed six-year NFL veteran Jamar Taylor to compete there. And then there is Amadi.
Seattle might need to pare that list down quickly, just to make sure the most legitimate candidates get the work they need in training camp.
4. Other Ansahs to be found on defensive line? Heralded free-agent signee Ziggy Ansah won’t take part in OTAs as he continues to rehab from labrum surgery in his right shoulder that may mean he won’t be available until August, if not beyond.
But there’s no question that once he’s ready, he’ll slide into a role as the team’s starting LEO, or edge rusher, position.
However, Seattle will need more than just Ansah to not only replace the pass rush that Clark brought last season, but also simply improve it overall.
Former-and-once-again Seahawk Cassius Marsh will be among those playing at the LEO spot in the offseason, along with the likes of second-year defensive end Jacob Martin, while Seattle will also get a good look at first-round pick L.J. Collier, who is expected to play the other end spot.
Also of interest will be the progress of second-year end Rasheem Green, a standout in the preseason a year ago before seeing his rookie season stunted due to nagging injuries. Seattle is counting on a significant breakthrough in Year 2 for Green. The Seahawks are also planning to move defensive tackle Nazair Jones primarily to the end spot, and OTAs will mark a good chance to see how that experiment is evolving.
And then there are the tackle spots, where Seattle will be without Jarran Reed during OTAs as he recovers from sports hernia surgery last month.
Al Woods, a veteran signed earlier this month, will join second-year player Poona Ford, free-agent signee Jamie Meder, rookie draft pick Demarcus Christmas and undrafted rookie free agents Bryan Mone and former Eastern Washington standout Jay-Tee Tiuli in what could be a mad scramble for the roster’s final one or two tackle spots.
5. A stable offensive line? For once, one area that seems relatively set entering OTAs is the offensive line, which returns four of five starters – left tackle Duane Brown, center Justin Britt, right guard D.J. Fluker and right tackle Germain Ifedi.
Veteran free-agent signee Mike Iupati is expected to step in for the departed J.R. Sweezy at left guard, meaning the Seahawks appear to have a relatively stable OL, filled with nothing but former first- or second-round picks who all have at least three years of starting experience.
Also back is George Fant, who will be asked to push Ifedi at right tackle, but at the least will again play the eligible tackle/tight end role he did so well last season.
Barring something unexpected – the right tackle spot being the best chance of a real competition – Seattle will mostly be looking to groom young players and build depth on the offensive line this year.
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