Camp Crucial: Thoughts from Week 1 at the VMAC

After months of ‘rosterbating’ and sub-optimal cuisine wars, the first week on the VMAC berm has come and gone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place to discuss the fact that pulled meat is good, onions are bad, and, fries are indeed a critical factor when burger-ranking. With those reiterated facts now embedded, we can hopefully turn the page to our beloved Seahawks. After spending a few days in Renton this week, here are some observations compiled into a word soup.

Injury Report

So far, there haven’t been any significant health concerns other than the mysterious stress (fracture?) injury to Dion Jordan’s leg, which Pete says “will be a couple weeks”. Pete also cleared up the injured leg is opposite to the knee he had last year. While that’s good to hear, this is unfortunate still because twelve months ago, Dion was in a similar situation. Hampered by health, not able to get up to speed in camp. After a strong finish to 2017, Dion has been a popular name for breakout candidates. Despite the departures of Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett, Dion will have to wait on his recovery.  With Malik McDowell recently clearing waivers/being stashed to IR, and no Frank Clark extension inked to this point, there is currently no clarity to the club’s control in 2019 for any defensive end other than Rasheem Green. While some may fairly give cause for concern when hearing this, something tells me Pete Carroll wouldn’t have it any other way. Well… maybe he’d rather Malik be the Calais Campbell he thought he could become, and, I’m sure Frank is a priority extension. Even factoring in Frank sticking around, DE appears to be the teams biggest question mark now, and likely heading into the 2019 off-season.

Offensive Notes

  • Russell Wilson, entering his 7th campaign, said last week that it feels similar to his rookie year. Unlike most QB’s, Russ has had the same offensive staff barking in his headset for his entire career. Until now… and while he’s not fighting for a job, there will be a slight learning curve to the Schottenheimer offense. It appears he’s also been working on some mechanical changes to widen his drop-step, which was recently revealed by Schotty in an interview with Q13. Cemented as the franchise QB, the real intrigue is to see if 7th-rounder, Alex McGough, can do enough to beat out Austin Davis, who not only has tenure with Seattle but exposure to Schotty’s offense from his time with the Rams. With only 90k guaranteed to Davis, there’s little to no financial implication the team is committed to him. Even if McGough isn’t immediately more prepared than Davis, I think his four years of club control are more valuable to the team than what Davis has shown so far. You can premise anything written here with “we’ll have to wait to see it in games”, of course. Finally, for the first time since Russell, the team has drafted a QB. After years of John Schneider telling us that leading up to the draft, they’re always looking for QB’s to groom, this feels like the first time he’s legitimately paying that off.

  • David Moore & Marcus Johnson are early front runners for the void left by Paul Richardson. Sorry Mikey, we know you’re pulling for Tanner but TBH he’s closer to Kris Durham than he is Adam Theilen. (Editor’s Note: Yeah yeah when the T-Train steamrolls the league for the next decade we’ll see who’s laughing.) You can pretty much lock in 3 WR’s. Baldwin, Lockett, and Brown. I have them carrying six total, and currently, my group would be the three previously mentioned along with Moore, Johnson, and Darboh. This will probably shift as these next couple weeks go on, and if I had one surprise cut, it may actually be Darboh. Going only into his 2nd year, he’s going to need to do more than exist. Perhaps that is due to not only the acquisitions of Brown/Johnson, but the emergence of David Moore, who Pete says has made the infamous “sophomore jump”. Moore has not been held back this time around, getting a lot of work at WR2. Also noteworthy is the recent emergence of Keenan Reynolds. Keenan has been hooking up with Russell during install, scoring TD’s in days 3 & 4. Will his practices translate to the game, come August 9th? At his size, and where he’s being utilized in camp, he projects to me as a slot WR. He will probably need to flash in special teams or display some return ability if he’s going to separate himself from the others vying for that WR6 spot. He is one to keep an eye on for sure.

 

  •  For the better part of four decades, the Seahawks have had rushing success through workhorse backs. Lynch, Alexander, Warren, Warner. Not to mention, all running behind prominent fullbacks. As league trends continuously evolve, I think that, for the first time in the PCJS era, the Seahawks will be trend-followers as opposed to setters. When you look at the RB room, and the skill sets on hand, it sort of suggests the team is looking to mimic the likes of the Saints and Falcons which both showcase two-headed monsters in the backfield. Carson is your Thunder. Penny, your Lightning. You can also draw parallels in how Schotty used Nick Chubb/Sony Michel in 2015. So far, the running backs have been heavily utilized in the passing game during install, particularly Rashaad Penny. Beyond that, Prosise appears to be healthy and motivated. He’s seen his opportunity go to a myriad of running backs while he’s been sidelined. Not to mention, the 1st rounder being added to the stable. If the team carries four RB’s, I think McKissic edges out Davis. McKissic has been the most available RB to this offense. He’s been jerked around to learn multiple positions and has risen to the occasion. With that, J.D. provides a flex option that Davis does not. If the team only carries 5 WR’s, you can still view Mckissic as your flex RB4/WR6. If six are carried, you really cover yourself with J.D. in case an injury or two happen in-game. Not to mention, he’s been earning his stripes on SPT and will likely be asked to continue playing there. Just to quickly touch on it, though the team won’t completely go away from using a FB, I’m not sure they will carry a true FB. Fowler, who has been in street clothes to this point, and Madden, who has never really developed into the Mike Rob/Marcel Reece type, may lose their role as the position league-wide has become an endangered species. In looking at the most recent models of the Schottenheimer offense, you note that he used a flex TE to fill that role in his time as the Rams’ Offensive Coordinator. Although it’s not entirely out of the question they roster a true FB, I don’t anticipate that happening.

Defensive Notes

  • As previously mentioned, defensive end will be this team’s next hot topic conversation for the foreseeable future. The team can’t catch a break – some wounds are self inflicted but, for the most part, out of their hands. Nevertheless, Frank Clark is in line to become a household name and Rasheem may be forced to play a high percentage of snaps if Dion Jordan’s injury continues to nag at him. Pete Carroll usually downplays the significance of injuries, so when he says,”it’s gonna be awhile” in regards to Dion, you gotta believe this is going to probably last into the regular season. DE4 appears to be a wide open battle between Marcus Smith and Branden Jackson. Veterans like Robert Ayers are still on the market. Perhaps the team would be interested in a guy like that under something similar to the Mathis deal last season. Why hasn’t it happened already? The team believes they can platoon the “Cheetah” package with the likes of Mingo, Martin, and maybe even Shaquem. I think you give your own guys the first shot, then see what becomes available in preseason cuts before reaching out to a veteran. In terms of the interior, I think you have four locks. Reed, Jones, Johnson, Stephen. The question is whether or not UDFA Poona Ford does enough to convince the team he belongs. We knew he was short, but seeing him stand next to Reed or Naz really magnifies just how different his body type is. Will he be able to play outside the 0-1 Technique? I’m not sure, and I think the team has enough interior space eaters. Add him to the preseason watchlist.
  • The linebacker group as a whole remains a mystery to me, but here’s what I’m thinking. There is no true backup MLB to Bobby Wagner. If you wanted, you could use K.J. Wright as your backup MLB, while you carry an extra OLB. I believe with the sudden retirement of Josh Perry, you’re probably looking at Mingo, Griffin, Martin, and either Jacob Pugh or D.J. Alexander as your final LB in. Tough call because D.J. is a core special-teamer, while Pugh may be able to provide extra pass rush which the team can’t get enough of at the moment. In both days 3 and 4, Shaquem made his presence felt, creating turnovers during install. What’s more, during plays where he’s away from the ball he’s very physical in press. I noticed on multiple occasions where he bullied Vannett inside five, disrupting the timing of his routes and not allowing any breathing room. He may be competing to be a WLB, but I think you can do a lot of unique things with him. Not to mention, he’s got an inside track to be a SPT Gunner with that size and speed. I was skeptical at first, but I’m now a firm believer he’s more than just a guy who belongs on an NFL roster. The kid clearly has great instincts, just like his brother.
  • Lastly on defense, the most intriguing group of them all: the secondary that will remain nicknameless until they organically earn one,!,!,! The LOB died when Browner left along with the rest of whatever past feel-goods we insist on replicating or clinging onto. Most know my stance on Earl Thomas and why it’s time for the Hawks to move on. Whether you agree or disagree, the fact remains: Earl chooses to not be here. The team has to coach the players who show up and want to chase their own legacy. If the team is going to try and reestablish culture, you can’t reward players who repeatedly act out in the media with a false sense of business savvy; those who choose to get upset with their employer over contract disputes, rather than the agents who advised they sign these deals in the first place. Pete and John have a track record on how they reward players going into their final year. Earl knows this. Earl has seen how and when the team rewards a player. For some reason, he thinks he’s exempt from how the team operates. Maybe he should take a lesson from Duane Brown, who, with $0 guarantees going into this season, showed up every day. We all knew he wasn’t happy with his contract. That was evident when we received him in the Houston trade. Compare how Duane and his agent handled business to Earl’s camp. Compare the results too. You can bet NOTHING is getting done if Earl doesn’t show up, and jokes aside, the more Tedric Thompson shows, the less inclined the team is going to be to break their extension protocol for a player with one foot out the door. Another unfortunate ending to another original LOB member. /rant…..
  • Onto the future. While Shaquill appears to be transitioning to LCB naturally, what’s more impressive to me is he appears to already be mentoring other DB’s. Some, with more experience than himself. In both days, I saw him stay overtime to work on technique with rookie Tre Flowers, who appears to be Pete Carroll’s next Teacher’s Pet, as well as Neiko Thorpe, who may be competing with Maxwell for meaningful reps. Up to this point, Neiko has spot-filled during injuries but mostly made his name in SPT. I anticipate him continuing to be a core teamer, and pushing Maxwell for RCB. Nickel is locked down by Justin Coleman, who is in a contract year. He may be next in line for an extension if nothing with Frank is done soon. At the safety spots I will hold a place for Earl, though I anticipate the actual four being Tedric Thompson, Bradley McDougald, Delano Hill, and my darkhorse, Mo Alexander. Without the skillsets of Thomas and Chancellor, anticipate the team going with less single-high safety looks. Ken Norton can say the scheme doesn’t change without Earl, but I certainly don’t expect the team to use them the same.  Perhaps Norton is referring to how his front seven lines up or maybe he just wasn’t wanting to reveal any sensitive information. Or perhaps I’m just wrong and it’ll be exactly the same. Maybe Tedric has good enough range despite his lackluster 40 time.

 

Special Teams Notes

Punter Michael Dickson appears to be as advertised. His leg is stronger than Jon’s, not to mention his superior variety in the way he can spin a ball off his foot. Low hanging line drives we see in college. High hangers with just the right back spin. Corner kicking with a unique lateral spin to encourage bounces toward the sideline. It just seemed like he had more tools in the bag than Jon. I’m no expert and maybe that doesn’t matter as much to Brian Schneider as pure fundamentals. Maybe it does matter though and maybe that’s why they drafted him in the 5th. I see no reason other than injury why he wouldn’t be ready to take over the mantle. In terms of kickers, I’m not impressed by either SeaBass’tian or Myers. Obviously, the team has struggled to find the right fit since going cheap at the position. Unless Myers is near perfect in the preseason, I think the $600k guaranteed to SeaBass vs $0 to Myers is enough to give Janokowski an edge if the battle is remotely close. With the release of Carew, Ott appears to have no competition at LS.