By Danny O’Neil
June is no time for conclusions.
Not in the NFL, where players spend two months getting themselves ready for training camp, which is where they’ll get ready for the actual season. Yup, these past couple months have been about preparing to prepare for this season of unprecedented expectation in Seattle.
But with the Seahawks’ offseason conditioning program for veterans concluding on Thursday, now is as good a time as any to summarize the lessons drawn from the June workouts.
Three things we learned:
I. Right guard will be Seattle’s Thunderdome in August.
Two men enter the competition, one will exit the starter.
Right guard John Moffitt is in the best shape he’s been in going all the way back to when Seattle chose him in the third round in 2011 while J.R. Sweezy has continued what is nothing short of a remarkable transition from playing defensive tackle at North Carolina State to being an NFL offensive lineman. The Seahawks loved the nasty edge Sweezy showed in the running game, but Moffitt demonstrated a better understanding of protection schemes last season.
They took turns playing with the first-unit offense at this week’s minicamp, Moffitt getting repetitions there on Tuesday and Sweezy taking his turn Wednesday. That spot is going to be one of the only starting jobs truly up for grabs in Seattle this August.
II. Tight end Luke Willson looks great in shorts.
That’s not a commentary on his legs, but rather how quickly he can move them. As advertised, Willson is the fastest of Seattle’s tight ends, and the fifth-round pick out of Rice showed he just might be capable of making an immediate impact as a rookie. Not only that, but the injury to tight end Anthony McCoy opened up the backup position behind starter Zach Miller.
Whether Willson is capable of filling that will depend on his blocking, though, and if he’s not stout enough at the point of attack, he might wind up being strictly a big-play option as a rookie. Sean McGrath is bigger this season and might turn out to be a more well-rounded tight end, but it’s still very possible Seattle could wind up adding another veteran to provide depth at the position.
III. Cornerback is the single deepest position on this team.
It’s not just starters Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, who’ve created a new prototype at the position with their size and physical style of play. It’s also more than veteran Antoine Winfield, the three-time Pro Bowler signed to serve as the team’s nickelback.
Walter Thurmond is completely healthy for the first time in two years and looks like someone ready to make an impact. Jeremy Lane – a sixth-round pick in 2012 – also played well, and given his status as a special-teams mainstay, he is someone who will be impossible to leave off the 53-man roster. Then there’s Byron Maxwell, Will Blackmon, Ron Parker and rookie Tharold Simon, who has been unable to practice as he rests an ailing foot.
There is no position that has changed more since coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over, and no position on the roster that is better stocked at this point.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
I. Is Red Bryant back?
That’s not a literal question as Bryant was present from the start of the team’s offseason training program to the finish. The uncertainty is whether Bryant is back to being the end-line pillar of Seattle’s rush defense.
One of the most perplexing facts about last season was that Seattle went from having one of the NFL’s very best rush defenses for the first six and a half games to being mediocre, maybe even below average, for the second half of the season. That decline culminated in the playoff loss in Atlanta where the Falcons – who ranked No. 29 in rushing yards during the regular season – ran for 167 yards.
Some of that regression was attributed to the foot injury Bryant played through, and if that’s the case, the Seahawks should be able to return to their run-stopping ways since Bryant said the foot feels better. This is a critical question, though, because all the resources Seattle spent to improve its pass rush won’t mean nearly as much if the Seahawks can’t stop the run.
II. Can James Carpenter can stay healthy?
The fact Carpenter sat out much of the team’s offseason conditioning after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery isn’t nearly so concerning as the reality that for the third straight year, his preparation in training camp might be limited.
In 2011, he turned up out of shape after the lockout. Last year, he didn’t practice at all in training camp as he was rehabilitating from the season-ending knee injury suffered in November. This year, there’s no guarantee he will be ready to go.
Seattle thinks he can be a mauler at left guard, providing a uniquely punishing presence, but his two years as a Seahawk point to the difficulty in counting on the former first-round pick to stay on the field.
III. Where will Bruce Irvin fit into the final picture?
Seattle is trying him at strongside linebacker, a move that is going to be complicated in August because while he’ll be practicing with the team, there’s also the underlying reality that he will miss the first four games of the season because of a league suspension for a performance-enhancing drug violation.
That puts the Seahawks in a pickle because while Irvin could probably use every rep he could get at a new position that will see him dropping into coverage more, Seattle must also keep K.J. Wright plugged into that spot since he’ll be playing there for all of the first four games.
Carroll has praised Irvin’s adjustment to the position, pointing out that he’ll still largely be a speed rusher off the edge, but this is a new role for Irvin and his preparation for that switch is going to be impacted by the reality of his looming suspension.