By Brock Huard
The Seahawks begin training camp in 12 days, and as the Mariners’ offense just endured its 11th shutout of the season, practices on the lake can’t come fast enough. We’ll preview the nine position groups over the remaining days until camps opens, starting today with what I believe is the most intriguing one: the wide receivers.
The plot thickened (or thinned) just a little on Friday with the release of veteran Mike Williams. Under the Pete Carroll/John Schneider regime, if you’re a veteran 28 or older you better be one of three things: cheap, injury-free or reliably productive in the role you were brought in to fill. Unfortunately for Williams, he was none of those going into 2012 and thus was fired.
The move will allow Kris Durham or Ricardo Lockette every opportunity to prove to the coaching staff and the trio of Seahawks quarterbacks that they belong in the NFL. Before digging into the individual forecasts and evaluations, let’s take a look at the overall strengths, weaknesses and expectations of the group heading into the season:
Strengths: Depth and youth are at the forefront of wide receiver coach Kippy Brown’s unit. A season ago the same cast of characters (plus Williams) caught 184 balls, good for 13th in the league (the Packers were first at 235). The wideouts combined for just 13 touchdown receptions (the Packers had 38 while the 49ers and Rams had just eight). Ben Obomanu is the old man of the room, and he is just 28. Sidney Rice is the most talented, with a Pro Bowl to prove it, and when healthy he can stretch and threaten the field like no one else on the roster.
Weaknesses: Injury and inconsistency. Deon Butler, Durham, Rice, Golden Tate and even Obomanu have fought through injury both during the season and the offseason. Rice’s surgically repaired shoulders are the biggest concerns, so limiting his wear and tear will be critical. Likewise, finding a level of consistent productivity from Tate as well as the plethora of inexperienced young pass-catchers will be paramount to this unit’s success.
Expectations: The Hawks have no shot at catching the Packers and being an elite-level receiving crew. But they have a shot to be in the top 10 in the league “if” Rice can stay healthy. Throw in a pass-catching tight end in Kellen Winslow as a No. 2 or 3 option and the group, in the best-case scenario, looks like this:
• No. 1 wideout in Rice.
• No. 2 or 3 option in Winslow.
• No. 3 very solid slot receiver in Baldwin, who had a team-high 51 receptions as a rookie.
• No. 4 slot/hybrid receiver in Tate, who was third in receptions last season.
• No. 5 receiver in Obomanu, who doubles as a very dependable special teamer.
Obviously, what is missing from the above equation is the bona fide split end that can beat one-on-one coverage. The big-bodied Durham and Lockette will get the reps in camp; whether they deliver will determine whether this group can get into the top 10.
The release of Mike Williams release should mean an opportunity for Kris Durham, a fourth-round pick in 2011. (AP)
Finally, a thought or two on each individual and the steps he needs to take in 2012:
Sidney Rice: He must lessen the burden on Beast Mode by commanding a safety over the top of him, especially in early-down situations. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wants more chunk play-action passes down the field, and Rice is getting paid to provide that.
Doug Baldwin: The smoothest and most refined route-runner on the squad must play with just as big a chip on his shoulder as he did last season as an undrafted rookie. When on the field with Winslow, the two will burden the middle of the field for their opponents.
Golden Tate: It’s a make-or-break season for the former second rounder. The light bulb appeared to go on at the end of last season, and Tate must avoid the injury and inconsistency in route-running that has slowed his development. He should be able to play all three wideout spots in spurts, and he has the breakaway speed to be a difference maker.
Ricardo Lockette: He works relentlessly and has ideal size and speed for the split end (X) position, but he’s not a natural pass-catcher. Williams’ release and the lack of a draft pick in April has something to do with Lockette’s potential.
Kris Durham: He has the body and stride of Easy Ed McCaffrey, but the durability of, well, someone who doesn’t last long in the league at this position. He’s athletic for his 6-foot-6 frame, and the former fourth-round pick has to stay out of the red jersey and get off the line of scrimmage in August to show what he can do.
Ben Obomanu: He’s the most veteran receiver in the room, the consummate pro and an ideal fifth receiver. Can he be more than that in 2012? That will have a lot to do with the development and growth of the aforementioned players who have a higher ceiling than the steady Obomanu.
Deon Butler: He’s been the forgotten one in many ways after the horrific leg injury against San Francisco in 2010. Butler is a tweener — not big enough to play outside consistently and not physical enough to play inside. He will be tested throughout camp against the most physical and demanding press corners in the game. If he can consistently harass them with his quickness it would go a long way to him sticking around.
Jermaine Kearse, Lavasier Tuinei, Phil Bates: The young trio of undrafted rookie free agents each bring strengths and weaknesses to the field. The three will be likely vying for one spot on the practice squad.
Lastly, don’t count out Schneider adding to this group throughout camp. The organization didn’t draft a receiver in April, but many other organizations did, which means some veterans may be displaced by the draft picks who are assured roster spots around the league.