Rost: Top position battles and biggest questions at Seahawks training camp
The start of the NFL regular season is officially less than two months away – about 50 days – and we know you can hardly stand the wait! But don’t worry, you won’t be lacking for important Seahawks news along the way. Seattle will kick off its training camp Wednesday, July 28 and we’ve got everything you need to know about the biggest position battles and questions:
Biggest position battles
Cornerback is the biggest position battle of Seahawks camp for two reasons: First, there’s no longtime experienced starter following the departure of Shaquill Griffin in free agency. D.J. Reed and Ahkello Witherspoon are the favorite candidates to start, but a stellar training camp from a rookie or unheralded backup – however unlikely – could always challenge vets for time. Second, the Seahawks need stability at the position following an abysmal performance against opposing passers in 2020.
While the group could be a liability in 2021, there’s reason for fans to be optimistic about its potential. Reed, whom the Seahawks claimed off of waivers from San Francisco last season, strung together an impressive first season in Seattle over eight starts, finishing with a pair of interceptions and seven passes defended, and a 73.1 grade from Pro Football Focus. Witherspoon, a free agent addition who had an up-and-down career with the 49ers, nonetheless worked his way up to a starting role in his rookie season and had moments where he sparked. He’s certainly not lacking for confidence and spoke about being a great fit for Seattle’s Cover-3 system.
Also in the competition will be veteran Tre Flowers, fellow free agent signing Pierre Desir, and 2021 4th round pick Tre Brown. The competition isn’t just on the outside; Marquise Blair and Ugo Amadi will be competing at the nickel spot. Blair, a former second-round pick, drew praise during last year’s camp, but his season was cut short when he suffered a torn ACL in Week 2. Can he pick up where he left off this summer?
A future that includes K.J. Wright in a Seahawks uniform hasn’t been completely ruled out. Wright said he’s “not closing the door on Seattle” during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview this week. And with him there, there’s little question as to who starts at strongside linebacker in Week 1.
Right now, though, Wright isn’t here. In his place, two young players are competing for time: 2019 third-round pick Cody Barton and 2020 second-round pick Darrell Taylor. Taylor’s role here is especially intriguing. The job feels like Taylor’s to lose, but his standing as a starter isn’t totally cemented thanks to a lack of playing time – as in zero playing time. The former Tennessee defensive end has yet to play a down for the Seahawks and spent the 2020 regular season on the reserve/non-football injury list. Fans won’t get a look at Taylor until training camp, but head coach Pete Carroll praised his performance in rookie camp.
No. 3 WR
The spotlight is always going to be on a draft pick, particularly one selected in the early rounds. This year it’s shining on D’Wayne Eskridge, a speedy 5-foot-9 rookie who gives the Seahawks a fast, explosive weapon. Eskridge’s skillset presents some exciting possibilities for the Hawks if Shane Waldron’s offense borrows principles from Sean McVay. But don’t overlook competition from guys like Penny Hart and Freddie Swain. Whichever young receiver manages to emerge as a third target, the Seahawks will need someone to replace the production lost with the departure of David Moore. Moore’s 47 targets and 417 yards in 2020 led all other receivers, and by no small margin. Swain had 13 receptions for 159 yards, while Hart had one reception for three yards.
First team reps will go to Carlos Dunlap and Kerry Hyder Jr., but there’s plenty of depth on the edge and the best case scenario is that a few other guys – like Alton Robinson and Benson Mayowa – are consistent enough to be part of a regular rotation.
For as much competition as there is at edge rusher, my co-host Jake Heaps is particularly concerned about the lack of depth on the interior D-line.
“You talk about the interior, at that 3-technique position. Is L.J. Collier going to play a lot of 3-tech? Is Kerry Hyder Jr. going to play a lot of 3-tech to rotate in with Poona Ford?” Heaps said. “Or are they going to add from the outside? Because something has to be done about that particular position.”
Will Jamal Adams have a new contract?
Heaps summed this up pretty well this week: “Hands down, Jamal Adams is going to be the biggest story heading into training camp. Does he have a contract, or does he not?”
Adams will be the first Seahawks player that fans (and reporters) look for when the Hawks take the field for practice next Wednesday. The Seahawks still haven’t signed their star safety to a contract extension, which means Adams is currently entering into the final year of his rookie deal. Does Adams skip camp altogether until a deal is done? Does he show up but sit out practice?
There are real consequences to the timing of Adams’ deal.
“I’m telling you this right now: the longer it takes Jamal Adams to get signed to a deal, it is going to be a massive mistake and misstep by this organization,” Heaps said. “You cannot afford to not have Adams practicing with this team. You are not established yet with this player. He’s a dynamic, exceptional piece to your defense. You need to continue to build that chemistry and build on what you did in the second half of the season. They have not arrived yet, meaning they cannot afford to miss out on one of their key leaders and key playmakers. Jamal Adams needs to get signed to a contract extension ASAP or else we’re going to have this drag out into September, and that will not be a good thing.”
Is Gerald Everett a true TE1?
Whether due to injury, or scheme, or phenomenal seasons from Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf – or maybe all three – the Seahawks didn’t often utilize their tight end group. Will Dissly led all tight ends with 251 yards, while star free agent signing Greg Olsen finished with just 239.
The Seahawks got younger in free agency this time around, opting to bring in 27-year-old former L.A. Ram Gerald Everett. Everett may not have the resume of a former free agent tight end like Jonnu Smith (who ultimately landed in New England) but he does have familiarity with Seattle’s new offensive coordinator, a boon when it comes to making the adjustment to a new team.
What does this offense look like with a rookie play caller at the helm?
There’s been no shortage of praise for Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. The early takeaways from OTAs are that his offense features a heavy use of tempo, more so than in 2020. But this August will be the most extended look yet at Waldron’s offense. While all eyes will be on Jamal Adams, it’s Waldron’s success with Wilson that could have the biggest implications for Seattle’s season.
“Russell Wilson and the rest of the offense building chemistry with Shane Waldron is going to be a huge storyline,” Heaps said. “Why? Because it is going to literally be the factor that allows this team to get to a Super Bowl or not. If this offense doesn’t perform at a high level – if Shane Waldron isn’t everything that he has been made out to be this offseason – you will not get to the Super Bowl… This is Russell Wilson’s team and you need to see the best from Russell Wilson. And I can tell you: being close with Russell Wilson, training him in the offseason and seeing the work he’s been putting in, I’m just telling you, this guy has been an absolute monster. All the questions that have been surrounding the team, the comments that he’s had, I can tell you straight up that he has looked at himself, he has reflected in the mirror, he’s looked at the mistakes that he has made and said, ‘look, this is going to be a huge year for me and I’m going to make all the corrections, all the little things that I need to do in order to better my game.’ I’m super fired up to see Russ this year. I think he’s going to have a monster season.”