MIKE SALK

Salk: Seahawks’ 6 biggest storylines as they enter a new era

Jul 25, 2022, 12:58 AM | Updated: 12:59 am
Seahawks Pete Carroll...
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll during pregame before a game against the 49ers on Oct. 3, 2021. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

On the eve of Seahawks training camp, virtually nothing is familiar.

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The Legion of Boom era, still clinging to its last members over the past few seasons, is officially over. The offensive and defensive captains are gone. The one solid piece of known information, that Russell Wilson would be under center, is now completely unknown. Mysteries abound. And a new entity, with its own unique personality, will need to rise from the smoldering embers of the greatest era of Seahawk football.

With that as the backdrop, here are the top storylines we’ll be following this year. They will start in training camp, but this is bigger than just the next month. These questions and their answers will define not only this season, but much of the next few years, as well.

6. Can they improve their pass rush?

Michael Bennett isn’t walking through that door. Neither is Cliff Avril. Nor Frank Clark. But the Seahawks have some new blood that is looking to create the same level of pressure they got in their heyday. To do that, they’re going to need Darrell Taylor to make “the leap.” While it’s been three seasons since he was drafted, this is just his second year and he has started just five games. His 6.5 sacks last season were cause for hope, but can he improve upon it? Can free-agent addition Uchenna Nwosu and rookie Boye Mafe hit the ground running? Will they bring back an old friend like Carlos Dunlap?

You simply cannot have a successful pass defense in today’s NFL without creating pressure on the quarterback. And when your secondary will likely be young and inexperienced, it becomes even more important. The Seahawks have finished in the bottom six of sacks per attempt in two of the last three years. Last year, they were third-worst. This is vital to the success of their defense.

5. Are these rookies as good as advertised?

The Seahawks (as usual) weren’t particularly active in free agency, but they had what was generally considered to be their best draft class in years, if not a decade. History has taught me never to expect much from a first-year player, and certainly to never count on them to contribute in meaningful ways. And especially not a whole class of them!

But if this class can demonstrate its worth in short order, it will offer a good glimpse into the future. We may see two rookie starters on the offensive line, one or more at cornerback, plus rookies pushing for reps at running back, outside linebacker and maybe wide receiver.

Is this closer to the draft hits of Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson? Or is it like the year they planned for the future of the secondary only to wind up with the unfortunate quartet of Shaquill Griffin, Lano Hill, Tedric Thompson and Mike Tyson? They need to build a new foundation and they have opted to do that through the draft. Hopefully the grocery pickers are up for the challenge in the next few years. This will be a good litmus test to find out.

4. How new are the new schemes? How effective are the new coordinators? How much change does Pete want and how dedicated is he to the evolution?

For the last few seasons, we tried to pinpoint the problem on defense. Was the talent subpar or was the scheme outdated? Were the corners unable to play the ball or were they coached to stay conservative? Did the players struggle to communicate or did the coaching staff fail to teach them where to be?

This offseason, the answers became clear: Pete Carroll believes it was on the coaches. Exit Ken Norton Jr., the 4-3 defense, and the “spot and drop” zone. Enter Clint Hurtt (promoted to defensive coordinator from defensive line coach), new assistants Sean Desai and Karl Scott, a 3-4 front, and a matchup zone on the back.

Pete says he’s wanted to make changes for a few years. Hurtt says they will be significantly more aggressive. We all hope they communicate better and take the ball away more often.

And while we are in year two of Shane Waldron’s offense, this will be our first chance to find out what that offense looks like without the unique skills (and challenges) of Russell Wilson. We have heard the last two offseasons that the offense would look different, that Russ would cook or that it would resemble the Rams with crossing receivers and midrange completions. But those changes were never sustained. How real is the commitment to Waldron’s scheme? Will we see more of what it was supposed to look like with a more traditional quarterback? Will Pete remain committed to an offense that sometimes “dinks and dunks” more than just chucking it deep?

3. What does life look like without Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson?

It was time for Russ to move on. Bobby Wagner hadn’t been the same player for the last few years. I have said both of those things out loud. Many times. I think I’m right. At least I hope I am. At least I might be…

Look, it’s a lot easier to say those things than it is to see the actual results of those decisions play out.

How important were the last two Super Bowl winners on the field? How important was their leadership? How much did they act as coaches on the field, helping younger players to get in the right spots and know their assignments?

At times, we speculated that Russell might be taking a bottom-five roster and dragging them to the playoffs. What will that roster look like without him to mask the flaws? And how committed was Russ the last year or so? Seahawks chair Jody Allen’s statement on his trade to Denver specified that she was looking forward to a team that was fully committed. Was that a shot at her recently departed quarterback? Especially after he ran for just 13 yards per game, by far the fewest of his career and even lower than his average when he played through a high-ankle sprain and a torn MCL.

We’ll monitor the two captains who have moved on and compare their performance with those that have replaced them, and their performance the last few years.

We will learn a lot by watching Russ in Denver. If he runs for more yards, is that a statement on his lack of commitment in 2021? If he throws for 5,000 yards and the team succeeds, is that an indictment on a coach that wasted his talents the last few years? If he tries to “cook” and it sputters, will we get a complete acquittal of Pete from those that have criticized his balanced approach? There is much to be learned.

2. Who is part of the future?

Without a quarterback and with a roster that national experts almost universally find unimpressive, it’s unlikely that this is a playoff team in 2022. But how far away from the playoffs are they? And who will form the nucleus of the group that gets there in the future?

This is where the position battles come in. Rashaad Penny and/or Kenneth Walker at running back? Tre Brown, Coby Bryant or Tariq Woolen at corner? Dee Eskridge or one of the rookie receivers? Abe Lucas or Jake Curhan at offensive tackle? Jamal Adams or… well, I really hope it’s Jamal Adams.

And yes, this includes the contract negotiations for DK Metcalf. In my view, the team decided he was an enormous part of their future when they opted not to trade him before the draft. But until he is signed to an extension, he remains a wildcard.

1. Are they trying to win?

What, you were expecting the quarterback competition? OK, fine. That’s a huge storyline because it has to be. It will be the first thing I look at when I get to camp – who is getting first team reps? Who has better command of the offense? Who has the “wow” moments we became accustomed to the last 10 years but didn’t see much of in the offseason practices? And once Drew Lock or Geno Smith wins the job, how long is their leash if they struggle?

But my expectations for whomever wins the job will be fairly low, and so we will likely monitor how hard they are trying to win this year. Are they making every decision based on who gives them the best chance right now, or on who they need to see develop? Are the veterans bounced in favor of young players who can contribute in the future?

And yes, are they positioning themselves for a run at one of the top quarterbacks in next year’s draft?

That last one may lead to the most conversation, especially if it turns out to be the case. It will lead us into the best options coming out of college and the best fits for this team, this staff, and this city.

There is clearly a new era of Seahawks football on its way. But we’ll quickly find out if it starts in September or if this is a transitional year before the next era begins.

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