Salk: What about the Seahawks’ hype is and isn’t fragile

Aug 24, 2023, 12:29 AM

Seattle Seahawks DK Metcalf...

DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks during a 2023 preseason game against Minnesota. (Jane Gershovich/Getty Images)

(Jane Gershovich/Getty Images)

August is for hope, at least in most of the 32 NFL cities where teams gather to get ready for the season. It’s for boundless enthusiasm and predictions about rookie success. It’s for talking yourself into how new schemes, new positions, new free agents, and changes in each division will clear a winning path. It’s for taking a chance on a new quarterback and writing a script for their success.

So it’s easy to get excited this time of year.

Observing the Seattle Seahawks at training camp, watching their first two preseason games and trying to stack up their roster against those of their rivals, it’s hard not to get caught up in the hope. Or is it hype?

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They are coming off a surprising season. Their last draft class has turned out some real players. Their quarterback situation looks infinitely brighter than a year ago, and their head coach has once again proven that he is among the league’s best at creating culture and adapting to the strengths of his roster.

We won’t know how warranted the excitement is until the calendar turns to September, but the best sign for me so far has been that seemingly every national analyst who comes to practice leaves impressed. They don’t have the myopic view of just one team. They see what bodies look like across the league. They feel the difference in energy and attitude. And so far, they like what’s brewing next to Lake Washington.

There are some tangible reasons to be excited about this season, to expect a leap forward towards championship contention. There are reasons to jump on this bandwagon. But we also know that we can get tricked in August. We can talk ourselves into happy conclusions and ignore ugly truths. Some of the foundations we base our hype on can be fragile.

So what is real? What is real fragile? Let’s try to figure it out.

Real or Fragile?

Coaching: Real

If there is one thing in which I am confident, it is Pete Carroll. Period. And after last season, you should be, too.

Pete has been one of the three top coaches during his time in Seattle, and every year he puts together a quality product that challenges for the playoffs and often exceeds the expected wins based on perceived level of talent. We have always known he is a tremendous builder of culture but last season should prove that he is a lot more than that.

When Geno Smith succeeded while throwing more often than during the previous era and Russell Wilson fell flat on his face while executing the type of offense so many wanted for him here in Seattle, it became clear: Pete builds his strategies around the strengths of his players. He got the most out of Russell. And that makes me believe he is getting the most out of others on the roster. You can’t fake that.

• Star power: Fragile

Bobby Wagner and DK Metcalf are the two biggest names on this team. They might not end the season as the two best players, but they are certainly the most recognizable figures. I expect both to live up to those expectations in their own ways. But after being released twice in the last two seasons, it’s fair to wonder how impactful Wagner can be. The man is a living legend and I have no doubt that he will add to the culture in the building and improve the communication on the field. Can he get tackles behind the line of scrimmage and force fumbles and get off the field on third downs? If the answer is yes, this defense is going to be much better. But it’s a fair question right now.

Metcalf is as physically gifted as any human in the NFL – maybe the world. He is productive, too. Can he maximize his opportunities? Can he improve his catching ability? Can he make the biggest plays in the biggest moments?

And are two stars enough? San Francisco has more recognizable names. Certainly the Eagles do. The Rams, Giants and others have more star power. The Seahawks are counting on the continued growth of Tariq Woolen, Kenneth Walker III and Jaxon Smith-Njigba to give them that kind of edge. One or two of those players may need to make the leap because stars tend to make big plays on the biggest stages.

Depth: Real

This is the deepest Seattle Seahawks team I can remember since the height of the Super Bowl seasons, and they are deep in two ways.

First, the bottom of the roster looks much more impressive than it has. They will cut players that get picked up elsewhere. They are winning the second halves of preseason games because their depth is superior to that of their opponents.

Second, they have lots of talent at important positions. They may have three starting-caliber safeties, five starting-caliber cornerbacks, two starting-caliber running backs, three top receivers, three real tight ends and four legit threats at outside linebacker. Some camp battles emerge because someone has to start. These competitions are on because someone has to sit.

• Weaponry: Real

When fully healthy, the Seahawks should be a matchup nightmare for everyone. They may have not only the best threesome of wide receivers but the most complementary group, as well. Throw in the best rookie running back from last year and a trio of versatile tight ends and this group has a top 10 “fear factor” in the league, and that may be drastically underselling it. If Smith-Njigba emerges as the player he has been in college and camp, this group will get to another level.

Roster design: Fragile

As good as those weapons are, the Seahawks’ main strengths appear to be far away from the middle of the field. Their secondary is better than their defensive line. Their receivers look stronger than their offensive line. Weaponry is sexy and it gets the press, but it goes absolutely nowhere without the muscle up front to give them time and space to operate. Every secondary will lose coverage eventually, and every team needs to bring an extra player into the box if it can’t stop the run.

This team is relying on young players, many of whom were drafted in late rounds or found on the scrap heap, to do some of the most vital jobs. That is a huge risk.

Additionally, I think their team speed is real and that youth should help them overwhelm some older teams. I think their offensive scheme is a real strength with a coordinator in Shane Waldron that made a huge leap forward last season. His counterpart on defense is a bit fragile right now, as he still needs to show that he can do the same.

Add it all up, and I’m not entirely sure what it portends. This Seahawks team has legitimate designs on going further than they did last year. If they can play to their strengths, it’s certainly possible. If they are undone by their weaknesses, it’ll be another frustrating ending. But based on what outsiders are seeing, I think we’re a lot closer to seeing the former than the latter.

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