MIKE SALK

Salk’s Observations: What we saw at Seahawks’ first open OTA practice

May 22, 2024, 5:29 PM

Seattle Seahawks Mike Macdonald...

Coach Mike Macdonald of the Seattle Seahawks speaks to the media on May 3, 2024. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Yeah, it was different. It was a little strange walking into Wednesday’s Seattle Seahawks OTA practice and not hearing the thumping bass. There was still music, but the volume was toned down and the it didn’t seem like quite the same party.

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But make no mistake, head coach Mike Macdonald was in complete control and everything managed to feel normal even if it didn’t seem exactly the same. The players still moved rapidly from drill to drill. The coaches still called out directions and plays. The bald eagles still circled overhead. And the team looked like it was on track for September.

A few observations from the first open practice of the Mike Macdonald era.

What stood out at Seahawks OTAs

• I have never seen (in person) a body quite like that of first-round defensive tackle Byron Murphy II. You hear people talk about his muscular frame but it’s difficult to adequately explain how compact it is. He looks as similar to Aaron Donald as anyone could. His upper legs are huge, to the point where they barely fit in his shorts. He is strong, compact and active, and he looks like he’d be a royal pain to block.

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• After a decade of familiarity seeing large, rangy linebackers like K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks, the newcomers at the position looked smaller and faster. Rookie Tyrice Knight exemplified that – he is not the tallest guy on the field, but he can seriously move. It seems like this defense is going to need players at the middle level who can cover a lot of ground, and they brought in players who can do exactly that.

• Running back Zack Charbonnet was running hard. In Chris Carson’s second year with the Hawks, he showed up looking like he was determined to be the starting running back, and it was evident both from his physique and from the way he finished every play in practice. Watching Charbonnet reminded me of that. He is a big, high-cut runner who never quite seemed to be able to use that power last season. If the first practice was any indication, he has put himself in a position to do much more in year two.

• Geno Smith looked like a starting quarterback. Plain and simple. He was comfortable and confident and took most of the reps with the top unit. But unlike past seasons where the backup looked not quite ready for primetime, Sam Howell carried himself with poise and confidence (other than a two-play sequence when he threw a pick and then fumbled). Both quarterbacks were able to get rid of the ball fairly quickly and in rhythm. It’s also hard to watch Howell and not be reminded of Baker Mayfield. They have a similar look and style on the field.

• While the music was softer, the talk on the field was louder, especially from the defense. In the Pete Carroll years, that noise usually came after the play as the defenders let everyone know what they had just accomplished. But on Day 1 of the Macdonald era, it was much more evident before the snap. There was significantly more communication between the defenders as they moved around and got themselves into position. In past years we heard that communication was an issue for this defense. For one day, they seem to be addressing it directly by just talking on the field.

• That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any trash talking on the field. Second-year cornerback Devon Witherspoon brought more juice than anyone else there. He broke up passes. He got in people’s faces. He whooped it up for his teammates on defense. And then, just for fun, he hung out by Macdonald’s press conference and chirped at his new coach! Without familiar names like Bobby Wagner, Quandre Diggs or Jamal Adams, Witherspoon was the player that stood out above everyone else.

• Riq Woolen looked bigger, and not in a bad way. After standing out in his first two seasons as much for his slight frame as his closing speed, the cornerback looks more solid. I don’t know if that was my imagination (although Maura Dooley independently noted the same observation), if he worked at it this offseason, or if he is simply growing into his frame. But after questions last season about his dedication and willingness to tackle, maybe he has taken them to heart and accepted the challenge.

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