Seahawks takeaways: What stands out after minicamp

Jun 13, 2024, 5:12 PM | Updated: Jun 14, 2024, 1:57 pm

Seattle Seahawks Geno Smith...

Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith throws during an OTA practice on May 22. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

The Seattle Seahawks concluded their spring offseason program one day early, with new head coach Mike Macdonald announcing after Wednesday’s minicamp practice that Thursday’s session had been canceled. Macdonald said it was a reward for all the hard work his players had put in since their offseason program began on April 8.

Secondary shines during Seahawks’ minicamp

“Really just couldn’t be happier with the effort,” Macdonald said. “That’s what I was just telling them. The effort, the intent, the energy, the attitude – all the things we’re asking them to do, they responded every day. Just really excited about where we’re at.”

With OTAs and mandatory minicamp now in the rearview mirror, the Seahawks begin a six-week break before returning for training camp in late July. In the meantime, here are some takeaways and observations from the three OTA sessions that were open to the media and this week’s two minicamp sessions:

Geno Smith is the undisputed QB1

In the months following the Seahawks’ trade for 23-year-old quarterback Sam Howell in March, there was plenty of speculation that veteran quarterback Geno Smith’s starting job could be in jeopardy. But during OTAs and minicamp, it was clear that Smith remains the undisputed No. 1 quarterback. Smith took all the first-team reps in sessions open to the media and was consistently the more polished passer of the two. Howell was not sharp in Wednesday’s minicamp practice, throwing three interceptions during 11-on-11 drills, including back-to-back picks at one point.

In addition, new offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb seemed to imply that the 33-year-old Smith has a leg up in his overall presence and leadership. “I think certainly Geno, when you’re out there with him, you can feel his presence,” Grubb said. “He does a really good job of that, of commanding the attention of his teammates. And I think even since our time here, I think Sam has really grown in that regard.”

The Seahawks certainly see potential in Howell, given their move to acquire him this offseason. But for the time being, there’s no quarterback battle in Seattle.

The JSN hype train is full-steam ahead

With Grubb taking the reins as offensive coordinator after two massively successful seasons in control of the UW Huskies’ high-flying attack, there’s lots of intrigue as to how the Seahawks’ offense will look this fall. And of all the players in Grubb’s new scheme, second-year wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba might be the most fascinating.

After suffering a fractured wrist in the preseason, Smith-Njigba got off to a slow start as a rookie last year and never quite had the type of breakout performance many envisioned when Seattle made him the No. 20 overall pick in the 2023 draft. But this spring, the 6-foot, 202-pound wideout has looked like a bona fide breakout candidate. Smith-Njigba has been one of the stars of OTAs and minicamp, showcasing his smooth route-running, great hands and a growing rapport with Smith.

“JSN is a great player and expecting big things out of him,” Macdonald said during OTAs. “He’s had a great offseason, works his tail off, his practice habits are awesome, movement ability is pretty elite. So I think we have a really cool plan for him.”

Right side of O-line a question mark

The left side of the Seahawks’ offensive line has been stable this spring, with third-year left tackle Charles Cross and veteran left guard Laken Tomlinson taking the first-team reps in open-media OTAs and minicamp. At center, second-year Olu Oluwatimi was working with the first team and looks like the odds-on favorite to beat Nick Harris for the starting job. But on the right side, injuries kept the unit from building continuity.

Third-year starting right tackle Abraham Lucas, who missed 11 games last season with a knee injury, was continuing to rehab from January knee surgery. During OTAs last month, Macdonald said “it’s hard to tell” how the rehab process is coming along, but that they are shooting for a return by training camp. With Lucas out, veteran free-agent signing George Fant spent most of this spring as the first-team right tackle before missing Wednesday’s final minicamp practice due to load management, per Macdonald.

At right guard, second-year Anthony Bradford tweaked his ankle early in OTAs and was sidelined for most of the spring practices before returning to action on Wednesday. With Bradford out, second-year McClendon Curtis was the first-team right guard for open-media OTAs and the first day of minicamp. Rookie right guard Christian Haynes, a third-round pick out of UConn, worked with the second-team unit. All three players figure to be in the mix for the starting spot in training camp.

“We’ve got a little ways to go there, and I just mean more about the reps and opportunity,” Grubb said of the offensive line during OTAs. “Some of the guys are still working through things and getting back, and so there’s been a lot of guys shuffling in and out there. But we’ve been working through some of that, and I think that they’ll continue to grow each week. I think Charles and Laken have done a good job of kind of building the mesh on the left side a little bit there, so that’s probably the most continuity we’ve seen.”

D-line’s versatility in full effect

Positional versatility is at the crux of Macdonald’s cutting-edge defensive scheme. During his success-filled two-year run as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator, Macdonald creatively moved players around in a way that allowed him to constantly mix his fronts and pressures, which left opposing offenses struggling to determine where the pressure would come from.

How will that scheme translate to Seattle? Macdonald certainly will have no shortage of talented and versatile defensive linemen to deploy. In the new-look defense, veteran defensive end Leonard Williams said during minicamp that he’s been playing six different spots along the line. Defensive end Dre’Mont Jones also was playing both inside and outside during minicamp. Nose tackle Jarran Reed said he’s moving outside more often in the new scheme. Even rookie first-round defensive tackle Byron Murphy II has the flexibility to mix and match.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that can play a lot of different positions,” Reed said during OTAs. “I’m excited to see where we can go with this. … I think (the versatility) will benefit us a lot. Guys won’t know where we’re gonna be at as much, so we can create some confusion along the offensive line.”

Inside linebackers missing valuable reps due to injuries

Jerome Baker and Tyrel Dodson, who both signed one-year deals with Seattle in free agency, are projected to anchor the center of Macdonald’s defense. But as the Seahawks have been busy learning the new scheme, the two inside linebackers have been sidelined during the on-field installation process.

Baker, who started 82 games over the past six seasons for the Miami Dolphins, wasn’t on the field for open-media OTAs or minicamp. He has been recovering from offseason wrist surgery and has what Macdonald said was an unspecified “lower-body” injury. Dodson, who started 10 games for the Buffalo Bills last season, was sidelined during minicamp with an undisclosed injury and only participated in limited work during open-media OTAs. Macdonald said he hopes both can return by training camp.

With Baker and Dodson out, former undrafted free agents Jon Rhattigan and Patrick O’Connell manned the first-team inside linebacker spots. Between them, Rhattigan and O’Connell have a combined 19 career defensive snaps in the NFL. Training camp is still six weeks away and the regular-season opener is three months out, but given how paramount communication is in Macdonald’s scheme and what a central role Baker and Dodson are expected to play, the situation certainly isn’t ideal.

“I wouldn’t call it a concern, but any time someone isn’t getting all the reps, you’ve gotta figure out different ways to get him the reps,” Macdonald said during OTAs. “So it’s mental stuff, it’s walkthroughs. We’re trying to be creative in the building to make sure (they get) all the things (they need) to see.”

Witherspoon bringing the energy on defense

Devon Witherspoon doesn’t have Richard Sherman’s height. But in terms of talent and on-field personality, the standout second-year cornerback is a bit reminiscent of his Legion of Boom predecessors who defined the franchise’s golden era in the 2010s.

After a sensational rookie season last year, Witherspoon provided a constant stream of energy this spring while playfully chirping with the offense in 11-on-11 drills. As Williams described, it’s “very outrageous energy, and in a great way.” And time and time again, Witherspoon would back up the talking with his next-level play. During OTAs, for instance, he left veteran safety Rayshawn Jenkins in awe. “His breaking on the ball is just elite,” Jenkins said. “Like, it’s some of the best I’ve probably ever seen.”

The expectations are sky-high for Witherspoon heading into year two, especially in Macdonald’s defense. Witherspoon’s wide-ranging skill set and high football IQ appear to be a prime fit for Macdonald’s versatile scheme, which figures to place the former No. 5 overall pick in all sorts of creative spots to wreak havoc on the game.

And with his endless supply of competitive fire, Witherspoon seems to have taken hold of the defense from a leadership perspective. “He looks like the captain of the defense, making sure everybody’s lined up and just using his voice more,” Smith-Njigba said. “He’s been great. … He’s a natural-born leader and you can see a lot of guys gravitate to him. He’s a special player for us.”

More Seattle Seahawks coverage

• Moving around: How Seattle Seahawks’ D-line is fitting into new scheme
• After standout spring, JSN primed to be ‘massive piece’ of Seattle Seahawks’ offense
• Are LB injuries a concern for Seattle Seahawks? A look at where things stand
• Jake Bobo: New Seattle Seahawks OC Grubb is moving all the WRs around
• DK Metcalf excited for Seattle Seahawks’ future under Mike Macdonald

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