On the final day of the Seahawks’ offseason program, Jim Mora flaunted his benevolence. Sixty minutes into what was scheduled to be at least a 90-minute practice, the team’s first-year head coach gathered his players around him and then set them free until training camp practices begin July 31.
No one knew Mora’s display of appreciation was coming, which only made it that much better – especially after the players had practiced twice on Thursday.
The players responded by cheering, jumping up and down in unison and then getting to the locker room – ASAP, just in case Mora changed his mind.
“I had no idea, so it was very exciting,” third-year defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said. “I think it was well deserved.”
It wasn’t that Mora was giving his players anything. It’s that they earned this “cookie,” as former coach Mike Holmgren used to call such gestures.
Friday’s practice was the 22nd of the offseason, capping 12 weeks of minicamps, OTA sessions and strength and conditioning work – when the attendance was close to an unprecedented 96 percent.
“We had an outstanding offseason,” Mora said. “It’s all voluntary, expect for this minicamp. So (the attendance) just says a lot about our football team and the men on it – the determination they have to be a heckuva football team this year.
“I’m really appreciative of these guys’ work ethic and their attitude. Today, as Mike would say, ‘We gave them a little cookie.’ They deserved it. They appreciated it.”
The bottom line, of course, will be how all this offseason work translates into on-field success once the regular season begins.
The players have worked so much because so much is new. It starts with Mora, but there also are new coordinators (Greg Knapp and Gus Bradley) and new schemes to go with them. There could be as many as a half dozen new starters and 15 new faces on the 53-man roster.
That’s why the Seahawks had a third minicamp this offseason, and all those OTA sessions. There has been a lot to assimilate.
“We have put in a lot of work,” Mebane said. “Compared to my first two years, the OTAs and offseason program wasn’t as hard as this. This year, we were really aggressive.”
So were Mora and his staff.
The players spent more time in the classroom to prepare them for all the new wrinkles Knapp (offense) and Bradley (defense) brought with them from the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Once on the field, the players practiced once a week with crowd noise blaring from speakers – in May and June. During one of those stressful sessions, Mora had the players run wind sprints in the middle of a drill and then go right back to running plays.
It’s all intended to get the players ready for the coming season, when the Seahawks plan to show that last year’s 4-12 record was an injury-induced aberration rather than an indication that this team’s window has slammed shut after a run of four consecutive NFC West titles and five playoff appearances.
“We’re on the right track,” Mora said. “We’ve got a ton of work to do. We’ve got a long ways to go.
“It’s time to move on to the next phase. We’ve got 48 days until we go to training camp.”
Mora left the players with another message reminiscent of his predecessor: Now is not the time to slack off, even though you are off.
“Now is the time to pick it up and come back in the best shape of their life, demanding the best performance they’ve ever had on a football field this year,” Mora said. “That’s what our aim is.”
And that’s what all this offseason work was aimed at. The players were put through just about every situation the coaches could come up with.
To help the players continue to prepare for training camp, the rookies will workout at the team’s facility the next two weeks and the veterans left with their playbooks – another unprecedented move by Mora.
“A lot of times at the end of camp, you collect their books,” he said. “You take them back, because in coaching sometimes there’s a little bit of paranoia of letting your information get out to others.
“We’re asking these guys to keep their books – especially the young guys – because we want them to study. We want them to spend time in books. … That’s different than what I’ve ever done. I’ve never allowed them to take their playbooks home at this point in the year. But we think it’s necessary right now.”
Just like the “cookie” that the benevolent Mora dispensed at the end of Friday’s final practice.