Seattle concluded its final minicamp under first-year coach Pete Carroll last week, and starting this week the team is off until camp kicks off at the end of July. So while players get away, while Carroll goes on tour to promote his new book, we take a moment to look at where the Seahawks stand prior to their first training camp under Carroll.
Summer is a time of optimism for NFL teams and their fans. Every free agent signing has a chance to be a difference maker, every draft pick is a potential star, but just how have the Seahawks improved? That certainly remains to be seen this fall, but for now we can explore the state of this team.
Carroll has overseen a massive roster overhaul since taking over. Of the 84 players currently on the roster, 44 were not with the Seahawks last season.
“We talked back in the beginning that we were going to compete to find as many ways we could to improve and to challenge the depth of the roster,” he said. “If you’d have asked me, I would have thought we might have half (the roster) turnover. That’s what we talked about from the get-go and we don’t have any percentage in mind, in that regard, but I’m not surprised that it’s that much.”
The question now is whether all that change will equate to victories.
Where the Seahawks are better:
Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck is healthier than he was a year ago when he was still recovering from 2008’s back problems, and he should also be motivated in the final year of his contract. Charlie Whitehurst and J.P. Losman will battle for the No. 2 job, and the winner should provide the team with a solid backup.
Offensive line: One of the team’s worst units a year ago, the line won’t be among the league’s best, but it should be drastically improved. Ben Hamilton provides a veteran presence at left guard, and is very familiar with line coach Alex Gibbs’ scheme. If rookie LT Russell Okung can hold his own, Hasselbeck should spend much less time on the ground this season.
“Ben can really bring Russell along,” Carroll said. “Russell’s physically capable of playing for us and doing a great job but obviously there’s a ton to learn and all that so we try to take the burden off him with a real experienced guy that knows the system and all that. So far, they’re making good progress.”
Secondary: The Seahawks parted ways with veteran safety Deon Grant, a starter for the past three seasons, but rookie Earl Thomas looks like a playmaker at free safety. In a battle between Lawyer Milloy, Jordan Babineaux, rookie Kam Chancellor and newly signed Kevin Ellison, a decent starter should emerge to play next to Thomas. At cornerback, the Seahawks should be better not because of new players, but because Marcus Trufant, who missed the first six games last season with a back injury, looks to have regained the speed and explosiveness that was missing when he returned.
Linebacker: This was supposed to be a major strength of the team last season, but injuries to Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill along with a disappointing rookie campaign for Aaron Curry caused this group to fall short of expectations. Hill’s future is still somewhat in doubt, but Curry could be poised for a breakout second season, and the experience gained by backups David Hawthorne and Will Herring gives Seattle excellent depth.
Tight end: John Carlson returns as the starter, and should benefit in a new offense that will allow him to line up split out as a receiver more often. Veteran Chris Baker, a free agent signing, will be a solid blocker in a scheme that will often use two tight ends, and rookie Anthony McCoy could turn into a steal as a sixth-round pick.
Where questions remain:
Wide receiver: Nate Burleson was the team’s biggest downfield threat last season, and he left in free agency. This unit could still be better in 2010 if rookie Golden Tate can be the playmaker he was at Notre Dame, or if Mike Williams, who spent two years out of the NFL, can regain the form that made him a top-10 pick, or if Deon Branch emerges in his second season, or if Deion Branch can actually stay healthy. And yes, that’s a lot of ifs.
Running back: The team’s top two rushers, Julius Jones and Justin Forsett, are both back and battling for the starting job. What remains to be seen is if either is a legitimate NFL starting running back. Leon Washington, who Seattle acquired in a trade during the draft, could provide a spark as a big-play threat, but his health is in question after his 2009 ended with a compound tibia-fibula fracture.
Where the Seahawks need work:
Everywhere: They’ve won nine games over the past two seasons. Oh, you want a more specific answer? OK.
Defensive line: The Seahawks were solid against the run last season, but terrible at pressuring quarterbacks. This offseason, Seattle parted with its top two pass rushers from last season. Patrick Kerney retired, and Darryl Tapp was traded to Philadelphia. Chris Clemmons, who came to Seattle in the trade for Tapp, is the likely starter at the “Leo” end position — a pass-rush specialist. Converted tackle Red Bryant and former first-rounder Lawrence Jackson are battling for the other end spot. Perhaps Carroll’s game planning abilities will lead to a big increase in pass-rush production, but for now this again looks like a potential area of concern. Curry will also be expected to provide pressure from his strongside linebacker position.
So yes, there have been improvements from a year ago. The question now is whether that means another win or two, or enough of a turnaround to get the Seahawks back to the playoffs. A month from now, when training camp begins, Carroll and his team will start answering those questions.