An already new-look team gets another infusion of new faces on Thursday when the players signed in the past week will practice with the Seattle Seahawks for the first time.
Pete Carroll squinted into the afternoon sun and offered the obvious.
“As I look across the board and I look at this football team, we look different,” the Seahawks’ second-year coach said the other day after a practice at the team’s training camp.
“It’s a different group.”
That it is, as a hectic – and at times frantic – first week of free agency has reshaped the roster that Carroll and general manager John Schneider spent most of last year, well, reshaping.
Last season, No. 75 was starting right tackle Sean Locklear. Now, it’s James Carpenter, who was selected in to the first round of the NFL Draft to replace Locklear.
Last season, No. 74 was Ray Willis, who had started all 16 games at right tackle in 2009. Now, it’s John Moffitt, the third-round draft choice who is expected to start at right guard.
Last season, No. 65 was Chris Spencer, the starting center the past five seasons. Now, it’s veteran free agent defensive tackle Jimmy Wilkerson
Last season, No. 36 was Lawyer Milloy, the starting strong safety. Now, it’s Ron Parker, a rookie free agent cornerback.
Last season, No. 54 was versatile linebacker and special-teams standout Will Herring. Now, it’s rookie free agent linebacker Blake Sorensen.
Last season, No. 10 was veteran kicker Olindo Mare. Now, it’s Brandon Coutu, the former seventh-round draft choice who couldn’t beat out Mare in 2008, was released in 2009 and has been out of the league since then.
In addition, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was not re-signed in free agency, and replaced by former Minnesota Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson; and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu was released, and replaced by David Hawthorne. Hasselbeck and Tatupu were captains the past six seasons and are members of the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team.
You get the picture. Or at least a vision of what Carroll was talking about.
In fact, only 16 players remain from the team Carroll inherited when he was hired in January of 2010.
What’s going on – and has been going on – is reminiscent of what happened between the first and second seasons under Mike Holmgren in 1999-2000. Like Holmgren, Carroll won a division title in his first season. Holmgren’s roster turnover, however, was needed to get the salary cap under control, while Carroll and Schneider have had ample cap space this “offseason” to be major players in the free-agency market.
But new coaches want new players to help them play the way they want to play the game.
And, as Carroll says, the Seahawks are now younger and bigger.
Younger? Take a look at the offensive line, and the secondary.
On the line, where Carpenter and Moffitt form an all-rookie right side, the left tackle is Russell Okung, last year’s first-round draft choice who started 10 games as a rookie while playing on two tender ankles; and the center is Max Unger, a second-round draft choice in 2009 who missed last season because of a toe injury and is in his first NFL season as the fulltime starter in the middle of the line.
That’s why the acquisition of former Raider Robert Gallery in free agency to fill the left guard spot was so vital. He played the past four seasons under new line coach Tom Cable in Oakland. As Carroll put it, “Robert is a gifted kid as far as understanding the schemes. He will be the captain of this offensive line in that regard.”
In the secondary, there’s still cornerback Marcus Trufant, who has been a starter since being selected in the first round of the 2003 draft. But free safety Earl Thomas was a first-round pick last year and Kam Chancellor, a fifth-round pick last year, is stepping in for Milloy at strong safety. The competition to be the starting corner opposite Trufant includes just re-signed Kelly Jennings, a former first-round draft choice and the incumbent starter; Walter Thurmond, a fourth-round draft choice last year; and the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner, who played the past five seasons in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders but has been on the right side with the No. 1 unit in camp with Jennings just rejoining the team and Thurmond sidelined with a sprained ankle.
Bigger? Take a look at the lines.
When everyone is healthy and able to practice, the starting unit on defensive will include 323-pound Red Bryant at the five-technique end spot; 318-pound Brandon Mebane at nose tackle; and 325-pound Alan Branch, who was signed last week, replacing Mebane as the three-technique tackle.
“Just look at those other guys,” said Mebane, a third-round draft choice in 2007. “We’ve never been this big before.”
The increase in size also is obvious on the offensive side of the ball, starting with Gallery, who is 6-7 and weighs 325. The 6-5 Carpenter checks in at 321 pounds and is very thick through his upper body. Okung is 6-5 and weighs 310 pounds, while Moffitt is 6-4, 319.
“I’m definitely the runt in this group,” Unger, who is 6-5, 305, said with a smile.
The new-look Seahawks will get another facelift on Thursday, when the players return from their first day off of camp. That’s because all the players who have been signed in the past week finally will be allowed to practice.
The group includes wide receiver Sidney Rice, tight end Zach Miller and linebacker Leroy Hill, in addition to Gallery, Branch, Mebane, Jennings and two players signed to add depth on the D-line – Jimmy Wilkerson and Ryan Sims.
“It’s crucial that we finally get them out there,” Carroll said, with an eye to the preseason opener against the Chargers in San Diego next Thursday. “This is most challenging for those guys to be ready.”
They need to hit the practice field running, rather than wade into their new situations.
“Hopefully these guys will take this first step when they jump out on the field and make it clear why they’re here,” Carroll said. “And work for themselves and for the fellas on this team.”
This new-look team, which is younger and bigger.