With the conclusion of training camp on Thusday, it’s time to pass out some honors — with input on the selections from coaches, scouts and players:
Best player: Sidney Rice. He got a late start, because free-agent additions were not allowed to begin practicing until Aug. 4. He also sat out last week’s preseason opener to rest a sore shoulder. But when the Pro Bowl wide receiver from the Vikings was on the field, the 6-foot-4 Rice displayed the traits that attracted the Seahawks – an off-the-charts catch radius; sure, soft hands; the kind of competitive work ethic that is the foundation for Pete Carroll’s program; an instant rapport with also just-acquired QB Tarvaris Jackson. As former Seahawks linebacker Dave Wyman said on 710 ESPN today, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone have a better camp.”
Best offensive player: Marshawn Lynch. A year ago, Lynch was summering – and shimmering – in Buffalo with the Bills team that made him the 12th pick overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. After being acquired in trade during the Seahawks’ bye week, Lynch admits to “learning on the fly” last season. But in this camp, he’s simply been flying – in his own “Beast Mode” fashion – and leading by example. He did not miss a practice. He ran out every rep he got. He looks ready – and sounds determined – to help re-launch a running game that ranked 31st in the league last season.
Best defensive player: Earl Thomas. The second-year free safety has been even better than during his first season – which already was pretty good, as he intercepted five passes to tie the franchise record by a rookie. Thomas picked off a half dozen passes in practice in this camp and got his hands on even more balls. He appears poised to make another giant step toward becoming the consistent playmaking centerfielder that Carroll needs to play his style of defense.
Best special teams player: Jon Ryan. The veteran punter wins this one almost by default, but there’s also plenty of merit behind the pick. Ryan’s consistency has been his calling card since signing with the Seahawks a game into the 2008 season, and that remains the key to his 2011 season.
Best rookies: Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin. We’ve split this into defensive (Sherman) and offensive (Baldwin) categories – and colored both Cardinal – because there are so many rookies on the 90-man roster, and so many who deserve recognition as they scramble to play catchup after the 136-day lockout erased the spring minicamps and OTA sessions. Sherman’s size (6-3) and playmaking ability have been apparent from his first practice, but then the cornerback from Stanford was a fifth-round draft choice. Baldwin, on the other hand, was part of the undrafted free-agent class. But you would never know it by how well – and consistently – the wide-out from Stanford has played. In the preseason opener, he not only caught a team-high four passes, Baldwin returned a kickoff for 41 yards and a punt for 20 yards.
Best free-agent addition: Brandon Browner. There’s a lot of competition here, since the club signed Rice, Jackson, left guard Robert Gallery, tight end Zach Miller and defensive tackles Alan Branch and Jimmy Wilkerson once the unrestricted free-agent period finally began. But the 6-4 Browner was added long before the lockout and free agency began – in January, and to a future contract. The Seahawks have been looking for a bigger cornerback, while Browner has been looking to get back into the league after playing the past four seasons in the CFL. This need-meets-desire matchup is working out very well. Honorable mention to Gallery, who has been just what the young O-line needs at the left guard spot.