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What a difference two weeks can make.
At his first minicamp as coach of the Seahawks, Pete Carroll was faced with a number of problems spots: the lack of a left tackle to replace Walter Jones, who retired Thursday; not enough competition at running back or wide receiver; and the need for a safety to replace Deon Grant, who was released last month.
Sunday, at the conclusion of another three-day minicamp, Carroll was still talking about those areas. But they’re not as problematic.
That’s because he now has a new left side of the offensive line in rookie tackle Russell Okung and veteran guard Ben Hamilton; two more backs, with different and complementary styles, in LenDale White and Leon Washington; two more wide receivers in rookie Golden Tate and reclamation project Mike Williams; and rookie free safety Earl Thomas.
Amazing what a draft, a couple of trades and a few shrewd moves in free agency can do.
“We have definitely helped ourselves,” Carroll said. “I think John (Schneider, the first-year general manager) has done a great job in putting things together – one, with the draft, and then just with the moves that we’ve made to give us the feeling that we’ve closed in on some of the issues that we’ve dealt with.”
Here’s a closer look at those moves that have left the Seahawks with a completely different look:
The left side of the line – The club not only added Okung with the sixth pick overall in last week’s draft, they imported an on-field tutor to help with his transition in Hamilton.
“Getting Ben and Russell over there on the left side, it really makes a difference,” Carroll said.
This was apparent from the first snap of Friday’s first practice to the final snap of Sunday’s final practice. Even when Okung made mistakes, he made them while battling. And he made fewer mistakes than you might imagine from a rookie attempting to replace a legend because Hamilton was there to help him with the calls that were made in the huddle and also those that came at the line of scrimmage.
It’s the same role Hamilton filled the past two seasons in Denver with Ryan Clady, the Broncos’ first-round pick in 2008 who blossomed into a Pro Bowl left tackle last season.
“Ben gives us experience and he can help Russell, hopefully, facilitate this whole transition,” Carroll said. “That was really good to see those guys working together.
“Russell was a monster and will continue to grow. He’s got a million miles to go, but he’s certainly the physical guy that we had hoped he would be.”
And, he’s got a good co-pilot to help with his on-going journey.
The more backs the merrier – Carroll made a habit of stockpiling running backs during his unprecedented nine-season run at USC. Not just any backs, but those that had been high school All-Americans.
When he got to the Seahawks he wanted, one, a back to provide a more physical presence and style and, two, just more backs to increase the competition at the pivotal position in the new offense being installed by coordinator Jeremy Bates.
Carroll got both in a couple of draft-day trades that cost the Seahawks basically nothing.
White, a 225-pounder who played for Carroll at USC, came over in a deal with the Tennessee Titans. Washington, a dynamic runner as well as a Pro Bowl kick returner, was acquired in the trade with the New York Jets. Washington was sidelined in this camp as he continues the rehab from breaking his right leg in October. White sat out Sunday to rest a sore groin.
But there’s plenty of time for them to get right, and ready, before the Sept. 12 regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Qwest Field.
“We know when we have LenDale and Leon, that’s going to help that spot,” Carroll said.
The more hands the merrier – With veterans T.J. Houshmandzadeh (sports hernia) and Deion Branch (knee) sitting out following recent surgeries, the young wide receivers got more opportunities to show their stuff.
None were more impressive than Tate, the team’s second-round draft choice, and Williams, a 6-foot-5 target who is trying to restart his once promising career after being signed following a strong showing in the previous minicamp.
“Golden did some great stuff,” Carroll said of Tate, who displayed savvy and instincts beyond his limited experience while working the middle of the field to make several nice catches.
As for Williams, who played for Carroll at USC and could be the big receiver the Seahawks have been looking for, it’s obvious that he realizes this opportunity might be his last opportunity to fulfill the promise he showed in two seasons with the Trojans.
“He’s cognizant that this is his chance to come back and turn it around,” Carroll said of Williams, who was out of the league the past two seasons. “He’s very serious. He’s got a child on the way, his wife is looking out after him and I think he’s really seriously taken a turn. He’s making a bid to see if he can fit back in and I’m happy for him.”
Free-flowing secondary – Carroll also wanted a free safety with a lot of range and playmaking ability to plug into the more aggressive style he plans to play this season. The Seahawks found him in Thomas, the 14th pick overall in the draft.
What he lacks in age (he won’t be 21 until Friday) and prototypical size (he weighs 202 pounds), Thomas compensates for with athletic ability and coverage skills.
“Across the board, I like the work of our secondary,” Carroll said of a unit that also includes Marcus Trufant and Josh Wilson at the corners with the No. 1 group and Jordan Babineaux sliding from free to strong safety to accommodate the arrival of Thomas and address the departure of Grant.
“I thought that with our new style of playing – we play differently than they did in the past – our guys have taken to it and are having a good time learning the new style of coaching and approach.”
Extra touches – As they did with Hamilton to help Okung on the O-line, the Seahawks re-signed veteran safety Lawyer Milloy on Friday to help Thomas with his transition. As with the addition of Hamilton, Milloy brings more to the table than just the ability to tutor a younger player.
Cornerback Walter Thurmond, a fourth-round draft choice, continues to recover from tearing three knee ligaments in September. But he could develop into a starter and also help in the return game.
The draft also brought a couple of physically imposing additions – Kam Chancellor, a 6-3, 232-pounder who puts the emphasis on strong safety, in the fifth round; and Anthony McCoy, a 6-4, 259-pound tight end who played for Carroll at USC, in the sixth round.
The Seahawks might not be whole just yet, but the events of the past two weeks definitely have filled some of the obvious holes from the previous minicamp.
“A lot of good things are happening,” Carroll said. “Hopefully, we just keep taking one good step at a time.”