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Bates’ blueprint for success
The post-practice topic was the state of the Seahawks’ offense, but the responses dealt with building a house and going to the driving range.
Say what? That’s how it goes when you’re installing a new system, as coordinator Jeremy Bates is. While pleased with the development through two minicamps and nine OTA practices, Bates and his players know the real proof of progress will come when training camp practices begin in late July.
“If you look at this as building a house, what we’re doing right now is coming up with the blueprint,” Bates said Thursday. “We won’t break out the nails and really start to hammer away until we get the pads on.”
That’s also when the coaches and players will get around to using all the clubs in their bag.
“There’s a lot of evaluating going on,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “To steal an analogy from (quarterbacks coach) Jedd Fisch, he’s like, ‘Guys, we’re at the driving range right now. You’re not playing 18 holes. So, try that club out, try that club out; try out this receiver, give this guy a shot on that route, take a shot deep here.’
“They’re trying to see who we’ve got, talent-wise, and also what everyone does well.”
That definitely is the case for Bates and his fellow offensive assistants – line coaches Alex Gibbs and Art Valero, running backs coach Sherman Smith, wide receivers coach Kippy Brown, tight ends coach Pat McPherson and Fisch.
“Right now, it’s just a process of getting reps and doing it over and over, and practicing against different looks and different coverages,” Bates said. “I’m extremely happy about how the guys are studying and how they’re grasping it mentally and taking it to the practice field.”
That might be the most impressive element of the ongoing installation: How few mental errors are being committed, despite the constant influx of new players and the fact that the old players are learning a new system.
“The football IQ on the team is incredible,” Bates said. “They really look forward to coming to meetings and then taking it out here. There aren’t many mental mistakes. But we’ve got to keep growing and working on the fundamentals of the game.”
It’s not like they have a difficult act to follow. Last season, the offense scored 27 touchdowns – the fewest since 1993 (26) – and tallied more than 20 points in only four games. The Seahawks ranked 26th in rushing offense and 21st overall.
That’s why there have been so many changes this offseason. Hasselbeck and right tackle Sean Locklear are the lone remaining starters from the Seahawks’ 2005 Super Bowl team.
“We’re sort of like building our brand of who we are, and at the same time installing plays,” Hasselbeck said. “Half of it’s a mentality, and half of it is X’s and O’s.”
Here’s a closer look at how the offense is coming together in its blueprint, driving-range stage:
Quarterback – When Pete Carroll was hired in January as the eight head coach in franchise history, he expressed how pleased he was to have Hasselbeck to help with the transition. Bates echoed that sentiment when he was hired. Despite the additions of Charlie Whitehurst and former Buffalo Bills starter J.P. Losman, nothing has changed in that regard.
“Matt has done an unbelievable job taking ownership of the offense,” Bates said. “He’s rallying the troops. He’s excited every day. He knows so much about the game.
“It’s fun watching him. He’s very crafty. He can make all the throws, from all different positions. His timing is unbelievable.”
Running back – With Carroll, it’s always been a case of the more backs the better. He prefers to have as many options as necessary, and to use the competition between those backs to bring out the best in each.
The group currently includes incumbent starter Julius Jones, who has been the Seahawks’ leading rusher in each of his first two seasons with the club; Justin Forsett, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry and compiled more than 900 yards rushing and receiving last season; Quinton Ganther, who was signed in free agency; and Louis Rankin, the former University of Washington back.
Waiting in the wings is Leon Washington, who was obtained in a draft day trade with the New York Jets and continues his recovery from a broken leg that ended his 2009 season.
“I can’t wait to get Leon out here,” Bates said.
Wide receiver – T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch are sidelined while recovering from surgery, but each will have a role in the passing game. The bigger question: Which of the other 12 wide-outs on the roster will be around to complement them?
There’s rookie Golden Tate, who was drafted in the second round; holdovers Deon Butler, Ben Obomanu and Mike Hass; free-agent additions Sean Morey, Ruvell Martin, Marcus Maxwell and Kole Heckendorf; waiver pickup Isaiah Stanback; and former Top 10 draft picks Mike Williams (Lions) and Reggie Williams (Jaguars), who were signed after getting tryouts at the first minicamp.
“As an offense, we’re exciting about T.J. and Deion coming back,” Bates said. “But it’s going to be new. Matt needs to get timing with these guys because the offense is different.”
Tight end – As impressive as John Carlson has been in his first two seasons (106 receptions and 12 touchdowns), this offense should highlight his skills even more.
“We’re definitely trying to throw more on John – make him the primary receiver on a lot of routes,” Hasselbeck said.
That’s because Chris Baker was added in free agency to pair with Carlson – and do a lot of the dirty work – in the two-tight end sets Bates used with such success while with the Denver Broncos.
“John is fun, because he’s very flexible,” Bates said. “You can put him in the backfield, you can put him out wide, you can put him in the three-point (stance), and you don’t miss a beat. And having Baker frees him up a little more. It’s a good combination.”
Bates then mentioned incumbent No. 3 tight end Cameron Morrah and physically imposing sixth-round draft choice Anthony McCoy before adding, “That’s a strong group right now.”
Line – The starters appear to set, with first-round draft choice Russell Okung at left tackle, free-agent addition Ben Hamilton at left guard, former first-round draft choice Chris Spencer at center, second-year man Max Unger at right guard and Locklear at right tackle.
“The guys are working great together,” Bates said. “They’re communicating. They’re getting into the zone (blocking) offense with Alex – and Alex is all over them, riding them. And they’re responding. They’re taking the challenge.”
They also have experienced backups in Ray Willis and Steve Vallos, as well as the potential of Mike Gibson and Mansfield Wrotto. But after last season, when the Seahawk used four starters at left tackle and three each at left guard and center, there’s always the need for more depth.
“It’s going to be fun to watch those guys,” Bates of the starting unit. “Because we can only go as far as they take us.”
As good as things have looked while practicing in shorts, Bates knows the real test comes when the pads come on in training camp and especially the preseason games.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” Bates said. “We just can’t ever take a day off. We just got to keep grinding.”