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The wait is finally over
The calendar might have said it was Aug. 4, but Thursday also was Christmas morning for John Schneider and Pete Carroll.
After an offseason of inactivity and then a week of hyperactivity, the Seahawks general manager and coach finally got to “unwrap” the gifts that their efforts have delivered as the 14 players added in free agency finally were able to practice with the team.
“It was kind of a relief to finally get to watch them and start evaluating our team now,” Schneider said after a 2½-hour practice at the team’s training camp. “It was fun to see the draft choices and some of the free agent guys mixed together, and get some of that veteran leadership out there.”
But even that entailed yet another wait, as the players took the field at Virginia Mason Athletic Center only to be told there would be a delay until the league gave the go-ahead after the new CBA was ratified. The Seahawks players had ratified the new deal earlier in the day, but it took every team getting it done for the league year to actually begin – and practice to start.
Carroll had the players pass some of the downtime by going to the fence on the east side of the practice fields to shake hands and sign autograph for fans. The practice that was scheduled to start at 1:45 finally got underway at 2:05.
“I think everyone was excited that finally, officially everything is over and done with and the next 10 years we’ll have football uninterrupted,” said Zach Miller, the free-agent tight end from the Oakland Raiders who just signed with team this week.
“I’ve never had a stall before practice like that where you’re just waiting and waiting for that phone call. Thankfully it happened and we got to practice.”
But after a 136-day lockout and then the past week, what was another 20 minutes?
“It wasn’t that odd considering what’s happened the past six months,” Miller said. “It wasn’t that surprising to have to wait a few more minutes to go.”
Besides, this was a day to celebrate as several important pieces of the puzzle that will be the 2011 Seahawks were wedged into place – finally:
Quarterback – Tarvaris Jackson. Carroll already has named the ex-Viking the starting quarterback, and he stepped in to take the reps with the No. 1 offense in his first practice. Jackson he played the past five seasons in the offense being installed by new coordinator Darrell Bevell in Minnesota. That familiarity, Carroll explained, will help in the overall transition during this condensed period to prepare for the preseason opener in San Diego against the Chargers next Thursday, as well as the Sept. 11 regular-season opener in San Francisco against the 49ers.
Wide receiver – Sidney Rice. Carroll and Schneider have been looking for a big-play receiver since they were hired in January of 2010. Rice can be just that, as he proved in 2009 when he voted to the Pro Bowl after catching 83 passes for a 15.8-yard average and eight touchdowns while playing for the Vikings. At 6 feet 4, 202 pounds, Rice also gives the passing game a big target – or another big target, as Rice will play opposite Mike Williams, the 6-5 receiver who led the team in receptions last season.
Tight end – Miller. Acquiring the Pro Bowler was not in the original plan, but luring him to Seattle turned out to be one of the best moves. Miller has caught 60-plus passes the past two seasons and will join incumbent starter John Carlson in a tandem that assistant head coach Tom Cable calls the best in the league. Cable should know, since he coached Miller the past four seasons in Oakland.
Left guard – Robert Gallery. With so much youth comprising the rest of the line – Russell Okung, Max Unger, John Moffitt and James Carpenter – the Seahawks had to have an experienced left tackle. That’s Gallery, a 6-7, 325-pound mauler who also played for Cable in Oakland.
Fullback – Michael Robinson. The team went through the first week of camp without a true fullback on the roster. Robinson not only fills that void, he’ll also help on special teams – as the ex-49er did last season after signing with the Seahawks in September.
Defensive tackles – Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch. Mebane is back where he wanted to be after testing the free-agent market, but at a new spot: nose tackle. Branch, who played the past four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, was targeted even before the NFL Draft to take over at the three-technique position Mebane played last year. They lined up at those positions with the No. 1 defense Thursday.
Weak-side linebacker – Leroy Hill. With the release of Lofa Tatupu last week, David Hawthorne is back at middle linebacker – where he started for an injured Tatupu in 2009 and led the team in tackles. So the team will turn back the clock to find Hawthorne’s replacement on the weak side. Hill spent last season on injured reserve, but was productive when healthy earlier in his career (81 tackles in both 2007 and 2008). Thursday, he worked with the second unit, while rookie Malcolm Smith continued to take snaps with the starting unit.
Kicker – Jeff Reed. With Olindo Mare signing with the Carolina Panthers in free agency, the ex-Steeler will compete with Brandon Coutu to replace him. Reed has the experience Coutu lacks, and it was Reed who did the kicking in his first practice with his new team.
All in all, it was a Christmas in August to remember.
“We’re very happy with it. Very happy with it,” Schneider said.
It was Schneider and his staff who were able to go out and get the players Carroll and his staff targeted – and the team needed. Rather than making a belly flop of a free-agent splurge, the Seahawks were selective, and direct, in their pursuit of these players.
“It’s easy to go out there and go hog wild,” Schneider said. “The hard thing is to kind of discipline yourself to manage people on the staff’s expectations about acquisitions. And I think between the two groups – between our personnel staff and our coaching staff – we’ve done a great job with that.”
The other hard thing was the wait to finally see these players, and for the players to actually join their new team.
“I’m glad they got it done, so now we can practice,” Jackson said.