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Leroy Hill has played a lot of football for the Seahawks and participated in more practices than he cares to remember since being a third-round draft choice in 2005.
But Tuesday was special, nonetheless, because the offense and defense finally faced one another as the team held the first of its 10 OTA practices on a chilly, raining afternoon along the shores of Lake Washington.
“The first one, it’s still a rush,” Hill said. “It was good to put on the helmets and get out and go against an offense.”
This first OTA session also was important – and imperative – for the coaches, who finally got a look at how well the players have absorbed the teaching aspects of the game that were featured in Phase 2 of the offseason program.
On defense, two of the team’s 10 draft choices stepped into the No. 1 unit – first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin at the “Leo” end spot and second-round pick Bobby Wagner at middle linebacker. Irvin’s immediate role is expected to as the pass-rushing end opposite Chris Clemons in the nickel, but with Clemons absent on Tuesday it gave Irvin some needed reps with the starters. It’s a similar situation for Wagner, who is expected to compete with free-agent addition Barrett Ruud for the starting spot that opened when leading tackler David Hawthorne signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency. But Ruud remains sidelined while recovering from a surgical procedure.
“We finished No. 9 (in the league) last year, and we definitely can climb a bunch of spots with what we’ve got coming back and what they’ve added,” Hill said. “We’ve only lost one starter. It was a big starter in Hawthorne, but I think we can be even better this season.”
And please don’t broach that they-wouldn’t-consider-starting-a-rookie-in-the-middle topic with Hill. Remember, Lofa Tatupu was the rookie starter at middle linebacker and Hill also started the second half of the season as well as in the postseason during the team’s Super Bowl run in 2005.
“He’s learning and picking it up quick,” Hill said of Wagner taking over in the middle. “He’s a little quiet right now, and as the Mike you’ve got to communicate. But he’s picking it up and I think he’s going to be excellent.
“And we had two rookies at linebacker in ’05, so it can happen.”
Each unit had its moments during the first OTA session that was held in weather which made it feel like late October or early November.
On offense, leading rusher Marshawn Lynch broke a nice run on the first play of the first team period. Matt Flynn found wide receiver Charley Martin for a 21-yard gain in a two-minute drill. Russell Wilson dropped a beauty of a pass over a couple of defenders to Martin for another impressive gain. Ben Obomanu made a nice grab of a Wilson pass along the sideline. Right tackle Breno Giacomini supplied the block that allowed Flynn time to roll to his right and find an open receiver.
On defense, Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas got his hands on several balls, and was upset on a couple occasions that he didn’t make the interception. Hill and rookie cornerback Jeremy Lane had “sacks” during the blitz period. Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Browner broke up a pass and linebacker K.J. Wright almost intercepted the carom. Cornerback Richard Sherman made a lunging deflection of another pass.
Hill on the blitz? That also was a flashback to his rookie season, when he registered a career-high 7.5 sacks.
“I can still do it all,” he said with a smile. “I feel great.”
Another new wrinkle in the defense could be veteran Marcus Trufant sliding inside as the nickel back. A first-round draft choice in 2003, he has started 123 games and was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2007. But when a back problem forced Trufant to sit out the final 12 games last season, Sherman stepped in and played well enough to remain the starter on the left side.
Trufant as the third corner. Irvin and free-agent addition Jason Jones helping provide an improved pass rush. The speed that has been added with Irvin, Wagner and even Korey Toomer, another linebacker who was drafted in the fifth round.
“It’s sort of scary,” Hill said. “And I’m ready for it.”
This was only the first OTA practice of the offseason, and a wet one at that. But it was a step in the right direction for a team looking to improve on the 7-9 records it has posted in two seasons under coach Pete Carroll.
“It always feels good to get back on the field for the first time,” Hill said.
Even when it’s far from your first time.