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Offseason program moves into final week with minicamp
Don’t look now, but the offseason program that felt like it would never get here is almost over.
That’s right, this offseason of heightened expectations for the Seahawks concludes this week with a three-day minicamp Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – the only mandatory camp allowed under the CBA that ended the 136-day lockout in 2011, when there was no offseason.
After the Seahawks won seven of their last eight regular-season games, posted the franchise’s first road playoff victory since 1983 and came within 30 seconds of advancing to the NFC Championship game last season, it seemed like April 15 couldn’t come soon enough to start providing snapshots of what 2013 might hold.
And there has been a lot to like about the Seahawks’ spring, and two things have underlined that: the tempo and intensity of the just-completed OTA sessions, which had a training-camp feel to them despite the fact that contact was limited; and the improvements made in personnel for the fourth consecutive offseason under general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.
From the March trade to acquire receiver/returner/runner Percy Harvin to the selection of tackle Michael Bowie with the Seahawks’ final pick in the seventh round of April’s NFL Draft, an already good team has only gotten better. In between those moves, the club also signed defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel and cornerback Antoine Winfield in free agency and also selected running backs Christine Michael and Spencer Ware, wide receiver Chris Harper, tight end Luke Willson and defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams in the draft.
As for that tempo on the practice field and the interwoven intensity that has carried over to a finer focus in the meeting rooms and weight room, All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas put it this way, “I’m very motivated, especially this offseason. And nobody else is going to relax, either. That’s the great thing about this team – it’s the competition, and not wanting to let the guys next to you down.”
Are there questions and concerns? Of course. The depth at linebacker would hardly fill a wading pool, as Heath Farwell has played in more NFL regular-season games (97) than the combined total (96) of the other nine linebackers on the 90-man roster. The defense, despite allowing the fewest points in the league and ranking fourth in average yards allowed last season, failed to hold fourth-quarter leads in three of the five losses in the regular season and the divisional playoff game against the Falcons in Atlanta. A large part of that was the inability of the defense to get off the field in third-and-long situations – and that’s why Avril, Bennett and Winfield were signed.
As is proven in the NFL every season, the teams that remain the healthiest are usually the ones that have the most success. And, as former coach Mike Holmgren always said, for a good team to become one of the best teams its best players must have their best seasons. That was the case during the 2005 run to the Super Bowl with the Pro Bowl contingent of Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck, Lofa Tatupu, Mack Strong, Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson and Robbie Tobeck.
You could make the case that also was the situation last season, when Richard Sherman, Max Unger, and Marshawn Lynch joined Thomas in being voted All-Pro; while Thomas, Lynch and Unger were joined in the Pro Bowl by the Russells – Wilson and Okung. Except these players are so young that you have to think there are even better things ahead for all of them.
That’s where the expectations for 2013 start – internally, as well as externally. As Carroll is fond of pointing out, the biggest jump in a player’s career is often from his first year as a starter to his second. We saw it last year with Sherman, Kam Chancellor and K.J. Wright. As hard it might be to imagine, we should see it this year with middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and Wilson – who finished second and third in voting for NFL Defensive and Offensive Rookie of the Year last season.
And that’s why this just-about-to-conclude offseason that seemed like it would never begin has been so important – from the start of the offseason conditioning program in mid-April to this mid-June minicamp.
As for Phase 1 of the offseason program, head strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle put it this way: “The thing that I really believe is that they came in better prepared this offseason than they had in previous offseasons. It goes to the type of guys coach Carroll and John Schneider are bringing in. They’re bringing in not only five-star athletes, but they’re bring in five-star people that understand what it takes and what they need to do to prepare at the highest level. Then the competition is so good on this team, they know they’ve got to come in ready to go because we’ll bring in 11 more guys with this rookie class that will be ready to go. That’s a big factor in the current players coming in ready to go.”
Phase 1 led to Phase 2, obviously, but also included meeting-room work that carried over to the on-field sessions in the second stage of the offseason program.
“We noticed it in that first week, how well they came back in shape,” said Tom Cable, now in his third season as assistant head coach/offensive line coach. “This week, it just jumped at you again. All the teaching from last year has been great retention. We’re able to just kind of plug in where we left off. Then the newness and the new things we want to add to it, we’ll put some focus on that. But it’s really been pretty good how they’ve competed just to bring it back with them. It’s made it a lot easier for us.”
Harvin is part of that newness, and is contributions to the offseason can be as wide-ranging as the imagination of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. As for Harvin’s addition and the continuing development of Wilson, it has more than just a few wondering if the offense that ran the ball a league-high 536 times last season might change its spots this season. Carroll handled that in typical Carroll fashion during his Town Hall meeting a few weeks ago.
“No,” was Carroll’s blunt response when the question was asked, drawing a rousing mixture of laughs and applause from the crowd at CenturyLink Field. “There are so many good things that come from running the football. It adds to the mentality of your team. It adds to the toughness of your football club that you present.
“Because you’re always going to play tough defense, hopefully. We’re always going to be tough in special teams. But you can be other than that on offense if you don’t run the football. We want to be a physical, aggressive, tough, get-after-you football team. And that’s where we can send the biggest message about that commitment to that.”
The veteran players have one last chance to send a message that must last until training camp opens in late July. It starts tomorrow on the first day of the three-day minicamp that should have a maximum impact on how this offseason will shape the 2013 season.