Camp Com-Pete concludes

Posted Aug 19, 2010

The Seahawks broke training camp on Thursday, but the real work has just begun as coach Pete Carroll and his staff continue their transition – and transformation – process.

That’s a wrap.

The Seahawks put the finishing touches on their Bing Training Camp with a Thursday afternoon practice that was very much like the previous 19 practices under first-year coach Pete Carroll: Fast-paced, competitive and held in front of a large crowd – this time several hundred family members.

This was unlike any other  camp in franchise history, and not just because of all the personnel changes that Carroll and general manager John Schneider have made since being hired in January (125, and counting).

There were only four two-a-day sessions, and all came in the first week of camp. Instead, there were walkthroughs in the morning, followed by practice in the afternoon.

“We worked hard, but coach Carroll gave us a good amount of time off,” said veteran wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who referred to training camp last summer as “camp grind it out.”

Not this summer. Not at Camp Carroll – or Camp Com-Pete, if you will.

“I don’t think guys are banged up at all,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I didn’t have one day where I was really sore at all. There are a lot of teams that have easier training camp than what we just had. When we were out here we worked hard. It was pretty much full contact every day. They just weren’t blowing guys up.

“That was very different.”

Still, Houshmandzadeh heard the talk about this being a country-club camp.

“A lot has been made of ‘The camp has been easy.’ It’s different than last year,” he said. “But by any means was it a cakewalk? No, it wasn’t at all.”

All by design, as Carroll tries to make this team competitive again after two seasons that produced a total of nine victories.

“That’s always been the approach,” Carroll said when asked about the player-friendly aspect of camp. “The really fast, high energetic-type of practices is to demand that they have to focus and be in on it; that they get a conditioning level done throughout the work of practice – we don’t stop from the moment we get out there.

“I want to make sure that they don’t – that they can’t – wander in their focus. That’s part of the energy that we generate around it. And then we rest well.”

But not for long. The competitive aspect that Carroll strives for – no, demands – won’t end just because camp has. And because of the structure of this just-concluded camp, things won’t be that different as the players and coaches continue to prepare for the final three preseason games and, of course, the regular season that kicks off Sept. 12 against the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers at Qwest Field.

“Hopefully in the long haul of this it’s going to work out for us,” Carroll said.

He then quoted former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant: “It’s not a sprint, it’s an endurance race.”

“We’re really trying to take that into consideration and take care of our guys,” he added.

Despite getting needed evaluations on a lot of players during the past 20 days, the Seahawks emerge from camp with a lot of the same concerns they had going in.

Or as Carroll put it when asked what still needs work, “Everything.”

For example:

How well will the zone-blocking scheme work, and which back will benefit most from it? In a camp where Carroll’s catch phrases are everywhere – “It’s all about the ball,” “I’m In” and, of course, “Always Compete” – offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has developed one of his own.

“We’ll go as far as they take us,” he said on more than one occasion.

He’s talking about the offensive line, which has new starters on the left side – rookie tackle Russell Okung and veteran guard Ben Hamilton – and also depth issues at tackle because Ray Willis will miss several weeks after having damaged knee cartilage repaired.

The running game averaged 3.1 yards on 28 carries in the preseason opener against the Titans, and no one was pleased with that. But it was the first time the linemen had actually gone down to cut-block defenders in an attempt to open lanes on the backside for the ball carrier to exploit.

“We’ve got to get better,” Bates said. “We’ve got a long ways to go. We’re going to keep grinding.”

As for the still-raging competition among the backs, Justin Forsett has flashed most frequently – in part because he played in a similar scheme at Cal and understands the nuances to setting up the blocks. But it still looks like this will end up being a running game by committee, with the hot back getting the most carries. That could be incumbent starter Julius Jones, newcomer Leon Washington or Forsett. 

How will the defense generate a pass rush? The edge-rush positions have undergone an almost-complete overhaul, with the retirement of Patrick Kerney, the trades of Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson and the departure of Cory Redding in free agency.  They combined for 14 of the team’s 28 sacks last season.

So who steps up? Chris Clemons was obtained in that trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for Tapp to play the rush-end “Leo” spot in Carroll’s defense, and he has had as good a camp as any member of the defense. On the other side, linebacker Aaron Curry is being prepped to step up to end in the nickel, as is rookie linebacker Dexter Davis. Also in the mix is Nick Reed, who made the team as a seventh-round draft choice last year because of his pass-rush ability.   

Who will be the starting cornerback on the right side? The competition continues between Kelly Jennings, the starter in 2007; and Josh Wilson, the starter in 2008 and for most of last season. Each is being give an equal shot to win the job, with Jennings working with the No. 1 defense one day and Wilson stepping in opposite Marcus Trufant the next day.

“Josh and Kelly have both stepped up,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “That’s why nothing has been decided there. Each guy has been playing well when it’s his turn.”

Who will emerge as the No. 1 receiver? Don’t be surprised if it’s John Carlson. Yes, he’s a tight end – but he’s a hybrid tight end and Bates already has shown just how much the position, and Carlson specifically, will be featured in the two-tight end sets.

Among the wideouts, Deion Branch and T.J. Houshmandzadeh have been the starters, but rookie Golden Tate and second-year man Deon Butler also have flashed. The real story has been the emergence of Mike Williams, a former first-round draft choice who’s been out of football the past two years.

“We’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of potential there,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “Everyone’s also very different. They’re body types are different, what they bring to the table is different. One of the challenges is just finding that role for each guy – you know, who’s going to be an outside guy, who’s going to be an inside guy.

“We’ve got some guys that are real big. We’ve got some guys that are real fast. And then we’ve got some guys that are real raw. … But I think all of them have shown great things this offseason and hopefully we can do it when the (regular-season) games start.”

The pieces are being wedged into place, but it’s still early in the process.

“We needed to have a very good, solid camp,” Carroll said. “With the next couple of games, we’ll have a better feel for how we’re performing. But this part has gone well.”