Seahawks filling holes, adding depth with redshirt players

Posted Jun 30, 2014

Monday metatarsal musings: The Seahawks lost a lot in free agency, but they’ve also gained a lot by getting back players who missed last season or were limited contributors because of injuries.

With teeth being gnashed and foreheads slapped all around them, Pete Carroll and John Schneider resisted the obvious knee-jerk reaction.

When the NFL free-agency period began in March, the general perception outside Virginia Mason Athletic Center was that the Seahawks were watching too many key contributors from the first Super Bowl championship team in franchise history walk.

Leading receiver Golden Tate signed with the Detroit Lions. Starting right tackle Breno Giacomini jumped to the New York Jets. Starting defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons were released and gobbled up by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is the head coach. Versatile and valuable linemen Clinton McDonald (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Paul McQuistan (Cleveland Browns) also left, as did former starting cornerbacks Brandon Browner (New England Patriots) and Walter Thurmond (New York Giants).  

Instead of seeing red – and overreacting accordingly – Carroll and Schneider instead saw redshirts, the name given to college players who sit out a season.

The Seahawks did not have to overpay for players in free agency to fill the perceived holes created from the Super Bowl roster because they already had intriguing candidates among the players who missed or were limited last season – and even the past two seasons – due to injuries or circumstance.

And this redshirt class is worth revisiting because the performances by its members during the offseason program, OTA sessions and minicamp showed that Carroll and Schneider were right to lean on their resolve.

“We’ve seen so many guys come back to us who were on our roster last year that didn’t participate,” Carroll said at the conclusion of the team’s three-day minicamp that wrapped up the offseason program. “It really gave us a boost, to go along with the new guys.”

With that said, here’s a closer look – another look – at how the redshirt players can fill the holes left by free agency:

Defensive line – Michael Bennett, who was re-signed this offseason, and Cliff Avril, who was added in free agency last year, already have stepped in for Bryant (five-technique end) and Clemons (Leo end). And the late addition of former six-time Pro Bowl tackle Kevin Williams should address the rotation role vacated by McDonald.

But who steps into the roles Bennett and Avril filled last season?

Greg Scruggs (6-3, 310) and Jesse Williams (6-3, 325) have the size and versatility to work at either the five-technique end spot or three-technique tackle position, especially in the nickel line used in passing situations. Scruggs spent last season on injured reserve after damaging a knee ligament during the offseason program, while Williams spent his rookie season on IR after having surgery on a knee that had bothered him while at the University of Alabama.

“I really thought that maybe Jesse was done,” Carroll said of Williams, the Australian-born lineman who was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. “We didn’t know coming out of last season. But he had a tremendous offseason. His rehab work was great. He worked every day and he’s ready to get in the middle of it. So to bring that guy back to us at full speed could be really a great addition.”

As could Leo end Benson Mayowa and versatile tackle Jordan Hill, who were on the 53-man roster last season but active for a combined six games because of the surplus of linemen. Add draft choices Cassius Marsh and Jimmy Staten to the mix, as well as rookie free agent Jackson Jeffcoat, and the Seahawks have the talent, versatility and depth to help ease the losses of Bryant, Clemons and McDonald.

Cornerback – Browner played well enough in his only full season (2011) as the starter opposite All-Pro Richard Sherman that he ended up playing in the Pro Bowl. Thurmond, meanwhile, was supposed to start at that spot on the right side before injuries opened the door for Browner.

Their combined absences in December allowed Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane to claim the starting job and nickel back spot, respectively. But again, who steps into the roles that Maxwell and Lane were filling when Browner and Thurmond were on the field?

Through that question mark-shaped portal steps Tharold Simon, a 6-foot-3, 202-pound corner who spent his rookie season on IR with injuries that required surgery on both feet.

“Tharold Simon has been a really good return to us,” Carroll said.

The club also added versatility and athletic ability by selecting Eric Pinkins in the draft and signing A.J. Jefferson in free agency.

Wide receiver – Doug Baldwin has been moved from flanker to fill the split end spot Tate played last season, and just the thought of a full season from Percy Harvin and more snaps for Jermaine Kearse help quash the concerns about what goes on opposite Baldwin.

But this group also got an infusion of speed and size with the additions of Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood in the draft.

“I love the competition and speed at receiver right now,” Carroll said. “It’s a really exciting group for us and it’s going to be a great group to watch in (training) camp.”

Linebacker – No holes here, just an abundance of starting-caliber players and playmaking depth. But into the competition steps Korey Toomer, a fifth-round draft choice in 2012 who has missed the past two seasons because of injuries; and Kevin Pierre-Louis, a fourth-round draft choice this year.

Finally healthy, Toomer is showing the talents that first attracted the Seahawks.

“With Korey Toomer coming back at us and really looking fit and ready to compete, and Kevin Pierre-Louis coming out and showing some really cool stuff, too, that position is good,” Carroll said.

And the coaches got good looks at Toomer and Pierre-Louis during the OTAs and minicamp because Bruce Irvin, the incumbent starter on the strong side, and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith are recovering from offseason surgeries.

Right tackle – The line to replace Giacomini forms behind Michael Bowie, a seventh-round draft choice last year who started seven games as a rookie when Giacomini was out with an injury. But Justin Britt is pushing for more reps with the starting unit, and it would not be a surprise to see this year’s second-round draft choice win the job.

“Justin Britt has done a really good job,” Carroll said. “He’s mature. He studies hard. It’s really important to him. He demonstrates the grit stuff that we’re looking for. He’s into it and really cares and everything and is asking the right questions.”

Which leads us to one final question: How many days until training camp opens?