Seeing is believing

Posted May 13, 2013

Monday metatarsal musings: This year’s rookie minicamp might have lacked the flash of the 2012 edition, but the Seahawks still drafted some players who showed they can fill specific roles on an already good team.

As rookie minicamps go, this year's edition didn't quite match the marquee value of the Seahawks' 2012 version.

But that was not only totally understandable, it was predictable.

Last year's draft class featured a dynamic pass-rusher in first-round pick Bruce Irvin; a player who would become the replacement for three-time leading tackler David Hawthorne at middle linebacker in Bobby Wagner, the second-round pick; and a quarterback who would exceed everyone's expectations – except his own – in Russell Wilson, who was drafted in the third round with the 75th pick overall.

This year? The Seahawks traded their first-round draft choice to the Minnesota Vikings in March as part of the three-pick deal to acquire receiver/runner/returner Percy Harvin; and then went for a running back in the second round, Christine Michael, despite already having All-Pro Marshawn Lynch and using a fourth-round pick to add backup Robert Turbin last year.

As coach Pete Carroll put it on Sunday after the last practice in the three-day rookie minicamp, "Having Bruce and Russell showing up at camp, that was a pretty flashy start. Russell just dominated the camp."

But that doesn't mean this year's rookie class is lacking when it comes to intriguing players and prospects.

"What is similar is that the guys that we picked – just like we did last year – specifically for roles look like they're going to fit," Carroll said.

Here's a closer look at four of those players:

Luke Willson

The 6-foot-5, 252-pound tight end averaged 14.0 yards on nine receptions last season, and that was an increase in his per-catch average from 2011 (10.8 on 29 catches) and 2010 (12.9 on 33). But the Seahawks were attracted by his speed, an element that would be a nice – and needed – complement to what starter Zach Miller and backup Anthony McCoy provided last season.

Moments after being drafted two weeks ago, even Willson admitted, "I'm one of those guys where I can be your prototypical tight end."

There was, however, little proto in his typical efforts over the weekend, when Willson repeatedly got behind smaller, faster defenders to stretch the field – just as the coaches had envisioned. And that is why nothing Willson did during the rookie minicamp surprised those coaches.

Willson almost slipped through a crack in a crack during the lead up to the draft. He played through a high ankle sprain and lower-back problems last season. He also played behind, and with, Vance McDonald, a tight end the San Francisco 49ers selected in the second round; and Taylor Cook, who signed with the Carolina Panthers as a free agent after the draft.

The Pro Football Weekly Draft Preview didn't even list Willson among the two-dozen tight ends it profiled. Neither did Lindy's Sports Draft Guide.

But the Seahawks sent tight ends coach Pat McPherson to Houston the week before the draft to visit with Willson and work him out, and the club also had timed him in 4.51 seconds for the 40-yard dash at Willson's Pro Day workout in March. And remember, the guy weighs 252 pounds, even if he doesn't look it.

"We knew he could run. On film, you could see it a little bit," McPherson said Monday, after the conclusion of the offensive workout in the team's offseason program. "When I worked him out, he exploded off the ball and was doing things that you saw him do over the weekend.

"And he also catches the ball really well. So I wasn't surprised."

Those defensive tackles

That would be Jordan Hill, the third-round pick out of Penn State; and Jesse Williams, a fifth-round pick out of Alabama. Watching them stand next to each other, and especially line up next to each other, during the three weekend practices evoked memories of Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant in their NFL infancy.

Like the 6-1, 311-pound Mebane, Hill is the shorter (6-1) and lighter (303 pounds) of the two. Like the 6-4, 323-pound Bryant, Williams is the taller (6-3) and heavier (326) of this year's tackle tandem. But, also like Mebane, Hill has more "sand" – meaning he's thicker through the hips, thighs and legs – which makes him better suited to playing the nose tackle spot. And, like Bryant, much of Williams' bulk is in his upper body, giving him the length and upper-body strength to play the three-technique tackle position as well as the five-technique end spot that Bryant was switched to in 2010 after two seasons as a little-used tackle.

Also read into all of this that Hill and Williams possess the versatility that first-year defensive coordinator Dan Quinn looks for in his linemen.

"We're going to play them at a couple of different spots and see you can play end, who can play tackle, who can play nose," Quinn said over the weekend. "They'll fill various roles for us. I just want guys to know two or three jobs. That way when it's time to do that, there's not that, 'Well, I haven't done that before.'

"That adds not only value to you as a player, but really increases competition across the board."

The Seahawks have holes at the three-technique tackle position in their base and nickel lines because Alan Branch and Jason Jones signed elsewhere after becoming unrestricted free agents in March. The initial thought was that the bigger Williams might be able to replace Branch in the base defense, with the quicker Hill stepping in for Jones in the nickel line.

After what they showed over the weekend, that might be just the starting point for what Hill and Williams can bring to an already good and deep D-line.

Michael Bowie

The Seahawks used three of their four picks in the seventh round to select offensive lineman. Bowie looked the best over the weekend, while working primarily at right tackle – next to guard Ryan Seymour and center Jared Smith, the other seventh-round linemen – but also left tackle.

The 6-4, 332-pound Bowie might have ended his college career at Northeastern (Okla.) State, but he once was a starter at Oklahoma State.

Asked about evaluating a bigger-time player who played at a smaller school, Carroll offered, "We're just still looking for the basic stuff. We're looking for feet, we're looking for movement – has he got enough movement to play with us, and then does he have the size and the profile?"

For the most part, Bowie answered those questions in the affirmative over the weekend, as did several other members of the Seahawks' 2013 Draft Class.