Selecting the best player in the Seahawks’ training camp usually is an exercise in the art of the slam dunk. One player will flash early and continue to shine as the summer sun beats down on the practice fields.
Last year, it was wide receiver Sidney Rice, because of all the acrobatic catches he made before injuring a shoulder that eventually needed surgery to repair. The year before that, it was quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a pivotal player at a pivotal position during the camp when the team was transitioning from Jim Mora to Pete Carroll. In 2009, it was tight end John Carlson, labeled by Hasselbeck as “a golden retriever of a receiver.”
This year? Ask six people to name the best player in the just-concluded camp and you’ll get six different answers. Really, because that’s exactly what I did and that’s exactly what happened.
But when it came time to select the best unit in camp, it was unanimous: The secondary.
So, by proxy, the prestigious honor goes to the Pro Bowl trio of free safety Earl Thomas, strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner, as well as on-the-rise corner Richard Sherman.
They’re obviously good, but just as obviously poised to be even better during the 2012 season.
“I think the sky is the limit,” veteran cornerback Marcus Trufant said Thursday, after the final practice of his 10th training camp and the team’s third under Carroll.
“These guys were good last year and I think they’re going to get better this year. The athleticism and the football smarts in the defensive back room are real big. We’ve got some great coaching and the guys are really just coming together – Earl, Kam, Sherm, B.B. It’s all coming together.”
Put them together, and this long-limbed, fleet-a-foot foursome forms a formidable force. But the game is as much mental as it is physical for a defensive back.
“The thing I see, I see them taking the time to work on the details, to work on the little things,” Trufant said. “And when you’re doing that, all you can do is get better.”
With that said, on to the other honors:
Best offensive player – Marshawn Lynch. The team’s Beast Mode-running, Skittles-munching back led the NFL in rushing over the last nine games last season en route to compiling career highs in yards (1204) and touchdowns (13). But Lynch looks even quicker and more explosive this summer while running behind a line that Carroll says is blocking better than at any point last season.
One week into camp, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was asked if Lynch could play in a regular-season game the next day: “Definitely, and I think he’ll pretty much tell you the same thing. He looks like he’s ready to go. We’ve got a lot more work to do, but as of right now he looks like he’s ready to go.”
Best defensive player – Sherman. This one is a near unanimous choice, despite the fact that he’s the only member of the secondary who did not play in the Pro Bowl after last season. He did go to Hawaii, however, as a guest of Thomas, Chancellor and Browner.
“It was unbelievable, and I appreciate them so much for that,” said Sherman, who moved into the starting unit for the final 10 games last season after Trufant and Walter Thurmond were lost to season-ending injuries.
“Because it’s a group effort, it’s all a teamwork thing. It’s all the guys out there doing their job that makes the group as a whole look great. Even the Pro Bowl players, if you don’t have the other 10 guys on the field doing their job then you won’t look as great. So they understood that and I appreciate them. Those are my boys.”
Best special teams player – Jon Ryan. He won by a leg, the strong right one that he has used to kick his way into the franchise record book the past four seasons. The only punter in camp, Ryan continued to display the leg strength that allowed him to average 46.6 yards on 95 punts last season, with a long of 77 yards; but also the touch he has developed that allowed him to lead the NFL with 34 punts inside the 20-yard line in 2012.
Best unit – The secondary, obviously. But this also is a secondary chance to mention the nonstarters who have played like starters in camp: Trufant and Roy Lewis, who are competing for the spot as the third corner in the nickel defense; third-year corner Phillip Adams, who made big plays on a routine basis in camp; and safeties Jeron Johnson, Winston Guy, Chris Maragos and DeShawn Shead, who will make determining the backups to Thomas and Chancellor a very difficult choice.
Best free-agent addition – Braylon Edwards. The late-arriving wide-out (he was signed July 31) quickly made up for lost time, and really turned up the volume on his game last week the day after Terrell Owens was signed. Edwards used his 6-3, 214-pound body to go up and over a defender on a 39-yard pass from rookie QB Russell Wilson in the preseason opener. He also has displayed elusiveness and deceptive speed in making similar plays in practice. Carroll is looking for a bigger target with big-play ability to replace Mike Williams at split end. Edwards is forcing Carroll to at least look his way.
Best rookie – Robert Turbin. First-round draft choice Bruce Irvin, second-rounder Bobby Wagner and Wilson got – and deserve – mention. But Turbin, the fourth-round pick out of Utah State, was drafted to fill the need for a physical back to spell Lynch. Turbin looks, and runs, the part.
Biggest surprise – J.R. Sweezy. Making the switch from college defensive tackle to NFL guard is not as easy as Sweezy is making it look. Growing pains? Of course, but not to the level everyone was expecting. Line coach Tom Cable has used “phenomenal” to describe how well Sweezy is handling the transition.
Best quote – “It’s on Funk and Wagnall’s porch, hermitically sealed (in a mayonnaise jar).” – Karnak, er, Carroll, when asked his plan for rotating three quarterbacks during camp.