The Seahawks concluded their offseason workout program with last week's three-day minicamp, which means a little time off for players and coaches before training camp opens at the end of July. Training camp and preseason games are when the real competition for starting jobs and roster spots will heat up, but the past month of organized team activities and minicamp were also a significant step in Seattle's preparation for the 2016 season. With that in mind, 10 takeaways from the Seahawks' offseason workouts.
1. The Seahawks are in a good place both mentally and physically.
Appearing in consecutive Super Bowls is something that any NFL team would strive for, but Seattle's 2013 and 2014 seasons also took their toll on the team, both in the fact that the season went as long as possible, meaning more pounding on the body and less offseason to recover, and also because of everything off the field that comes with winning or losing a Super Bowl.
Unlike last offseason, when the Seahawks were both recovering from Super Bowl heartbreak and numerous injuries, this year's team is in a better place. Yes, Jimmy Graham and Thomas Rawls are recovering from injuries, but those two are on track to return for the regular-season opener (more on that below), and the rest of the roster, especially the secondary, is much healthier.
And the Seahawks are also hungry having seen their 2015 season end in disappointing fashion in a divisional-round loss at Carolina. Carroll and several players have noted on multiple occasions that this offseason feels similar to the one that followed the 2012 season that ended in a playoff loss at Atlanta, and obviously the 2013 season worked out pretty well for Seattle.
"We had two years of going to the wire, and you just beat your body up to a certain degree playing that long," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "This year we got, what, two, three extra weeks off. That does a lot for the mentality and the body, just let your body rest. You always want to make it to the Super Bowl and win it, but there was a silver lining of sorts for us not making last year—letting guys rest their bodies and their minds, because that's a lot of football on your body. Guys got to heal, guys got to sit back and enjoy their families for a second and come back renewed."
2. The starting quarterback is dialed in, but backup QB is still up in the air.
Russell Wilson has looked sharper than ever as he prepares for his fifth season as Seattle's starting quarterback, and considering how well Wilson and the passing game finished the 2015 season, that bodes very well for this year's offense.
"He has made a clear step ahead," Carroll said. "His command is all-time. His ability to move defenders with his eyes to set up some things—he's consistently doing that, almost unconsciously, he's so clued in. We saw him throw the ball all over the field throughout the offseason and he's been strong and accurate and really precise about stuff. He has had a great offseason."
Behind Wilson on the depth chart, however, there is still uncertainty heading into training camp. Trevone Boykin, an undrafted rookie free-agent out of TCU, and Jake Heaps, a Skyline High School product who spent time with the New York Jets in camp last year, are the two candidates for the job as of now. Carroll and his coaches have seen good things out of those two so far, but the question now is whether one of those two will be ready to be Wilson's backup this season, or if the Seahawks decide to bring in a veteran in camp to compete for the job. Tarvaris Jackson, Wilson's backup for the past three seasons, is still unsigned, so he or another more experienced quarterback could be added to the mix if the Seahawks want to add to that competition.
3. All eyes will be on the offensive line in training camp.
With Justin Britt moving from guard to center, with Garry Gilliam going from right tackle to the left side, and with Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy leaving in free agency, there is a very real possibility that the Seahawks will open the 2016 season with a different starter from last season at all five offensive line positions.
Despite all of the change, Seahawks coaches, including offensive line coach Tom Cable, remain very optimistic about the line. From Gilliam's athleticism, to the progress shown by this year's rookies, to what Britt has shown in his transition to center thus far, Cable is encouraged about the pieces he has to work with, even if it might take a little while to sort out exactly what the line will look like.
4. The secondary is deep and versatile.
As mentioned above, the Seahawks secondary was beat up at this time last year. Jeremy Lane was recovering from injuries that would cost him more than half of the season, Earl Thomas was recovering from shoulder surgery, Richard Sherman was practicing, but with a sore elbow, and Kam Chancellor would eventually decide to sit out training camp and the first two regular-season games in a contract dispute.
This year, however, everyone is available, including a re-signed Lane and a healthy Tharold Simon, Brandon Browner is back to play a new hybrid role, and DeShawn Shead is improved having seen his first significant playing time. Not only do those players and others veterans like Kelcie McCray and Marcus Burley mean really strong depth, but the flexibility of cornerbacks like Shead, Lane and even Sherman will allow defensive coordinator Kris Richard to get creative this year.
"We have, really, as good of flexibility as we've ever had," Carroll said. "… This is really as strong as I've felt we've gone into this portion of the year with versatility. The competition is really going to be on. We'll hopefully be able to situate that—Kris will get it all squared away—so we can take advantage of that. It does give us choices, matchup wise, if it all stays somewhat the same, so that's a real positive."
5. The rookie class is ready to contribute.
Seattle's 2016 draft class has yet to take part in a padded practice, never mind a preseason game or regular-season game, so it's far too soon to project just how big of an impact this class will have. That being said, the early indications are that this year's crop of rookies has a real chance to get on the field and make significant contributions in 2016. First-round pick Germain Ifedi is the likely starter at right guard, second-rounder Jarran Reed will have a role on the defensive line, quite possibly as a starter with Brandon Mebane leaving in free agency, and third-round pick C.J. Prosise is expected to take over the role of third-down running back. Those three have the most obvious path to playing time, but that doesn't mean other rookies won't contribute. Tight end Nick Vannett enjoyed a very strong offseason, showing off impressive pass-catching ability despite being touted as a blocker by the Seahawks when they picked him; running back Alex Collins has been very impressive, and looks like he'll push for carries; defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson has shown off versatility that should help him find a role in the line rotation; and receiver Kenny Lawler made a ton of spectacular catches early in offseason workouts before being sidelined with an injury.
"The young players that came in really worked hard to give themselves a chance," Carroll said on the final day of minicamp. "The whole idea here is for us to prepare them so that when they can get to camp time they can compete and get ready to go, and they've done everything they can that they could do so far. Today showed it, so we're really pleased. We had a bunch of snaps with those guys out there and it'll be good for our evaluations and all, but we've accomplished what we've needed to accomplish at this time."
6. This is a very deep roster.
In part because of the aforementioned draft class and the undrafted rookie free agents, and also because of free-agent additions like Browner, Chris Clemons, J'Marcus Webb and Bradley Sowell, Carroll is really excited about the overall depth on his team's roster, noting, this year's training camp "is going to be one of our most competitive camps. This is a chance for us to have a roster that reminds us of a couple years back, and hopefully it'll play out that way.
"There's a lot of competition all over the field. I could go across the board with it, really."
7. Jimmy Graham and Thomas Rawls have both made "great progress."
Tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Thomas Rawls finished last season on injured reserve, and are both expected to be big parts of Seattle's offense going forward, so it's encouraging news that both are making what Carroll described as "great progress."
"Jimmy's a little bit ahead of Thomas in terms of the on-field running, so he's a bit ahead schedule-wise, but still, Thomas is in great shape," Carroll said. "Both kids are mentally right, they've got the great attitude about what they're going to do in these next six weeks, so we'll just have to wait and see. We'll be chronicling their progress through the offseason—Thomas is going to be here the whole time, Jimmy's going to be back and forth. It's going to be pretty crucial to see what happens after the six weeks of time, but it's not going to tell the story. We've got a long time here. We'll have another six weeks, we're really 12 weeks away from the first game, or 13 or whatever it is, so we've got a long time to get this done."
Carroll added that he "absolutely" expects both to be ready for the start of the regular season.
8. Strongside linebacker is a "wide open" competition.
Bruce Irvin's departure in free agency left an opening in the base defense at strongside linebacker, and one thing that was evident in offseason workouts is that there is no obvious frontrunner for that job. For experience, Mike Morgan has the edge having started there before, while former defensive back Eric Pinkins brings athletic upside, and Cassius Marsh is closer to the Irvin profile as a former defensive end moving to linebacker. Kevin Pierre-Louis, primarily a weakside linebacker up to this point, is also in the mix there, and like Pinkins would offer a lot of athletic upside if he were to win the job.
"The SAM linebacker spot is going to be a really good one to watch," Carroll said. "That's going to be wide open to see what happens. Mike Mo brings all the experience and so he would start if we had to start a game today, he's just ahead of the other guys. But both Cassius and Pink have done a great job of battling and those guys are getting a great shot."
9. The battle for roster spots at receiver will be heated.
It's pretty safe to assume that Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett will be Seattle's top three receivers this year, but behind that trio, there's a pretty wide open battle for playing time and roster spots. Paul Richardson, a former second-round pick, is back and healthy after missing almost all of last season, as are Kasen Williams and Kevin Smith, two players who moved up from the practice squad to the active roster last season, and who have taken another step forward this offseason. Another name to watch in that mix is Douglas McNeil III, who spent last season playing both receiver and defensive back on the practice squad, and who made a number of big plays in offseason workouts.
"I'm really fired up about the receiver group and the guys coming back," Carroll said. "Russell [Wilson] has so much confidence in the guys that he's played with and that's great, but that second level of guys that are fighting for this roster spot, there's a bunch of guys that look good and could do some good stuff. So that's another spot."
10. Running back is an intriguing position group.
With Marshawn Lynch retiring this offseason, the Seahawks know they will look different at running back than they have since acquiring Lynch midway through the 2010 season. But as great as Lynch was in Seattle, the Seahawks feel good about the pieces they have coming back—Rawls and Christine Michael—as well as the three they added in the draft, Prosise, Collins and Zac Brooks. It's going to be very tough for the Seahawks to find room on the roster for all five of those backs, each of whom brings something unique to the group, so running back is going to be a very interesting group to watch in camp.
"We have so many more pieces now," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "So we've got an opportunity to evaluate these other guys we brought in. Obviously, Thomas Rawls, who did a great job for us, is in that mix as well. So we'll let it play out in training camp and we'll have a great feel for those guys when that time comes."
With players out until training camp begins in late July, take a look back at the best photos to come from the Seahawks 2016 offseason workout program.