The Seahawks were back in action Sunday following a day off, and back on the practice field for the first time during camp was cornerback Riq Woolen, who passed his physical and came off the physically unable to perform list.
Also on the field, in something of unofficial coaching roles, were a pair of Seahawks Legends, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, friends and former teammates who were helping out with the outside linebackers and defensive linemen.
More on those topics and other takeaways from Sunday's practice at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center:
1. A couple of Seahawks Legends were on hand and helping coach the defense.
One of the defining traits on Pete Carroll and John Schneider's tenure in Seattle is the culture they built within the organization, one that not only contributes to winning a lot of games, but that also makes the organization feel like home for former players, many of whom stayed in the area after retiring despite not having ties to the region prior to playing for the Seahawks. That has shown up in a lot of ways over the years, one of which is former players showing up to practice and helping pass on their wisdom to younger players, including Richard Sherman helping Riq Woolen as a rookie during training camp.
On Sunday, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, two players who helped the Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII, were on hand to work with the outside linebackers and defensive linemen. Avril lives in the area and is a pretty frequent visitor at practice, though doing on-field work isn't as common for him, while Bennett, who makes his home in Honolulu, is in town ahead of Thursday's preseason game, during which he will again serve as an analyst on the TV broadcast.
"It was great to have them in the meetings and have them with the defense," Carroll said. "It's kind of remarkable how smooth that feels. It doesn't feel like a distraction at all; it just feels like, 'Yeah, they're supposed to be here.' When any of our guys come back that have been with us for a number of years, it's just interesting how they just kind of blend in. Both of those guys were having fun, they were fired up and competing today on the field. It was great to see them. I love that they're here."
2. Riq's return.
After missing the first eight practices of camp due to a knee injury, Woolen was back on the practice field Sunday, having passed his physical and come off the physically unable to perform list. Woolen was limited in his workload, much like tight end Noah Fant when he came off the PUP list last week, but still provided a boost to get him back on the field.
"It's great to get him back," Carroll said. "He comes off of PUP today. His workouts have been extraordinary, and we can't keep him on it any longer; he's just too close. We're still going to take care of him and make sure that we get him back to the football movements and the football kind of changes in the direction and things in more competitive situations. He took individual (drills) today, and it'll be a little different tomorrow in the process. He'll be real quiet this week, we won't give him a lot of work, but we're stressing him in the workouts, in the rehab work, to make sure that he's getting there. He feels great, he's really confident, and we're going to make him be begging to get back out there.
And while Woolen will take some time to get all the way back to being full-go in practice, an important part about returning from PUP is that it allows players to take part in the walkthroughs that, while not as high-tempo as an actual practice, feature a lot of important work and learning for players.
"The walkthroughs are really important—and I can't wait to get Jordyn (Brooks) back out, he's really close too, he and Jamal (Adams) have both looked really good," Carroll said. "They can imagine more, football wise, even when they don't get to practice, by going through those reps. Those are high-quality reps for us, their assignments are at hand, the tempo that we maintain to get the reps in there, it's just really good mental preparation for them. And Riq, he's a sophomore too, he's just coming back. He would tell you that he's so excited to get back out, because he sees the game differently than he did a year ago."
And while cornerback has been one of the deepest and most competitive position groups so far in camp, Carroll made it clear that, whenever Woolen is all the way back, he'll go back to his starting spot at right cornerback.
"He's a starter for us," Carroll said. "He's been a starter and he earned it and did a great job last year."
3. Geno Smith picked up right where he left off.
At this time last year, Geno Smith was competing for the starting quarterback job, one he would eventually win on his way to earning Pro Bowl and AP Comeback Player of the Year honors. And after that standout 2022 season, Smith is picking up where he left off, putting together impressive practice after impressive practice, including another good day Sunday on which completing several high-degree-of-difficulty throws downfield into tight windows.
"I think Geno's had a great camp," Carroll said. "He looked so comfortable the other night, his protection worked beautifully for him—the guys up front gave him a great job to give him a chance to see everything. We've done a lot of stuff to work on some things and expand some stuff, we've tested the secondary really extensively with the ball down field, and he's been able to handle all of that. He has been aggressive, very aggressive. He's really confident—again, today, he had a beautiful day today. And it's not just dinking the ball around, we're throwing the ball all over the yard, and he's able to handle all of the situations. A big part of it is working together with the O-line. They're doing a really good job for him, so he gets a chance to see things clearly, and he knows that he's going to get time. And he also has confidence in picking things up when we pressure him. It's a big part of the quarterback's position, that security that he feels, and guys are working hard to give him that."
4. Carroll's mock game thoughts after reviewing the tape.
Speaking of Smith's standout camp, he was one of several highlights that Carroll pointed to from Friday's mock game having had a chance to watch the tape from that scrimmage. Overall, Carroll liked what he saw from the starting units on both sides of the ball, and also felt like the team got a lot out of going through a typical game-day routine.
"The day that we put together there was really a big day for us," Carroll said. "We practiced how we take the field in pregame, we practiced Saturday review, we did all of that. We got the guys over to the stadium for the first time for a bunch of guys, showed them how we do our procedures and all. All of that is part of why we have a mock game at Lumen, so that we're getting ready for a home game, home situation. Even the parking and the drive and all that stuff, we're trying to smooth that out for the fellows so that they've been there before at least once. So we got a ton done in that regard, even before we started the game."
As for the on-field work, Carroll said, "The offense and the defense in the first groups both did well. They both executed well. The offense scored three times. I called off one of the drives just because it was a 15-play drive and said kick the field goal instead of keeping going. Pace wise they did a nice job executing, pass protection was really good. I thought Geno (Smith) looked like he picked up right where he left off. All of that felt good. On the other side of the ball, we fit well in the running game and hustled around the line of scrimmage to get it as close as we can get it to live for both sides of the ball. We gained a lot in that. It helped us take the next step getting ready for Thursday. I was really pleased with it and a lot of guys did good things. All in all one of the big areas of issue was penalties. We were sloppy at the line of scrimmage, gave up some stuff that we didn't need to give up and couple of things on defense as well to get first downs when we had a chance to stop them. We're trying to really clean all of that up with emphasis and make sure that we don't carry that on. We got a gameplan so that is what showed up."
5. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, punt returner?
First-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba has been making headlines for his play at receiver during his first NFL camp, and for good reason. But what might have been easy to overlook in Friday's mock game is that the rookie was also first up on punt return duties. Smith-Njigba will have competition for that role from among others, running back DeeJay Dallas, who has significant kick and punt return experience, but Carroll likes what Smith-Njigba could bring to that role both in terms of his catching and athletic ability, and also his decision making, which is crucial in that role.
"He's a great catcher, he's a phenomenal catcher, and he's got great sense and awareness," Carroll said. "I know that he's a complete athlete. The decision making, which is a big part of that position, I have no question in that. So he'll be available to do that."
The Seahawks held a practice under the lights at Lumen Field on Friday, August 4, 2023 as part of the Seahawks 2023 Football Fest.