With Earl Thomas still working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery and with Kam Chancellor having still not reported to camp, there has been a lot of talk about the backup safeties filling in for those two Pro Bowlers. And up until this point, the same two players, DeShawn Shead and Steven Terrell, had been running with the first-team defense, but on Monday it became evident that another player is pushing for playing time when Dion Bailey spent much of practice at strong safety with the first-team defense ahead of Shead. And that brings us to our observations from Day 9 of Seahawks training camp presented by Bing.
1. Dion Bailey is a playmaker.
Bailey, who signed with Seattle as an undrafted free agent out of USC last year, missed most of training camp and the 2014 preseason with an ankle injury. He did eventually get healthy and sign to Seattle's practice squad, and he opened some eyes in that role, and now Bailey continues to impress in camp. Bailey, who Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recruited out of high school, missed the first few days of camp with a hamstring injury, but since returning he seems to make a big play or two every practice. On Monday, he undercut a pass intended for Anthony McCoy intercept Russell Wilson in the end zone.
"He's always been a playmaker," Carroll said. "We watched him in high school, a million years ago it seems. He was always a terrific playmaker and he always did stuff, and he just continues to show that he's got great instincts. He had a good day today; he's had a lot of good days out here. He missed a few days early on, but since he came back, he's really jumped at it. He does work with the ones and will continue to get work with the ones. You can't deny the production he's turning out, so it's real exciting."
While Bailey's size—he is listed at 6-0, 211—might be better suited for free safety, his listed position on the roster, his background playing linebacker for two seasons at USC helps him fit in at strong safety.
"He is one of the guys we like to play close to the line of scrimmage, he is a very natural football player, fitting on a run is not a big deal to him at all," Carroll said. "The linebacking stuff is why they did that with him. I think it's his pass defense that's really shown up though, the instincts and jumping on routes and things, he made some very, very good plays."
2. Left guard is now the wide-open position on the O-line.
When the Seahawks opened camp, it looked like Alvin Bailey was close to locking up the starting spot at left guard, and that center was the offensive line position battle to watch. Now, however, center appears to be a two-man battle between Drew Nowak and Lemuel Jeanpierre, while left guard has become the starting job for which several players are in contention. After Bailey took nearly all of the first-team reps early in camp, rookie Kristjan Sokoli started getting a long look there last week. Fellow rookie Mark Glowinski also started getting sprinkled in with the No. 1 offense late last week, then on Monday Keavon Milton was added to the mix. Milton, who is entering his third season, split time last season with Seattle between the practice squad and active roster. He has come on strong of late, offensive line coach Tom Cable said, leading to this chance to battle for a starting job.
"We're trying to get the two young guys exposed to the system, Kristjan and Mark, and Keavon has really come on in the last three days," Cable said. "You want to find your best five, and I think he's starting to work towards that, so we're going to give him the opportunity."
Cable said the increased competition has less to do with anything Bailey is doing poorly, but instead it's about other players improving: "Guys have risen, and I think we're getting some really viable depth there. What we're looking for obviously is really high, consistent play, and some of those guys have shown more."
3. The Seahawks are facing some very tough decisions at receiver.
One of the reoccurring themes of camp this year is the team's improved depth at receiver. Seemingly every day, a different player, oftentimes not one of the starters or even returning players from last year, makes a handful of big catches. That was the case again Monday, and this time is was quarterback-turned-receiver B.J. Daniels, as well as undrafted rookie Kasen Williams, who were standing out. Daniels has been a productive target over the past few days, and among his several catches Monday was a touchdown catch on which he showed good strength, hauling in a pass with rookie corner Tye Smith all over him.
Williams, meanwhile, had two of the day's biggest plays, catching a pair of long touchdown passes, the first of which came on a spectacular diving effort despite good coverage from Will Blackmon.
For Daniels, being new to the position works against him, as does his size—the Seahawks already have a pair of sub-6-foot receivers who are almost certain to make the roster, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett—but he is an exceptional athlete, and has versatility on his side. Daniels has been very involved on special teams, including the competition for the return jobs, and his background as a quarterback could help. The Seahawks have usually only kept two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster in the past, so having a receiver/special teamer who could play quarterback in an emergency could be appealing when it comes to constructing a roster.
"He's competitive, he's really good with the ball after the catch," Carroll said. "He's 218 pounds so he runs physical and with a good, stout nature, more so than some of the receivers do. Very aggressive, catches the ball really well, and he can throw it if he has to."
As for Williams, he has a lot of good players ahead of him on the depth chart, but if he has more practices like Monday's, and shows up in the preseason games, he could make things tough on his coaches when it comes to decision time, or at the very least be a practice squad candidate if there isn't room on the roster. What's encouraging for Williams is that, after suffering a serious leg and foot injury as a junior at the University of Washington, he appears to finally be getting back to his old form that made him one of the nation's top recruits out of Skyline High School.
"He's battling out here, he's a real tough, aggressive, physical type of receiver, which we love his style, so we'll just let it keep going," Carroll said. "You certainly can go to him, you can throw the ball to him and he's going to make plays, you can see that. It's just like the guy he was when we saw him coming out as a senior in high school."
Emptying out the notebook:
- After being eased back into practice last week, defensive tackle Jesse Williams looked to be at or near full participation Monday, taking part in the 11-on-11 portion of practice for the first time. Whether or not Williams, who less than three months ago was diagnosed with cancer and had a kidney removed, will play in Friday's preseason opener remains to be seen, this is another encouraging step in his road back.
- Marshawn Lynch was back in action after getting a rest day Saturday, and at 29 Lynch continues to look as quick as ever. Lynch will likely see very little, if any, action in preseason games, but he is taking on a big work load in camp, so being prepared for the season should not be a problem.
- Linebacker Bruce Irvin is wearing his extra 18 pounds well. Irvin came into camp having bulked up a bit, and the added strength appears to be helping while not slowing him down. "He's looked the best he's looked." Carroll said. "This is the best camp he's had. I'm really excited about it."
- Eric Pinkins is still learning a new position, so mistakes are bound to happen, but the defensive back-turned-linebacker looks more and more comfortable at strongside linebacker every day. In fact, Carroll called Pinkins, "the most improved guy coming from where he came from. It's going to be really exciting to see him in a game and to see what he can do."
- Limited tickets have been made available for Tuesday's 10 a.m. practice, which previously was sold out. Fans can register at trainingcamp.seahawks.com.