By Mike KahnSeahawks InsiderThese are enthusiastic times for the staff of the Seattle Seahawks, as they prepare for the June sessions of mini-camp beginning Monday.
Coming off a season where they were just a field go away from a spot in the NFC Championship game in 2006 – after winning the conference in 2005 – there is a sense of unfinished business a veteran team with this much talent has ticking away in their collective brains. Mini-camp June 4-7 and 11-14 provides everyone with opportunity to both impress and impose.
The good news is team president Tim Ruskell and his staff, along with Coach Mike Holmgren and his staff are smart enough to understand that. So their role this off-season has been to let the players mend, gain strength and fill in with quality depth in what amounts to laying the groundwork for what would be a fourth consecutive NFC West title.
"That's certainly the goal," Ruskell said. "I thought we had an excellent (May)," Ruskell said. "All the new players who came in showed the reason why we brought them in. The coaches were all very happy with the way they grasped everything. And they brought spark and enthusiasm. That only helped the veterans, who were already excited and ready to go.
"We just expect to build on that over the next couple of weeks, take some time off to regroup, and then be ready to go for training camp at the end of next month."
The most prominent impact came from veteran free agent safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell. With Ken Hamlin having left as a free agent, along with veterans Michael Boulware, Mike Green and swing defensive back Jordan Babineaux still recovering from surgery, that left the door wide open for the new duo to make their mark.
Early indications are they did just that – with indelible ink.
"We were all pleasantly surprised the way Russell and Grant and came in and took control – with directing traffic and making smart plays in the secondary," Ruskell said. "We knew they were great communicators, but we didn't know they would be able to react so quickly to everything we do.
"To get where we want to go, we've got to have that kind of leadership and performance. It adds depth and makes everybody else better. You've got to have that in your secondary. There's going to be attrition through injury. We've seen that. You've got to have players who can step in and perform at a moment's notice."
Depth to the staff made an impact as well. The Seahawks lost assistant pro personnel director Lake Dawson to the Tennessee Titans, but pro personnel director Will Lewis has added Ed Dodds as a scout with Chris Culmer.
New secondary coach and assistant head coach Jim Mora made an impact right away. His energy and enthusiasm for the game is obvious and carried over to other positions on the defense as well. He was another key acquisition in the off-season.
There is a lot to like. He is a very, very good position coach. He knows the secondary, relates well with the players. He has a lot of fun coaching in practice. He has a lot more fun coaching the secondary than he did as a head coach, I am sure about that. It wasn't that much different for me when I was coaching quarterbacks and you are in there. He is a fine addition and seems to be having a lot of fun. The guys are listening to him. It is good for us."
Ruskell said center Chris Spencer has been making very good progress coming off shoulder surgery after some concern he might need more work done, and is expected to participate this week without hesitation. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is also expected to get more involved as his surgically repaired left shoulder continues to heal, but the jury is still out on whether high-level free agent Patrick Kerney will practice before mini-camp while he is recovering from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.
"We will err on the side of caution in most cases," Ruskell said.
This will also be an opportunity to get another look at the rookie class. Cornerback Josh Wilson, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and defensive end Baraka Atkins all made lasting impressions with what they bring to the table. And Ruskell didn't hesitate in adding that offensive linemen Mansfield Wrotto and Steve Vallos, linebacker Will Herring, and receivers Courtney Taylor and Jordan Kent made favorable impressions.
"We expected the young guys to come in and show the trait we were excited about in the first place, and they all did just that," Ruskell said. "Sometimes, you're surprised and disappointed, which is not good. That wasn't the case. The traits we did like, they all brought to the table last month.
"This time around, they will throw more of the playbook at these guys, they've got to be able to digest that and execute. You've got to bring that down to a more acceptable level without mistakes. Each mini-camp, you want to see a progression, right into training camp and opening day. Then everything is more about instincts than just thinking about what you're supposed to do. These are all bright and talented guys, we're excited to see how quickly they will progress. We believe they can all make the team and contribute."
That's always the hope, of course. Wilson's speed and reactions, Mebane's size, strength and balance, Atkins' speed on the outside can all make an impact in the defensive rotations. Herring, Taylor, Vallos, Kent and Wrotto all can be part of special teams if they prove they belong.
But three days of practice do not guarantee somebody makes the team. That's why the prospects of the coming two weeks are so interesting – setting the stage for the start of training camp on July 29. Ruskell said he doesn't figure to make any major moves prior to the camp.
"We're never going to close the door - I would not anticipate anything like that happening this year," Ruskell said. "We're scanning the wire and talking to people every day. We're listening to people – we never stop. But for now, we like what we have. But it will be important for everybody who is healthy enough to play to play well in camp.
"That's the fun part for us. In the first camp, we just wanted what we saw in them before the draft would be reinforced. It was and that's a tribute to our scouts. Now it's up to the players and coaches for them to keep progressing. It's one thing in first camp. When you see it again in this one and training camp, then you feel like you've really got something."