It's not often you see a player wearing No. 77 drop into coverage during an NFL practice. It's even less often that said player makes a pretty athletic move while in coverage to bat down a pass sailing down the middle of the field for what initially looks to be an easy completion. But that's what Seahawks defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin did Thursday, a play that showed off the 6-foot-2, 310-pounder's athletic ability, and that also led to a big celebration with impressed teammates, most notably Richard Sherman, who sprinted across the field to congratulate the big man for a rare pass breakup.
But as impressive, and amusing, as Rubin dropping into coverage was, it wasn't the most noteworthy coverage on display Thursday, which brings us to five observations from Day 9 of Seahawks camp:
1. Shaquill Griffin continues to impress.
Nobody is handing the starting job at right cornerback to rookie Shaquill Griffin anytime soon. Jeremy Lane was playing very well there before an injury sidelined him in recent days, and when he's back he'll fight hard for that spot, as will Neiko Thorpe, who has also seen time with the first-team defense. But with Lane currently sidelined, Griffin, a third-round pick in this year's draft, has more than held his own while running with the No. 1 defense.
On Wednesday, Griffin jumped a route and intercepted a Russell Wilson pass intended for Jermaine Kearse, not only showing good anticipation, but also good strength to rip the ball away from Kearse. A day later, Griffin nearly picked Wilson again with a diving effort. And remember, Wilson has been incredibly sharp over the past few days, so getting even close to an interception against him is no small feat. Of course jumping a route for a pick is impressive, but that's only part of the equation for a Seahawks corner. And in fact, if a corner is being too aggressive in that regard and it leads to getting beat over the top, there's a good chance that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll would send that player to the bench. But Griffin has also shown the ability to stay on top, which is job No. 1 for a Seahawks defensive back, including one play Thursday when he was stride for stride down the sideline on an incomplete pass intended for Paul Richardson, one of the fastest players on the team.
"I am pretty excited about him," Carroll said. "He is doing really well. He has only taken positive steps. He is learning well, he's serious… He's really fast, he has really good hands, he has got natural movement, he's very strong. He has got good feel for playing the football. There is just nothing but positives and we have never had a guy that runs this fast that is this big, so right now it is all about technique, and he has no problem with it. But he will get a lot better; he will understand situations and the application of technique much more so, it's just going to take time. He is going to get a lot of play time during preseason, we will see how he does."
And Carroll isn't the only one who has been impressed with the rookie corner; Wilson has liked what he has seen while going against Griffin.
"He looks really good on the outside right now," Wilson said. "He's making plays, he's super fast out there, he's getting his hands to the football, knocking it out and trying to make plays on the ball, so he's doing a lot of great things and he's really understanding the game. He's kind of one of those silent assassins; he doesn't talk very much, he just plays football and does it the right way, so it's cool. He has a great mentor on the other side in terms of Richard Sherman to look up to and discuss and gain knowledge from."
2. Tre Madden is making his mark at fullback.
A running back in college, Tre Madden has made the move to fullback with the Seahawks, and while he's competing against a Pro Bowler in Marcel Reece, don't sleep on the USC product.
Madden has gotten time with the first-team in offense in camp, and on Thursday had a couple nice catches while running with the starters, including a catch in the red zone.
"He is right in it," Carroll said of Madden in the fullback competition. "He has been leading the spot the whole time, he has been there all offseason. He knows what is going on in all phases, he can catch the football, he can run the football. We know he has great running background so that gives us a flexibility when it comes to roster time. And he is a budding special teams guy; he could be a core special teams guy for us. So I'm anxious to see how that plays out. That will be another one that will take us all the way through camp to figure out."
3. George Fant isn't the same player as he was last year, which is a very good thing.
As impressive as it was for George Fant to even function on an NFL field last year, let alone play well at times, the Seahawks were still expecting him to take a big leap in 2017 considering how limited his experience was a year ago. And not only is Fant noticeably bigger this offseason, the former college hoops standout is playing better and looking more confident. Notably on Thursday, Fant held up very well in one-on-one battles during pass-rush drills. Fant still has to hold off Luke Joeckel if he wants to be a starter this season, but he has done nothing but impress his coaches so far.
"First thing you have to talk about is his confidence," Carroll said earlier in the week. "His confidence is so much higher than it was before. Think of him last year at this time, eight days old or something, he is just on a whole different plane of understanding what's going on and expectations. He continues to grow and learn and figure stuff out too, but he is just way ahead of where he was. Physically, it's not even the same athlete. His feet still move like his feet move, but he is just some much more powerful upstairs and in his lower body that it's made him a different athlete. He is finding he is able to guard down in and take on power rushers, which he wasn't very confident in before. He can move as he has to move with the fast guys when he has to pop out. His run blocking was aggressive last year, but it's aggressive and he is feeling more punch to him. Everything about him is better. It's really fun to watch and he is excited about it. His attitude has just been perfect about taking on these second-year challenges."
4. Amara Darboh is quietly having a strong camp.
Amara Darboh, a third-round pick out of Michigan, hasn't necessarily made a ton of "wow" plays in camp, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been playing well. Darboh has picked up the playbook fast, not an easy task at receiver, making him more reliable than most rookies who are a week into their first camp, and he has the combination of size and speed that gives him the potential to be a playmaker early in his career. On Thursday, Darboh showed off that size/speed combination, getting a little bit of separation on the sideline before catching a deep pass down the left sideline.
"Man, I like him a lot," Carroll said. "He's been tough, he's caught a lot of tough balls, he's a physical kid that blocks well, cares. He's really smart, he studied his tail off. He's already looking at a couple different spots that he can play for us. He's off to a really good start in this camp. He's done nothing but positive things."
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and other NFL players including Seattle's Nazair Jones work out in Hawaii.
5. Nazair Jones is showing some versatility.
Jones, a third-round pick out North Carolina, profiled as a run-stuffing defensive tackle when the Seahawks selected him out of North Carolina, and he looks like he can be just that, but Jones has also shown some pass-rush skills as well as the ability to play multiple spots. Jones, who has gotten some first-team work in recent days, lined up at defensive end at one point in Thursday's practice, and powered his way into the backfield for what likely would have been a sack were quarterbacks available to be hit.
"He has done very well," Carroll said. "Nazair has been really attentive. He's a big mobile guy. He has a lot of good positives about him. We want to see him play football, so (playing with the first-team defense) would be a good indication of how he is reacting to things and if he is finding the football and that kind of things. But we are really pleased with his moving and his strength, so Johnny (Schneider) got us a good guy; we've just got to see where he fits in."
Overall it was a pretty solid day for Seattle's pass rushers. Cassius Marsh, who has been good throughout camp, had at least one sack and won a few one-on-one battles, and Michael Bennett was his usual disruptive self, finding his way into the backfield on a couple of occasions to ruin plays.
Photos of fans from the ninth day of 2017 Seahawks training camp at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.