The Seahawks are back on the practice field this week for a three-day mandatory minicamp that marks the final phase of offseason workouts. Position battles won't be decided in this week's practices, which begin Tuesday, but this minicamp is the last chance to see how the team looks until training camp begins, so there figures to be plenty of intrigue surrounding the next three days of practice. Here are five stories worth keeping an eye on this week.
1. What does the defensive line rotation look like at full strength?
Up until this week, offseason workouts have been voluntary, and while the vast majority of Seattle's players have been in attendance, some players took advantage of the voluntary nature of the workouts and were not present for some or all of OTAs. And while a player of Michael Bennett's skill and experience level should be just fine without that extra work, what his absence, as well as that of re-signed veteran Chris Clemons, did mean is that the Seahawks have not yet had all of their defensive linemen on the field together. And considering that no position group rotates players in and out the way the defensive line does, it will be interesting to see how things look when the coaching staff has more players with which to work.
It's early still, but this week could begin to show how the Seahawks intend to use Clemons in his second stint with the Seahawks, or what kind of roles rookies Jarran Reed and Quinton Jefferson could take on in their first season, or just how big of a role Frank Clark will have in year two.
2. How does the new O-line look?
Because J'Marcus Webb (calf) and Garry Gilliam (knee cyst) have missed a good portion of organized team activities, we have yet to see Seattle's offensive line at full strength, but based off of what offensive line coach Tom Cable said earlier this month, one or both of those tackles could be back in action this week. While neither Webb nor Gilliam is guaranteed a starting spot, both are competing for starting jobs, Gilliam on the left side and Webb on the right, so if those two can go, this will be the first time the Seahawks will practice with their full complement of players since they added Webb and Bradley Sowell in free agency and selected three linemen in the 2016 draft.
Cable made it clear that what is going on in these workouts is not real football, but rather "a big teaching time," but he is still optimistic about what he is seeing from what will be a different line than the one Seattle fielded last year.
"I like where all those young kids are at, I like what Justin (Britt) is doing at center, but until you really play football, you don't really know," Cable said during OTAs. "But in terms of preparation for camp, I think we're right on schedule."
3. How are the rookies progressing?
While these workouts may represent a tune-up for some veterans, they're vital steps in the learning process for Seattle's rookie class, which includes several players expected to contribute immediately in 2016. Different rookies have stood out at different times thus far, whether it was Kenny Lawler making big catches in rookie minicamp or Alex Collins impressing as a runner or Nick Vannett showing off his catching ability as a tight end, but more than any big play, coaches want to see continuous growth from their rookies. And when it comes to linemen, including Seattle's first two picks, guard Germain Ifedi and defensive tackle Jarran Reed, the mental growth might be the most important thing at this stage seeing as there is only so much they can do physically until the team practice in pads.
So whether it's Reed or Ifedi showing they're ready to handle starting roles, or undrafted free agent Trevone Boykin showing he's a viable option as a No. 2 quarterback, this is a good time for rookies to get a head start on the competitions that will take place in training camp.
4. Who is stepping up at receiver?
When it comes to receiver, the early buzz in offseason workouts hasn't been about the established trio of Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett, all of whom figure to play big roles in 2016, but rather coaches and players are intrigued by the depth at the position behind those three.
Paul Richardson, Seattle's second-round pick in 2014 is healthy after missing almost all of last season, and also back are two players who worked their way up from the practice squad to the active roster last year—Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams. Joining the competition are, among others, Lawler, who has flashed as a rookie, and Douglas McNeil III, who spent time on the practice squad last year playing both receiver and cornerback.
"Doug McNeil, Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams, all three of those guys have been performing at a really high level for us in OTAs," Baldwin said last week. "I'm extremely excited for their progress and for what they'll be able to do for us this season"
The Seahawks have generally kept either five or six receivers on the roster during the regular season, and based off the play at that position group so far, some very difficult decision will have to be made later this summer.
5. What's the latest in the battle at strongside linebacker?
With Bruce Irvin leaving in free agency, there is an opening in Seattle's base defense at strongside linebacker. So far the Seahawks have used, among others, Mike Morgan, Cassius Marsh and Eric Pinkins in that spot. Marsh, a defensive end during his first two seasons, is an intriguing option if he can handle the coverage elements of the position that will be new to him; Morgan is an established veteran who has started there before; and Pinkins brings a lot of athletic upside having converted from defensive back. Any of those three could end up winning the job, as could somebody less familiar to fans such as undrafted rookie Steve Longa, who has gotten the attention of teammates with his play in OTAs.
And just as interesting as the "who?" part of this equation is the "how much?" Like every team in the NFL, the Seahawks spent a good portion of their defensive snaps last season in their nickel defense, meaning Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright were the only two linebackers on the field (Irvin often stayed on in nickel, but as a defensive end). Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said earlier this offseason the Seahawks could play more dime (six defensive backs) this year, and with the Seahawks looking to create a hybrid role for Brandon Browner, there could be more instances this year when the strongside linebacker isn't on the field.
Photos from the ninth and final set of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) that the Seahawks held at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Thursday, June 9.