The Seahawks kicked off their first session of Organized Team Activities on Monday with a large portion of the 90-man roster participating in the voluntary workout. Monday's workout was the first of three this week, with more OTA sessions taking place over the next two weeks before offseason workouts wrap up with a mandatory minicamp June 14-16. Starting jobs and roster battles won't be decided for a few months, but these early full-squad (or close to it) workouts are an important early step for the Seahawks in preparing for the 2016 season.
With that in mind, here are five storylines to watch in OTAs this week and beyond:
1. What does the offensive line look like?
No, we won't know how well the offensive line is functioning, not in a no-pads practice with no real contact involved. But what will be worth seeing is just what the first-unit offensive line looks like when players take the field this week. Obviously things can change plenty between now and the start of the season—the Seahawks didn't settle on a starting line until midway through camp last year—but whatever lineup the Seahawks put on the field this week will at least give an indication of where things stand as of now.
The Seahawks lost two starters in free agency—left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy—but they will have new starters at more than those two spots. Garry Gilliam is moving from right tackle, where he started last season, to left tackle as a possible replacement for Okung, though he'll have to hold off free-agent addition Bradley Sowell to win the job. With Gilliam moving spots, that leaves an opening at right tackle, which as of now looks to be J'Marcus Webb's job to lose, but as is always the case, he'll have to compete to earn that spot. Justin Britt, last year's starting left guard, is working at center where he'll compete with last year's starter, Patrick Lewis, among others. Mark Glowinski is the leading candidate to take over at left guard for Britt, while first-round pick Germain Ifedi will try to win the starting role at right guard. Nothing is set in stone this time of year, or close to it, but it will be interesting nonetheless to get a first look at what Seattle's line could possibly look like in 2016.
2. How do the rookies hold up against the veterans?
It's one thing to impress at a rookie minicamp when the competition is made up of fellow rookies, many of whom were undrafted, and some of whom are unsigned tryout players who may never make it in the NFL. It's something entirely different to stand out when playing against proven NFL veterans.
Several rookies from Seattle's 2016 draft class have a chance to earn prominent roles right off the bat, including first-round pick Germain Ifedi, second-round pick Jarran Reed and third-rounders C.J. Prosise and Nick Vannett, but this will be their first taste of real NFL competition. Also, what will receiver Kenny Lawler, a rookie minicamp standout, look like against significantly improved competition? Lawler, a seventh-round pick out of Cal, made big catch after big catch earlier this month against fellow rookies, but now he'll be practicing against one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
3. Does Trevone Boykin or Jake Heaps look like a potential backup to Russell Wilson?
The backup job won't be won in May or June, but what these offseason workouts could do is show coaches just how much help they do or don't need at quarterback heading into training camp. Boykin, an undrafted rookie out of TCU, impressed Seahawks coach Pete Carroll during minicamp, and Carroll noted that having a No. 2 quarterback who is similar to Wilson from an athletic standpoint would be ideal, while Heaps, a former Skyline High School star, has the ability to make all the throws and knows the system well.
"His versatility and his style of play is so similar to Russell's," Carroll said of Boykin during rookie minicamp. "He's got a big arm, he's a very creative athlete, has great instincts and great vision. His ability to run and make people miss and get out of trouble is very similar to what Russell does. I thought that the opportunity to have both those guys in the same offense it gives us a chance - if it works out, we've got a long ways to go, if it works out - to maintain continuity with one of the backups."
Tarvaris Jackson, Wilson's backup for the past three seasons, is still a free agent and could end up back in Seattle, but for now Boykin and Heaps are the only other quarterbacks on the roster aside from Wilson, so this is a good chance for both to show their coaches what they can do.
4. Who's the SAM?
No, SAM isn't a person in this case, but rather shorthand for strongside linebacker, a position that is unsettled heading into 2016 with Bruce Irvin leaving in free agency. Mike Morgan, a veteran with experience at that spot, would seem to have an early leg up on the competition having played for Carroll at USC and for five seasons in Seattle, but while the Seahawks didn't draft anyone at that position, they still have options to compete with Morgan. Carroll has mentioned Cassius Marsh, who has so far played defensive end, as an option at strongside linebacker, Eric Pinkins, a converted defensive back, will compete there as well, and the Seahawks also added a couple of rookie free agent linebackers who could factor into the mix as well.
And regardless of who wins the strongside linebacker job in the base defense, another question is how much that position will even be on the field in Seattle's 2016 defense. The Seahawks, like every team, play plenty of nickel defense in what has become an increasingly pass-happy NFL, and last year that meant having Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright as the two linebackers on the field for a good portion of every game. Carroll said in a radio interview earlier this offseason that the Seahawks could play more dime defense this year, meaning six defensive backs. That would mean even less room on the field for linebackers, particularly those not named Wagner and Wright. And with Brandon Browner possibly having a hybrid safety/corner role in 2016, something Carroll mentioned in that same interview on 710 ESPN Seattle, that could be another instance of a defensive back possibly taking snaps from a linebacker.
5. Who can make a name for himself in offseason workouts?
While plenty of starting jobs are pretty well locked up on a veteran Seahawks team, there is always room for a player or two to come out of nowhere this time of year and make a name for himself. Maybe one of those undrafted rookies can work his way into the mix at strongside linebacker, or maybe a young pass rusher flashes, similar to how Ryan Robinson did last year before an Achilles injury sidelined him for the season, or maybe somebody who previously has been a special teams player carves out a significant role for himself on offense or defense the way DeShawn Shead did in 2015. And speaking of Robinson, it's worth remembering that there are players beyond this year's rookie class who are looking to break out in 2016. Seattle's roster is full of young players who were with the team last year, and in some cases longer than that, but have so far been unable to make their mark, be it because of injuries or simply because of the depth in front of them. Tharold Simon, a 2013 draft pick, has the talent to compete for a starting job, but has been unable to stay healthy during his first three seasons; Robinson was getting time with the first-team defense in sub-packages before his injury last offseason; and Seattle's three drafted linemen from last year's class didn't find their way onto the field much last year, but could be called upon to do more in 2016. Those are just examples, not predictions, of the kind of players who could begin making names for themselves in these offseason workouts.
The Seahawks held the first of nine Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on Monday, May 23, marking the first time the offense has gone against the defense this offseason.