When the Seahawks take the field Friday to open training camp, they'll be a different team, though not drastically so, than the one that played in Super Bowl XLIX. Change is inevitable in a league with a hard salary cap; even when you finally build the roster you want, you can't keep everyone around forever. So while Seattle returns most of its starters from last season, some roster turnover was bound to happen. Here's a look at five ways the 2015 Seahawks will be different than last year's team.
1. The Offensive Line Will Have A New Look
We don't yet know who will start at all five offensive line positions for Seattle, but we do know it will look different than a year ago, because two of last year's starters are now gone with left guard James Carpenter signing with the New York Jets in free agency and Max Unger being a part of the trade that brought Jimmy Graham to Seattle.
Based on what the Seahawks did in offseason workouts, it appears that the frontrunners for those two vacancies are players who were here last year. Alvin Bailey has worked almost exclusively as the starting left guard, while Lemuel Jeanpierre, Patrick Lewis and Drew Nowak, who was on the practice squad last year, have all taken first-team reps at center. Joining the competition for starting jobs, or just spots on the roster, is a rookie class that includes three drafted players—tackle Terry Poole, center Kristjan Sokoli and guard Mark Glowinski—as well as some undrafted rookies who have impressed early on like tackle Jesse Davis and guard Kona Schwenke.
2. Jimmy Graham Is Here
Yes, one player gets his own category if that one player is a three-time Pro Bowler who is widely considered one of the league's most dangerous weapons in the red zone. While some might believe the Seahawks win only because of their dominant defense, they hardly struggled on offense last year, ranking ninth in scoring, 10th in total yards, and sixth in yards per play. Even so, that doesn't mean general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll weren't looking to get better on that side of the ball, so when Graham became available, the Seahawks jumped at the chance to add a player who has averaged 11.5 touchdown catches per season over the last four years.
Graham knows as well as anyone that his numbers will likely go down a bit this season—he's going from the team that attempted the second most passes in 2014 (659) to the team that attempted the fewest (454)—but even with fewer targets, the Seahawks are counting on him to make a big difference in an already explosive offense.
"It's so rare that you get opportunities to get this kind of a player," Carroll said after the trade was made in March. "… We think he's just a fantastic target that we can implement in a number of ways. It's pretty clear, he's a big receiver, plays big, makes plays in a crowd, makes plays on top of guys, he's a very effective player in the red zone, he has been a terrific, consistent scorer, so all of that stuff."
3. Changes At Cornerback
Perhaps the biggest loss for Seattle this offseason was that of cornerback Byron Maxwell, who signed with the Eagles in free agency. Add to that the uncertain status of nickel corner Jeremy Lane, who suffered serious arm and knee injuries in the Super Bowl, and the Seahawks have question marks at two of their top three corner spots.
Cary Williams was signed as a possible replacement for Maxwell, but he'll have to battle Tharold Simon for that spot. And if Lane isn't ready to go, look for Will Blackmon and Marcus Burley to compete for that role. Also, don't sleep on fifth-round pick Tye Smith, a player in whom the Seahawks see some real potential.
Things will be a little bit different at safety as well, at least from a depth perspective. With Jeron Johnson signing with Washington this offseason, DeShawn Shead has stepped up as the top backup at both safety spots. But even if the Seahawks feel good about Shead, and Carroll has made it clear they do, they'll need at least one more backup on the roster come September, and that battle should be wide open, especially because Shead's durability means free safeties and strong safeties likely have an equal chance if only one roster spot is available.
4. Rookies Could Contribute Immediately
The Seahawks saw huge immediate returns from their first three draft classes, but thanks largely to the improved depth on the team, the 2013 and 2014 classes have had a harder time establishing themselves. That trend could change this season, particularly in the case of Seattle's top two picks, defensive end Frank Clark and receiver Tyler Lockett. Because the Seahawks prefer to rely on a deep defensive line rotation, Clark could carve out a significant role for himself without earning a starting job. His versatility should also help, as the Seahawks see him as a player who can play multiple positions along the line.
>>> PHOTOS: Seahawks 90-Man Roster
Lockett, meanwhile, looks polished as a receiver and capable of making plays on offense from day one, even if Seattle's recent history suggests rookie receivers often struggle to make an impact right away. But what really will help Lockett contribute from Day 1 is the fact that he is likely going to be the team's punt returner and could also win the kick return job. If Lockett helps revitalize the return games that took a step back last year, that improved field position could make a big difference over the course of a season.
As mentioned above, a strong crop of rookie linemen could also contribute sooner than later, and while defensive end Obum Gwacham might be a bit raw having only recently converted to that position, Carroll has already singled him out as somebody who could make big contributions on special teams.
5. Some Key Players Are Returning From Injuries
While a few Seahawks might still be on the mend when camp opens, a lot of players who were unavailable late last season could make a difference this season. Starting fullback Derrick Coleman, who is also one of the team's best special teams players, is fully recovered from a foot injury. Also back to bolster special teams play—perhaps take over a more prominent role at linebacker now that Malcolm Smith is gone—is Kevin Pierre-Louis.
And nowhere will the return of injured players be more welcome than on the defensive line. Starting defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, who was having arguably the best season of his career before a season-ending hamstring injury, is expected to be on the field when camp opens. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill was becoming a big contributor last season, piling up 5.5 sacks over a six-game stretch before suffering a season-ending injury. Cassius Marsh, who showed flashes last year, is also healthy after having his rookie season end prematurely because of a foot injury. Those three being back, along with the addition of Clark and free agent Ahtyba Rubin should give the Seahawks more defensive line depth and allow them to rotate players more frequently like they did in 2013. Obviously injuries could be a factor again as the season goes on, but it looks like the Seahawks have better depth to handle it when players inevitably are unavailable at times this year.
In fact Carroll is excited about the team's overall depth heading into this season, noting, "Our depth may be the best it has been." Considering the tremendous depth on the Super Bowl winning team two seasons ago, that's quite a statement.
A player-by-player look at the Seattle Seahawks 90-man roster heading into 2015 training camp.