The Seahawks kicked off organized team activities earlier this week, meaning something a little closer to football is now taking place at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. While contact has to wait until training camp, teams can go offense vs. defense at this stage of offseason workouts, which means we start to get a little better look at the 2017 Seahawks. With Friday's OTA session being the first one open to the media, here are five things we'll be keeping an eye on Friday and beyond as OTAs continue next week.
1. Secondary options.
Barring an unexpectedly fast comeback from a knee injury by DeShawn Shead, the Seahawks will need a new starting right cornerback to open the season. That competition will be one to watch throughout the offseason and training camp, though there will likely be enough rotating at that spot that it will be hard to peg a leader in the competition for quite a while. Jeremy Lane, who has started in the past and saw significant playing time last year as Seattle's nickel corner, is one of the favorites there, but there's a long list of people battling him for the job, ranging from third-round pick Shaquill Griffin to Neiko Thorpe to DeAndre Elliott to Pierre Desir, a practice squad player last season who head coach Pete Carroll and John Schneider have both mentioned this offseason as a player to watch.
And the secondary intrigue should extend beyond that one spot at cornerback. Carroll and Schneider have raved about free-agent addition Bradley McDougald, and it seems like he's going to have a role on this defense even when Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are on the field. Seeing as the Seahawks have played very few three-safety sets in recent years, seeing how they might find ways to get McDougald, or perhaps one of the two rookies safeties they drafted this year, onto the field will be interesting.
"There's a chance we can be creative with some stuff and we'll look forward to figuring that out," Carroll said of finding playing time for McDougald. "… There are ways for us to play a bigger nickel group, and we're wide open to that flexibility and with Earl and with Kam. We played over 800 snaps of nickel last year, the most we've ever played by far, and there's different opportunities in early-down situations to vary your groups, which we've done sometimes in the past already. We're open to the competition of it and what the players bring. If they can bring something, hopefully we'll identify it and we'll figure out how to tweak things so we can do that. There's a lot of opportunity for us."
2. Offensive line combinations.
When you hear Carroll or offensive line coach Tom Cable talk about the offensive line this offseason, two things are pretty clear when it comes to that position group: one, the Seahawks are fully expecting their line to be significantly improved in 2017, and two, they're still a long ways from knowing what the line will look like when the season opens in September.
"I think there's a big jump that's going to occur on the offensive line," Carroll said at the NFL Annual Meetings in March.
Had the Seahawks done nothing to add to their line this offseason, they still would have expected a jump in performance because of how young and inexperienced that group was in 2016, but in addition to the growth they're looking to get from second-year players like George Fant, Germain Ifedi and Rees Odhiambo, they also added two players in free agency, Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi, who will compete for starting jobs, and drafted versatile LSU offensive lineman Ethan Pocic in the second round. The Seahawks will have their entire line together for the first time in OTAs—though Joeckel is expected to be limited because of the knee injury that ended his 2016 season—so we'll at least get a first glimpse at some of the possible combinations Cable will look at as he tries to find the best starting five. It's worth remembering, however, that the line will likely be a pretty fluid group for a while, so the first-team line in OTAs could look very, very different than the starting unit come Sept. 10.
3. The defensive line rotation.
The Seahawks return three of four starters from last year's line, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Ahtyba Rubin, as well as Jarran Reed who started six of 10 games, but even if those four end up being the starters in the base defense, things are far from settled when it comes to the D-line. For starters, the Seahawks, like every NFL team, play a lot of nickel defense, which means there are more than four "starters" on the defensive line. And given Carroll's desire to have a deep rotation on the line, there is room for four or even five players beyond the four named above to earn significant playing time. Frank Clark, who had 10 sacks last year, is obviously going to be a big factor, and the Seahawks have high hopes for 2017 draft picks Malik McDowell and Nazair Jones, as well as 2016 draft pick Quinton Jefferson, who missed most of last season with a knee injury. Cassius Marsh, meanwhile, will be battling to earn even more playing time after taking a big step forward last year; free-agent addition and former No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan is looking to bounce back after missing two seasons due to injury and suspension; and plenty of other roster hopefuls will be looking to show that they too are worthy of cracking the rotation. In other words, there's a lot to sort out in what figures to be a very deep position group.
4. Physical transformations.
After several months away, not everyone is going to return to the team looking the same as they did a year ago, and it is always interesting this time of year to see what players have made changes in the offseason hoping to improve their play. Fant is noticeably bigger heading into his second season, as offensive line coach Tom Cable confirmed in a recent radio interview, and Carroll noted earlier this offseason that running back C.J. Prosise, who battle injuries as a rookie, is “freaking yoked up” heading into his second season. Alex Collins, meanwhile, was a bit bigger than he needed early in his rookie season, Carroll noted last year, and appeared to have slimmed down a bit while appearing at an event this offseason. Carroll also noted during rookie minicamp that second-year receiver Kenny Lawler added some weight, and after standing out during that rookie minicamp, Lawler will now get a chance to show how that added bulk helps him going against veteran defensive backs.
5. Who's doing what?
Carroll has mentioned a few times this offseason that a handful of players will be limited or held out of certain phases of offseason workouts. For example, while Joeckel, who is coming off knee surgery that ended his 2016 season, was able to do a lot of work in Phase 2 of the offseason program, the higher tempo of OTAs could limit his workload. Players like Earl Thomas (leg), Tyler Lockett (leg), DeShawn Shead (knee), Eddie Lacy (ankle) and Joeckel all figure to have big roles during the 2017 season, but in early June, the question is simply one of how much, if anything, they're able to do, and what kind of updates Carroll is able to provide when he next addresses the media.
The Seahawks held their second of seven Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on Wednesday, May 31 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.