This was an interesting setting for Mack Strong, after playing fullback during most of the past 15 years for the Seattle Seahawks, watching training camp for the first time as a non-player ... retirement sinking in.
But as is always the case, he couldn't take his eyes of his position, and his successor, Leonard Weaver.
"You know, I felt this way before and I feel this way even more now ... Leonard can be a very special fullback," Strong said. "We got close and talked a lot about everything, and I really believe he's ready to take the next step."
That would be the case not only for Strong, but the entire staff of the Seahawks and of course Weaver himself. The former Division II All-American at Carson-Newman, Weaver took over for Strong following a neck injury in the fifth game and never looked back. But it's not as if it was smooth sailing getting to that point, more from that juncture on - either.
At 6-foot, 242 pounds with great hands and a superb burst of speed, the expectations for Weaver have been high for several years now after he made the team as a free agent in 2005. But an ankle injury curtailed his 2006 season in the final preseason game, and he nearly was waived during the preseason a year ago with a nightmarish second preseason game in Green Bay with blown blocking assignments.
It set up a heart-to-heart from coach Mike Holmgren.
"I expected a lot from him and it wasn't happening," Holmgren said. "So in fairness to the player, if you get down that final roster cut, you'd better let him know where he stands. And so if he chooses to do something about it, he can. If you just kind of let it float, all of a sudden at the end, he says, 'Why is this happening?' I think it was important that he hear it from me. 'Look it, if you don't fix this, it's not going to be here. You aren't going to be here.' It would have been a shame. We were prepared to do that. Fortunately, he got it and went with it."
Nobody was sure how he would handle, it though. Deeply religious and sensitive, it could have gone either way for Weaver, who will be 26 in September. A native of Melbourne, Fla., he's married to Senetra and has a son Leonard IV, so this wasn't something he would take lightly.
Essentially, it was time to grow up and not blow it, and he knew the support was there from Strong, Shaun Alexander, and running backs coach Stump Mitchell.
"It was kind of a stunner in a way," Weaver said. "The two sacks really stuck with everybody, so it looked like I didn't know what I was doing. The way I approached it was that first of all, coach Holmgren cared. Not too many coaches will let you know they're going to cut you if you don't get it together. They'll just go ahead and get rid of you. So I took it from the standpoint, this man cares, he believes in me, I believe in myself. I had a coach that supported me in Stump. I've got Mack and Shaun supporting me. All those guys were behind me, so the only one stopping me is me."
So despite concerns over his focus for the big picture and as the heir apparent to Strong, they stuck with him. His blocking improved and he finished the season averaging 4.7 yards a carry with a touchdown and caught 39 passes. And he had a big 17-yard touchdown run on a draw play in the Wild Card playoff win over Washington.
This offseason he dedicated himself to improving his conditioning and endurance through kickboxing and swimming, while focusing on his blocking. He pancaked rookie linebacker David Hawthorne in a blitz drill, drawing some commentary from Holmgren. And after practice, Holmgren went on about his improvement.
"He did a good thing (blocking)," Holmgren said. "A lot of players you pat 'em too much and all of a sudden it's, 'Oh Gee wiz, I've been to 18 Pro Bowls.' He hasn't. The other thing he likes to do is ... he has a beautiful voice and he likes to sing hymns out there. Well, I go to church and I love to hear hymns. Out here, I tell him, 'Please, I'm in a bad mood, I don't want to be in a good mood. No singing hymns. That was a little conversation we had earlier too.
"After all that, he's doing great and he should be a very, very good player in this league for a long time. I want him to think he's halfback - he is a halfback, but I want him to learn to block. That was how we approached it ... 'Don't take the good stuff away from him.' He's got that and he likes that. They all like that - to catch the ball, run with it, everyone likes that. The blocking part of it is not the most fun. But he has learned that and he does it very well. He's the strongest blocker we have now."
Weaver got a real kick out of the way Holmgren responded his signing "Oh happy day," at practice with rookie Justin Forsett, but is serious about what he wants to accomplish with this team. He knows the opportunity they gave him has been special and they have been patient.
Now it's his turn for payback.
"The way I take it. I love good comments, of course," Weaver said. "At the same time, my job is just beginning. We've still got preseason games to play and then the season starts. I haven't done anything yet. My thing is to keep getting better every week. We want to pick up where we left off last year – winning the division again and taking it to another level in the playoffs. We can't let down or let up.
"I know my job. I've got to go out here and open some holes. That's my primary thing and that's what I'm going to do. And it's just like last year, if they give it to me, great. I'm going to do my job. I think I can (change the perception of fullback). I think it's something I can do around the league. I want to change the perception – you can run, block, pass-block and be able to get out and catch the ball on screens and be able to make yourself versatile to do some things."
And be the guy lightning rod to wins and make his "Mentor Mack" proud.
Kerney making progress
Patrick Kerney returned for individual drills in the morning practice, although he did not participate when it progressed to the team portion of practice. Nonetheless, there has been progress with his surgically repaired shoulder and the more recent strained calf he suffered at the start of camp.
"Yeah, (I'm) starting to feel the progression we started on the first day," Kerney said. "(It's time to) up the volume on my shoulder and calf."
The 2007 All-Pro defensive end said there is uncertainty whether or not he'll be ready to play in the first preseason game, but he's leaving it up to the medical staff and coaches. He just wants to get as close to 100 percent with his calf and shoulder as possible before the regular season begins.
"It is something we want to be smart with," Kerney said. "We are all on the same page and just want to get back as soon as possible."
Meanwhile, he's doing everything the medical and training staff is telling him to do, plus the alternative methods he says he uses: "Acupuncture, earthling matched sheets, hyperbaric chamber, anything to help get a 1 percent advantage.
"I think part of this game is the season is a marathon, not a sprint. Recovery is a big part of this game. Recovery is what you put your body through after a game on Sunday and recovering from practice is incredibly important ... especially about not wearing down late in the season. I try to give myself the slightest of edge."
Weaver on his conversation with Holmgren when he and Forsett began singing "Oh happy day:"
"I was back there singing a gospel song and he was like, 'Leonard, stop it guys. I don't want to feel good right now, I'm trying to be mean.' It was kind of funny ... all the guys started laughing. That's the kind of humor that coach has. I think we were singing "Oh happy days" Obviously, coach didn't want it to be a happy day. So we just laughed about it and went on. It was Justin Forsett, the rookie from Cal , – he was kind of leading it. Then I started leading it, and Coach said, 'Leonard, you need to stop. I can handle Forsett, but not you.'"
This and that
The Blue Angels flew overhead during practice and Holmgren said it was no distraction, in fact he loved it and says he's missed it all the years the Seahawks practiced in Cheney. ... Rookie tackle Red Bryant sat out practice Wednesday with a sore knee and Holmgren said they are awaiting test results. ... Bobby Wagner sat out practice in the morning with what Holmgren termed "assorted bumps and bruises," but practiced in the afternoon. ... NFL officials arrived Thursday to preside over practice, talk to the players about rules, and preside over Saturday's 11 a.m. scrimmage at Qwest Field. Pete Morelli is the referee, George Hayward is the head linesman, the side judge is Greg Wilson and Kirk Dornan is the back judge. ... Kelly Jennings nearly made a spectacular diving interception in the end zone covering Doug Baldwin during 7-on-7 drills, but couldn't hang on as he hit the ground. ... Rookie receiver from Washington State Michael Bumpus made the catch of the morning practice, snaring the ball in his left arm on a pass from Charlie Frye despite Josh Wilson pinning his right arm. Rookie tight end John Carlson topped that in the afternoon on another pass from Frye, making a leaping catch in the back left corner of the end zone. ... Holmgren also said that center Chris Spencer has not been practicing because he strained his back in the first workout, last Thursday morning - prior to the official beginning of camp on Friday. Backup center Chris Gray then strained his back over the weekend and neither will be available for Saturday's scrimmage. Steve Vallos, a 2007 draft choice as a guard from Wake Forest continues at center with the first team, while Mansfield Wrotto also drafted as a guard last season (Georgia Tech) is the backup center.