Over the past two weeks leading up to the start of training camp, Seahawks.com has taken a look at some of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2018 season. With players reporting today and practice beginning Thursday, we wrap up the countdown looking at where things stand in a secondary going through some changes in 2018.
Despite some of the public perception, the Seahawks don't see their offseason moves as a sign that they are rebuilding, but rather, as general manager John Schneider put it, going through "a little reset," not too different than what takes place in any NFL offseason. While calling this period of transition a "very exciting time for us," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll referred to this winter and spring as a "classic offseason. All the changes and the almost upheaval that occurs, it's classic for us."
Classic offseason or not, expected turnover or not, there has been a somewhat different feel to this year's Seahawks as the team went through offseason workouts, and perhaps nowhere has that been more pronounced than in the secondary. When the Seahawks took the field for OTAs and minicamp, Shaquill Griffin had moved from right cornerback to left cornerback, taking the spot previously held by Richard Sherman, Seattle's starter there since midway through his rookie season in 2011. At strong safety, Bradley McDougald and Delano Hill split time with the starting defense, as longtime starter Kam Chancellor was absent due to the neck injury that has the longtime team leader facing an uncertain future. And at free safety, McDougald and Tedric Thompson held down the spot long held by Earl Thomas, who stayed away from offseason workouts while seeking a new contract.
Ever since that 2011 season when Chancellor moved into the starting lineup alongside Thomas and Sherman took over a starting role, there has been little mystery when it comes to three of the four secondary positions—Seattle has had some turnover at right cornerback over the years—but when camp opens with Thursday morning's practice, the secondary will be competitive at multiple spots.
At cornerback, Griffin is a safe bet to start at one spot, and has impressed his coaches this offseason, building off of a strong rookie campaign.
"He just looks like he's a veteran," Carroll said during offseason workouts. "He grew a ton out of last season. Remember, we didn't have a lot of problems with him last year. There was not an inconsistency to him, there was not the rookie wall, there was none of that kind of stuff. He just kept cruising all the way through and had a really consistent first season, and he has just kind of picked up where he left off. It's kind of like—on the other side of the ball—one of the things Russell (Wilson) has always impressed us with is how consistently he approaches everything. There's never much fluctuation in his intensity and his focus; I see that in Shaq. He has had a great body of work that he put together in this offseason getting ready, so it's a good sign. It means that last season didn't affect him in any negative ways, didn't distract him in any ways, and that's important to see."
Justin Coleman was one of the Seahawks' best offseason pickups last year, and will be tough to unseat at the nickel cornerback spot, though he also will be in competition for an every-down starting job. Byron Maxwell, who played well following a midseason return to the team that drafted him, will be one of the top contenders to start at right cornerback, but will have to hold off a number of challengers, including special teams standout Neiko Thorpe, former 49ers starter Dontae Johnson, and rookie Tre Flowers, who is making the switch from safety to corner.
While there is uncertainty at safety, the Seahawks have been preparing for an eventual future without their two longtime starters. In 2017, the Seahawks drafted Hill and Thompson in the third and fourth round, respectively, and Carroll and Schneider remain very high on the potential of both players. The Seahawks also signed McDougald as a free agent last year, and he played well filling in for both Thomas and Chancellor, helping him earn a multi-year extension this offseason. A notable addition this offseason was that of Maurice Alexander, a former starter for the Los Angeles Rams. McDougald's flexibility gives the Seahawks multiple options when it comes to figuring out safety combinations depending on who is available, and perhaps equally important with some veterans on defense moving on, he has also taken on more of a leadership role in a position group that was younger this offseason than in the past.
"Bradley (McDougald) has really taken the lead, and just as he did last year when he played, he just picked right up and came in," Carroll said. "He has started a lot of football games in the league, he's got a lot of background and it shows. He's very confident and he's a good communicator and he helps people, just like our guys need to, so he has just embraced that from the first day. So that's not a problem at all. And then we're moving guys around. Tedric Thompson has always looked really good on the back end, Delano Hill is another guy that we're really excited about too. When we picked them a couple of years ago, we thought someday they're going to be players out here, so they're making their pitch. Mo Alexander hasn't had a chance yet because we're resting him with him with his shoulder that's in rehab, but Mo's an exciting player to add in here too. He's a big hitter, real physical kid, he's played a lot of football. So he brings experience and toughness-he's almost 230 pounds, he's a big kid back there. So it's a good group, it's a really good group."
And another piece of good news for the Seahawks is that, regardless of who ends up in the starting lineup when the season opens, they have in Carroll one of football's best defensive minds—and secondary coaches in particular—helping develop those players. And if you think that as a head coach Carroll isn't as involved in the secondary as he was as an assistant earlier in his career, you should have seen him dedicating considerable one-on-one time to rookie cornerback Tre Flowers earlier this offseason. The Seahawks have posted plenty of dominant defensive stats during Carroll's tenure to prove his defensive coaching acumen, and for another example, considering some of the honors earned by defensive backs he has coached in the past. Since the AP All-Pro team added second-team honors in 1972, only four teams have had three defensive backs named first- or second-team All-Pro in the same year, the 1995 San Francisco 49ers, with Carroll as their defensive coordinator, the 2002 Philadelphia Eagles and Carroll's 2013 and 2014 Seahawks. In other words, Carroll has had his fingerprints all over three of the four most decorated secondaries in recent NFL history.
Talking about the change that has taken place this offseason, Carroll said in March, "I'm excited about what we're doing and fired up about the guys who are coming to us." That's as true in the secondary as anywhere else on the roster, which is why, however different it might be, that position group will be one to watch when camp opens Thursday.
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Seattle Seahawks players reported to Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Wednesday, July 25 for the start of the team's 2018 training camp, taking part in a team run and team meetings. The club's first practice is set for Thursday, July 26 along the shores of Lake Washington.