Moments after wrapping up preseason play, with a busy weekend of roster cuts—and as it turns out, one very big trade—still in front of him, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll couldn't help but look ahead to the big picture.
"We have a really good foundation," Carroll said following his team's preseason finale. "I think we're going to have a really good team, and I don't care about saying that. I don't think there's any question in my mind that we're going to play really good football and we're going to be hard to beat, particularly if we can continue to run the ball. We've got the right guys."
That level of optimism was evident in the Seahawks locker room this week with Sunday's season opener against Cincinnati on the horizon.
"I'm not sure what the perception is or what the expectations for us are this year from the outside world, but we know what we have here, and we're a dangerous team," left tackle Duane Brown said.
Linebacker K.J. Wright said, "You've got all the pieces that you need. There's really no holes."
If the Seahawks are going to live up to everyone's high expectations, they'll need to answer these nine questions about the team, beginning with Sunday's game against the Bengals:
1. How much better can Russell Wilson be in his second season working with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer?
Russell Wilson had a great 2018 season, setting career highs for touchdown passes with 35 and passer rating (110.9), but after watching his quarterback throughout training camp and the preseason, Carroll declared that "Russ is the best he he's ever been. There is no question."
Wilson not only should continue to grow simply because the position he plays is so nuanced that growth can continue well into a career, but also because he and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have now had a full season working together. If Wilson was able to be as efficient as he was in his first season under Schottenheimer, it stands to reason that he should be even better now that they have more experience together.
"The communication is really good," Carroll said. "The familiarity is excellent. Probably, more than anything, Brian knows Russ better. He knows what he can do and how he does stuff and how he thinks and operates and functions and all of that. He's been able to, all throughout the offseason, adjust things to fit strengths that we have. They're really in the midst of a really strong relationship and it's really figuring to be a real positive for us."
Given that no one position has more influence on the outcome of a game than quarterback, it's safe to say that if Wilson does indeed take his game to another level, the Seahawks have a chance to win a lot of games.
2. Do Chris Carson and the running game pick up where they left off?
The Seahawks averaged a league-best 160.0 rushing yards per game last season, with Carson leading the way with 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns, making him the Seahawks' first 1,000-yard rusher since Marshawn Lynch in 2014.
And while as mentioned above, the Seahawks are expecting big things out of Wilson, they also remain committed to having a balanced attack highlighted by a physical running game and an explosive passing game. While Carson in all likelihood will lead the way, the Seahawks aren't expecting him to do it alone. Rashaad Penny, last year's first-round pick, returned from the offseason in better shape and with an improved outlook, and Carroll has said on a number of occasions that he expects Penny to push Carson for playing time and touches.
"I'm hoping to see him compete to be the best runner in the program," Carroll said. "I want to see him be great. I've told him that a couple different times. He should be going for it in every phase of our game. He's talented, he's explosive, he's in great shape. He's the smartest he's ever been, he can catch the football, his pass protection has improved. Every aspect of his game is at it's best. I have the highest of expectations for him and I would talk exactly the same way for Chris, and let these guys have at it. There's plenty of chances for those guys to battle back and forth. We'll go in the direction that we need to go in based on how they perform and all that. Really high expectations. It's all part of our mentality about the running game. We need these guys. Let the games begin, we'll see what happens."
Add to the mix a healthy C.J. Prosise and rookie Travis Homer, and the Seahawks have a deep and talented backfield that should help Seattle once again have one of the league's best rushing attacks.
3. Can the offensive line build off of an impressive 2018 season?
The previous two items relate to this one, as the offensive line plays a big role in both giving Wilson time to pass and in opening running lanes for Carson, Penny and the rest of Seattle's backs.
Seattle's offensive line took a big step forward last year in its first season under Mike Solari, and with four of five starters returning, expectations are even higher this year for that group.
"I think we can be as good as we want to be," center Justin Britt said. "The goals that we want to reach, it's up to us. We like to pride ourselves that we're the engine that makes it all happen. It's been a really good preseason, really good camp, and we've been very fortunate to stay healthy. It's really cool to have the group we have going out there on gameday."
Left tackle Duane Brown even went as far as to say he thinks Seattle could have the best line in the NFL this year, but to do that, he and his teammates know the next step will be to not just have one the best running attacks in the league, but to also do a better job of protecting Wilson.
"Obviously there's a lot of room for improvement, more so in our pass protection," Brown said during offseason workouts. "That's something we definitely put a point of emphasis on this year."
If that emphasis pays off and the pass blocking does indeed improve to the level of Seattle's run blocking, then the line very well could be a big strength of the team.
"From the running game last year from even the passing game, we threw out a bunch of touchdowns last year—all the things that we can do—I think they're just going to be that much more improved and that much better," Wilson said of his line. "All the way from the left to the right. Duane has been special ever since he's come here. That's been a huge addition for us. It's changed our football team. His leadership, his demeanor, his play, his efficiency, his toughness. You have (Ethan) Pocic playing left guard. You also have big Mike (Iupati) coming in too, potentially. I'm not sure his status. Those two guys, Pocic's got a lot of experience and obviously, big Mike's played a lot of football. So, him coming in with his smarts, his intelligence, his understanding of the game, his physicality. Justin Britt being our center so many years and him playing in big moments and he doesn't fear anything. You have D.J. Fluker who's the energy guy and he's the guy who's physical as can be. Nobody really wants to go against him when it comes to the other teams. (Germain) Ifedi too as well. He's really improved every year and his confidence. Those five guys, that consistency, there's five, six, seven guys, I'll count George Fant in there too as well because he's really a tight end/offensive lineman now. His experience, his physicality too. Those seven guys, to be honest with you, that consistency is everything. It really helps."
4. Who steps up at receiver?
The Seahawks know they have an elite receiver in Tyler Lockett, but beyond that they're rather unproven at the position. That's not to say the Seahawks don't like the group of wideouts they have heading into 2019—there's a lot of good young talent on the team—but beyond Lockett, and to a lesser extent Jaron Brown and David Moore, it's a very unproven group featuring three rookies—DK Metcalf, Gary Jennings and John Ursua—and a 2018 undrafted rookie, Malik Turner, who appeared in six games last season, catching two passes for 20 yards.
Again, there's a lot to like about that group from a talent perspective, but what remains to be seen is which players end up stepping into big roles along with Lockett. Wilson hopes the extra work he put in with that group in July prior to training camp helps them hit the ground running.
"The fun thing is, all offseason, we've been working together," Wilson said. "That's when we trained down in California for several days just getting together, all the young wide receivers and everything else. Throwing a lot of footballs and having a lot of fun together, I think we've built that rapport very, very quickly. We have a lot of great receivers that have caught a lot of footballs and have a lot of experience. You think about obviously, DK, you think about guys like Ursua, what he's been able to do stepping in. His plays that he's made in the preseason and everything else. He's been a touchdown machine in college, so he knows what he's doing… Gary can make a lot of great plays too. There's a lot of really, really amazing young talent and I think that's the thing we're looking forward to is those guys showing up and making a lot of great plays."
5. How big of a difference do Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney make?
The trade that sent Frank Clark to Kansas City helped set up a big draft haul for the Seahawks, but it also left a big question about the pass rush. The Seahawks addressed that not just by drafting L.J. Collier in the first round, but also by signing former Lions Pro-Bowler Ziggy Ansah as a free agent in May.
And it turned out the Seahawks weren't done beefing up their defensive line, as they made a big splash last weekend, trading for Jadeveon Clowney, a former No. 1 overall pick who was a three-time Pro-Bowler in Houston.
While there's a good chance you'll see both of those players on the field Sunday—Ansah, who is coming back from a shoulder injury and returned to practice last week, is officially listed as questionable—it will likely take some time for both to get fully up to speed.
"It is going to take some," Carroll cautioned. "We'll be adapting to them as they're adapting to us, too. Their minds are in the right place, really easy to communicate with these guys and they're working together and they're trying to help each other and all that. Everything should go as quickly as possible. Let's just wait and see how we do and see where we are next week and the next couple weeks and we'll figure it out."
When they do get going, however, Clowney and Ansah are a rare duo that can be game-changers for a defense.
"To have both Ziggy and Jadeveon on our team, that's different," Carroll said. "That's a unique matchup right there. It's very much where we were maybe with (Chris Clemons) and Cliff (Avril), and Mike (Bennett) and Cliff back in the day where we really felt like we had guys that really could do something off the edge and fly up the field and all that. These guys have the ability to do that. We got to develop it, it's got to happen, we've got to bring it to life and all that, but they have a chance. It's really exciting, the prospects of what it could be like."
6. Just how good is that linebacker trio?
Not long after the Seahawks re-signed both K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks, Carroll noted that his linebacker trio of Bobby Wagner, Wright and Kendricks was "one of the aspects of our team I'm most excited about."
Training camp and the preseason have done nothing to change Carroll's opinion of that trio, which should be one of the strengths of the team.
"I'm pretty excited about that," Carroll said Friday. "That's really a cool thing for us to see. That kind of experience, that kind of playmaking ability, and to watch them. They'll grow, we'll grow as we go through this. They're excited about it too, they know that they can communicate on a level that's really as high as you can get. They all anticipate each other, they contribute, they help each other out and all that stuff. It's a real positive for us, and I'm real anxious to see them go."
7. How much growth do young defensive backs show in 2019?
While the Seahawks are leaning on proven experienced veterans at linebacker, they're younger in the back end of their defense with the exception of strong safety Bradley McDougald. Tedric Thompson is heading into his third season and second as a starter at free safety—he started 10 games there last year following Earl Thomas' season-ending injury, while cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers are heading into their second and third seasons, respectively. Carroll has not yet said who will serve as the nickel corner, but all three candidates for that job, Akeem King, rookie Ugo Amadi and newly-acquired Parry Nickerson are all young players with a shot to contribute.
Griffin talked during the offseason about being unhappy with his play in 2018, and came back noticeably slimmed down, and it's hard to imagine Flowers not taking a big step forward considering he only moved to cornerback last year after playing safety in college. If those two do indeed take a step forward, and if Thompson continues to grow in his first full year as a starter, then the secondary has a chance to be one of the most improved elements of the team. The Seahawks also have a lot of young depth behind the previously mentioned players, particularly at safety with 2017 third-round pick Lano Hill, 2019 second-rounder Marquise Blair, and Amadi, a rookie out of Oregon who plays safety and nickel corner.
8. Do punter Michael Dickson and kicker Jason Myers pick up where they left off in 2019?
The Seahawks drafted Dickson in the fifth round last year, and the Aussie made that decision look very good by earning first-team All-Pro and Pro-Bowl honors. And because having one Pro-Bowl specialist wasn't enough, the Seahawks went out and added Jason Myers, who was in camp with Seattle last year, lost the job to Sebastian Janikowski, then went on to have a Pro-Bowl season with the New York Jets.
"That move that we made to get him, I think is going to work out great for us and it's going to give us the confidence to utilize the kicker like you'd hope to in crucial situations, long balls when we've got to go for it," Carroll said during offseason workouts. "We're going to be playing with a lot of confidence in that regard. He did a great job. So I'm really happy that—and to have Michael too, we love what Mike can do. So I really feel good about that part of the kicking game."
We should probably mention long snapper Tyler Ott in here too, as he has been very consistent since joining the team at the end of the 2016 season, leading to a recent contract extension. As usual with his position, if you're not noticing Ott's play in 2019, he's doing a great job.
9. Can the Seahawks find the overall consistency they want on special teams?
Having a good kicker, punter and long snapper are just part of the equation for strong special teams play, and the Seahawks hope they bolstered that entire phase of the game with some of the players they added this offseason, particularly in the rookie class. The Seahawks had stretches of really good special teams play last year, but weren't consistent enough throughout the season, and those rookies, as well as free-agent addition fullback Nick Bellore, will be expected to join returning special teams mainstays like Neiko Thorpe, Lano Hill and Shaquem Griffin to improve Seattle's special teams play.
"The great thing about a lot of our rookies is that we were really able to evaluate them on tape as rookies," special teams coordinator Brian Schneider said. "They all played in their senior year or throughout their college career. So as special teams coaches, we really had a good evaluation. A lot of times you project guys. You see them play on either side of the ball then you hope they can be good special teams players, but all these guys, we've seen it in college and it's showing up out here."
Or as general manager John Schneider put it after the draft, "We know a lot of these guys are going to be special teams players. They've already done it, they've proven it… We've seen them play on teams. It's different, it's a different feel. You have to have an instinctive feel for knowing how to block in space and knowing how to cover. It's a different deal."
The Seahawks and the Bengals will meet this Sunday in Seattle at CenturyLink Field to open up the 2019 regular season. Take a look back at photos from the past twenty games played between the two teams.