When Seahawks safety Ryan Neal arrived at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center for his exit physical, he made a quick stop in the weight room just to take a look, and there he saw, a day after Seattle's season ended with a playoff loss to the 49ers, quarterback Geno Smith hitting the weights.
It was just one example of how the Seahawks are, as Neal put it, "Eager and hungry and hell," to get back to work as soon as possible following a memorable 2022 season that ended in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
"I went into the weight room just to check out, and guess who's in there working out? Geno," Neal said. "That just shows you what we're thinking right now. Guys are like, 'Yeah, we're ready to go on vacay or whatever,' but (expletives) are hungry. We're hungry. That's all it is, hungry and eager for more."
Neal said seeing the team's quarterback in the weight room less than 24 hours after the season ended, "sets the pace, it set the tone. When your quarterback is doing it, when your leader is doing it, everybody follows suit. Everybody is on the same page. We were on the buses talking about, 'Man, I can't wait to get back to training.' … Geno doing stuff like that, it shows us, 'This is what's up.' We're still hungry, we're still eager. We're pissed that we're at home now, but we can't wait to get back. That's the tone."
The Seahawks obviously hoped to continue their season past this weekend, but even after a disappointing loss to the 49ers, it's easy to make a quick turn and focus on the future given how bright that future looks.
The Seahawks always believed they could be competitive team and a playoff contender, but not a lot of people outside of the building thought as much after they traded Russell Wilson and released Bobby Wagner in March, parting ways with two of the best players in franchise history in one offseason. But with Geno Smith playing at a Pro-Bowl level, with the 2022 rookie class making huge contributions, and with players, young and veteran alike, stepping up in all three phases of the game, the Seahawks won nine games, and reached the postseason for the 10th time in 13 seasons under Pete Carroll and John Schneider.
"It was kind of just a taste of what it could really be," said right tackle Abraham Lucas, just one of the rookies to make big contributions in 2022. "I was talking to Coby (Bryant) a little bit yesterday after the game, and we were both kind of smiling, talking about winning a Super Bowl, and how we were able to, with a team that had six rookies, I think it is, that have contributed, and five out of those six have started, and what we were able to help this team do, the sky's the limit."
Lucas, a third-round pick out of Washington State, actually undersold his class's contributions. It was actually seven draft picks who saw significant playing time—and eight rookies if you count undrafted Joey Blount, a big special teams contributor—and six of them started multiple games. Lucas and left tackle Charles Cross were starters and every-down players all season long, as was Pro-Bowl cornerback Tariq Woolen. Kenneth Walker III opened the season in a reserve role, but took over the starting running back job after Rashaad Penny suffered a season-ending injury, and rushed for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns, starting 11 games. Coby Bryant was Seattle's nickel corner, which is essentially a starting role that saw him play 65 percent of his team's defensive snaps. Boye Mafe started three games at outside linebacker and was part of the rotation at that position all year, contributing 3.0 sacks, 41 tackles and strong run defense. Receiver Dareke Young, a seventh-round pick, became one of Seattle's top special teams players and saw his role in the offense grow late in the season.
The experience that rookie class got, not just in playing all season long, but especially in the way the Seahawks finished season, winning a pair of must win games, then gaining valuable postseason experience, will only help that group grow heading into 2023.
"That's the thing I really wanted for them was to make the playoffs, so they can feel what that feels like," Neal said. "Your rookie year is your longest year, you get done playing football and you're right into training then you're playing more ball, and for them to get that exposure, now they understand what it takes. Not only do they know they can play, now they know this is a long road, it's a long journey, it takes a lot to get to where you've got to go, and it takes even more to go even further. So I think us making the playoffs, it's a great thing for them, because now they understand what it takes."
Of course, everyone involved knows the 2023 Seahawks won't be the same as this year's team. Several key players are set to become free agents when the new league year begins, including Smith—though he made it clear Saturday night that he intends to be back—and new players will be added to the mix via free agency and the draft, with the Seahawks holding four picks in the first two rounds thanks to the Wilson trade, including the No. 5 overall pick via Denver. But for those who are back, the plan is to build off what was a special 2022 season that for numerous reasons, be it the youth of the team or the us-against-the-world attitude, had a particularly close-knit bond.
"This team is something special," said linebacker Cody Barton.
Barton noted that when he arrived in Seattle four years ago, veterans warned him that the NFL is different than college in terms of the relationships that are formed. With the business side of the sport and with players of different ages and at different stages of life, the professional game lacked some of the closeness that exists in college, Barton was told. This year, however, was different.
"This team this year felt different, just the relationships I had with each guy and how tight we were as a team," Barton said. "It felt almost like a college team again, just how tight everyone was. That, to me, is the reason why we were able to do what we did, and this year was just step one for this team in how special we can be. The way things went yesterday, that's just a chip on our shoulder for everybody, and shoot, I'm damn excited to see what happens this next season."
The Seahawks cleaned out their lockers at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton a day after their 2022 season ended in a Wild Card loss to the 49ers.