Seahawks Mailbag: What’s Next At Safety, Running Back Pecking Order & More

The Seahawks have won two straight and now are preparing to host the NFC West-leading Los Angeles Rams at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. With players off on Tuesday, it’s time once again to answer questions from you, the fans. As always, thanks to everyone who asked a question this week, and apologies if I couldn’t get to yours this time around.

@weekapaug009 asks, “What’s the mood like on the team plane after a game like Sunday’s?”

A: Winning on the road is always difficult in the NFL, regardless of an opponent’s record, and that’s especially true of divisional games, so the mood of the team in the locker room and on the way back to Seattle was pretty upbeat for the most part. Though to be honest, win or lose, the flight is pretty quiet most of the time—guys are tired, sore, etc., and some want to sleep and some want to study film, so it’s not like a party breaks out after a big win. And yes, players feel terrible when one of their own goes down to a serious injury, so everyone felt bad about what happened to Earl Thomas and Will Dissly, but players also know that they still have 12 games left to play, so they can’t spend too much time focused on what just happened, but rather on what lies ahead.

@Lougheed_E asks, “How confident are the Seahawks in Nick Vannett’s blocking ability following Will Dissly’s injury?

A: The Seahawks have always viewed Vannett as a tight end who can help them both as a pass-catcher and a blocker, so they’ll expect him to continue to be a complete tight end, especially now that Dissly is on injured reserve. The Seahawks will look to add Ed Dickson to that mix eventually, but he’s not eligible to return from the non-football injury list until Seattle’s Week 8 game at Detroit. In the meantime, the Seahawks could add a tight end off of their practice squad this week, but it’s fair to assume that between now and Dickson’s return, Vannett’s role in the offense will be more important than it has ever been.

“Will Dissly, we’re going to miss him,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a good football player and everything we’ve ever said about Will—he was just getting started—he was a factor in there. Now Nick has to step up and do a nice job, and the adjustments that we make need to follow but all of that.”

@HolliWinters asks, “Any chance the Seahawks will use George Fant at tight end? Or other offensive linemen?”

A: This question highlights another way the Seahawks can try at times to mitigate the loss of Dissly. While George Fant isn’t the threat as a pass-catcher that Dissly is, he can come in as an eligible sixth lineman to help block, something he did for three plays last week, and something he perhaps could do more of in Dissly’s absence. The Seahawks also tried to bring Joey Hunt on as an extra blocker for a goal-line play, but he failed to report as eligible to the referee—Seahawks coach Pete Carroll explained that Hunt did report to one of the officials, but in that case it has to be the actual referee—leading to a penalty.

@championjackpost asks, “When I watch the team, I see young, developing players learning to play together and with new coaches/coordinators. Am I wrong to have faith that things should get better as the season goes on?”

A: Not at all. I think it was safe to assume all along that this team, given the things you outlined in the question, is one that was built to get better as the season goes along, and not one that would peak in September. Then when you add to that the fact that Pete Carroll-coached teams tend to finish a lot stronger than they start, and that Russell Wilson puts up his best numbers in November and December, it’s reasonable to expect this team to continue to improve. And if you want even more reason for optimism, consider that the Seahawks have already played three road games and finish the year with five of their last seven at home.

As Carroll put it on Monday when assessing where his team stands through four games, “We have a chance to continue to improve. I think we’re just getting rolling. There’s a lot more to come on the offensive side of the ball in terms of how we mix and how we do the things we want to do. We really needed to focus and establish that we could run the football and find our offensive line’s nature. I think we’ve really tapped into that. That’s really important and it’s a long, long season. There’s so many things that are going to happen during the course of the year. The start isn’t really the telltale of what these seasons are all about. The fact that we’ve made progress and we have found something that we really like and the way we want to go is huge.”

@Armbecc29 asks, “With Chris Carson and Mike Davis at the top of the RB depth chart, where does Rashaad Penny fit into this offense?

A: This is an interesting question moving forward considering how well Mike Davis played in Sunday’s win over the Cardinals. Prior to Chris Carson’s injury, Carson and rookie Rashaad Penny were the pretty clear-cut top two backs in terms of playing time and carries. But as Carroll said on Monday, Davis is forcing his way into the conversation even when everyone is healthy.

“He’s going to fit in somewhere,” Carroll said of Davis. “He needs to play. He needs to be a part of it. We’ll work that out.”

I will also add that Davis starting over Penny doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed a bigger role than the rookie going forward. Carroll said part of that decision on Sunday was the fact that they didn’t know all week if Carson, the starter through the first three games, would be available, and that Penny had mostly practiced for the role he ended up having in the game, while Davis has starting experience having held that role late last season.

“I talked it over with (offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) about who we thought would handle it the best and would be the most comfortable,” Carroll said. “Mike has played more and he’s been around and started games and all that. We just thought we’d go that way and keep Rashaad in kind of the role that we had projected going into the game where he would come in off the bench and fill in and do some stuff, and we would see how the game would go. That was just a thought early.”

My hunch is that had the running game started off slowly, we might have seen more of Penny on Sunday, but Davis ran so well, it was hard not to keep feeding him the ball.

@_Niko97_ asks, “What do you think the Seahawks’ options are now that they lost the big veteran presence in the secondary?”

A: If you’re talking about who actually takes over for Earl Thomas at free safety, that will be Tedric Thompson, the player who held down that role through the preseason while Thomas was holding out. Carroll made it clear that while they have a lot of confidence in Thompson, they aren’t expecting him to be Thomas, but rather be himself, which while somewhat different, can still be good for the defense.

“I don’t see it as replacing Earl Thomas, I don’t see that,” Carroll said Monday. “(Thomas) is a great football player, and has demonstrated that for a long period of time. He came out and had probably his best start of any season he could recall, so it’s next guy up. This is not Earl coming back, this is Tedric playing. He’s going to do the best he can, the way he plays. I remind you that Tedric had the best camp and late-offseason work of anybody. He was the most spectacular player we had making plays and doing things on the back end. I don’t know how high expectations were about how our secondary was going to play, but these guys are playing good football, and I would expect Tedric to jump in there and do the things that he does really well. He’s a different player to some extent than Earl—Earl’s really one of a kind—but he’ll do a good job for us. We intend to see him play really well.”

If, however, you’re talking about leadership in the secondary, that will fall to Bradley McDougald more than anybody else, and that’s nothing new for the veteran strong safety. With Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman no longer around, and with Thomas holding out until the first week of the season, McDougald found himself in more of a leadership role throughout offseason workouts and training camp, earning praise from Carroll on a few occasions for that leadership. So while Thomas will certainly be missed, the Seahawks feel like they’re still in good shape, both in terms of talent and leadership in their secondary.

@pinkyjonez asks, “How is Pete Carroll addressing penalties? Does he discipline players or just let it go?

A: Just after the 2017 season game to an end, Carroll said “probably my biggest regret this season” was how penalties affected his team, so yes that was a focus in the offseason. Carroll isn’t one to state publicly how he disciplines players, so I can’t tell you for sure what went into cleaning up penalties, but the Seahawks have been better in that department a quarter of the way through the season.

Through four games, the Seahawks have been flagged for 31 penalties, with 30 of those being enforced. The flag total, which is more indicative of the actual number being committed, is the 20th most out of 32 teams, a pretty big step up from leading the league a year ago. The 30 enforced penalty total is tied for 11th most, but again, only one has been declined, which has a bit more to do with circumstances of a particular play than how often a team is committing penalties. And the Seahawks haven’t been drawing a lot of big-yardage penalties either, with 206 yards worth of penalties being enforced against them, the 23rd highest total in the league.

So yes, there’s always room to improve, but considering the Seahawks ranked first in the league last year in total flags, penalties enforced and penalty yardage a year ago, and that this year they rank 20th, 11th and 23rd, in those categories, it’s safe to say progress has been made.

Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive images from the Seahawks' Week 4 road game against the Arizona Cardinals.

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