Russell Wilson is sporting what he likes to call his "playoff hair" these days even though the Seattle Seahawks are wrapping up their offseason workout program, not a postseason run. Yet the longer locks are fitting in a way despite what the calendar says—and despite some playful barbs, mid-press conference, from receiver Doug Baldwin—because Wilson and the offense feel like they're currently operating at a level more fitting of a team hitting its stride in January than one that should be knocking off the rust in a June minicamp.
"For minicamp, we're as good as it can get," Wilson said. "This is the best we've been in four or five years—this is the fifth year for me. It has just been exciting, we've been practicing really well. The rookies look really professional. They're really in tune with it, they're really listening, in the meetings, everyone's in tune with one another. It has been great practices so far.
"Every year is different, but I'd definitely say we're making a lot of improvements and we've come a long way. We're just taking it one day at a time, and we'll see how far we can go with it."
In particular, Wilson feels very good about the way things are going with a passing game that took off in the second half of the 2015 season, with Wilson throwing 24 touchdowns and just one interception over the final seven games.
"The chemistry we have right now with the receivers and tight ends is as good as it's ever been," Wilson said. "It's right at the right point. Guys are looking good, they're catching all the signals, all the details of the game, making all the plays we need them to make. It's exciting to see… Now it's just really transitioning. We're trying to take where we were middle to the end of last year and continue to accelerate that."
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell agrees with Wilson's assessment of the offense and the passing game, noting that the time Wilson and his pass-catchers have had together is a big part of that progress. Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse have all been teammates since 2012, with tight end Luke Willson joining the offense in 2013.
"We're probably about as far ahead as any time since we've been here," Bevell said. "When you're talking about your quarterback who's been here for as long as he has, and the core of the wide receivers, and Luke has been here as well, Cooper (Helfet) has been here, so there's a lot of core guys at the skill positions. Some of the running backs are a little bit new, but the rapport we've had out here with quarterback and receiver timing—Nick (Vannett) has come in and come in and done a great job, he just stepped right in and got a great rapport with Russ immediately—I think we're about as far ahead as we've ever been in that scenario."
For teammates playing any position, more time together can pay dividends, but that's especially true in the receiver-quarterback relationship, which relies so heavily on timing and trust.
"Well there's no question that time benefits you," Bevell said. "There's some nuances to guys running their routes and how they come out of their breaks and obviously the more times Russell's able to see Doug come out of a break, or Jermaine or Tyler (Lockett) or Jimmy Graham—all those kinds of guys—he just gets more familiar with them. It shortens the time that he's got to hold onto the ball, he can anticipate things more, knows how fast they come out, or the different moves that they might put at the top of it. So all that time that we're logging out here on the field is really valuable for us."
Yet no matter how well Wilson, Baldwin and the rest of the passing game finished last season, picking up where they left off requires not only continued strong play from the people throwing and catching the ball, but also from an offensive line that will look very different in 2016 than it did last season.
"That's a huge factor," Bevell said. "The protections are one thing and that's one scenario, but there's also all the different routes that we can run outside. We match the routes up with the protection but protections is going to be a huge deal for us. We want to make sure that we're starting there and that we're not starting ahead of it, and then have to go back and try to correct things. So we're starting with the protection first, making sure we're solid there.
"The protection is key. We've got to start there, we've got to make sure we're solid on the inside with the five guys, with the new guys that we're going to have up there. I like the progress that we're making there, and that's where it'll start."
Photos from the second of three mandatory Seahawks minicamp practices held at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.