After an offseason unlike any previously seen in the NFL, and with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting how teams operate, the Seahawks will finally take to the field for practice beginning on Wednesday. In a normal year, the Seahawks would have been practicing for the past two weeks and would be preparing for their preseason opener this week. Instead, Seattle and the league's 31 other teams opened camp with COVID-19 testing and virtual team meetings, eventually progressing to strength and conditioning work and walk thru practices. On Wednesday, finally, the Seahawks will practice together as a team, ramping up to padded practices that will begin next week.
With the Seahawks taking the field Wednesday, here are six things to keep an eye on in camp. And no, unfortunately fans can't be at the VMAC this year, but that doesn't mean you can't still watch and follow along thanks to Training Camp Live, which will broadcast on Q13 FOX and Seahawks.com for an hour during 15 practices, starting Wednesday.
1. What does the revamped secondary look like?
Two of the most significant additions the Seahawks made this offseason were to their secondary, acquiring cornerback Quinton Dunbar and All-Pro safety Jamal Adams in trades. Dunbar recently came off of the commissioner's exempt list, meaning he is eligible to practice after as he goes through the required COVID-19 testing this week, so we'll soon get a look and how he fits in, presumably competing with incumbent right cornerback Tre Flowers. Adams, meanwhile, brings a rare level of versatility and playmaking ability, and it will be fascinating to watch throughout camp how the Seahawks use a player who can do everything from line up as a pass-rusher on the line of scrimmage to cover receivers and tight ends deep down the field.
Another big question surrounding the secondary is that of what Seattle will do in nickel packages. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll noted at the NFL Scouting Combine that second-year defensive back Ugo Amadi, who finished the season in that role, was the leading candidate for the job, but more recently Carroll has talked excitedly about the prospect of using second-year safety Marquise Blair in that role. It doesn't necessarily have to be an either/or proposition; Amadi and Blair are different players and could both be used depending on matchups, but already the thought of those two young players, both of whom showed playmaking ability in limited playing time last year, taking on bigger roles is intriguing.
2. The competition in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
While there will be competition at every position—this is a Carroll-coached team, after all—few spots have more starting jobs potentially up for grabs than the offensive and defensive lines.
On offense, the Seahawks will have at least three new starters having released center Justin Britt and right guard D.J. Fluker, and with right tackle Germain Ifedi having signed with Chicago in free agency. The Seahawks drafted Damien Lewis in the third round as a potential right guard option, and made a number of moves in free agency that could fill those other spots, signing B.J. Finney, Brandon Shell and Cedric Ogbuehi. There are plenty of returning players who could also compete for starting jobs, including Ethan Pocic, Jamarco Jones, Phil Haynes and Jordan Simmons.
On the defensive line, Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods, who started 17 games between them, both left in free agency, while Jadeveon Clowney, who played more snaps than any other Seahawks defensive lineman last year, remains a free agent. So who takes over those roles or pushes for significant playing time in the rotation in addition to returning players like Jarran Reed, Poona Ford and Rasheem Green remains to be seen.
In terms of newcomers, the Seahawks added to that group both via free agency and the draft, signing veteran pass-rushers Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa, and selecting defensive ends Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson in the second and fifth rounds, respectively. They're also expecting a Year 2 jump from 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier, who struggled to ever get going last year after missing camp and the preseason of his rookie year with an ankle injury that nearly landed him on injured reserve. The Seahawks also return players like Bryan Mone and Branden Jackson who could compete for playing time; Demarcus Christmas, who missed his rookie season due to a back injury, and as we'll discuss further later, they could still add help at this position group.
3. Who starts at linebacker/where does Jordyn Brooks play?
The Seahawks selected Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the first round of this year's draft, and a quick glance at his college tape or statistics shows the Seahawks got a heck of a player. What's less clear until the Seahawks take the field is how Brooks will fit into a crowded linebacker group. All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is obviously going to start there, so we can skip over that, but then what happens if the Seahawks want to start Brooks along with K.J. Wright. Wright played strongside linebacker early in his career, but has played weakside linebacker the most and most recently. That, however, is also the position where Carroll said Brooks will start out camp playing, meaning if those three are going to play together, one will have to change to strongside. The good news is that Carroll has mentioned repeatedly that they both have the versatility to play multiple spots—and Wright has shown it as a starter at all three spots in the NFL—so there are ways to make it happen. The Seahawks also envision using Bruce Irvin in a hybrid strongside linebacker/defensive end role like he played in his earlier tenure with the team, so he could also be a factor in the competition, though it's also not unreasonable to think that if the Seahawks like their depth at linebacker—they also are returning Cody Barton, Ben Burr-Kirven and Shaquem Griffin—they may decide to have Irvin focus more on the pass-rush role.
Here's what Carroll said last week when asked about Brooks getting on the field: "I think the spot that makes sense to us at this point—he could play all three spots at linebacker, he's physically capable and I've seen enough film of him, there's a lot of film of him playing all different spots. Any college guy that came to us, you would love to see what we've seen him. He started four years and he's had thousands of snaps, so the flexibility is there. The most obvious path would be the Will 'backer spot, we'll see how that goes. We'll start him there and see how fast he can grasp it and become comfortable. We tremendous flexibility and our guys, our guys have been here for a long time in our program. With Bruce coming back and K.J. and Bobby, that's a fantastic group of guys. We've got a lot of options and planning here to weigh out, and we've got to see how it goes. That's why this goes back to competition, we'll see how it all plays itself out. K.J. has been a fantastic player, he might have had his best year for us last year, Bobby's at the top of his game, and we're thrilled to have Bruce back, but that doesn't mean that all those guys don't play at the same time, all four of those guys on the field at the same time. There's options for how we can do that that we've worked out, the competition will settle it. I'm not concerned about it at all, the competition will tell us what we need to do here, because the options are all there for us."
4. How do players returning from injuries look?
While running back Rashaad Penny will open camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list due to the ACL injury he sustained last December, the Seahawks should have a couple of key members of their offense available, in some capacity, when camp opens. As Carroll noted last week, tight end Will Dissly, who ruptured his Achilles early last season, passed his physical. Running back Chris Carson, who ended the year on IR with a hip injury, also avoided the PUP list, but the question with him and Dissly will be how much they are able to do early on. Carroll already noted that they'll take it easy with Dissly, and given Carson's experience and production in recent years, there's no need to rush him early on, so don't be alarmed if you're hearing reports that those two or others coming back from injury might not be doing a lot early in camp.
5. Are there any new faces in the next few days?
As Seahawks general manager John Schneider likes to say, roster building is a year-round job, so just because the draft and the initial wave of free agency have come and gone, that doesn't mean the Seahawks won't continue to look for ways to upgrade their roster—last month's trade for Jamal Adams serving as the most obvious example.
As of Monday afternoon, the Seahawks have three open roster spots—though one of those open spots is because of John Ursua's placement on the Reserve/Covid-19 list over the weekend—and there are still a number of quality free agents available, including at defensive line, a position at which the Seahawks have had good success adding veteran free agents over the years. Carroll also acknowledged last week that the Seahawks would be "very open" to a possible reunion with Josh Gordon if the receiver becomes available—he's currently serving an indefinite suspension for violating the league's substance abuse and performance-enhancing drug policies.
The Seahawks very well could and likely will continue to tinker with the roster throughout camp, but with open roster spots and with practice kicking off, moves could be coming this week.
6. Can the Seahawks "keep the hammer down throughout" when it comes to staying safe in a pandemic?
When Carroll addressed the media last week, he made it clear that his team plans to not only take the COVID-19 crisis seriously, but to hopefully set a good example with their behavior. So far the Seahawks have placed only one player on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after two weeks of testing, receiver John Ursua—and he told Honolulu's KHON 2 Sports that his positive test was followed by a negative test a day later and is awaiting another test result—but they know they'll have to remain vigilant to keep everyone safe, and secondary to that, keep their roster at full strength.
Players' commitment to keeping themselves and each other safe has been evident not just in the testing results, but also in the consistency with which players have worn masks not just inside the VMAC, but on the field as well during football drills.
"I know this, when you reopen, it doesn't work," Carroll said last week. "We saw that across our country. To break down and start to feel comfortable that you've got this thing made is not the way to go. We have to keep the hammer down throughout, from now on. It's got to start with me, and it's got to go through Russell (Wilson) and Bobby (Wagner) and K.J. (Wright) and Duane (Brown) and all of our guys to pass the message. That's what this challenge is all about; it's way more than the football season, it's way more than that, and we're trying to respect the heck out of this every step of the way.
"This is a very treacherous thing everybody's dealing with, and we got to hopefully have good fortune along the way as well as great discipline. And so it's really important for me to take it head on and deal with it. I'm so disappointed that we weren't tough nationally. We weren't tough enough, we were too soft on it and we couldn't hang. We had to let up and find ways and excuses for not maintaining the discipline that it takes to beat this thing back. So we're hoping in our program here we can set an example. I don't know how it's going to turn out, but I hope we set a great example of what it takes to do this. I mean, six months from now, we're still going to be involved, so this this season, as we as we play it out, maybe we learn something. Maybe we can help some other people, maybe we can inspire somebody if we're fortunate enough to do well and do right to beat this thing that's disrupted everything. I don't think it would surprise you that I'm competing my butt off to do this well and right, and hopefully I can affect those that I can reach and in the program and we can all do this. It's really important stuff."
Seahawks players began taking their physicals at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Saturday, August 1. Seahawks Training Camp is presented by Safeway.