Seahawks training camp wrapped up on Thursday, and after 15 practices and one preseason game, we have at least a little bit better of a handle on the 2015 Seahawks than we did when camp kicked off on July 31. Of course there are still plenty of position battles and roster spots to be determined between now and the season opener, but with camp officially in the books, let's look back and see who and what stood out at 2015 Seahawks Training Camp presented by Bing.
MVP: WR Doug Baldwin
Jimmy Graham was the leader in spectacular plays, and on any given day a different player might have stood out more in practice, but nobody was more consistent on a daily basis than receiver Doug Baldwin.
In his fifth season, Baldwin has emerged as a clear leader of Seattle's young receiver group along with Jermaine Kearse, but it's not just leadership that made Baldwin stand out—he was just darn near impossible to cover throughout camp. Despite leading the Seahawks in receiving last season with 66 catches for 825 yards, Baldwin is trying to improve on a few things in camp, and it appears to be working.
"One of the thing I've been focusing on is making sure that my routes stay consistent within the framework of the offense," Baldwin said. "I have a tendency to kind of get bored with my routes sometimes and use different releases, use different techniques in and out of my breaks, because that's fun to me. But sometimes it's a negative because it fools the quarterback, and I can't be fooling Russell (Wilson); he needs to know where I'm at at all times. So that's part of my progression, doing that less. It's not a big issue because we've been successful with it, and sometimes it does work for us, especially on the scramble plays. But I want to be as consistent as I possibly can so that there's no question. I want Russell to be able to close his eyes and know where I'm at. I want it to be that good, so that's what I'm working on."
Best offensive performance: TE Jimmy Graham
Is it a cop-out to give one player the MVP and another offensive performer of the camp? Probably, but we're doing it anyway. When the Seahawks traded Max Unger and a first-round pick to New Orleans for Graham and a fourth-rounder, they were hoping to get a difference maker in the passing game, particularly in the red zone, and by all accounts Graham is going to be just that.
Graham came to Seattle with plenty of accolades and gaudy stats, so it should come as no surprise that he has stood out, but even so, seeing him dominate on a daily basis is eye-opening. In just about every practice, Graham has had at least one catch on which there was perfect coverage, but he just used his size and strength to make a play anyway.
Graham was hardly alone in having a strong camp. Russell Wilson was solid as always, and his offseason focus on improving his speed has shown up; Marshawn Lynch, at 29, looks as good as ever; and as mentioned above, Kearse and Baldwin have been great. And for as much concern as there has been over the line, the two settled spots, left tackle (Russell Okung) and right guard (J.R. Sweezy) are in very capable hands.
Best defensive perfomance: DE Michael Bennett
If you looked up unblockable in the dictionary, well, you wouldn't find anything, because it looks like unblockable isn't in the dictionary. But unblockable is very much a part of the football lexicon, and for a few years now, it is often the best way to describe Michael Bennett, one of the best free agent signings of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era. Even against the best offensive linemen, Bennett is a force, and when he and Cliff Avril are lined up across from second and third-stringers, it just become unfair.
Bennett's versatility is what makes him one of the better defensive linemen in football, but the time he spends playing defensive tackle also keeps him from putting up huge sack and tackle-for-loss numbers, making him one of the league's most underrated defensive linemen as well.
Best special teams performance: KR/PR Tyler Lockett
Punter Jon Ryan, kicker Steven Hauschka and long snapper Clint Gresham have been solid as usual, but rookie Tyler Lockett gets the nod for what he has injected into the return game. The Seahawks like Lockett as a receiver, but one of the biggest reasons for trading up in the third-round to pick him was to upgrade a return game that took a significant step back in 2014. All Lockett has done since then is be consistent in practice, then put it all together with a spectacular preseason debut that included a 103-yard touchdown on a kick return.
"He looked like how we had hoped he would look," Carroll said after last week's game. "We drafted him with the thought that he might give us a real spark in an area we wanted to find a way to improve and be more dynamic. He did that."
Best offensive rookie: Lockett
Yes, Lockett has been good enough to earn two honors. While it was his return ability that showed up in the first preseason game, Lockett has also been very impressive as a receiver throughout camp. And it hasn't just been his athleticism showing up; perhaps more significantly, Lockett shows polish as a route runner and very good catching ability. Some young receivers get by on physical ability alone, and while Lockett has plenty of that, he looks like a much more complete receiver. And even better for the Seahawks, Lockett is just one of several young receivers enjoying a strong camp.
"First and foremost, they're improving every day," Baldwin said. "Usually you have a rollercoaster effect with young receiver—they'll do really well early in camp, then they'll start to fall off, but these guys have been consistent and steady the whole time."
Best defensive rookie: DE Frank Clark
Frank Clark, Seattle's top pick in the 2015 draft, didn't always stand out in practice during the first couple weeks of camp, which wasn't so much a reflection of his play as it was the position he plays, but when Clark saw his first game action, it was evident why the Seahawks liked him so much. Playing nearly the entire game, Clark recorded 9.0 tackles, and had a tackle-for-loss and forced fumble on his first play from scrimmage. Clark was mostly just a defensive end at Michigan, but he has shown good versatility playing a Bennett-type role, lining up both at end and as an interior pass rusher in the nickel defense. Clark isn't a finished product just yet, but the early returns have been encouraging.
"I think the variety of things that he showed, the chase off the backside, the play-side with the tackle, going through the guy and hitting the running back causing a fumble, pass rush-wise, outside, inside," Carroll said after last week's game. "He had a little bit of trouble inside on the running game when he was playing the three-technique, but other than that he was very effective, and it was a really good start for him."
Best newcomer not named Jimmy Graham: DT Ahtyba Rubin
When the Seahawks signed Rubin, a seven-year veteran who has been a starter for the past five seasons in Cleveland, it wasn't the splashiest of acquisitions, but Rubin has quietly enjoyed a very strong first camp with the Seahawks. And following the release of Tony McDaniel, Rubin has moved to a starting role, making the signing even more important for Seattle.
"He has been really solid," Carroll said. "He is going to be a really good addition for us. He's very physical at the point of attack, he plays with great leverage, he's a really good technician, he's always in the right spots, he understands the scheme, and he plays real smart football.
He also has a knack—you guys keep watching—when he chases the football, he will go, and that's a big body rumbling to make a hit. He's going to make some big plays for us on the perimeter that are going to surprise some people."
Best unit: Defensive Line
In 2013, Seattle's defensive line depth was one of the underrated components of a championship team, and a year later, that depth was tested by injuries, which hurt the Seahawks down the stretch. It's early still, but right now this line looks like one that will be able to rely on a deep rotation, much like the 2013 team. In addition to the starters—Bennett, Avril, Rubin and Brandon Mebane—a number of players have shown good things so far, from Clark to Jordan Hill to Cassius Marsh, and even lesser-known young players like undrafted rookie T.Y McGill.
And if we could cheat on this a bit and count the entire front seven as one unit, that group would definitely get the nod, because the linebackers might be just as deep and talented as the line.
Biggest question mark: Offensive Line
The Seahawks gave up seven sacks in the first preseason game, which isn't ideal, but it's also not that surprising considering how many changes have been made and how many young players are being worked into the mix.
The time for panic is a long ways off—there are still three preseason games to be played, after all—but Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable would be the first to tell you that the blocking, and the pass protection in particular, need to improve. The Seahawks tried out another new look this week, moving Justin Britt from right tackle to left guard and promoting Garry Gilliam to the starting job at right tackle. That's likely the first unit we'll see in Friday's game in Kansas City, and with a strong performance, or at least an improved one, the Seahawks might be able to settle on a starting five and start working on building continuity.
Biggest surprise: Receiver depth
Lockett was the big addition to this group, and you can almost add Jimmy Graham to this conversation as often as he'll line up like a receiver, but what has been a pleasant surprise for the Seahawks is how deep the receiver group is from top to bottom. Even with last year's second-round pick, Paul Richardson, on the PUP list, this has been one of the deepest position groups on the team thanks to the continued development of Chris Matthews and quarterback-turned-receiver B.J. Daniels, as well as the play of two undrafted former University of Washington receivers, Kasen Williams and Kevin Smith.
"Our goal going into the spring, going into camp was to make our decisions as hard as possible," receiver coach Dave Canales said. "If your pour your resources into every guy, they're all going to improve. Myself and Nate (Carroll) said 'You know what, if we treat everybody the same and prepare them the same, we should have a big problem on their hands.' It's a talented group."
Best moment: Jesse Williams' comeback
Third-year defensive tackle Jesse Williams was diagnosed with Papillary Type 2 cancer in mid-May, and not long after had a cancerous kidney removed. Yet when the Seahawks took the field for their preseason opener, Williams was suited up and he saw his first game action since the 2013 preseason having also missed the past two years with knee injuries.
"I felt like crying running out of the tunnel," Williams said following the Seahawks' preseason opener. "A lot of downs the last couple of months, but to be out there running around with my team, make some plays, have fun, and just do what I'm supposed to be doing, back to my normal life. It means a lot to me."
Also definitely worth a mention is long snapper Nate Boyer, who was recently released, but who at 34-years-old signed with Seattle as an undrafted rookie. Boyer, a former Army Green beret who first played organized football as a 29-year-old at Texas, led the team onto the field carry the American Flag, and played all of the second half, snapping five times, all accurately.