Pre-Pre-Season Preview: Seahawks Special Teams

Aside from digging into the various news stories, I’ve largely neglected talking about the Seahawks by design:  2017 was a bitter pill to swallow.  After such a sustained stretch of brilliance, this team was a slog to cover last year; but, they’ve jettisoned a lot of aging veterans, brought in fresh blood throughout the organization, and I would argue there’s some reasons to be optimistic (even though my default prediction is that this team will win anywhere from 7-9 games; everything would have to go perfectly in our favor to get to 10 wins or more, and when does THAT ever happen?).

So, with precious few weeks remaining until the pre-season games kick things off, I’ve got a quickie series of posts where I’ll look at the 7 areas of this team as they’re set up right now:

  • Passing Game (QB / WR / TE / RB)
  • Running Game (RB / QB)
  • Blocking Game (OL / TE)
  • Special Teams (K / P / Coverage Units / Return Game)
  • Pass Rush (DE / LB)
  • Run Defense (DT / DE / LB)
  • Pass Defense (DB / LB)

Without further ado, let’s talk about the Seahawks’ Special Teams.

Kickers

Sebastian Janikowski vs. Jason Myers.  The sure-footed veteran on a 1-year prove-it deal following an injury-riddled 2017 vs. a booming-legged youngster who’s bounced around the league, but has yet to put it all together.

Any way you slice it, the Seahawks are MUCH improved over the fucking disaster that was Blair Walsh.  Though, I guess we have to wonder:  are we better off than we would’ve been had we re-signed Steven Hauschka?

I still stand behind the decision to move on from Hauschka, even though he killed it for Buffalo (including a perfect 29/29 on his PATs after missing a whopping 6 with the Seahawks in 2016).  With kickers, so much of it is a mental game, which is why Walsh is out of the league now.  He missed that playoff field goal with the Vikings (against the Seahawks) and never recovered.  Hauschka essentially lost his job in Seattle because of a bunch of missed extra points and field goals (including that infuriating 6-6 tie in Arizona in 2016).  Who’s to say he didn’t need a fresh start, across the country and in the opposite conference, a lot closer to his hometown than Seattle?  Kickers can be volatile – much like bullpen arms in baseball – by being hot one year and a disaster the next, with no rhyme or reason for either; but he was looking for a pricey, long-term extension and given his performance in 2016, I don’t think it was the smartest play to keep him.

There is, however, something to be said for investing in your kicker, though, and not just dumpster diving for scraps.  So many games hinge on a field goal here, or an extra point there, that if you end up with a dud like Walsh, it can mean the difference between going 9-7 and missing out on the playoffs, or going 11-5 (or even 12-4) and maybe winning the division.

As for this battle, I don’t see the Seahawks making a rash decision here.  I think they want to solve their kicking riddle for the long term, not just patch things over temporarily only to have to fix things all over again in a year’s time.  As such, I think Myers is going to be given every opportunity to win this job, and I think it’s the appropriate move.  I mostly think that because I don’t believe this is a playoff team (I certainly don’t believe it’s a championship team, not with all the loaded NFC teams this year), and I also don’t think that Janikowski has a lot left in the tank.

But, I do think it’s a true position battle.  Janikowski has the edge because he can be relied upon.  Also, he has some cachet as a former first round draft pick and future hall of famer.  You don’t throw him away if Myers has a bad pre-season because you have a hunch that he could be the kicker of the future.  All things being equal, I think Myers wins the job.  Short of that, Janikowski is your man and you look to solve this riddle next year.

As I said before, this is all a vast improvement over 2017, as at worst you have a guy in Janikowski who will at the very least make the ones he’s supposed to make.  For that reason alone, I give this grade a B+.

Punters

Feels weird having a punter battle, but here we are.

This feels like less of a battle and more like a lamb going to slaughter, though.  Michael Dickson was widely considered to be the best punter in the draft this year and we traded up in the fifth round to grab him.  Jon Ryan is heading into his 13th season, is coming off of a down year, and is making considerably more money.  Dickson would have to totally fall on his face to lose this job.

From what I’ve seen in videos and read about online, Dickson looks like the real fucking deal!  Look, I love Jon Ryan and what he’s done for this team; he’s the MVP for crying out loud!  But, Dickson could be one of the best punters in the game, and right out of the gate!

It sounds idiotic to be excited about seeing a punter in the pre-season, but I have to admit, among all the newcomers we brought in this off-season, he’s near the top of my list.  I mean, the first time he’s able to down a punt inside the five yard line, I guarantee I’m going to scream and yell and jump out of my seat, giving high fives to all the confused people around me in that moment.  I can’t wait.

Grade:  A+

Coverage Units

This one is pretty hard to project, because it involves so many of the players at the back-end of the roster.  And because I don’t really know any of the stats or sabermetrics dealing with kickoff and punt coverage units.

I do know this:  the Seahawks have some horses on this roster.  The athleticism in our special teams units should be as good as they’ve been since 2013 or 2014.  Obviously, the name that sticks out the most is Shaquem Griffin.  We’re all sitting here wondering how he’s going to fit into the defense (will they play him at SAM, at WILL, at LEO, or possibly move him to safety?), but one thing we know for certain is he’s destined to be one of our most important special teamers.  How do we know that?  Because his twin brother – as a rookie – became our starting cornerback last year out of the gate.  Shaquem is just as fast, is slightly bigger & stronger, and all he’s missing is one of his hands (which could theoretically be a strength when it comes to shedding blockers to make tackles).  I mean, just imagine if BOTH of the Griffin brothers are playing special teams!

The Seahawks may be lacking in the superstars they once had, but I would argue our depth is stronger than it’s been in three or four years.  With that being the case, competition to make this roster is going to be as tough as it’s been in a long time, and that obviously means guys are going to have to be rockstars on special teams to get on the roster for week 1.

That trickle-down effect should mean great coverage, on top of the fact that Dickson is elite at getting hangtime (while still getting great distance) on his punts, and whoever wins the kicking battle is sure to boom a good percentage of kickoffs into the endzone.

Grade:  A

Return Game

As we’re deeper than ever in our coverage units, so are we deeper than ever in our return game.  Tyler Lockett is obviously the returning starter.  He’s coming off a full year being healthy – after being injured late in 2016 – and was really looking good by season’s end.  That’s a great sign as we head into 2018, as presumably he’s as strong as ever.  Likewise, going into a contract year, he’s going to be hungry to earn a big extension.  I expect great things.

And, if we opt to go in another direction – particularly on kickoffs, where rule changes could prove it beneficial to have multiple returners standing back there – Rashaad Penny was a top-notch returner in college.  That’s on top of having a number of receivers who could be up to the task, depending on who wins one of those final roster spots.

Not only do we have depth, but we have ELITE depth.  It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see a lot of long returns (and touchdown returns) contribute to some important wins.

Grade:  A

There are lots of question marks on both sides of the football for the Seahawks, but Special Teams will be the without-a-doubt #1 strength of this team in 2018, mark my words.  A’s across the board!

Pre-Pre-Season Preview: Seahawks Blocking Game

Aside from digging into the various news stories, I’ve largely neglected talking about the Seahawks by design:  2017 was a bitter pill to swallow.  After such a sustained stretch of brilliance, this team was a slog to cover last year; but, they’ve jettisoned a lot of aging veterans, brought in fresh blood throughout the organization, and I would argue there’s some reasons to be optimistic (even though my default prediction is that this team will win anywhere from 7-9 games; everything would have to go perfectly in our favor to get to 10 wins or more, and when does THAT ever happen?).

So, with precious few weeks remaining until the pre-season games kick things off, I’ve got a quickie series of posts where I’ll look at the 7 areas of this team as they’re set up right now:

  • Passing Game (QB / WR / TE / RB)
  • Running Game (RB / QB)
  • Blocking Game (OL / TE)
  • Special Teams (K / P / Coverage Units / Return Game)
  • Pass Rush (DE / LB)
  • Run Defense (DT / DE / LB)
  • Pass Defense (DB / LB)

Without further ado, let’s talk about the Seahawks’ blocking game.

Offensive Line

Here we are.  So much of what the Seahawks want to do hinges on this.  Every year since Russell Wilson has proven himself to be a superstar quarterback in this league, I’ve been waiting for this offense to really bust out and start carrying the team; and every year, those hopes are dashed by an offensive line that couldn’t stop a pack of infants from wreaking havoc in our backfield.

And it’s not like the Seahawks haven’t tried!  We hired Tom Cable, we used many multiple draft picks, in a variety of rounds from the first through the seventh.  But, nothing worked, and indeed it got progressively worse over time, until last year when we has the worst running game in football.  How Russell Wilson hasn’t been killed in a live NFL game is beyond me, because he’s taken a BEATING!

I wish I could walk those comments back and say, “Oh, it wasn’t as bad as we remember,” but actually I think it was worse.  I mean, you’d expect a unit that was as healthy as our O-Line was last year to at least show SOME signs of improvement as the season went along, but I saw no evidence of that.  Did you?

Who’s at fault?  Well, how much time have you got?  Obviously, Tom Cable had to go.  I wouldn’t say his tenure was an utter failure – he did help take us to 2 Super Bowls, so it wasn’t ALWAYS this bad – but I’d say the last three years (2015-2017) were as bad as it gets.  Instead of taking advantage of Russell Wilson’s absolute prime, he had to run for his life on almost every play, while battling constant nagging injuries for one of those seasons!

The front office certainly shares some of the blame, be it Pete Carroll, John Schneider, the scouts, all of ’em.  Letting Tom Cable have so much power and direction over personnel, for starters.  The collective, for just having the worst insight/intuition/whathaveyou when it comes to picking which players we ended up drafting and signing to free agent deals.  The front office also for losing its way – to quote Richard Sherman – by trading away Max Unger for Jimmy Graham.  One of the better blocking centers in the league for one of the worst blocking tight ends in the history of football.

Now, certainly there were factors outside of their control, in that so many other players on this team turned into All Pros and Pro Bowlers, and as we talk about all the time, you can’t pay everyone.  But, the front office still made a choice in who they decided to pay; and ultimately they decided to make this offensive line the most under-funded in the entire league.  It backfired, and they’ve since corrected for that, but now we’re years from our last Super Bowl and, I’m afraid, many more years away from our next one.

I mean, if they’d just signed ONE high-priced left tackle, instead of paying the likes of Percy Harvin or Jimmy Graham, just think of how different things might be.  We might truly be talking about a Seahawks Dynasty, instead of a Seahawks What-If.

But, the past is the past and we can’t do anything about it now.  Let’s take a look at who we’ve got.

Well, I’ll say this:  the left side of the line looks VERY promising.  There are still a tremendous amount of caveats and question marks even about these three guys, but it’s not hard to envision a scenario where Duane Brown (at left tackle), Ethan Pocic (at left guard) and Justin Britt (at center) truly anchor this offensive line and make it a halfway competent one.  That having been said, Brown is going to be 33 in August and is heading into his 11th season; that’s a lot of mileage.  He’s also coming off of a year where he held out for half the games, then suffered an ankle injury.  He appears to be healthy now, but how long will that last?  And, even when he was (supposedly) healthy last year, he didn’t look great.  Maybe he needed time to get used to Russell Wilson’s style of play and scrambling and all that … or maybe he’s in his 30’s and is on the downside of his career.  How many more years does he have left, realistically?  2?  3 at the MOST?

This thing falls apart in a hurry if Duane Brown isn’t The Man.  I like Pocic as much as the next guy, but it’s still his second year in the league.  He’s also on his second offensive line coach in as many seasons (well, third in as many seasons, I suppose, if you include his college coach), so what is that going to do to stunt his growth?  And, as for Britt, again I like him, but he also pulled his share of boners last year, following his contract extension and the anointing of him as the leader of this unit.  Maybe that was because he had to compensate for the dunderheads around him – and I really do hope that’s the case – but don’t forget who’s at fault for George Fant getting hurt in the first place.  He took a blind dive into a guy and ended up landing on his own teammate’s knee; Britt isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.

I want to believe in this left side of the line – I HAVE to believe in them, for my own sanity – because the right side scares the everloving shit out of me.

The Seahawks brought back Mile Solari to coach up the offensive line.  He hasn’t had a successful O-Line in more years than I can count, so right away we’re dealing with a huge red flag.  Now, maybe there were other circumstances outside of his control, and it wasn’t necessarily all his fault that his lines have been terrible.  Maybe, if he had more control over things, he would’ve gotten his type of guys and had more success.  I certainly hope so, because it sounds like the Seahawks really took him to heart when he recommended signing D.J. Fluker to be this team’s right guard.

For starters, I think a lot of fans were clamoring for Germain Ifedi to move inside to guard.  I wasn’t one of them – I think if we’re ever going to see our faith in Ifedi pay off, it’s going to have to be at one single position, and not by jerking him around from guard to tackle and back again – but I can certainly understand the thought process.  Ifedi looks like a giant lunkhead over there at right tackle, and it might be easier to hide some of his flaws if you moved him inside and had Britt helping him out on double-teams and whatnot.  But, I’m of the opinion that if Ifedi is the bust we all fear he is, then he’s going to be a HUGE GAPING LIABILITY wherever you put him.  Sort of like Britt was, when we moved him from tackle to guard to finally center; unfortunately, you can only have one center on an offensive line, and Britt weaselled his way into the league first.

Getting back to Fluker for a minute, here’s a guy who was another former first rounder, as well as a guy who’s been considered a giant bust since entering the league.  He’s also a guy who was injured for most of 2017, and who thus far through OTA’s and mini-camps, hasn’t seen any action that I can recall hearing about (again, due to injury).  Even in an ideal world where Fluker was 100% healthy this off-season, he still was never going to be a guarantee.  I like him because he’s cheap, and hungry, and huge, and is supposedly a quality run blocker if nothing else; but that still doesn’t mean he’s destined to be worth a damn in 2018!

I want to believe in these guys, 1-5, but I just can’t get it up for this right side.  At this point, I’m done hoping Ifedi will be anything; I’m resigned to him being a bust and if I’m pleasantly surprised, then so be it.  As for Fluker, I don’t think he has more than 5 games in him before some body part gives out.  I’m mentally preparing myself for a revolving door on this side, with guys like Rees Odhiambo or Jordan Roos seeing some action at right guard, and with guys like George Fant or Isaiah Battle seeing some action at right tackle.

That having all been said, I think there’s an offensive line here we can use.  It’s far from perfect, and it’s far from ideal, but 3/5 of a competent offensive line is better than the 0/5 we’ve had the last three years.

As I said before, it all hinges on Duane Brown.  If he can return to even 80% of his former Pro Bowl self, we’ve got a shot.  Hopefully he’ll get better acquainted with Wilson’s scrambling style, as well as stay healthy the full year.  If he can do that, and help guide a beefed-up Pocic through any more growing pains he’s got left, then I don’t think Britt has to worry about helping out on that side, and can put his talents towards helping out his right guard, whoever that ends up being.  At which point, I’m not even asking for a huge step forward out of our right tackle; just don’t get any WORSE and I’ll be ecstatic!

With how BIG this unit is, if we still have trouble running the ball, then I’m gonna go jump off a bridge.  Also, it sounds like maybe there’ll be something of a scheme change, away from the strict zone blocking scheme we had under Cable?  I think that could help an oaf like Ifedi, where he doesn’t have to use his brain as much.  Maybe he can put those remaining brain cells into keeping track of the snap count, and not illegally hitting guys after the whistle and whatnot.

It’s the pass protection that’s my bigger concern, as it always is.  Pocic is a great unknown at this point in his career (one would hope his pedigree, work ethic, and increased mass will help him going forward), but everyone to his right has their moments of utter, mind-blowing ineptitude when it comes to letting guys just get free runs at the quarterback.  So, again, I turn to Duane Brown; he NEEDS to be our rock.  If we just have that one guy doing his job, we’ve got a chance.  Where it always breaks down is when both ends get to charge at Wilson and he has nowhere to go; but, if Brown is solid, then at least Wilson will be able to escape to the left side and try to make something happen.

I hate having to rely so much on one guy, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt.  If Duane Brown doesn’t earn his next contract with superb play, we’re fucked.  There’s no other way around it.

As such, my grade is a C-.  There’s room to take it as high as a B, and obviously as low as an F, but as a baseline, C- is still better than anything we’ve gotten in the previous three seasons, which I find really encouraging.

Tight Ends

Can’t talk about the blocking game without mentioning the VAST improvement we’ve established among our tight ends!

Swapping out Jimmy Graham and bringing in Ed Dickson is like an NBA team trading me for LeBron James; I’m so giddy I can’t even stand it!

I want you to close your eyes.  I want you to picture the Seahawks lining up on offense, with 3 wide receivers, a running back, and Jimmy Graham.  I want you to picture Jimmy Graham motioning out wide to the right, then turning around and motioning back towards the offensive line.  I want you to picture just as Graham gets to the right tackle, we snap the ball, and Russell Wilson turns to hand it off to the running back, with the intention to go off-tackle.  There’s a linebacker coming around the edge; he’s Graham’s responsibility.  All Graham has to do is execute a wham block – blocking him down into the mass of bodies along the offensive and defensive lines – and if he does that, we have a considerable gain with the running back bouncing it around.  Can you picture it?  Can you picture Jimmy Graham standing fully upright, sort of half-heartedly (quarter-heartedly?) pushing on the linebacker with his forearms right before said linebacker blows up the play for a 3-yard loss?  Is your blood now sufficiently boiling?  Do you want to go out and murder 50 people?

I never thought I could hate someone more than I hated Percy Harvin, but I hate Jimmy Graham with the intensity of A FUCKING GOOGOLPLEX OF SUNS!  I mean, at least Harvin has a mental condition to explain why he’s a worthless pile of shit; Jimmy Graham is just a soft asshole whose only skill is catching 1-yard touchdown passes against undersized cornerbacks (and even THEN he drops the ball half the time!).

So, yeah, I love the Ed Dickson signing.  Is it sexy?  HELL NO!  But, I’m tired of going after sexy offensive weapons; where has it gotten us?  Give me the guy willing to hunt for his meal.  Give me the guy who will scrap and claw and fight for that inch.

Shit, give me a guy who can help out this poor excuse for an offensive line!

The Seahawks did it in spades.  Not only did they let Graham go, but they let Luke Willson go as well.  I like Willson, but he’s just a guy.  Sure, he was a fighter, but you wouldn’t say blocking was his specialty.  You know whose specialty that is?  Will Dissly, 4th round draft pick out of the University of Washington.  “Best blocking tight end in the draft” is what I’m told.  Good enough for me.  He could catch 0 balls this year and he’ll still be worth his weight in gold if he can live up to that moniker for this team.

Beyond that, it’ll be a fight between Nick Vannett and Tyrone Swoopes, the 3rd round pick from 2016 vs. the undrafted rookie from 2017.  Vannett has largely been considered a disappointment, and you can see why.  You pick a guy in the 3rd round, you expect more than 15 total receptions and 1 touchdown in his first 2 years.  Beyond that, I really don’t remember him making any sort of special teams contributions, so what is he good for?

Well, I’d argue he was buried behind two very established veterans in Graham and Willson, and how often do you really see a team’s third tight end?  It’s now or never for this kid, and you’d have to say his chances are never going to be better.  I have to believe – heading into the pre-season – Vannett is probably the most gifted offensive, pass-catching weapon at tight end on this team.  If he can’t stand out over a guy in Ed Dickson (who you know what you’ve got) and a rookie in Dissly not known as much of a pass-catching threat in college, then we’ve probably reached the end of the road with Vannett.  From a blocking perspective, he doesn’t even need to be that great to make an impact, so long as he’s a catching machine.  But, regardless, he HAS to be better than Graham, so we’re talking about a considerable improvement any way you slice it.

As for Swoopes, he more or less rode the Practice Squad all of 2017.  He’s seen as more of a project, but with great potential as a pass-catcher, so again there’s probably only room for either him or Vannett.  Unless he shows tremendous skills – and tremendous improvement over what was probably a pretty raw rookie campaign – then he’s going to need to be a force when it comes to blocking.  I have no idea, but my hunch is that’s probably the biggest part of his game that’s lacking.  We’ll see.

Regardless, when it comes to just blocking, I’m giving our tight ends an A+.  I couldn’t be happier!

The question now is:  when you factor in the combo of the O-Line and our Tight Ends, will we have the blocking to be successful?  Assuming we scheme it up right, and take advantage of all of them, I think we do.  Darrell Bevell liked to spend all his free time trying to out-think opposing defenses (hence why you always saw Graham on the field in obvious rushing situations, to try to “fool” defenses into thinking we’d throw to him; only problem with that is it never made up for the liability he was in actually trying to throw a block).  It sounds like Brian Schottenheimer is more old school in that regard.  I’d expect a lot of ground & pound.  In which case, it’s our best guys against your best guys, and may the best team win.  With the group of guys we’ve got, I think that suits us to a T.  I could easily see our blocking unit end up with a grade of a B-, which is all we need with our skill position guys doing their things.

I really do believe there’s potential for greatness out of this offense.  Of course, there’s also potential for utter ruin, but that’s what makes this season so exciting!

Pre-Pre-Season Preview: Seahawks Running Game

Aside from digging into the various news stories, I’ve largely neglected talking about the Seahawks by design:  2017 was a bitter pill to swallow.  After such a sustained stretch of brilliance, this team was a slog to cover last year; but, they’ve jettisoned a lot of aging veterans, brought in fresh blood throughout the organization, and I would argue there’s some reasons to be optimistic (even though my default prediction is that this team will win anywhere from 7-9 games; everything would have to go perfectly in our favor to get to 10 wins or more, and when does THAT ever happen?).

So, with precious few weeks remaining until the pre-season games kick things off, I’ve got a quickie series of posts where I’ll look at the 7 areas of this team as they’re set up right now:

  • Passing Game (QB / WR / TE / RB)
  • Running Game (RB / QB)
  • Blocking Game (OL / TE)
  • Special Teams (K / P / Coverage Units / Return Game)
  • Pass Rush (DE / LB)
  • Run Defense (DT / DE / LB)
  • Pass Defense (DB / LB)

Without further ado, let’s talk about the Seahawks’ running game.

Running Backs

As I got into yesterday, I’m pretty stoked on the running backs we’ve got in camp.  And, as I got into yesterday, I don’t think any of them are on the level of Marshawn Lynch in his heyday, but I do think as a collective, this is the best group we’ve had in a very long time.  Maybe ever!

I keep waffling on Rashaad Penny.  I want to like him.  I DESPERATELY want him to be great.  I think with his speed and overall talents, he has the potential to be great.  But, there are plenty of running backs with good speed and skills, but it takes a special, intangible something that separates the good backs from the elites.  And, we won’t know if he has THAT until we see him in action.

I think it’s safe to say Penny is the player I’m most looking forward to seeing in the pre-season (and that’s saying something, now that we’ve got both Griffin brothers on defense).  Everything hinges on returning the running game to dominance.  This team had no running game whatsoever in 2017 and failed to make the playoffs as a result.  If we continue to sputter, it’s going to be a LONG 2018.

The good thing is, if nothing else, I think Penny has a high floor.  Also, with Chris Carson as his running mate, we shouldn’t see any sort of drop-off in ability or production.  Of course, if BOTH of those guys get injured, I don’t know what to tell you.  At that point, I’d have to legitimately believe in the realness of curses and start investing in crucifixes or something.

Behind them, from strictly a rushing perspective (i.e. not pass-catching), we have Mike Davis, then C.J. Prosise, then J.D. McKissic.  Davis is just a guy, a competent all-around running back who is never going to wow you and is never going to be a bona fide starter in this league.  He’s nice insurance to have, if indeed the injury bug keeps on biting this team, but he’s not essential to keep on the 53-man roster.  With everyone being healthy, even if you did roster him into the regular season, I can’t imagine he’d be active very often, if at all.  He also strikes me as a guy you’d be able to pick up off the waiver wire in the event of an emergency.  I mean, what teams out there are clamoring for the services of Mike Davis?

The real #3 running back battle falls to Prosise vs. McKissic, as I talked about yesterday, and it boils down to whether or not Prosise can stay healthy.  If healthy, I think the team looks to keep Prosise, because all things being even, I think he’s the better all-around running back over McKissic.  I think both are valuable pass-catching backs, but I think Prosise has the edge in the running game.  Of course, durability is the key, and for that reason alone I believe McKissic will make the team; but if you’re counting on McKissic to be your every-down back, something has gone seriously wrong.

So, I’m just going to cross my fingers and hope our top two guys stay healthy.  I’d really like to see how an honest running back battle shakes out, as I feel like both Penny and Carson could push each other to remarkable heights.

As for the fullback position, I have no opinion.  Outside of the blocking game, can you get a yard on 4th & 1 with a dive up the middle?  That’s all I care about.  Hell, I don’t think the Seahawks even HAD a true fullback last year, so it can’t be that important.

I give this position an A-.

Quarterbacks

Can’t talk about the running game without talking about Russell Wilson.  He led the team last year with 586 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns.  Outside of 2016 – where he was injured from game 1 – his season low in rushing has been 489 yards, which when you pair it with a competent attack from the running backs, makes for a nice chunk of change.

However, when you have what we had last year, defenses only had to focus on shutting down the passing game and containing Wilson in the pocket.  It speaks to his greatness that he was still able to run for 586 when the Seahawks had literally no other threats on the team, when the O-Line was as wretched as it was, and when every defense focused solely on keeping him contained rather than attacking him like normal pocket passers.

When you compare him to other duel-threat quarterbacks who are actually quality passers, Wilson is probably in the Top 2 with Cam Newton.  From purely a rushing perspective, you’d give the nod to Newton, but I’d still rather have Wilson if for no other reason than he doesn’t take all the savage hits that Newton endures.  At some point, it’s going to catch up to Cam, and he’s going to hit the IR sooner or later.  Wilson does an excellent job of getting what he needs to get and then getting out of harm’s way.  Give me that all day.

A+ for Wilson!

Of course, it feels incomplete talking about the running game (OR the passing game, for that matter) without talking about the offensive line.  I’ll get into that tomorrow.  The first two posts in this series are strictly a reflection of the talent among the skill position groups.  With an A+ offensive line, I think the Seahawks would have one of the most potent offenses in all of football.  As you’ll read about next time, I absolutely do not think the Seahawks have an A+ offensive line.

But, I also don’t think it’ll be as bad as everyone expects.

Pre-Pre-Season Preview: Seahawks Passing Game

Aside from digging into the various news stories, I’ve largely neglected talking about the Seahawks by design:  2017 was a bitter pill to swallow.  After such a sustained stretch of brilliance, this team was a slog to cover last year; but, they’ve jettisoned a lot of aging veterans, brought in fresh blood throughout the organization, and I would argue there’s some reasons to be optimistic (even though my default prediction is that this team will win anywhere from 7-9 games; everything would have to go perfectly in our favor to get to 10 wins or more, and when does THAT ever happen?).

So, with precious few weeks remaining until the pre-season games kick things off, I’ve got a quickie series of posts where I’ll look at the 7 areas of this team as they’re set up right now:

  • Passing Game (QB / WR / TE / RB)
  • Running Game (RB / QB)
  • Blocking Game (OL / TE)
  • Special Teams (K / P / Coverage Units / Return Game)
  • Pass Rush (DE / LB)
  • Run Defense (DT / DE / LB)
  • Pass Defense (DB / LB)

Without further ado, let’s talk about the Seahawks’ passing game.

Quarterbacks

It’s easy to write in Russell Wilson’s name here and call it a day.  A+.  Next position group.  I mean, we’re talking about a guy firmly in the prime of his career.  This will be his 7th season in the NFL, he’s worked his way up the quarterback rankings – I think most would put him in the Top 5, and if you don’t, I think you’re idiotic – and if you had to rank all the guys currently on the Seahawks, he’s not only the most important player, but he’s also the BEST player.

And sure, there isn’t a whole lot backing him up.  This isn’t a Philadelphia Eagles situation; if we lose Wilson, we don’t have a Nick Foles there backing him up with steady leadership and ability.  We have Austin Davis and a rookie; neither excites me to any degree.  Maybe the rookie develops into a competent backup one day, maybe not; but as a 7th round draft pick, I feel it’s pretty safe to say he’s a non-factor in 2018.

But, that’s pretty much been the case since Wilson was drafted.  Sure, MAYBE in 2013 – if Wilson had been injured – Tarvaris Jackson could’ve guided the team into the playoffs.  And MAYBE the rest of the squad would’ve been so great, it wouldn’t have mattered who was under center.  I don’t believe that; I don’t think the Seahawks had a chance in hell of GETTING to the Super Bowl that year, let alone winning it without Russell Wilson.  But, you believe what you want to believe.  I’ll believe that the Seahawks have never had anyone worth a damn backing up Wilson, and that any of our seasons since 2012 would’ve been absolutely destroyed if he’d suffered any sort of significant injury.

So, that’s nothing new in my mind.

That having been said, I can’t give Wilson a free pass either.  I know a lot of people will overlook at lot of his faults because the O-Line has been the worst in all of football, but to me that’s a 2-way street.  Yes, of course, there are too many instances of times where Wilson has no time to function; but, there are also a good number of boneheaded decisions on Wilson’s part, trying to do too much, ignoring the obvious check-down that would’ve gone for a significant gain.  Also, the team was constructed around his talents; they felt they could skimp on the O-Line because of Wilson’s running ability.  Considering all the money that was being paid elsewhere (as well as all the money going to Wilson himself), the team couldn’t pay everyone.  Where everyone is at fault, I believe, is OVER-estimating Russell Wilson’s abilities.  We saw him pull our asses out of the fire with magical play after magical play so many times, we thought he could walk on water.  When, in reality, Wilson is like most any other quarterback in the sense that he needs to be protected just like everyone else.

He’s human, despite what all the memes will tell you.

Now, he’s still a great human.  Elite even!  But, human nevertheless.  He’s a net gain, all things considered, but he’s also going to dig his share of holes that he then has to try and lift this team out of.  A lot of times, he’ll be successful.  But, not EVERY time.

So, to me, until I see a little more on-field maturity in his decision-making, it’s not an A+, but more like just a regular ol’ A, or even an A-.  He’s still in the 90th-percentile, and in that sense the Seahawks are one of the very, very lucky ones.

Wide Receivers

It’s almost refreshing to see the overwhelming majority of the public bash on the Seahawks’ receivers.  Feels like 2012 again!

I don’t have nearly the problem with the Seahawks’ receivers as everyone else seems to.  ESPN, for instance, ranked the Seahawks among the bottom quarter of the league in offensive weapons, but I don’t think it’s so dire.

For starters, we still have Doug Baldwin.  He’s going to command the lion’s share of the targets in the passing game, and he’s one of the 5 or 10 best (and most talented, dependable, dynamic, and fun-to-watch) receivers in the league.  Now, if we assume this is going to be a return to form for the Seahawks’ offense – with a run-first mentality – then we have to assume targets will once again be tough to come by.  In that sense, do the Seahawks really NEED three or four top-line wide receivers?

I argue: no.  We have one top-line guy in Baldwin, and another very good receiver in Tyler Lockett.  I think that’s enough.  Beyond that, I think the team will figure it out.

I think what goes in this team’s favor is that we don’t have this beast we have to constantly feed, like we did with Jimmy Graham (or previously with Percy Harvin).  We can simply focus on the best man available.  Instead of constantly dialing into one guy – particularly in the red zone – Wilson can just throw to whoever’s open.  IMAGINE THAT!  He can take advantage of natural mis-matches.  Guys we haven’t even considered could step up and be unlikely heroes, like in the good ol’ days of Seahawks football!

I think we’re also underestimating Doug’s abilities in the red zone, which are elite, and were heavily over-shadowed over all the hand-wringing it took to get Jimmy Graham his touches.  If the over/under is 8.5 TDs for Doug, I’m betting heavy on the over.  After that, you’re going to see a ton of guys catching anywhere from 2-4 TDs, we just can’t see exactly who just yet.

My grade is a solid B.

Tight Ends

Of course, something had to suffer with the loss of Jimmy Graham, and that’s in the pass-catching ability of our tight ends (I’ll discuss our VAST improvement in run blocking tight ends when I discuss the running game in a separate post).

Not only did we lose Graham’s production – not to mention the THREAT of his production, in how defenses schemed us – but we also lost Luke Willson, both of whom I would argue – strictly from a passing game perspective (taking all of their blocking ability out of it) – are better than what’s remaining on the Seahawks.

I guess you start with Ed Dickson, who I think will be good for – at best – a 2 catches per game average.  But, again, I would argue that’s all you need.  When our offense was really humming, we had Zach Miller at the helm.  He was great, but he was far from a focal point in the passing game.  Nevertheless, if you stuck a slow linebacker on him, he was liable to get by him for one or two big gains a game.  THAT’S what I want out of my tight ends in the passing game:  just one or two surprise plays that will move the chains.  Anything beyond that – up to and including any touchdowns – is gravy.

It gets even leaner from there, as Will Dissly was drafted primarily to be another blocking tight end for this team.  While I do believe in his ability long term, and think he will one day develop into a Zach Miller-ish catching tight end, I don’t think he’ll ever be a dominant offensive force.  And, again, I think that’s okay.  I think that’s just what this team needs to be productive.

My grade is a C-.

Running Backs

The real wild card in all of this is how our backs take to the passing game.  Under Russell Wilson, this has never really been an offense that took advantage of its running backs in the passing game.  There are occasional dump-offs, but really nothing to write home about.

However, as I’ll write about next time when I write about the running game, I couldn’t be any higher on this group of running backs.  It’s easy to say this is the best group we’ve had since Marshawn Lynch was in town, but I think these guys can REALLY start to approach – as a collective – the Beastmode’s greatness.

Considering what was always the drop-off from Lynch to whoever was next in line, this is the best 1-2 punch the Seahawks have had at running back maybe ever.  No one owns the #1 job just yet, but you figure with Rashaad Penny’s first round draft status, he has to be 1-A heading into Training Camp.  But, with how Chris Carson looked last year, and particularly how he looked in the mini camps, it’s really anyone’s race.  If they develop and take to the new offense the way I believe they can, we’re talking about two guys who could start on any number of teams in this league.  As it is, we’re talking about two guys who will get every opportunity to win increased snaps.

That doesn’t even get into the depth of this unit.  While I believe Carson and Penny have the chops to be great pass catchers (particularly Penny, with his speed, and his abilities in the return game), behind them we have whoever emerges in the C.J. Prosise vs. J.D. McKissic battle.  One of them will make this team; Prosise if he stays perfectly healthy, or McKissic as a fall-back whenever Prosise rolls an ankle or bruises a toe.  Either one would be a perfectly fine complement to our two starters, and will likely be a featured back on 3rd downs and in 2-minute situations.  They both have wide receiver backgrounds, so not utilizing them would be a huge error.  At that point, it’s up to Wilson to take advantage.

My grade is a B (with room to advance to an A if the offense makes good use of them).

The name of the game is spreading the ball around.  It’s what Russell Wilson does best.  If the Seahawks are going to have a successful passing game this year, it’s going to be with a lot of different heroes stepping up game-in and game-out.  Doug will get his, but sometimes he won’t, and sometimes it’ll be a guy from out of nowhere.

My overall grade:  B (again, with room to advance to an A if players gel and buy into the new system).

It Appears Kam Chancellor Is Done With Football

The writing had been on the wall pretty much since he got injured last year, but now it’s sort of official:  Kam Chancellor won’t be playing football anymore.  He had a devastating neck injury and the wrong hit could effectively paralyze him, so really it makes sense.

It’s a bummer, obviously.  It sucks because he’s still close to his prime; he can certainly play at a very high level if not for this neck thing.  The skills haven’t diminished.  But, that’s the game.  That’s why you see all these broken-down ex-football players nowadays.  Shit’s violent.

It also sucks because the Seahawks owe a considerable amount of money to a guy who can’t contribute, for this year and next.  I think I heard something in the range of $5 million is guaranteed in 2019; saying nothing of the massive amount against our cap in 2018.  But, if you were hoping for a Seahawks spending spree next year, just know that there’s a considerable chunk of dead money looming.

It wouldn’t suck nearly as much if we could’ve just gotten another year out of him, but really this is the worst-case scenario given the timing of him signing his extension.  And, of course, the spill-over has the Seahawks more than a little cautious to extend Earl Thomas (particularly when there’s still a year left on his deal, which is what we did for Kam) and I frankly don’t blame them.  Of course, Earl could go on to play another 10 years in some capacity; but would it shock you if he went down with a similar neck-type injury in the middle of this season?

Kam goes down as one of the greatest Seahawks of all time, and is a sure-fire Ring of Honor member at some point.  Is he a Hall of Famer?  Probably not, but then again, he’s already one of the most revered players in the game today.  The legend of Kam Chancellor will only grow and grow over time, as we look back at all his ferocious hits.  The way he could impact a game without doing a thing; just being an intimidating presence.  That shit goes a LONG way in NFL circles.  He certainly wouldn’t be a first ballot guy, but who knows?  20 years down the line, we’ll think back to this era and remember a titan of the game.  A titan cut down before his time.

Also, not for nothing, but it’s time to right the wrong that was the Super Bowl XLVIII MVP.  Malcolm Smith was in the right place at the right time, but Kam Chancellor was the REAL MVP of that game, and he deserves to be recognized officially.

You Could Also Say The Seahawks Are Holding Out On Extending Earl Thomas

But, that’s dumb.  Obviously, the title is, “Earl Thomas Is Holding Out.”

He stayed away from the voluntary OTA’s, but that’s a non-story because tons of other guys stayed away from their respective OTA’s as well, including Frank Clark, Byron Maxwell, and so on and so forth.  Then, on Sunday, Earl declared he’d be holding out of the non-voluntary portion of the OTA’s, with the intention of continuing to hold out through Training Camp and possibly beyond.

This isn’t really a surprise.  Earl Thomas is in the final year of his contract.  He’s 29 years old, and he’s looking at one more big payday before he finishes up his career on a string of smaller deals.  His leverage starts and ends at being one of the best safeties in the league for the better part of 8 seasons, so he feels he deserves the respect that comes with being paid at the top end of the safety market.

But, this will be his third contract.  Successful players on their third contracts tend to fail to live up to those contracts, due to age-related declines and an increased injury rate, among other things (most notably: a lack of drive that comes with having made your millions and achieving everything you’ve wanted to achieve in your NFL career).  Earl Thomas is a Hall of Famer.  He’s won a championship.  He’s made more money than he’ll ever need; he can take care of his family for generations.  Everything after this point is icing on the cake.

We’ve already seen cracks in the Earl Thomas facade.  He missed 5 regular season games and the entirety of the 2016 playoffs; he also missed a couple games in 2017 due to injury.  It would be absolutely idiotic to expect him to return to being a guy who’s out on the field for every play of every game for the next 4-5 years.  Can he still play at an extremely high level when he is healthy?  Sure, no problem.  But, at this point, I think you’re hoping and praying with every play he makes that he doesn’t get dinged up in some fashion.

The ideal situation for 2018 – assuming you couldn’t get a peach of a deal in return for his services – was that he’d come in, play every game, lead you back to the playoffs, and then you’d thank him for his services and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.  Now, I think you obviously have to adjust your expectations.  I hope he ONLY holds out for Training Camp, but returns for all the regular season games.  Or, failing that, I hope he ONLY holds out for 2 games like Kam Chancellor did.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be shocked if he held out the max number of games you can hold out while still having 2018 count as a contract year (he can hold out for up to 10 regular season games and still have his contract expire at the end of the year).  I would be shocked if he just retired from the NFL, but I do think it’s on the table, as he seems to be a little erratic.

For me, I don’t have a problem with guys holding out – especially proven elites – as long as they make it back for the regular season.  I don’t think it’s the smartest thing to do – because how many times do we see guys hold out, then get hurt almost immediately after returning to action? – but I can understand the desire to avoid a lot of additional risk ahead of a contract year.  Can you hold out, then get hurt upon returning?  Of course, but you can also get hurt in a non-contact drill on the first day of OTA’s as well, so there’s risk every time you step on the field, practice or otherwise.  It’s when you affect the games that matter when I start to get pissed off.  I’ll forgive a lot, but I still haven’t totally forgiven Kam Chancellor for his 2-game holdout, as I still believe that cost us a shot at a BYE in the playoffs (and, ultimately a shot at going to a third straight Super Bowl).  The difference here is, I don’t think the expectations are as high as they were in 2015.  Will Earl Thomas mean the difference between a playoff spot or not?  Maybe, but I don’t think his impact will be as dramatic as it would’ve been in years past.

Honestly, I’m more interested in how the other safeties respond.  How will Delano Hill look?  Will Bradley McDougald step into more of a leadership role?  Will Tedric Thompson – who everyone seemingly has written off – bounce back and contend for a starting job?  Will the team opt to move Shaquem Griffin to safety and is that potentially a spot where he could thrive?

I’m also interested in seeing if this ramps up the trade talk for Earl again.  Can we improve upon getting a 3rd round pick in return?  Will another team be beset with injuries to their safety room and make a panic move to bring Earl in (much like the Seahawks last year with their offensive and defensive lines)?  I’d be more than okay with the Seahawks letting this holdout play out, and if we like what we have behind Earl, waiting for another team to come calling.  Maybe we can get that 2nd round draft pick that we lost in the Duane Brown deal.  Also, maybe the money we save from this holdout can be carried over into 2019, allowing us to be bigger players in free agency next year.

I also wonder if the Seahawks might be more willing to deal Earl for less.  I hope not, but what if that desperation isn’t there from the rest of the league (especially if it’s a team that’s worried about Earl being on the last year of his deal, and unwilling to want to extend him)?  Might the Seahawks ship him away for a 4th rounder or worse?  Just to cut the tumor out and move on?  I’d rather we hang onto Earl and keep him as a potential shot in the arm in the middle of the season, or whenever he decides to start getting paid again.

Anyway, that’s where we are.  The Seahawks hold all of the cards (in the battle of Earl vs. The Team) and none of the cards (in the battle of the Seahawks vs. The NFL Trade Market).  Regardless of which side you sit on, the fans are the real losers in this scenario, as we not only face the prospect of a watered-down Seahawks defense for part or all of the 2018 season, but we also have to read and hear about this nonstop from now until whenever he returns to the team.  Buckle up, it’s going to be a nauseating ride!

The Seahawks Signed Brandon Marshall

This feels like more of a news story than it is, I think.  Brandon Marshall is a fringe Hall of Famer who frequently elevated the play of the sub-par quarterbacks around him.  If you had paired him with a Hall of Fame quarterback for the majority of his career – if, for instance, he had played his 12 years with Tom Brady – we might be talking about one of the very best wide receivers of all time.  But, I guess teams didn’t want to deal with his personality or whatever, so he never really stuck with any one team.  Not for longer than 4 years, anyway.

The Seahawks would be his 6th NFL team.  Up until last year’s injury-riddled stint with the Giants, Brandon Marshall had racked up at least one 1,000-yard season everywhere he went, with guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Matt Moore, Chad Henne, Kyle Orton, and Jay Cutler (again) throwing to him.  Just like Russell Wilson is the best quarterback Brian Schottenheimer has ever had, Russell Wilson is the best quarterback Brandon Marshall will have ever had.

Of course, that’s assuming he sticks.  It’s just too bad he’s 34 years old instead of 24 years old.

It’s a 1-year deal, for up to $2 million with incentives.  I can’t imagine much of it – if any – is guaranteed.  This has the feel of a guy we bring into Training Camp and see if he has anything left in the tank, a la Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards.

Obviously, Doug Baldwin is your #1 and Tyler Lockett is your #2.  The Seahawks brought in Jaron Brown to be the team’s #3, so if anything, this looks like it’s Jaron Brown Insurance.  Brandon Marshall can walk onto this team right this moment (assuming he’s fully healthy from last year’s injury) and be the 5th or 6th best receiver on this roster.  That would take very minimal effort from a fringe Hall of Famer, but you don’t bring in a Brandon Marshall to be this team’s 5th or 6th receiver.  Because, in all honesty, you need more from those guys; you need those guys to be standout special teamers, and that’s absolutely not in the cards for Marshall.  The only way Marshall makes the team is if he’s so much better than you’d expect him to be.  If he’s simply AS good as Amara Darboh, David Moore, or Marcus Johnson, then guess what:  you’re going to keep the younger guys with more cost control and less miles on their legs!  Is he better than those guys right now?  Almost certainly, but that’s not enough.

Brandon Marshall isn’t fighting for a spot against all the other wide receivers on this 90-man roster; he’s fighting for a roster spot against Jaron Brown.  He essentially needs to be BETTER than Jaron Brown to make this team.  I should point out that it doesn’t preclude the team from keeping both; in that hypothetical scenario, it just means both Brown and Marshall will have impressed the coaching staff enough to make a difficult decision (also in that hypothetical scenario, figure that means the team keeps 6 receivers, which – if I have to guess – is not something they want to do; I bet they opt to keep 5 and one of those veteran receivers gets the ax; most likely Marshall, but that’s neither here nor there).

In the end, figure it’s much ado about nothing.  It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Marshall is good enough to make this team, aside from some pretty serious injuries to the wide receiver unit.

Chuck Knox Passed Away

Sad news over the weekend, for Seahawks fans, and real hardcore NFL fans (as well as, obviously, his friends and family and former players and whatnot), as Chuck Knox passed away from complications related to dementia.

He’s currently the 2nd-winningest head coach in Seahawks history (behind Mike Holmgren, and just ahead of Pete Carroll, who should pass both of them in 2018, if he can just get us to 8-8), and the 10th-winningest head coach in NFL history.  There were lots of stories about how tough his teams were, and how he won at all three stops he made in his tenure in the league, but the story as it relates to Seahawks fans has to do with all those teams in the 80s that captivated the Pacific Northwest, in ways having only been surpassed (at the time) by the Supersonics of the late 70s and the Husky football teams since the dawn of time.

The 1983 Seahawks went 9-7, secured one of the two wild card spots, and went all the way to the AFC Championship on the back of a couple upset victories against the John Elway-led Broncos and the Dan Marino-led Dolphins in Miami, before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Raiders.

We parlayed that into a 12-4 season the very next year, another wild card berth (thanks to the fucking Broncos going 13-3), and some revenge over those Raiders in the wild card round, before falling to the Dolphins in Miami (who would go on to lose in the Super Bowl to the 49ers, in Dan Marino’s only appearance in the big game).

It’s a testament to Chuck Knox and the physicality of his Seahawks teams that we were able to do so much with some pretty average quarterbacks.  Jim Zorn and later Dave Krieg were really propped up by an elite running game and a hall of famer at wide receiver, Steve Largent (the best receiver to have ever played the game until Jerry Rice entered the league).

I didn’t really become a Seahawks fan until after those glory years, sometime around 1986, 1987, and especially 1988 (as I was 5, 6, and 7 years old, respectively).  So, the bulk of my Seahawks memories were forged in the Ken Behring years.  My memories of Chuck Knox were ones of respecting the man, but frustrated at all the losing and mediocrity.  I would later learn, that had this franchise been run by someone halfway competent – and not someone who just wanted to run this team out of town – we could’ve drafted Brett Favre when he came out of college.  The 1990s might’ve looked VERY different had that been the case.

For one thing, you figure Knox would’ve stuck around beyond the 1991 season.  I believe he was so disenchanted with the whole organization that he couldn’t stick around, which is what led to us bottoming out in 1992 under Tom Flores, followed by us drafting Rick Mirer and continuing to be the height of disappointment for the rest of the decade until Mike Holmgren came around.

Can you imagine, though?  The Seahawks with a different owner?  Drafting Brett Favre?  With Chuck Knox sticking around another 6-7 years or more?  Maybe winning a Super Bowl or two, with his great running games and defenses anchoring a hall of famer at quarterback?

I’ll tell you what I believe:  I believe we’d be talking about a hall of fame head coach in Chuck Knox and one of the top 4 or 5 winningest head coaches in NFL history!  Mike Holmgren might never have become Mike Holmgren without Favre in Green Bay; maybe he would’ve ended up at another team.  And, you figure when the 90s came to a close, and Knox was ready to hang ’em up, he probably would’ve had some unknown protege all lined up to succeed him.  WHO KNOWS WHERE THE SEAHAWKS WOULD BE TODAY?  Or, more importantly, how successful we could’ve become.

Chuck Knox was really one of the good ones.  He’ll be missed by all longtime Seahawks fans.

I Feel Renewed Excitement About The Seahawks: So Why Am I So Down On Them?

I’m on record as having the world’s biggest hard-on for the draft haul the Seahawks just brought in.  There are – what appears to be – fantastic players and inspiring stories up and down that list of players.  Rashaad Penny looks like he could potentially come in and start right away at running back – a position of tremendous need for this team.  Will Dissly looks like he can come in and contribute right away as a blocking tight end – another position of tremendous need for this team.  Michael Dickson looks like he can come in and not only be our starting punter, but be a remarkable improvement at that spot.  Tre Flowers looks like a guy who could develop into a viable starting cornerback opposite Shaquill Griffin as early as maybe midseason in his rookie year.  Shaquem Griffin looks like he can make an immediate impact on special teams, with an outside chance of contributing in various sub packages on defense as a linebacker/safety/pass rushing hybrid.  Guys like Rasheem Green and Jamarco Jones look like they have tremendous upside and while they’ll likely need a year to develop, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that they do develop into eventual starters as a defensive lineman and a left tackle respectively.  And that’s not even getting into the countless undrafted guys I don’t know about; you figure one or two of them have a chance of turning into something really useful.

It’s really a lot of fun to think about.  Obviously, not all of them are going to pan out, but that’s not the point.  Right now, the sky is the limit for each and every one of them!  And, what’s more, we’ll get to enjoy a year where more young guys are going to get an opportunity on this team than they have since 2011 and 2012!  We might not be a championship-calibre team today, or at all this year, but if things go right, it’s not crazy to say that we’re close to being right back to the team we were from 2012-2014.

So, why am I so down on 2018?  Why am I sitting here talking about 8-8 this and 8-8 that?  Well, let’s break it down.  Am I wildly off base?  Have they done enough to fill the holes they needed to fill?  The holes that rendered this team a 9-7 embarrassment in 2017?

I’d start by saying on offense, they’re about the same as they were last year.  Let’s start with the skill positions.

Quarterback – Obviously, Russell Wilson is here.  He’s a Top 5-calibre quarterback in this league, and as a result your team is never really out of any game.  As long as he’s healthy, this team will never truly bottom out.  8-8 or 7-9 feels like the floor, like many of those middling New Orleans Saints teams back when their defense was a disaster, their running game was so-so, and it all fell on Drew Brees’ shoulders.

Wide Receiver – Your top two guys are back:  Doug Baldwin & Tyler Lockett.  Doug is Doug, he’s amazing.  Tyler is not coming off of an injury (which is good) and he’s playing for a new contract after the season’s over (which is even better).  If there was ever a chance to see Lockett at his best, this is the time.  Paul Richardson is gone, replaced by Jaron Brown.  You figure the speed is there, but this still feels like a downgrade to me.  Can Brown win those 1-on-1 battles that Wilson so often puts his receivers in?  Those jump balls that P-Rich or Golden Tate used to come up with, as if out of a science fiction movie?  Wilson has never been the type of quarterback to launch balls deep down field and take advantage of his receivers’ over-the-top speed, and I don’t see why that should change now.  Beyond the top 3 guys, it’s a real smorgasbord of question marks.  Amara Darboh?  David Moore?  Tanner McEvoy?  Marcus Johnson (who we got in the Philly deal for Michael Bennett)?  One of the litany of undrafted guys and holdovers we’ll have in camp?  I’m not super impressed, but maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Tight End – In the WR group, I think you have to include Jimmy Graham, because for all intents and purposes, he WAS a wide receiver.  You take a BIG hit, particularly in the red zone, with the loss of Jimmy Graham.  Say what you will about the other areas of his game (and believe me, I have and I will continue to do so), but he was a beast in a 1-on-1 situation near the goalline when Russell could just chuck it over there and more often than not come up with a TD (yes, there were more than his fair share of drops, but 10 TDs in 2017 is 10 TDs; I don’t care how long it took for this offense to finally figure out how to use him).  Who’s going to make up that deficit?  As for our other tight ends, we have Nick Vannett (who has shown you nothing in 2 years), Ed Dickson (pretty much Just A Guy, brought in via free agency; he’s essentially a Luke Willson replacement, as far as offensive production is concerned), Tyrone Swoops (who might not even make the team; still feels like a project to me), and newly drafted Will Dissly (who I believe will eventually turn into a useful offensive weapon, but not as a rookie, and nowhere near the league of a Jimmy Graham, from a pass-catching threat).  I expect these guys to be vastly improved blockers over someone like Graham, though, which brings me to my next point.

Running Back – To make up for the loss of Jimmy Graham, it’s going to have to come from the running game.  For what it’s worth, I do think this will be improved over 2017, because how much lower can you go than rock bottom?  The question, as always, will be who stays healthy.  Penny looks like a potential stud.  Chris Carson is there to push him every step of the way, but he’s coming off of a pretty devastating injury, and who’s to say he won’t get injured again this year?  C.J. Prosise is even more injury prone, and in my opinion far from a lock to make this team.  Mike Davis and J.D. McKissic are just guys.  Reliable, dependable guys, but just guys.  Nothing special.  Nothing really explosive about them (McKissic is obviously a faster guy, better in open space – more of a receiving back than a real, physical running back).  We need Penny or Carson to pan out here, right away, otherwise we’re in a MUCH worse position offensively than we were in 2017.

Offensive Line – And, last but not least.  Or maybe it is least.  Tough to say.  The obvious outcry from most fans and pundits alike, is how this team has neglected the offensive line this year, the bane of 2015-2017’s existence.  I’m on record as not seeing this as huge of a deal as in years past.  Maybe it’s fatigue over obsessing about them every year.  But, I like Duane Brown.  I think starting from Day 1 with him in the fold is nothing but an improvement, over trying to learn the system on the fly in mid-season 2017.  I hear Ethan Pocic is bigger and stronger than last year.  As a rookie, he got valuable experience.  Now that it’s not all new and insane for him, he should be able to settle in and anchor this line at the left guard spot for the foreseeable future.  My hopes are high for this kid!  Justin Britt is a fine center.  I’m sure he’ll continue to be the rock and the leader this line needs.  D.J. Fluker looks like a formidable run blocker at right guard, as well as someone with a lot to prove, with a high pedigree.  Obviously, Luke Joeckel had a lot to prove, with a high pedigree as well, but I dunno.  He’s cheaper, for one.  For another, he’s not coming off of an ACL.  Hopefully, he won’t miss a huge chunk of games in the middle of the season for a bogus cleanup surgery.  I don’t know if this team will ever have an elite pass-protecting O-Line, but if Fluker can open up some running lanes, then fuck it.  Germain Ifedi is an obvious source of frustration for most fans, but I’ll say this:  a second year at the same position – that continuity – should do wonders for him.  And, if not, well this team has plenty of guys to push him for that starting job.  I like the depth along the O-Line an awful lot; there has to be SOMEONE on this team who will be an improvement over our right tackle performance of 2017.  Maybe that someone is 2018 Ifedi; I’ve heard of crazier things before.

Bottom line on offense is:  if the O-Line can’t get the running game going, we’re fucked any way you slice it.  If it can’t do that, it sure as shit won’t protect well for Russell Wilson, and if that’s the case, it’s pretty easy to write off this year as an 8-8 of a disaster.  However, if Pocic & Ifedi take leaps forward in their development, if the veterans can stay healthy, and if we can get this running game going again, there’s reason for optimism that the offense could be vastly superior to what it’s been in recent post-Marshawn Lynch seasons.  A lot of “ifs” there, but that’s what we have to work with.

That all having been said, I’d say the bulk of my concern rests on the defensive side of the ball.  Richard Sherman, gone.  Michael Bennett, gone.  Cliff Avril, gone.  Kam Chancellor, likely gone.  Sheldon Richardson, gone.  Malik McDowell, idiot.  Earl Thomas, disgruntled (but playing for a new contract, so you never know).  I’ll say this:  the defense wasn’t a total and complete disaster last year, but the more we lost our star players, the worse it was.  This year, we’re looking at a lot of new blood, and we have to find out if these guys are going to mesh, or if there’s going to be a lot of growing pains.

Defensive Line – Frank Clark and Dion Jordan are your starting ends, for all intents and purposes.  You can play them anywhere, but those are essentially your replacements for Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.  I like Clark, but I liked him a lot more as a #3 option behind those two proven studs.  Will he have another level to his game when he’s the #1 dude?  I sure hope so.  I also liked what little I saw from Dion Jordan last year, but will he be able to carry that over?  Not only what he did then, but a lot more considering the presumed increase in snaps?  Beyond those guys, Green is a rookie (and he’s green) who probably won’t play more than on a rotational basis, in obvious passing situations.  The other rookie is a late-round project.  Marcus Smith was a nice player last year, but is he really a #3 guy?  That feels like a STEEP drop-off from Frank Clark last year.

As for the tackles, it looks like the bulk of our talent resides there.  I love Jarran Reed and Naz Jones; I particularly think the sky is the limit for Jones.  We brought in those two vets from the Vikings who should be fine pros.  There’s an undrafted rookie whose name I forget – out of Texas – who looks like a run-stuffing prodigy.  Then, there’s Quinton Jefferson, who is playing for a job and might be axed out based on the level of talent here.  I think the D-Line will be great when it comes to stuffing the run (which is important, in case anyone forgets the 3rd & 11 against Jacksonville last year, as well as all the yards Todd Gurley got against us).  But, I have a lot of doubts about their ability to rush the passer.  Hopefully a tighter rotation – fewer snaps all around – will keep guys fresher and more prone for late-game success, but I dunno.

Linebacker – The obvious best position group of the bunch.  Bobby Wagner is an All Pro, K.J. Wright is a Pro Bowler.  They won’t leave the field – barring injuries – and they’ll be the glue that holds this defense together.  The big question is:  can they help out in pass rushing?  Both of those guys are quality blitzers, but they predominantly play out in the receiving routes.  Can Barkevious Mingo or Shaquem Griffin – on the strong side – contribute to moving the quarterback off his spot, hitting him, and otherwise leading to more turnovers?  That’ll be huge, but again, I have my doubts for 2018.

Safety – Earl Thomas and Bradley McDougald figure to be your starters.  Earl is amazing, Bradley is fine.  Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill are the rookies from last year, so hopefully we’ll see a big jump from them, as you figure we’re going to need them.  There are others on the roster, but I don’t know much about them, and therefore don’t expect much from them.  Shaquem Griffin is a wild card here too, as it would be interesting to see him in a run-stuffing/Kam Chancellor type role.

Cornerback – Shaquill Griffin and Byron Maxwell figure to be your starters on the outside, with Justin Coleman as your primary nickel corner.  We all liked what Shaquill did for us last year, but I’d still like to see some improvement in his Sophomore campaign.  I’d like to see more in the way of turnovers, and more in the way of just eliminating his side as an option for opposing quarterbacks.  They’re going to continue to test him this year, so he needs to prove to them that it’s a bad fucking idea.  Maxwell, on the other hand, is another year older, and while he knows the system, he’s nobody’s idea of a long-term solution.  He’s not a lockdown corner, he never really was.  In this system, opposite Richard Sherman in his prime, with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in their primes, Byron Maxwell was a decent option as a 4th member of the LOB.  But, in this mishmash we’ve got now, I don’t know if a disgruntled Earl Thomas and a Bradley McDougald have what it takes to compensate for Maxwell’s weaknesses.  If he’s not punching the ball out of receivers’ hands for fumbles, what good is he?  I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he loses his job at some point, or even gets cut at the end of the pre-season.  I’d like to see some of the younger guys win that job right now, than deal with a guy in Maxwell who isn’t going to get any better.

Bottom line on defense is:  there’s very little certainty.  Fortunately, Pete Carroll is a defensive-minded head coach, and one of the best going in the game today.  So, if anyone can whip these players into stars, it’s him.  But, make no mistake, this team can’t win without a really good defense.  I’ve been waiting for the offense to take the next step and start carrying this team, but I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.  And, quite frankly, with Pete Carroll at the helm, he’d never stand for that in the first place.  He’s going to live and die by his defense, his running game, and his desire to dominate time of possession.  Period.  You can say all you want about Russell Wilson being elite and all the rest, but Pete Carroll is never going to allow this team to be a 1-man show.  Ergo, if this team – in 2018 – is going to make the playoffs or win the division, we’re going to need to see a lot of production from a lot of defensive players we’re not very familiar with just yet.  Yeah, Clark and Jordan and Wagner and Wright and Griffin and Earl are going to have to play to the utmost of their abilities, but all those other guys I talked about – and a lot of other guys I didn’t mention – are going to have to step up and make big impacts seemingly out of nowhere.  How much faith do I have in that happening?  I dunno.  Seems to me, if it does happen, it’ll happen gradually.  I think best (realistic) case scenario is that this team is MUCH better in the second half than it is in the first half.  I think there’ll be a lot of early-season kinks to work out, and I don’t know if this team is talented enough – from top to bottom – to overcome a big early-season deficit in wins & losses.

Special Teams – One area I think this team has drastically improved is on the special teams.  I think there’s nowhere to go but up in the field goal kicking game, and if Janikowski can prove himself, he’ll be a welcome edition.  Otherwise, I have no problem with the younger Jason Myers; I’m adopting an Anyone But Blair Walsh mentality, and stocks are SOARING!  In the punting game, we have the opportunity to not only get younger, cheaper, and better, but possibly REMARKABLY better.  If this guy is the best punting prospect to come out of college in years, we could be talking about a Top 5 punter in this league.  Which, yeah, not enough to get my panties into a total wad, but little by little a guy like that can make a dramatic difference over the course of a season.  And, in our coverage units, while I don’t think they were terrible last year, I see the influx of speedy, athletic guys as only a plus in this area.  Someone like Neiko Thorpe – who has been a necessity in recent years – might be a luxury here, who could either help put this team’s coverage unit over the top, or be a cap casualty because we have so many other guys just as good as him!  I hope he gets better as a cornerback on defense, because he might need it to keep a job.

To all those people who said we were just a couple shitty kicks away from being 11-5 last year, I’d like to point to all those defensive breakdowns and the complete and utter lack of a running game as to the REAL reasons why that team underachieved.  If we’re going to get back to being that 11-5 type of team, it’s going to require vast improvements in those areas to succeed.  That having been said, it couldn’t hurt to have a kicker who can actually make the kicks he’s supposed to make, could it?

Seahawks Traded Up, Drafted A Punter (and 6 other guys, including Shaquem Griffin)

Saturday was a tremendously fun day for yours truly.  Woke up with the house to myself, had a Red Lobster lunch with my mom, went bowling in the afternoon, drank some beers, played some poker, drank some more beers, played some late-night spades, ate some Cloverleaf pizza.  All in all, couldn’t ask for a better time.

Also, the Seahawks had their best and most productive day of the NFL Draft.  After picking up a running back, and a defensive lineman, they made the bulk of their selections on Day 3, and looked to fill a number of holes on this roster.

  • 4th Round – Will Dissly, TE
  • 5th Round – Shaquem Griffin, LB
  • 5th Round – Tre Flowers, CB
  • 5th Round – Michael Dickson, P
  • 5th Round – Jamarco Jones, OT
  • 6th Round – Jake Martin, LB/DE
  • 7th Round – Alex McGough, QB

I’m obviously a big fan of Will Dissly.  Many pegged him as the best blocking tight end in the draft, so he’s a natural fit for what the Seahawks are trying to accomplish.  I also think he’ll develop into a better pass catcher than people give him credit for.  But, as it is, no one is going to take him seriously as a downfield threat, so that could open him up for some better matchups.  Regardless, I don’t think the tight end spot needs to be this great offensive weapon; simply blocking the guys he’s supposed to block will make Will Dissly a million times better than Jimmy Graham ever was.

The obvious Story of the Draft was Shaquem Griffin and where he’d end up.  The fact that he ended up on the Seahawks – re-joining his twin brother – is icing on the cake.  He’s fast, he can rush the passer, he’s a playmaker.  Those are the first three things I think about when I think about Shaquem Griffin.  Obviously, having just the one hand probably kept him off of a lot of draft boards, though the token reason for his falling into the fifth round had to do with him being undersized to play linebacker.  Nevertheless, when you’re as talented as Griffin, teams will find a way to utilize you on the field.  If nothing else, he should be a dynamic special teams player.  You can play him to rush the passer, you can convert him to a box safety, you can keep him at linebacker to cover just about any running back in the league.  I like his versatility and determination; I think he’ll be a great Seahawk.

The Tre Flowers pick certainly got buried in all the hullabaloo over Griffin.  Flowers is tall, with super long arms.  He played safety in college, but it sounds like the Seahawks are looking to convert him to cornerback.  Maybe as a sideline defender a la Richard Sherman?  I don’t know if very many people are talking about this guy as an option, but I’ll be curious to hear what he brings in Training Camp.  Hopefully a huge chip on his shoulder.

The Seahawks then proceeded to trade one of their seventh round picks to move up in the fifth round to take Michael Dickson, consensus Best Punter In The Draft.  Looks like Jon Ryan’s days are numbered, which is probably for the best.  If you can save money at the punter position, while locking it down for many years to come, I think you have to do it.  If Dickson falters, though, people might be laughing at this decision for years to come.  You can’t keep two punters and you can’t waste a fifth rounder on one you need to cut right away, so this guy HAS to be good from the start!

Jamarco Jones is an interesting left tackle out of Ohio State who was apparently good on the field, but really sucked at the Combine.  He may or may not have been injured, but either way, I don’t give a fuck about Combine numbers.  I give a fuck about how he looks when he’s on the field.  If this is a guy we can groom to be the heir apparent to Duane Brown, then no one will ever remember what he did at the Combine.

I don’t know a whole lot about Jake Martin.  He could be a speed rush option, in the vein of Cliff Avril.  Or, he could be a strongside linebacker, in the vein of Bruce Irvin.  He’ll have to make his way on special teams, so if that doesn’t work out for him, I can’t imagine he’ll hack it.

Alex McGough is a seventh round quarterback.  Someone on TV or radio pronounced his name as Magoo, which is fun.  I won’t hold my breath on this guy, though.

All in all, a lot of interesting pieces.  Here’s hoping the team can develop them into starters in this league.