|Jackson, Wilson and Flynn are in a three-way tussle to be Seattle's QB. (US Presswire)|
SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks, who score fewer than 20 points in eight games last season, decided to attack their offensive woes. Matt Flynn was acquired in free agency to compete for the QB job. Seattle added wide receivers Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow.
An already strong defense was fortified with veteran defensive tackle Jason Jones, and two rookies have the potential to make significant contributions. This team is better than the 7-9 2011 team but can they catch up to the 13-3 San Francisco 49ers?
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A special thanks to Pete Carroll for making all of his practice videos available to me to prepare for my visit as well as GM John Schneider, Kam Chancellor, Matt Flynn, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Doug Baldwin, and Max Unger for spending time during my visit.
Here are five questions the Seahawks have to be answered this summer in camp.
1. Who is the starting quarterback?
Carroll is staging an open competition between Tarvaris Jackson (last season's starter), Flynn (free agent from Packers) and rookie Russell Wilson. After watching tape and practice I don't believe the competition can go on all summer, and a starter has to be named in a week or two at the most. Jackson throws the best ball in drills but Flynn looks like the best quarterback. The safeties say Flynn does an excellent job looking them off and creating openings in the coverage. The linebackers say his play-action fakes are hard to read and he has such a quick release off the fake they can't recover. Defensive back Kam Chancellor said, "I was surprised on his half roll throwback seam route [at] how strong his arm was," as the ball sailed 48 yards for a touchdown. After speaking with Flynn I got the impression nothing rattles him and the game isn't too big for him. The practice tapes also demonstrated he's a player with excellent skills in no-huddle, two minute packages -- something the Seahawks desperately need to improve upon.
2. Will Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens make the team?
Both veteran receivers are in Settle on low-risk contracts and are working like rookie receivers trying to make the club. At practice both caught deep balls and demonstrated there is still a burst in their legs. It's possible both men could be on the opening day roster but there are a number of quality young receivers, too. Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Ben Obamanu, Golden Tate and Deon Butler are good enough to make the club. Unless there's an injury during the preseason the Seahawks are going to have to release or trade a pretty good receiver. Seattle is going to have to be smart with the older veteran receivers during the summer if they want fresh legs throughout the season. It was interesting at practice to see the big corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner pressing Edwards and Owens. The corners jammed them early but both veterans later countered with their own techniques to defeat the press. As Sherman said, "Those two guys are making us better and we appreciate it."
3. What happens if Marshawn Lynch is suspended?
Marshawn Lynch is the Seattle "bell cow" running back on a team that loves to run the ball. He could be facing a suspension by the league. A year ago that would be devastating to this team. Keep in mind Lynch was the only back to crack the 100-yard rushing mark against the 49ers' defense last season. But after this camp visit I can tell Seahawks fans know to rest easy if Lynch is out for a while because rookie Robert Turbin (fourth-round pick) is the real deal. He reminds me of Thomas Jones, the powerful running back who looked so good the past several years. Turbin is a terrific zone one cut runner. Flynn described him as a guy who can be his own best blocker willing to attack tacklers rather than run away from them. Turbin has open-field speed and can catch the ball. Seattle has done a nice job of protecting themselves against anything that might happen to Lynch. And if Lynch is good to go for 16 games the Seahawks just got deeper at the power running back spot.
4. Who will be the middle linebacker?
Don't underestimate the loss of linebacker David Hawthorne in free agency. The team signed Barrett Rudd for depth and leadership -- a smart move -- but didn't stop there. Second-round draft pick Bobby Wagner is making a strong move for the starting middle linebacker spot. His 4.4-second 40 speed translates to the field and he is coming along nicely as the signal caller. Starting center Max Unger said Wagner is tough to get a piece of because his keys and ability to diagnose are so good. Wilson said Wagner gets great depth in his pass drops. If he keeps progressing and wins the starting job the Seahawks are going to have a lot of speed at linebacker with Wagner, K.J. Wright and Leroy Hill. Wagner will come out in the nickel package for the time being, but eventually will win a spot in that package as well.
5. Who are the surprise players?
The way the Seahawks practice, at such an up tempo pace, there are opportunities to see players surface who you might not otherwise notice. The first guy to jump out at me was rookie guard J.R. Sweezy a former defensive tackle from North Carolina State. He is a raw-but-nasty athlete who puts defensive linemen on their back. Don't be surprised if he wins a starting job. Tight end Sean McGrath appears buried on the depth chart behind Zach Miller, Kellen Winslow and Anthony McCoy but the 6-foot-5 247-pound undrafted rookie from Henderson State is an athlete worthy of making the team. Former running back Vai Taua has moved to fullback and he was outstanding with his blocking and receiving. The most impressive thing he does is read the defensive scheme like a runner and make great decisions about who to block -- vital in the Seattle zone-run scheme. Finally, sixth-round pick Winston Guy is another big safety in the mold of the other Seahawks DBs. He appears to have a good chance to be the third safety and could see significant time in the "big nickel" package.
The Seahawks are an interesting combination of very young players and key veterans. They gave up 23 of their 50 sacks in the six division games last year, so that has to improve. Some of the issues included Jackson holding the ball too long but some were the result of offensive line issues caused by injuries and inexperience. They lost six games by less than a touchdown and are hoping to win at least three of those games this season. That would make them 10-6 -- which might be a little bit lofty. But I do think 9-7 and a wild card is attainable.