RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks have the look of a Super Bowl contender, yet again, as we've generally come to expect in the Pete Carroll/John Schneider regime. The franchise made its biggest move by securing the services of that coach and general manager for the long-term prior to camp, and once again this roster looks highly formidable in most spots.
Except for offensive line. Again.
Under the expert tutelage of offensive line coach Tom Cable, the organization has been able to stay highly competitive despite lacking for much individual brilliance on the offensive line. Generally they've expected Cable to turn chicken-you-know-what into at least a moderately palatable version of chicken salad, and he's managed to turn a collection of castoffs and defensive linemen and projects into a serviceable unit. But all would agree that franchise quarterback Russell Wilson got knocked around far too much in the first half of last season and it was no secret that the Seahawks were going to pump considerable draft resources into the unit this offseason.
Still, even with those allocations, the group that protected Wilson in practice Monday and likely for the foreseeable future -- with projected starting tackle J'Marcus Webb out injured ("We don't have a timetable," on Webb yet," Carroll said) -- was essentially the equivalent of a no-name offensive line.
It's skews young -- only left tackle Bradley Sowell, a free agent signed from the Cardinals, has been in the league more than three years among the current starters -- and unaccomplished. Cable probably has his work cut out for him again.
Next to Sowell stood left guard Mark Glowinski (a fourth-round pick in 2015), center Justin Britt (a second-round pick in 2014), right guard Germain Ifedi (Seattle's top pick in the 2016 draft), and right tackle Garry Gilliam (an undrafted free agent signing out of Penn State in 2014).
"We're progressing," Cable said. "We have a ton of work to do, but from where we started, to where we're at now, I feel excited about it. The thing they've done is come to work every day and our mission has been to just get better at something every day, and we've been able to do that."
Of course, given the nature of this group, and the overall lack of pedigree and/or NFL experience for what is now constituting the starting line, I wouldn't get too married to this collection. Nothing is written in ink yet, much less etched in stone, on the depth chart. Cable won't be afraid to continue moving parts around if need be.
"It's just getting through this growth period and figuring out who we are," Cable said, "and determining who are the sixth, seventh and eighth guys as you get ready to cut the team."
Ifedi plays with a mean streak that goes a long way with this staff, and he's added an edge to the group.
"I love how he works and I like his brain and he fits in our style. He's got an ornery streak I really like and respect ... He's very respectful to others and all of that, but he can get after you now" Cable said.
It remains to be seen how long it is before veteran Jahri Evans is perhaps playing on the opposite side of the center. Evans has battled injuries for years and is no long the top guard he used to be, but his recent signing by the Seahawks speaks to the issues here. He's a little behind coming in late, but has a depth of experience lacking from the starting line right now.
"Fortunately for him he's been tremendous in the past and has a lot of knowledge," Cable said.
Time will tell if his body can hold up enough to make the team and push for playing time.
So, once again, it's a unit in-the-making.
Plenty of questions. Much to prove. Kind of just how Cable likes it.
If the tremendous strides his group made last year speak to anything, it's that this unit will be peaking when it matters most. As much as the locals are fretting about the O-line, I'd say, "In Cable we trust," and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Seahawks back in the Super Bowl again, whether it's with the five dudes lining up in front of Wilson on this sticky summer day, or five guys who were working with the backups.
"Other than my first year in Atlanta -- that group was pretty well put together -- but since then for me it's pretty much always been like that," said Cable, a former head coach of the Raiders who has started to generate head coaching buzz again in recent years. "And I enjoy teaching and coaching, and that's my passion, and the cool thing here is we're all in this together. And if you look at every year, we've always been able to put it together and get it worked out.
"Last year it wasn't very fun for seven weeks, but after that we were able to get it worked out, and there weren't too many that were better than us. And people don't talk about that group of kids; they talk about the 31 sacks early, and that was horrible and nobody wanted that. But then you play your next 11 games and you only give up 15 (sacks) and we're still a top-three rushing team. That's what John and Pete have allowed us to do, and they keep fighting their butts off to keep getting better and to keep finding an answer for it. And collectively, as a staff, we said, 'We need to fix some things here,' and maybe it was on us, too. And we were able to do that, and that's always the case here -- we try to help each other figure it out and do the best you can."
More notes from Seahawks camp
- The big buzz at camp continues to be running back Christine Michael: Michael, a former bust of a pick who seems intent on capturing a big role in his second go-round with the Seahawks. He's earning rave reviews for his improved maturity, attitude and work ethic all around and pushing Thomas Rawls for a starting spot. People are gushing over what he's going on the field as well. "He shows you a greater consistency," Carroll said, who noted Michael doesn't freelance like he used to and is no longer a "loose cannon," as well. "He's grown up and he's taking advantage of the opportunity he has been given." For his part, Michael had bounced around on waivers since being taken in the second round by the Seahawks in 2013 and seems humbled by his quick fall from grace. "I'm just here to contribute, whether that's part of a one-two punch (with Rawls) or whatever it is ... I just have to be trustworthy." Cable said: "I told Christine I am very proud of what he's done, and with Thomas out he's stepped right up and he's going for it ... He's starting to prove himself to us that he can be disciplined and he can do things right and he can do it over and over. And so far, so good."
- Can Doug Baldwin do it again? It's probably not realistic to expect Baldwin to maintain the ridiculous pace he was on in the second half of last season. Then again, I wouldn't entirely rule it out, either. There should be more options in this offense -- although tight end Jimmy Graham is once again not practicing -- and Russell Wilson will be in position to spread the ball around. But there is no denying that Baldwin is a favorite target and will remain a go-to guy. From Week 9 until the end of the season, Baldwin racked up 724 receiving yards (ninth in NFL) with 12 TDs (first in NFL), while averaging over 15 yards per catch (which resulted in a much-deserved massive new contract). "I don't think we're worried about trying to replicate those numbers," Baldwin told me. "But we're trying to replicate the wins, and that's what's important to us. In whatever fashion that comes, we're not really worried about it." Seattle has the ability to run some interesting package (a jumbo tight end set with absolute burners Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett on the outside was one that caught my eye). What the Seahawks may lack in household names at receiver, again, they compensate for with depth and assortment of skill sets/body types. "From the top down I think this is the best group of receivers I've ever been around," said Baldwin, a heady individual and a fierce competitor in his sixth year out of Stanford. "We've come in fresh and we took some injuries early, but the guys who are in there have been dominating and have shown they are capable of playing in this league."
- Hard not to notice the Seahawks' tight ends: Even with Graham on the sidelines, it's impossible not to be impressed by the imposing nature of the Seahawks tight ends. Rookie third-round pick Nick Varnett made some nice plays down the sideline in practice and flashed some good hands. Luke Willson looks ready to build off his breakout season and they have good size and blocking options. Of the six tight ends on the roster currently, none is smaller than 6-2 and have of them are 6-5 or taller. They clearly like their tight ends big around here.
- Prosise shows promise: Rookie running back C.J. Prosise, a third-round pick out of Notre Dame, returned to practice from injury Monday and immediately got a few reps with the starting offense on occasion. He shows a nice burst and tried to make up for lost time while on the sidelines. "Every rep I would look at the running back and see what he did," Prosise said, trying to get maximize those mental reps.
- Seahawks seem content to let youngsters Trevone Boykin and Jake Heaps battle it out for the backup quarterback spot. Boykin was an undrafted free agent signed this year and Heaps, a decorated high school star in the Seattle area, was signed out of Miami after bouncing around to several college programs. No veterans besides Wilson on the roster at quarterback here.