The Seahawks are holding camp at their year-round training facility in Renton, Wash. It's doubtful there's a more picturesque setting in the league. The expansive complex, which opened last year, sits on the banks of Lake Washington and looks across the water at hillside homes sprinkled among mature trees. Seaplanes can be seen and heard overhead and fans regularly pull up to the fringe of the facility in hopes of sneaking a peek of the workouts from the decks of their boats. Others soak up the sun and the atmosphere while bobbing on the water in inner-tubes.
The first practice kicked off just as a "severe" record heat wave subsided. When temperatures reached triple digits on back-to-back days in some areas during the week, nearby hotels swelled with locals searching for air conditioning and swimming pools (older homes in the area were built without air conditioning because it's really only needed a few weeks out of the year).
Things finally started to cool Friday, but new coach Jim Mora Jr. tried to turn the heat back up with a demanding high-energy practice. Mora, who's replacing Mike Holmgren, the most successful coach in franchise history, cautioned his players ahead of time that he would be running a tough camp; and when they were sloppy at times in the first workout he let them know that it was unacceptable.
The Seahawks had seven winning seasons, won five division titles and reached one Super Bowl during Holmgren's 10-year tenure, and Mora wants to build on that. The team was ravaged by injuries last season and finished 4-12, but there is optimism because the roster is stocked with talent (if it can remain healthy). Also, Mora went through a similar situation in 2004 in his first season with the Falcons. They were coming off an injury-induced 5-11 season and generating little excitement, but Mora guided them to the NFC Championship Game that season.
The key will be health. In particular, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, left tackle Walter Jones and defensive end Patrick Kerney will have to bounce back strong from injury-shortened seasons.
1. Hasselbeck looks and sounds like his former self. After missing nine games because of a bulging disk in his back, the loquacious 34-year-old QB says he is stronger than ever after dedicating the offseason to strengthening his core. He's zipping throws in practice and cracking jokes in the huddle. Another positive sign if you believe in omens, Hasselbeck has gone the Pro Bowl in each of the last three odd years (2003, '05 and '07).
2. New schemes are being installed on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Seahawks will use more zone blocking up front, and the backs are being coached to make one cut and head downhill in the run game. In coordinator GregKnapp's passing scheme, the receivers will move around to create mismatches and keep the defense guessing. That's different from Holmgren's system, according to some players.
Defensively, Mora brought in former Bucs assistant Gus Bradley as the coordinator. One noticeable change is that the team has tried to get bigger and stronger on the interior of the line. It bulked up by trading for 295-pound Cory Redding and signing 330-pound Colin Cole. Bradley is expected to be more aggressive than predecessor John Marshall with his play-calling, but he also will incorporate some of the Tampa 2 principles he learned with the Bucs.
3. Jones is moving better than I thought he would after having December micro-fracture surgery on his left knee. The team is holding him out of team drills and contact work as a precautionary measure. But the fact that he's not wearing a brace could explain why he sounds so optimistic about returning strong.
For someone who signed a five-year, $40 million deal that includes $15 million in guarantees and a "Get Out of Jail Free" card that allowed him to leave the Bengals, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh has been doing a slow burn this summer. He's boycotting Madden '10 because he believes the video game didn't rate his skills high enough, and he's fuming at fans and reporters who believe he's nothing more than an underneath route-runner. Houshmandzadeh's yards-per-catch has fallen every year since 2004, when he averaged 13.4, bottoming out at a career-low 9.8 last season. "People who know football know better," he says. "I can only run the play that is called. I can't wait for this year so people can see what I can really do."
The Seahawks were stunned to have linebacker Aaron Curry fall to them at No. 4 overall. He was the top prospect on their board and did nothing to make them second-guess their evaluation during offseason workouts, where he was quick to pick up the playbook and showed an ability to rush the passer from a three-point stance, something he was not asked to do at Wake Forest.
Curry had not signed through the weekend, but there was optimism that a contract would be finalized sooner than later. He's expected to start in JulianPeterson's spot after Peterson was traded to Detroit. If he turns out to be as good as the Seahawks believe he will be, Seattle could make a case for having the league's best set of linebackers with Curry, Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill.
Offensive lineman Max Unger, a second-round pick, also could see extensive time, particularly following the retirement of Mike Wahle.
Wide receiver Nate Burleson and tight end John Carlson have been extremely impressive. Burleson is coming off an ACL injury that knocked him out of the final 15 games, but there's no indication that he will be hampered. In fact, to gain more confidence he did not wear a knee brace while working out the month before camp opened.
Carlson led the team in catches, yards and touchdowns last season as a rookie, and appears prepared to build on that. He's also impressed coaches with his improved commitment to run blocking. He has size, good hands and the ability to stretch the seam. A big year is possible.
Overall, the receiving corps looks strong with Houshmandzadeh, Burleson, Carlson, Deion Branch and rookie speedster Deon Butler. The key will be health. Burleson and Branch combined to miss 23 games last season. Branch said he consulted specialists who helped him develop a training regime that could help him avoid non-contact injuries. Much of it had to do with strengthening his core and improving his flexibility.
• There has been good news and bad at cornerback. The bad: Marcus Trufant tweaked his back before the start of camp and has been unable to practice. Mora says they're being careful, particularly after what happened with Hasselbeck last season. The good: Ken Lucas, a second-round pick of the Seahawks in 2001, has looked good since rejoining the club after four seasons in Carolina.
• Julius Jones is expected to start at running back, but he'll split time with T.J. Duckett and second-year pro Justin Forsett, who has impressed coaches. Jones says he likes the one-cut scheme because it allows a back to be more decisive.
• Kerney is being limited after having shoulder surgery. He reported at 275 pounds and remains the only proven pass-rush threat.
• Mora adjusted the schedule to allow his players to be off their cleats at least eight hours between practices. The schedule also allows them to have at least two meals between workouts. Because the players set a franchise record with 97 percent participation during offseason workouts, Mora says there's no need to overwork them in training camp.
"You can sell out for a dude like that, you know what I mean?" says Julius Jones.
• My prediction: 10 wins.