RENTON, Wash. — The Seahawks opened their 2016 training camp in the most Seahawk-ian way possible. There was Pete Carroll, at age 64, slinging spirals with gloves on both hands, laughing at being the oldest head coach in the NFL. Music echoed across the practice fields at full volume. Boats bobbed in Lake Washington. Seaplanes flew overhead. Families joined the players on the field after practice. That included Ciara, the pop star that married quarterback Russell Wilson this off-season.
Carroll was already in midseason form, fresh off agreeing to a three-year contract extension, signing autographs after practice, telling reporters this team “got me all jacked up, so I got to be a little careful, I might get out of control here.” He will, it should be noted, turn 65 in September. He all but flexed when asked about that.
“This is what 65 gets you,” he said. “Look at me—it isn’t that bad.”
But while the setting and the set-up felt familiar, vintage Carroll era in Seattle, there was one obvious difference as the Seahawks began their latest playoff push. And that was the focus this off-season on the offense. Seattle used eight of its 10 draft picks to bolster a unit that caught fire over the last six weeks of last season. The Seahawks selected three linemen, three running backs, a receiver and a tight end. They also signed wideouts Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse to extensions, and soon, they will welcome back two contributors—tight end Jimmy Graham, running back Thomas Rawls—who ended last season on injured reserve.
The running back position in particular looks crowded. There’s Rawls (830 rushing yards in 2015), Christine Michael (a former second-round selection) and four rookies: C.J. Prosise (third round, Notre Dame), Alex Collins (fifth round, Arkansas), Zac Brooks (seventh round, Clemson) and Tre Madden (undrafted, USC).
Quarterback Russell Wilson is set to enter his fifth season surrounded by more talent than in any of the previous four, and it’s not difficult to argue that this offense could be better than the one that pushed Seattle into the divisional round (they lost to Carolina, on the road, after a terrible first half) last January. The obvious counter is the uncertainty on the offensive line, but the Seahawks addressed that, too, with picks in the first (lineman Germain Ifedi), third (G Rees Odhiambo) and sixth (C Joey Hunt) rounds.
The draft selections, coupled with an offensive core that has spent most of the past four seasons intact, has Carroll, Wilson and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell saying that this unit has never started training camp this far ahead. “Oh, yeah,” Wilson said. “This is the best it has been.”
Added Bevell: “We’re far ahead of any time since I’ve been here.” He then added the obligatory disclaimer, that this is a new season, but added, “We’d love to pick up where we left off.”
Other training camp observations
• There had been some speculation that defensive lineman Michael Bennett would not report to camp on time, staging a holdout as he looks for a new contract. But there was Bennett, dancing on the field, chasing Wilson and wearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ T-shirt after practice. He said he wanted more than anything to reach the Super Bowl in Houston, his hometown, next February, and play against his brother, the tight end Martellus, who signed with New England. That would mean a rematch of the Super Bowl two years ago, where the Patriots topped the Seahawks in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
Bennett’s attendance also meant that the Seahawks did not enter this season the way they did last season, with a prominent defensive player (last year it was safety Kam Chancellor) holding out. “No distractions,” Bennett said.
• Carroll wasn’t the only non-player the Seahawks extended in recent weeks. John Schneider, their general manager, also inked a five-year deal. After both contracts were signed, Baldwin posted this on Twitter: “BREAKING: Seahawks extend the Grey Haired Assassin @PeteCarroll and the WWE Champion #JohnSchneider. Congrats to the NFL tag-team champs”
• Count receiver-returner Tyler Lockett among the players whom the Seahawks expect to make larger contributions in 2016. And that’s after he exceeded all expectations other than his own last season, making the Pro Bowl as a returner and catching 51 passes for 664 yards and six touchdowns. He also set a franchise record with 139 punt return yards against Arizona on Jan. 3. Lockett pointed to that game Saturday as an example of what he’s capable of.
The Seahawks plan to deploy Lockett from all over the field this season. They’ll use him as an outside receiver and a slot receiver. They’ll send him in motion. And they expect him to take some snaps from the backfield. Last year, Lockett played 61.5% of the team’s offensive plays. Expect that number to increase in 2016.
Lockett said Saturday that he trained with his father, the former NFL receiver Kevin Lockett, this off-season. They concentrated on his footwork and his release off the ball. Kevin Lockett, his son said, used to punt in high school, so he spent a good portion of the summer kicking balls to his All Pro-returner son.
Of last season, Lockett said, “I expected way more out of it. I expected a lot more out of myself.” That’s a nice sentiment and all, but the Seahawks traded four picks to move up and select Lockett in the third round of the ’15 draft because they needed a returner. They got more than that. “He became a really strong force for us,” Bevell said.
• Carroll spoke highly of Wilson’s development. Carroll had said earlier this spring that the late Bill Walsh used to say that the fifth season is when players and teams really settle in. There’s a comfort level then that makes experience an asset. “Looking at (Wilson) now, talking to him and watching him on the field with his teammates now compared to two, three years ago, it’s a big difference,” Carroll said. “It is subtle, I think it would be subtle to you, but it shows up in so many ways.”
Of Wilson’s second marriage, Carroll added, “He is smiling a lot.”
• Seahawks coaches and executives praised tight end Nick Vannett, a third-round pick out of Ohio State. They haven’t been this deep at that position, with Graham coming back and Luke Willson expected to contribute, under Carroll. Willson had the first long catch of the first practice.
• Brandon Browner, the defensive back who played three seasons with Seattle before spending the last two in New England and New Orleans, broke up a pass in practice that prompted cornerback Richard Sherman to sprint across the field to bump chests. This apparently meant that the Legion of Boom, the nickname for Seattle’s defensive backfield, is back intact. (Browner was an original member.) Carroll said Browner is taking reps at safety for now in order to learn that position. “He is a monster of a football player,” Carroll said.
• Christine Michael followed in the footsteps of Ravens wideout Steve Smith, adding a Senior after his last name on his jersey.
Five questions with Russell Wilson (with bonus cliché counter)
Wilson, the eternal optimist, is also in midseason quote form.
Q1: How do you guys carry over how well you played at the end of last season?
A: I don’t know if it’s carrying it over. I’m not sure if there’s even such a thing. Ultimately, you rework, you reestablish who you are (cliché 1), as an identity, you reestablish who you are one play at a time (2), one practice at a time (3), one day at a time (4), one thought at a time (5), one win at a time (6), one catch at a time (7), one throw at a time (8). It’s just simply one at a time (9). So that’s how you become something that you want to be.
Q2: But there’s reason to be excited with all the additional resources on the roster, no?
A: We got a lot of weapons (10). I can definitely say that. From the tight end group to the receiver group to the running backs. All the skill position guys. We love the game, and we love playing for each other (11), and that’s what makes it so exciting. Our offense has a lot of ballers on it. We just have to ball out and make those plays. Ultimately when it comes down to it you make those plays on Monday through Saturday (12).
Q3: Did you continue to focus on your speed this summer?
A: Tons of speed work. Tons of lifting, throwing. Just everything. Going to be ready to go. Ready to bring it (13). Busy summer but it’s been a great summer in the sense of being able to accomplish a lot of goals, in the sense of training and all that. I’ve been able to maintain it throughout. That’s a blessing, too.
Q4: So is this offense ahead of where you were last season, or in the years before that?
A: That’s what I always wanted. You just take it one day at a time (14). You trust the process (15). And that’s always how it has always been for me. I don’t look too far ahead, man (16). I just take the now (17). Be present (18). Be here (19). And just try to execute the moment (20).
Q5: Doug Baldwin signed an extension this off-season. How would you say he’s changed, or become a better leader, in recent years?
A: I more so look at it like he’s passionate about the game of football (21). That’s how he’s always been. And he’s grateful to be out here every day. Separation is in the preparation (22). There’s nobody that works any harder every day. Him and Jermaine (Kearse) and Tyler, those are the core guys. Then you have all the other guys who can make so many different plays.
Biggest turnaround: the offensive line
The Seahawks, according to OvertheCap.com, have spent $11.7 million on that unit, the lowest figure in the league. As recently as 2013, Seattle had spent the most money of any NFL team on its o-line, but all five of those starters are gone now. In their place, the Seahawks have the three linemen they drafted, Justin Britt (a third-year player converting to center), Garry Gilliam (undrafted, third year, projected at left tackle) and free-agent signing J’Marcus Webb (seventh season, last with the Raiders). The Seahawks o-line is the biggest question mark on an otherwise stacked team that looks to contend for the Super Bowl this season. Schneider said the Seahawks did not intend to spend less money on offensive linemen than other players. It just worked out that way, he said.
Drawing some buzz: DT Jarran Reed
The Seahawks nabbed Reed in the second round, out of Alabama, believing they had found a steal, perhaps even the steal of the draft. Schneider called Reed the best run-stopper available and said Seattle considered taking him in the first round. Reed should help replace Brandon Mebane, who left for San Diego this offseason, and bolster a defensive line that remains one of Seattle’s strongest units.