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Observations From Seahawks 12th Camp Practice: Tariq Woolen’s  Special Bounce-Back

Rebounding from a tough start in his first NFL game, Woolen made several spectacular plays in coverage on Tuesday, further staking his claim to a potential starting job. Reporter Corbin Smith details everything that went down at Seattle's 12th camp session.

RENTON, Wash. - Only a few days removed from their preseason opening loss in Pittsburgh, the Seahawks returned to the practice field kicking off an abbreviated week with a new quarterback under center with the first-team offense.

Five quick observations and injury notes from Seattle's 12th training camp session at the VMAC:

1. Drew Lock finally gets his shot with the first-team... and struggles mightily.

Through the first two-plus weeks of training camp, Lock rarely has played with the first unit, playing extensively with the second-team behind Geno Smith with the exception of receiving several series with the starters in Seattle's mock scrimmage. But on Tuesday, the script changed heading into a short week before a preseason date with Chicago with Lock taking all of the first-team reps. According to coach Pete Carroll, the team planned all along for him to start against the Bears regardless of how the quarterback competition played out ahead of time.

Rather than seize his opportunity, however, Lock didn't complete a single pass during the Seahawks' red zone period. During a later team session, he was bailed out by receiver Tyler Lockett on an ill-advised throw on a post route, leading to a big hit by Sidney Jones in the air. Then, towards the tail end of practice, Lock tried to throw across his body and rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen undercut a crossing route for an interception. Completing six out of 12 passes in team drills overall, he failed to throw a touchdown and didn't capitalize on his first chance to impress with the first-team.

UPDATE: Lock will not start in Thursday's game after all, as he tested positive for COVID-19 and won't be eligible to play.

2. On the contrary, Smith took his "demotion" in stride with a strong practice.

Allowing a true competition to commence by giving Lock the keys to the first-team offense, Smith took a step back playing behind the second-team offensive line and throwing to reserve receivers. But rather than sulk about losing out on first-team reps, the veteran signal caller threw with precision from the pocket and off platform on Tuesday, showing why he remains the projected starter midway through training camp.

Right off the bat, Smith came out red-hot, throwing a trio of touchdown passes during the red zone period. First, he hooked up with second-year receiver Cade Johnson on a corner route from the slot for six points. On the next play, he connected with DeeJay Dallas out of the backfield and the back did the rest sprinting to the end zone. To cap off a flurry of scoring, he fired a frozen rope on a dig route to Penny Hart for his third straight touchdown toss. Towards the end of the practice, he rolled out to his right to evade pressure and hit Hart again on a vertical route for a 45-yard touchdown strike. He wrapped up a fantastic day overall by completing nine out of 13 passes with four touchdowns.

3. Among a crowded group, Hart enjoys a breakout session as he tries to stay in the mix at receiver.

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Over the past two years, Hart has been able to survive roster cuts in Seattle by thriving during the offseason and training camp. The former Georgia State standout consistently made big plays catching passes from Russell Wilson each of the previous two camps, but this year, he has been relatively quiet with newcomers Dareke Young and Bo Melton making a greater impact on the practice field and only had two catches for three yards in the preseason opener.

However, with his spot on the roster on tenuous ground, Hart made a bit of a statement on Tuesday, reminding coaches and teammates he's still going to factor into the race to make the team over the next few weeks. Displaying excellent chemistry with Smith, he created quick separation against Mike Jackson on an in-breaking route in the red zone period, allowing the quarterback to hit him in stride. On his second touchdown, he showed off keen awareness adjusting his route after Smith escaped the pocket, slipping past rookie Coby Bryant and getting several steps on him before reeling in a deep ball for six points.

4. Building off a stellar debut, Vi Jones continues to stand out as an undrafted signee playing multiple linebacker spots.

Due to injuries suffered by Ben Burr-Kirven and Jon Rhattigan, the Seahawks have depth concerns at linebacker behind starters Jordyn Brooks and Cody Barton. But if there's a reason for optimism at the position, Jones has quietly started to make a name for himself on defense as well as special teams. While several of his teammates struggled to finish tackles in Saturday's preseason opener, he racked up six tackles and also registered a sack on his lone blitz attempt, stampeding over a running back in the process before penetrating the pocket.

Exhibiting his versatility in Tuesday's practice, Jones received extensive work at outside linebacker, generating a pair of pressures rushing the quarterback off the edge during Seattle's team sessions. Though he got pushed around a bit in the run game at only 225 pounds, he set the edge on a few occasions to help limit running backs to short gains and seemed to improve as the practice progressed. With Carroll lauding his special teams skills on Tuesday, the undrafted rookie undoubtedly is trending in the right direction as he tries to crash the party and steal a roster spot.

5. Making several "special plays," Woolen shook off a tough preseason outing by dominating his opponents on the outside.

Performing well on the practice field doesn't always translate to game action for NFL rookies and Woolen and his fellow rookie Bryant learned that lesson the hard way in Pittsburgh. A communication miscue by Woolen led to the Steelers first touchdown on Saturday and he missed a pair of tackles, struggling to impress as he did during the first two weeks of camp. With both players enduring "welcome to the league" moments, Bryant also yielded a touchdown in coverage to George Pickens later in the quarter as Pittsburgh built a quick 14-0 lead.

But Woolen righted the ship for the rest of his NFL debut and picked up where he left off on Tuesday, continuing to push for a starting spot at right cornerback. During red zone situational work, he won his latest Battle of the Transformers matchup against DK Metcalf, using his long 33 1/2-inch arms to swat away a goal line fade from Lock to the All-Pro receiver on an impressive pass breakup. On a "special play" that left Carroll gushing after practice, he somehow undercut a curl route in the middle of the field and picked off Lock, registering his first pick on the practice field as a pro. After bouncing back from his first adversity nicely, Woolen will get another chance to secure a starting job against the Bears on Thursday.

Injury Notes

  • Dealing with a hernia issue, rookie running back Ken Walker III wasn't in attendance at Tuesday's practice. According to Carroll, the Seahawks hope to have him back ready to go for the regular season opener.
  • Still nursing a hamstring injury, Dee Eskridge has ramped up activity but did not participate in team drills on Tuesday. He won't play in Thursday's game and his status remains up in the air moving forward.
  • Jake Curhan (back spasms) sat out Tuesday's practice and he is day-to-day.
  • Tyreke Smith (hip) remained sidelined and likely won't be available for Thursday's second preseason game.
  • While Sidney Jones (concussion) returned to action, Artie Burns (groin) and John Reid (groin) were still out on Tuesday, leaving the secondary short-handed.