RENTON, Wash. - Getting back to work after a tough 27-11 preseason loss to the Bears, the Seahawks wrapped up their open training camp schedule and kickstarted preparation for their final exhibition match with a physical padded practice on Sunday.
Here's five quick observations from Sunday's session at the VMAC and injury updates:
1. Drew Lock returns from COVID, but it remains unclear whether or not he will start Seattle's preseason finale.
After testing positive following Tuesday's practice, Lock missed out on a prime opportunity to make up ground on Geno Smith in Seattle's quarterback competition by missing Thursday's preseason contest. Back with the team after a five day absence, he didn't pick up directly from where he left off but still received more action with starters than he did during the first three weeks of camp, as the Seahawks split first-team reps between the two signal callers on Sunday.
Moving better in the pocket than he did during his last practice when he was clearly under the weather, Lock completed seven out of 10 passes during team sessions. But while Smith threw a touchdown to Tyler Lockett and connected with DK Metcalf on a 40-yard vertical route, he failed to find the end zone on four red zone plays and overthrew Metcalf on a similar deep ball down the left sideline, missing out on a few chances for big plays. Nonetheless, he looked healthy and while Carroll didn't disclose his plan for who would start against the Cowboys on Friday, he indicated Lock will "play a lot" as the competition against Smith winds down and a decision doesn't have to be rushed into with 16 days between the finale and season opener.
2. Getting back to their bread and butter, the Seahawks emphasized the run game in a physical padded practice.
Though most of the large crowd on the berm for the final open camp practice kept eyes on Lock and Smith, the Seahawks didn't throw the ball much in Sunday's practice with the run game being prioritized instead. Taking advantage of a rare padded practice, Rashaad Penny broke loose for three runs of 20 or more yards, including a 40-yard scamper up the middle that drew loud roars from fans. After a quiet camp for the most part, second-year back Josh Johnson also ripped off a long 40-yard touchdown run up the middle and enjoyed his best day of the month to this point.
Most encouragingly, most of the damage done on Sunday happened behind the first-team offensive line, which featured rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas as well as guard Phil Haynes, who stepped in at left guard as a replacement for injured starter Damien Lewis. The group consistently won at the line of scrimmage, creating creases for the backs to operate behind them and executing second level blocks to spring them free.
3. After a sluggish start, Bo Melton turned on the jets to burn a speedy rookie counterpart and continue his emergence.
Struggling with drop issues in the first couple of weeks, Melton didn't get off to an ideal start in his first NFL training camp and mostly took reps with the third-team offense during that time. But since leading the team with 47 yards on just two catches in Seattle's preseason opener, the seventh round pick from Rutgers has turned things around substantially, putting himself back in the mix for a roster spot on the outside.
While Carroll admitted Melton "needs to settle in" and he still has had problems finishing catches, his 4.34 speed and top-tier quickness have been evident on the practice and game field. Those athletic traits were put on display on Sunday against uber-athletic cornerback Tariq Woolen, as he buttered up and toasted his rookie peer on a vertical route during the team session. Creating several yards of separation, Jacob Eason lofted a perfect deep ball and connected with him in stride for a 45-yard touchdown. To make the team, he can't afford any more cases of the dropsies, but he's improved his standing heading towards the preseason finale.
4. Returning from a lengthy injury-related absence, John Reid puts his name back in the discussion at slot cornerback.
With Woolen and fellow rookie Coby Bryant enjoying excellent training camps and veterans such as Sidney Jones, Artie Burns, and Mike Jackson also playing well this month, the Seahawks have a bit of a logjam on the outside at cornerback. It's a good problem for Carroll and his staff and they should be encouraged by whichever two players they roll out for the season opener against Denver. However, in the slot, questions remain after Ugo Amadi was dealt to Philadelphia and both Marquise Blair and Justin Coleman struggled in Thursday's loss to Chicago.
For now, Bryant may be the front runner to win the nickel role after logging a bunch of snaps there on Thursday, but Reid sent a message on Sunday that he shouldn't be left out of the conversation either. After missing extended time with a groin strain, the third-year defender turned in two outstanding plays during the red zone period, first denying Tyler Lockett on a slant at the goal line and following up on the very next play for a second straight pass breakup covering Metcalf on an end zone comeback route. Lock put plenty of zip on both throws to his star receivers, but the veteran corner deserves props for his recovery and closing speed to get a hand on the football and eliminate a pair of potential scores. Friday's glorified scrimmage will be critical for him to show he can make similar plays against other competition.
5. For a second straight camp, a March free agent signing didn't last past the second wave of roster cuts as Pete Carroll makes a statement.
Most of the players Seattle signed to contracts at the beginning of free agency participated in Sunday's practice, including an injured Burns as a bystander on the sideline. But there was one notable absence after the team released veteran linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe, who signed a one-year deal in March to reunite with associate head coach Sean Desai. The move was viewed as a surprise by many, but Carroll gave a blunt assessment when asked why he no longer was with the team.
"Other guys were just doing better," Carroll responded.
While Carroll didn't offer up any other insight on the choice to jettison Iyiegbuniwe during second roster cuts, the decision looks like a case of a head coach making an example of a veteran for the rest of the roster in similar fashion to cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon last summer. Despite having a reputation as a quality special teams player, he struggled with his assignments and took poor pursuit angles covering kickoffs and punts during the Seahawks first two preseason games. Carroll clearly took notice and not in a good way, leading to his dismissal in favor of younger linebackers who have outperformed him.
-L.J. Collier (elbow) and Dee Eskridge (groin) both returned to practice in a limited capacity, opening the door for both to be available for the preseason finale.
-Rookie running back Ken Walker III (hernia) remains "tender" according to Carroll and there isn't currently a timetable in place for his return to action. Fellow rookie Boye Mafe sat out practice with a shoulder sprain and may not be able to recover in time to play against the Cowboys on Friday.
-Guard Damien Lewis, who suffered an ankle sprain in Thursday's loss, wasn't in attendance for practice as he continues to deal with post-injury swelling. Carroll sounded optimistic about him making a quick recovery and indicated the sprain wasn't of the high ankle variety.