Seahawks Enjoy 'Great First Day' to Kick Off Unprecedented Training Camp
Helmets were strapped. Coaches were barking instructions and players were playfully jawing at one another. Russell Wilson was dropping dimes to a bevy of receivers. The thud of hands popping blocking sleds reverberated on both practice fields.
If you didn’t know a pandemic was currently plaguing the nation – or have become impervious to the large contingency of players, coaches, and team personnel who were sporting masks as protection against COVID-19 – you would have thought you were witnessing a typical first training camp practice for the Seahawks on Wednesday.
“For us, this was an important first day,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters following practice. “This was the first time we get everybody on the field at the same time working together and helmets on and the whole thing, so it starts to feel like football a little bit. Everybody’s really anxious and excited and raring to go. We all love this game so much and we’ve been waiting forever, so guys were thrilled to be out here working and it was a great first day for us.”
Following an unprecedented offseason in which OTAs and minicamps were canceled and NFL teams were forced to resort to virtual Zoom meetings to prepare for an uncertain season, returning to the field provided a sense of normalcy in a time period where nothing has been usual. After months of anticipation, for a little over an hour, the Seahawks finally got to play football for the first time since January.
The energy at the VMAC was palpable. Whether Jarran Reed and Poona Ford were talking smack to one another between reps or defensive line coach Clint Hurtt was laying into a player for insufficient effort during a pursuit drill or the 69-year old Carroll was showing he’s still got a few spirals left in his throwing arm, it was apparent from the start of practice that everyone was ready to seize this moment with much of the country struggling to weather a health crisis.
Up to this point, Carroll has been surprised with how well things have gone for the Seahawks in an unprecedented training camp. With receiver John Ursua returning from the COVID-19 list after a false positive test, the organization still hasn’t had a legitimate positive test in 16 days since reporting.
“It’s been different. However, we’ve been ramping up to this, so it doesn’t feel that far off. We’ve been testing perfectly since we got here, got back together, so we’ve got some confidence if we keep doing the same thing, we’re okay.”
Here are four quick takeaways from Seattle’s first on-field action of the 2020 season:
1. Coming off the long layoff, the Seahawks look pretty healthy to kick off camp.
With Rashaad Penny and incoming rookie Darrell Taylor as the only exceptions, the Seahawks were at close to full strength for their first practice of the season. Coming off shoulder surgery, Carroll indicated linebacker K.J. Wright made a “miraculous recovery” and after passing his physical, he participated in all of Wednesday’s session. Tight end Will Dissly, who underwent Achilles surgery last October, also returned to the practice field and avoided the PUP list. Rookie tight end Colby Parkinson also appears to be making solid progress after offseason foot surgery and could return to action in the near future.
As for Penny, Carroll confirmed he hasn’t seen him yet, as he needs to pass his required COVID-19 tests and undergo a physical. He was placed on the PUP list last week and continues to recover from a torn ACL. Starting camp on the Non-Football Injury list, Taylor may need a few more weeks before he’s able to take the field as he continues to work back from offseason shin surgery.
2. Marquise Blair will absolutely be in the mix for playing time at the nickel cornerback position.
Just one practice in, it’s way too early to know where Blair will fit into Seattle’s defensive plans this season. But on Wednesday, when the Seahawks were conducting a combined group session with linebackers and defensive backs against a scout team offense, he received quite a few snaps in the slot. On multiple occasions this offseason, Carroll himself has said the former Utah star will battle for playing time there, creating opportunities to have him on the field with Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs at the same time.
“He can do everything that you need to do there,” Carroll said in regard to Blair competing for a nickel role. “He just doesn't have the experience. He's a rookie at that spot. He's a ball hawk type of kid - cool spot for him.”
Fellow second-year defender Ugo Amadi remains the front-runner to win the slot cornerback job and saw plenty of reps at practice as well, setting up an intriguing competition that could lead to both players seeing action in different sub-packages.
3. Another top pick from 2019, L.J. Collier, could be a factor playing in the interior in year No. 2.
Much like Blair, Collier’s rookie season was impacted negatively by injuries in training camp and the preseason, setting him back substantially when he returned in the regular season. Heading into his second season, the ex-TCU standout could have multiple opportunities to earn himself playing time. Along with competing against Rasheem Green to replace departed starter Quinton Jefferson at the 5-tech base defensive end spot, the Texas native also saw extensive snaps during drills at defensive tackle on Wednesday, often lining up next to Demarcus Christmas as the 3-tech defender.
At 290-plus pounds, Collier offers the size, heavy hands, and toughness necessary to handle extensive snaps reduced inside, and with only four combined games of experience behind starters Jarran Reed and Poona Ford on the depth chart, playing there may be his best shot at redeeming himself after a challenging rookie season.
4. Seattle will have to wait a few more days before seeing it’s new-look secondary together for the first time.
Along with the general excitement of simply returning to the field, Carroll had another reason to be smiling after Wednesday’s OTA-style practice: he finally got to see his prized acquisition Jamal Adams take the field sporting a Seahawks uniform. The muscular 213-pound safety stood out like a needle in a hay stack next to the rest of the team’s defensive backs and unsurprisingly to Carroll, he could be seen constantly speaking with coaches during drill work, doing everything he can to master a new scheme quickly.
“He’s really sharp. He’s really competitive in that he really cares, he really wants to know all the details. He wants to be corrected, he wants to be helped, he wants to be taught and coached and all that. He’s got a unique focus that some great players we’ve had really demonstrated. I just know that he’s the real deal.”
While Carroll got his first extended look at Adams, he will have to wait at least a few more days before he can finally see cornerback Quinton Dunbar in action. After being removed from the commissioner’s exempt list earlier this week, he is in the midst of initial testing protocols and if he passes a physical on Friday, it’s possible he could be back for Sunday’s practice to make his debut.
“He just adds to the competition, should make us better,” Carroll commented. “It’s going to put the pressure on our guys to step up once he gets going. He’s a ways behind because he’s missing this time and we need to make sure he’s in good shape and get him started well.”