You haven’t seen a truly picturesque football field until you’ve visited Renton, Wash., home of the Seahawks. The field pops against a backdrop that includes rusted-over train tracks, a quaint bicycle trail and Lake Washington. Unfortunately, I watched two days of non-padded practice, so I didn’t read too much into the action. Then again, the weather was perfect for a passing exhibition, which didn’t disappoint the 3,000-plus fans on hand to see the defending champions prep their defense.
One vivid memory from watching practice
Seeing veteran wide receiver Percy Harvin go in motion out of trips left, take a handoff from Russell Wilson and then pivot, twirl and motor like Neymar Jr. He was the fastest man on the field during the first two days of training camp, with rookie wideout Paul Richardson pushing for a close second. If they’d been playing tackle, I doubt a single defender would’ve clutched so much as a handful of jersey as Harvin tore down the sideline. After watching him on Friday and Saturday, I believed Harvin when he said he was able to do things now that he hadn’t done since injuring his hip, which required surgery to repair a torn labrum last summer.
How this team can go 12–4
Balance. If Harvin can replace the departed Golden Tate (now with the Lions) as Russell Wilson’s top target, and if Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse can become consistently relevant receiving options, you’re probably looking at a better football team than the one that slammed Peyton Manning’s Broncos in a lopsided Super Bowl XLVIII. The best defense in a football generation hasn’t lost a step, and the offense is looking at the same kind of consistency, assuming that a reliable right tackle emerges and Marshawn Lynch returns from holding out with his head on his shoulders.
How this team can go 4–12
It would take a beyond-epic collapse. Two out of the four members of the Legion of Boom would have to suffer season-ending injuries, and even then, Wilson and Lynch are probably still worth seven wins behind that offensive line. Even if Lynch doesn’t come back strong (or perhaps at all?) the Seahawks love backup running back Christine Michael and his elite combination of strength and speed. The only thing Seattle doesn’t have on defense is elite linebacking, which isn’t necessary when you have Brandon Mebane plugging the middle and Earl Thomas patrolling centerfield. Only injuries could destroy this team—an unimaginable amount of injuries.
Now, from Fantasyland …
1. Let your Seahawks bandwagon buddy draft Marshawn Lynch. Holdout or not, he’s a very old 28. He has 7,400 yards on his knees, to say nothing of the heralded young backup nipping at his heels. Christine Michael has looked like a stud-in-the-making going on a year now, and he’s figuring to get more action considering that Seattle is already looking for options to move beyond Lynch given that Russell Wilson is in line for a big payday very soon.
2. Normally you’d avoid taking Seahawks receivers at all costs, considering that none of them have topped 64 catches in either of the past two seasons. But I’ll be taking a mid-round flyer on Percy Harvin. He’s an all-purpose player, assuming he wins the kick returner job and poses a ground threat by taking handoffs out of motion.
3. Make Seattle’s defense your defense. The most frustrating secondary Russell Wilson will face all season is the one he sees every day in practice, and defensive end Cliff Avril has another year in the system to jell with stud rushers Brandon Mebane and Michael Bennett.
How I project the lineup, with competitive spots in bold:
|RT||Michael Bowie / Justin Britt|
|TE||Zach Miller / Luke Wilson|
|3rd WR||Jermaine Kearse / Paul Richardson / Kevin Norwood|
||Jeremy Lane / Tharold Simon|
Right tackle Breno Giacomini was a free-agent departure, so the battle rages between Michael Bowie and Justin Britt, a rookie second-rounder out of Missouri. Bowie knows the system, which is about the most positive thing you can say about him. Ideally for the organization, Britt takes the job at some point during the season. Elsewhere on the depth chart, running backs Robert Turbin and Christine Michael vie to backup Lynch with an eye on becoming the back of the future. On defense, watch the nickel corner position, which has been home to both Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell in recent seasons. Lane is the favorite at the moment, but 2013 fifth-round pick Tharold Simon has been impressive so far in camp.
Best new player in camp
Wide receiver Paul Richardson, with a caveat: He’s close to 170 pounds and nobody is hitting yet.
Strong opinion that I may regret by November
Christine Michael will rush for 500 yards, and Russell Wilson will throw for 3,500. The latter prediction isn’t too bold. With Percy Harvin at full strength, the Seahawks have the weapons to throw the ball this season and improve upon Wilson’s 3,357 yards in 2013. Michael is 220 pounds of menacing muscle and his running style matches Lynch’s. Thing is, the Seahawks must balance figuring out what they have left in Lynch and what they have coming up behind him. Now is as good a time as any to start spreading the ball around, but they can’t mess too much with offensive chemistry.
Something I’ve never seen before
On the first day of training camp—sold out, of course—Seahawks fans were cheering louder for incompletions than touchdowns. They love their DBs, and they know who butters the bread around here. Richard Sherman treated the crowd to a couple of punch-aways, one on a short fade and another on a deep Russell Wilson throw. The defense seemed to be working extensively on Cover 1, leaving Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane on islands that they had no trouble managing (save for matching up against Percy Harvin).
What I thought when I walked out of camp
That this could be the last year the Seahawks enjoy their current level of success for some time. You have to figure that this is Dan Quinn’s last year as defensive coordinator; it was a coup for Pete Carroll to land him a year ago—to say nothing of not losing him to a head coaching job this season. Marshawn Lynch is on the way out, and the offensive line is best suited for a run-first approach, which means Russell Wilson could take some lumps without a dominant running game. Seattle will soon have to pay Wilson big-time money, which translates to one less stud free agent on defense or one less experienced veteran re-upping every year for perhaps the next decade. This feels like a last hurrah of sorts, and the team appears to appreciate that urgency.