RENTON, Wash. -- This training camp marks the Seattle Seahawks' first since 2009 without some form of a starting quarterback competition. So comfortable, mature and in command is Russell Wilson this summer that you'd swear he's been the starter for a decade.
It's sometimes as though Wilson is 24 years old going on 42.
Wilson naturally took the driver's seat in the van Seattle players used when shuttling to the offseason practices Wilson organized in Los Angeles. While teammates joked around in the back like kids on a field trip, Wilson was their chaperone.
Asked during this camp what he knew of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick from their time together shooting a commercial and appearing at the ESPYS, Wilson, nearly 13 months Kaepernick's junior, described his rival as someone who loves football and is a good person to be around.
"Great kid," Wilson added.
Reporters can forget about prying a colorful quote from the player teammates have nicknamed "the robot" for his methodical approach to the job. Wilson has been known to favor coachspeak even inside Seattle's quarterback meeting room.
"We joke around all the time," backup Brady Quinn said. "There are some times when he'll state the obvious. We try to make sure he realizes that is a given. Like, for example, 'Hey man, guys gotta stay healthy this year.' Well, yeah. They always need to stay healthy. That's a big part of a team doing well, people not getting hurt. Times like that, you've gotta keep him on his toes, make him laugh a little bit, give him a hard time."
"He's a champion when he steps out there on that field, even in practice," Rice said. "I’ve seen him run, I believe, 80 yards on one play on a scramble to try to get away and get us a first down. He is going to do whatever it takes. You have seen him running down the sideline blocking for Marshawn [Lynch] numerous times. That is the kind of guy you want leading your team."
THREE HOT ISSUES
1. Percy Harvin's health. The Seahawks were already a good team before they acquired Harvin. They became a popular pick for the Super Bowl once the versatile receiver and return specialist joined their roster in March. Now, with Harvin seeking a second opinion that could lead to season-altering surgery on his sore hip, those projections seem a little more tenuous.
How Harvin will proceed from here is not clear. His sometimes rocky past in Minnesota invites questions and fuels his critics. Is he smartly erring on the side of caution, as coach Pete Carroll seemed to suggest in initial remarks about the injury? Or, is this another one of those tough-to-explain Harvin plot twists like the ones that seemed to pop up regularly during his Minnesota tenure? With Harvin set to seek that second opinion Tuesday, Carroll noted that safety Kam Chancellor played through a similar injury last season. Was he saying Harvin should do the same?
"Guys around here trust [Harvin] and believe in him," Rice said. "It's nothing like coming out here and taking days off and doing his own thing. I don’t think he’s that type of person. You get that perception from people that don’t really know what's going on, and they just hear stuff and they just create their own [impression]."
Harvin is, by all accounts, plenty tough and competitive. If this is an injury Harvin can manage, it appears he'll do so on his terms, not on the Seahawks' terms. That surely wouldn't surprise the Vikings, even though Rice, himself an ex-Viking, said his teammate is misunderstood.
2. Bruce Irvin's position. There has been some confusion, at least on my end, regarding the role Seattle envisions for 2012 first-round draft choice Irvin. The team drafted Irvin with plans to use him initially as a situational pass-rusher, and later as the successor to Chris Clemons in the "Leo" position as a stand-up rusher in Carroll's defense.
Irvin collected eight sacks as a rookie in the situational role, as planned. He'll continue to play that role within the nickel defense while adding responsibilities as an outside linebacker in base packages. It's not so much that Irvin will be playing the strong side or weak side. Rather, he'll be one of two outside linebackers positioned on the line of scrimmage in what will look like a 3-4 scheme. He'll be asked to set the edge in the running game, rush the passer, match up man-to-man or cover the flat.
First, though, Irvin will have to serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.
3. Depth on the offensive line. The Seahawks drafted offensive lineman James Carpenter 25th overall in 2011 when they could have taken a quarterback such as Andy Dalton or Kaepernick. Finding Wilson a year later absolved the team from second-guessing on the quarterback front, but the Carpenter selection was still looking like a regrettable one heading into this camp. Injuries were threatening Carpenter's career, and he wasn't exactly dominant even when healthy in his rookie season.
Perceptions are beginning to change after Carpenter reported to camp in good enough shape to participate fully from the beginning. I noticed Carpenter running from one drill to the next when he could have jogged. It seemed like evidence Carpenter was feeling good and was eager to salvage his career. He's been working with the starting unit at left guard between Pro Bowlers Russell Okung and Max Unger. Adding a healthy Carpenter to the mix would upgrade the line's longer-term prospects.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
Seattle has one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, best running backs and best defenses. That's a winning combination just about every time. Last season, Wilson struggled through his first few games while hamstrung by remedial game plans. He did not start to hit his stride until Week 8 at Detroit. Wilson did not break out all the way until leading 97- and 80-yard touchdown drives to win at Chicago in Week 13. That's the quarterback Seattle will have behind center from the beginning this season. That is why the Seahawks like their chances.
REASON FOR PESSIMISM
Potential depth issues at tight end, offensive tackle, weakside linebacker and defensive end (for now, while Clemons rehabs and Irvin faces a suspension) probably aren't serious enough to send the Seahawks plummeting into mediocrity. However, the margin for error within the NFC West figures to be small. Harvin, at his best, was supposed to put Seattle over the top. Now, the Seahawks can't be sure they'll have him for the regular season.
Defensive end Red Bryant appears more comfortable, for good reason. Bryant had treatment for sleep apnea this offseason after former trainer Sam Ramsden, now the Seahawks' director of player health and performance, recommended testing for larger players. Bryant, who wears a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask when he sleeps, says he's feeling refreshed and has better stamina later in practices. This is a pivotal season for Bryant, who struggled with a foot injury last season after signing a $35 million extension. At Carroll's suggestion, Bryant has recommitted to his identity as a dominant run-stuffer after feeling pressure to improve as a pass-rusher upon signing his new contract.
Rookie fourth-round receiver Chris Harper didn't seem to be a factor in the first couple days of camp. The first time I really noticed him was when he caught a touchdown pass on the third day of practice. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was also the first day this summer that the Seahawks practiced in pads. Harper, oddly proportioned for a receiver at 6-foot-1 and 234 pounds, relishes the physical part of the game. Some young receivers flourish in shorts and struggle in pads. Harper might have it the other way around.
The Seahawks claimed off waivers former Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield despite a $1.3 million salary and a history of injuries. Seattle had a middle-rounds grade on Schofield entering the 2010 draft even though Schofield was rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered in Senior Bowl practices. The Cardinals used a fourth-round pick on Schofield just ahead of the range where Seattle was considering taking him. The Seahawks are continually looking for "Leo" defensive ends in the 6-3 and 245-pound mold. Schofield, 26, fits the profile and has a chance to earn playing time in a rotational capacity while Clemons recovers from knee surgery and Irvin serves a suspension.
Irvin's speed showed up in practice when he chased down rookie running back Christine Michael to force a fumble some 40 yards past the line of scrimmage. Michael ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at the combine. He has appeared to be one of the more explosive players in camp. Irvin caught him despite outweighing Michael by about 25 pounds, 245 to 220. Raw speed isn't the question for Irvin. He has plenty. The question is whether he can handle some of the coverage and run-stopping responsibilities associated with his evolving role.
Remember those offseason stories about Lynch skipping chunks of the voluntary offseason conditioning program? They're pretty much irrelevant now, as anticipated.
Nothing has changed the perception that Jackson will beat out Quinn for the No. 2 job behind Wilson. Trading Jackson a year ago was tough in some respects because Jackson was so popular among teammates. I see no reason for the Seahawks to make the same decision again unless Quinn vastly outplays Jackson.
Between the practice field and the locker room sits a cart with a laptop connected to a sensor atop a stand. The setup from GPSports allows teams to monitor player performance in real time. Team owner Paul Allen's other professional Seattle sports team, Sounders FC, has used the technology. The GPSports website says systems include a GPS, accelerometer, magnetometer, heart rate sensor and a wireless transmitter. The company says its product can "accurately measure distance, speed, acceleration, heart rate, bodyload and impacts all in real time."
Former Cardinals receiver Stephen Williams is doing what he sometimes did while with Arizona: impressing during camp by making spectacular leaping catches. Williams has the talent, but he has been unable to make it transfer to the regular season. Working with a top NFL quarterback cannot hurt. Williams arrived in Arizona the year after Kurt Warner retired.
Speaking of Ware, he has some work to do before making veteran fullback Michael Robinson expendable, at least from early indications. The offense didn't look the same or as good with Robinson and tight end Zach Miller sitting out. Robinson and Lynch have a special feel for one another. Ware, more of a halfback type for most of his college career, has dropped a few passes and is still adjusting to the physical nature of the position.
The offseason buzz about rookie Jesse Williams possibly starting at defensive tackle seems to have subsided for the time being. Veteran Tony McDaniel and 2012 fourth-rounder Jaye Howard have stood out more.
Is that really assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable? He has dropped a significant amount of weight since having back surgery, and he said after one practice, "You can’t imagine how nothing hurts on me. It’s awesome."
Richard Sherman, although sometimes combative when facing receivers, projects unfiltered joy other times. He is the player most likely to groove along to the music Carroll plays at practice. Sherman thrilled the crowd during one practice when he picked off a pass and lateraled to Earl Thomas during the return. Football is fun to Sherman, and it shows.
There aren't many open passing lanes in practice against the Seattle defense. This team is stacked at cornerback. If this keeps up in preseason, and there's enough depth that it should, Seattle could be in position to trade one of its backups.