- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 25
RENTON, Wash. -- Elevated speakers pump out PG-13 lyrics and hip-hop beats all through Seattle Seahawks practice.
"I'm fresh, I'm fly, I'm always high," boasts rapper Lloyd Banks of G-Unit fame, "got ya b----es waving at me when I roll by."
Later, it's a song from Usher creating the visuals: "Honey got a booty like pow, pow, pow."
And this from another rapper, Akon: "I'm the boss, it only takes one call for a driver to hit you up and drop you off and that's all. Guess what? I won't be takin' that fall. Homie, I got cake, that's what I'm payin' them for."
Thirty-six-year-old safety Lawyer Milloy, the second-oldest player on the team behind kicker Olindo Mare, grooves on the sideline during a break for the first-team defense. His head coach and the Seahawks' unofficial hype man, Pete Carroll, runs a spirited practice a few yards away. Afterward, I ask Milloy bluntly whether it's credible for a 58-year-old white guy from Marin County to like G-Unit. Milloy laughs. He played for Carroll in New England more than a decade ago and he jumped at the chance to play for him again.
"The thing about a leader, the leader has to understand and know the people that he is leading," Milloy explains. "[Carroll] is willing to step into our world a little bit and that's the sign of a good leader, man -- somebody that will get up there and rock to the music. He might not listen to the lyrics, but he can find the beat."
In theory, anyway.
"I'm not saying he's always on beat," Milloy says, "but, you know, it's just good to see that our leader is out in front. Everything he wants us to do, he's leading by example."
The big question upon Carroll's hiring was whether his enthusiastic style would translate from USC to the NFL. Carroll isn't running from his reputation as a rah-rah coach. He's embracing it and winning over players, at least so far, with an approach to training camp that represents a 180-degree turn from the tough camp Jim Mora ran last summer. Mora's own conditioning level was such that his resting heart rate was 41 and doctors couldn't make a stress test tough enough to bring his rate to peak levels. If he could achieve such fitness, shouldn't professional athletes half his age? The team worked harder during camp than anyone imagined. In retrospect, it's possible the 2009 Seahawks never quit on Mora so much as they ran out of gas.
Carroll has given players full days without practice. Two-a-days ended after about a week. There have been no three-hour practices.
"Best training camp I've ever been involved with," 10th-year receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. "We go harder than any training camp I've ever been in when we're out there. Everything is fast, fast, fast. But he's giving us ample rest and I'm not used to that. It's very, very different, and I think it's good because we took a conditioning test and everybody passed it very easily. That showed everybody was in shape. So now it's just, work on your craft."
THREE HOT ISSUES
1. Where will this team get its pass rush? Carroll is not sure and this might be the biggest weakness on the team. Chris Clemons, acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in the Darryl Tapp trade, is probably the best pass-rusher on the roster. He has 20 career sacks and three starts in six NFL seasons with three teams.
"He has shown a lot of great things out there with his speed, and I think he has so much speed off that edge and I think people lose track of his strength," linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. "I've seen him hip-toss some people over almost like Reggie White used to do with that club move. And he has a good bull-rush on him."
Clemons thinks his career will blossom with additional playing time. It might, but that is no given. At one point in practice Wednesday, undrafted rookie center Jeff Byers caught the 254-pound Clemons off balance, lifted him off the ground and planted him on his back.
The best pass-rusher on the team after Clemons? Tatupu mentioned Nick Reed, who had one sack as a rookie last season.
"In practice, we have gotten to the QB a number of times," Tatupu said. "I know Matt [Hasselbeck] won't admit it, but we've given him fits. I think we'll be fine in that department."
2. Which running back gets most of the carries? Probably Justin Forsett, a seventh-round draft choice left over from the Seahawks' previous leadership. Forsett showed an ability to make the first defender miss while rushing for 619 yards on 114 carries last season. He has a chance to become a 1,000-yard rusher because his style suits the Seahawks' full-scale conversion to Alex Gibbs' zone-blocking scheme. Seattle dabbled in the zone scheme last year, but the line lacked an overall identity. Julius Jones remains a factor, but Forsett and the newly healthy Leon Washington are commanding most of the attention at running back. Washington has recovered from the gruesome leg injury that threatened his career. He looks good and Carroll loves what he offers to the offense.
3. Will Carroll's competition mantra hold up? Carroll has put veteran players on notice by letting rookies command practice reps based on merit. That's easier to do during training camp, when wins and losses aren't at stake. Coaches often favor veterans when the games start counting because veterans tend to know their responsibilities and have a better overall feel for the game. I think Carroll will go young this season for several reasons. One, he has more than one year to turn around the Seahawks. The organization isn't going to give Carroll the Mora treatment, in other words. Two, an affinity for youth is one value that made Carroll and new general manager John Schneider a good fit together. When Schneider was with Green Bay, the Packers annually fielded one of the NFL's youngest teams. When Carroll was at USC, he was continually getting younger players ready to take over. Three, some of the Seahawks' best players are young. Rookie Golden Tate comes to mind.
Red Bryant's successful conversion. The 2008 fourth-round draft choice was a top-heavy defensive tackle until the Seahawks' new coaching staff took a look at him. Converting Bryant into a two-gap defensive end seemed somewhat dubious on the surface given Bryant's massive girth. Bryant proved up to the challenge, however. His body appears more proportional and he looks like a good fit for the five-technique spot on the line. "My worry was as far as speed," Tatupu said. "You get a really athletic or fast tackle and he gets around him and that edge isn't set. But with what we are asking Red to do, he is our two-gapper. I haven't seen anybody two-gap better than him. Oh, my God. If he's on one side, he will either throw that guy or he will push that guy into the running back and squeeze the hole. He'll do it with one arm. The running back can't go inside, so he'll go outside and Red will just make the tackle one-on-one. It's just impressive. That's why I'm a player and they are the coaches."
Injuries at linebacker. The Seahawks have proven again why restraint is appropriate when directing praise toward their talented group of linebackers. Aaron Curry missed 10 days of camp after suffering a concussion. He is only now returning. A knee injury has sidelined Leroy Hill. A hamstring issue has sidelined Tatupu recently. This potentially star-studded group failed to last even one game together last season. Curry was out after only one day of training camp, so the group hasn't gotten time together this summer, either. At least David Hawthorne is looking good. He'll start the opener while Hill serves a suspension. It's possible Hawthorne could remain in the lineup even after Hill becomes eligible.
Rookie left tackle Russell Okung's strength is obvious when he locks onto a smaller man. He threw down Reed so violently that Reed's head almost took out quarterback J.P. Losman's left knee during practice Wednesday. Another time, Okung pulled left and couldn't find cornerback Walter Thurmond, who dropped under him and made the tackle.
Nose tackle Kevin Vickerson has worked with the first-team defense part of the time. The fact that the Tennessee Titans considered Vickerson expendable speaks to the state of the Seahawks' defensive line, but Vickerson has looked good in camp.
The Seahawks haven't had enough size at cornerback to match up with bigger receivers, especially Larry Fitzgerald. They took a chance on Oregon cornerback Walter Thurmond, who was coming off a catastrophic knee injury, and the gamble could be paying off. Thurmond has shown a fearless, aggressive style in breaking up passes. He could command playing time on passing downs as a rookie. Continued health appears to be the only issue for Thurmond, a fourth-round choice who might have gone in the second if not for the knee injury.
Seattle is running a 4-3 defense with 3-4 tendencies. Even players have a hard time labeling it.
Rookie strong safety Kam Chancellor picked up the defense quickly during organized team activities. He has old-school safety size at about 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. Milloy will likely start at strong safety this season, but Chancellor is a long-term candidate at the position.
Earl Thomas has shown freakish range from his free safety spot. There's no question about the rookie first-round choice's physical ability as a coverage safety. Thomas has also shown a grasp of the defense. The Seahawks would like him to become more proactive in communicating his alignment to the linebackers, who need to know where their help is coming from. Thomas' abilities in coverage give the staff flexibility because Thomas can slide outside to cover wide receivers one-on-one.
Tate has made big plays just about every day in camp. He's at the point where rookies sometimes wear down, but the Seahawks' lighter camp schedule could help him sustain his fast start. "He's small, he's not the best route runner, but he makes plays," Houshmandzadeh said. "Every day, he makes plays. ... He just makes plays, period."
Curry's play as a rookie dropped off significantly once Tatupu, the quarterback of the defense, suffered a season-ending injury. Seattle has talked about using Curry as a pass-rusher, but it's also important for him to become a good strongside linebacker. "I think they have asked him to do that here," Tatupu said. "We have seen him excel at that."
Cornerback Marcus Trufant appears healthy after an injury-affected 2009 season. Seattle does not have enough talent, most likely, for Trufant to become a leading interceptor and challenge for the Pro Bowl. But there's reason to expect Trufant to become a good starter again.
The Seahawks have better quality depth at quarterback with Losman in the No. 3 role, but Charlie Whitehurst has yet to seriously challenge Hasselbeck for the starting job. That isn't a huge surprise. Whitehurst never beat out Billy Volek in San Diego. But it's important for Whitehurst to make progress. I think he'll play one way or another in 2010.