NFL Nation: Mark LeGree

RENTON, Wash. -- Tis the season for NFL general managers to talk about the upcoming draft without tipping their hands.

The Seattle Seahawks' John Schneider and the San Francisco 49ers' Trent Baalke took their turns during pre-draft news conferences Wednesday. I was able to attend Schneider's session, which the team also streamed live on its website. A few notes and observations:
  • Personalities: Schneider's occasional references to movies such as "Step Brothers" and "Tommy Boy" show why he fits so well with coach Pete Carroll, who counts comedian Will Ferrell among his buddies and occasional visitors to team functions (including, presumably, any Catalina Wine Mixers). These guys like to have fun. Schneider joked that he was hoping to spend the draft's first round at Dino's Pub across the street from team headquarters until team officials talked him out of it. Seattle doesn't have a first-round pick after trading it to Minnesota for Percy Harvin. Schneider said the revised first-round plan was to watch Harvin highlights on YouTube while other teams made their picks.
  • Draft lessons: Schneider, asked about the boom-and-bust nature of players the team has drafted in the fourth round or thereabouts, pointed to a couple draft-related missteps he hoped to avoid in the future. Comparing a draft prospect to a veteran player with similar attributes has backfired in the past, he said, because it's tough to measure what's in a player's heart. Schneider also said it's a mistake to let a prospect's excellent production in college lull a team into asking fewer questions about the player. Schneider indicated that had happened to him in the past. He did not name names, but Kris Durham, E.J. Wilson and Mark LeGree were three underwhelming players the team selected in those rounds. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and K.J. Wright were among the success stories.
  • Clemons' health: Schneider sounded optimistic about defensive end Chris Clemons' recovery from ACL surgery. He noted that Clemons proved to be a quick healer from foot/ankle surgery years ago. Clemons has a reputation on the team for being exceedingly tough when it comes to playing through pain. However, the team appears in position to carry Clemons on the physically unable to perform list, buying additional time before working Clemons into the lineup during the season. Adding Cliff Avril in free agency added flexibility.
  • Carpenter's confidence: James Carpenter is a wild-card player for the Seahawks on their offensive line. The team would love for him to emerge as a starting guard. Health is the No. 1 concern. Carpenter has struggled to regain quickness and range after suffering a serious knee injury. Schneider said Carpenter is the strongest player on the team, but the challenge will be for Carpenter to regain confidence and flexibility in his legs. Carpenter did stay in the Seattle area this offseason, which should help from a conditioning and rehabilitation standpoint.
  • 49ers watching: Fans and reporters have been paying close attention to the moves Seattle and San Francisco have been making since finishing one-half game apart in the standings last season. Schneider said he doesn't get caught up in what other teams are doing, but he did say he thought the 49ers fared well in adding Anquan Boldin, Glenn Dorsey and Colt McCoy specifically.
  • Winfield fit: Seattle announced cornerback Antoine Winfield's signing. The Seahawks see Winfield as a slot defender whose addition fills a specific need while improving the team's defense against run and pass alike. He said Winfield's agent was very aggressive in pushing for a deal with Seattle. Schneider considered that an indication players are eager to join a strong Seattle defense. He theorized that Carroll's reputation for treating players as men has gotten around the league, making Seattle a more attractive destination.
  • Grading the draft: Seattle and Washington are the only teams without first-round picks. Teams grade players differently, of course, and there will usually be players graded as first-round talents still available in the second round. Schneider said the number is usually two or three in a given year. He said there will usually be five to 15 players his teams gave second-round grades still available in that round. When the Seahawks used a 2010 second-round choice for receiver Golden Tate, they said at the time they had him rated as a first-round player.

That's it from here. Time to dive into that rush-hour traffic for the trip home.
Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh Ric Tapia/Icon SMIPete Carroll's Seahawks and Jim Harbaugh's 49ers have continued their rivalry into the offseason.
The San Francisco 49ers' and Seattle Seahawks' 2012 battle for NFC West supremacy has turned into a perceived battle this offseason.

"It just feels like the Seahawks make a move, then the Niners make a move," former NFL quarterback Damon Huard said Wednesday during our conversation on 710ESPN Seattle. "The Seahawks sign Percy Harvin, then the Niners go get Anquan Boldin. The Niners just signed Nnamdi Asomugha, they signed Colt McCoy, and now it's the Seahawks' turn to sign a quarterback. It really feels like this competition that was so fun to watch last fall has carried over into the offseason between the Niners and the Seahawks."

That's what it feels like from this angle, too. So, when ESPN's Bill Polian listed 49ers general manager Trent Baalke among his top six executives Insider without a mention for Seattle counterpart John Schneider, I knew some Seahawks fans would take offense.

"Schneider should be on there," SamW9801 wrote in commenting on the Polian piece.

I'm going to ratchet up the discussion with an assist from Tony Villiotti of draftmetrics.com. Tony identified ranges of picks by how frequently teams have found five-year starters within those ranges.

Using those general ranges, displayed at right, I've put together a chart at the bottom of this item comparing the 49ers' and Seahawks' draft choices since 2010.

Baalke took over the 49ers' draft room roughly a month before the 2010 draft. Schneider became the Seahawks' GM that offseason. The 49ers then underwent a coaching change after the 2010 season, at which point Baalke assumed the GM title officially. We might cut Baalke some slack for selecting Taylor Mays, a player then-coach Mike Singletary valued. There were surely other times when both GMs followed their coaches' input, for better or worse.

Seattle has drafted 28 players over this period, three more than San Francisco has drafted. The Seahawks had more to work with from a qualitative point as well. Their median choice was No. 130 overall, compared to No. 165 for the 49ers.

It's pretty clear both teams know what they are doing in the draft.

Aldon Smith, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and NaVorro Bowman have earned Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro honors for the 49ers. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman have done so for the Seahawks.

Both teams have found franchise quarterbacks after the first round. Colin Kaepernick was chosen 36th overall in 2011. Wilson went to Seattle at No. 75 last year.

Neither team has missed in that first category, which includes players taken among the top 13 overall picks. Smith and Okung are elite players at premium positions.

Both teams have unanswered questions in that 14-40 range. The 49ers are waiting on A.J. Jenkins to produce. The Seahawks haven't gotten much from James Carpenter. But in Iupati and Thomas, the 49ers and Seahawks found players among the very best at their positions. Kaepernick's selection puts this group over the top for San Francisco. Seattle got eight sacks from Bruce Irvin as a rookie in 2012, so the Seahawks aren't far behind. It's just impossible to overlook the value a franchise quarterback provides.

Seattle has the edge in the 41-66 range. Mays is long gone from the 49ers. That leaves LaMichael James for the 49ers against Bobby Wagner and Golden Tate for Seattle. Wagner was an instant starter at middle linebacker and a three-down player who commanded consideration for defensive rookie of the year. Tate blossomed with Wilson at quarterback.

The Seahawks also have an edge in that 67-86 range, having selected Wilson.

Seattle holds a 7-3 lead in number of picks used between the 87th and 149th choices, a range producing five-year starters 16 percent of the time, according to Villiotti.

Both teams used picks in that range for players whose injury situations dragged down their draft status: Joe Looney in San Francisco, Walter Thurmond in Seattle. Both teams found starting linebackers in this range: Bowman to the 49ers, K.J. Wright to the Seahawks. Both teams found developmental running backs in that range: Kendall Hunter to the 49ers, Robert Turbin to the Seahawks. Both teams found Pro Bowl players: Bowman in San Francisco, Chancellor in Seattle.

Sherman, arguably the NFL's best cornerback, gives Seattle an edge in the 150 through 189 range of picks. Both teams found backup tight ends there. Anthony Dixon (49ers) and Jeremy Lane (Seahawks) have the potential to expand their roles.

The 49ers found starting fullback Bruce Miller in the final pick range, which runs from 190 to the end of the draft. Seattle found a projected starting guard there in J.R. Sweezy. Malcolm Smith is a candidate to start at linebacker for Seattle. Miller and Sweezy both played defense in college. Miller has already successfully transitioned to offense. Seattle thinks Sweezy will do the same.

Summing it up: Both teams can feel good about their draft performance over the past three seasons. I doubt either team would trade its picks for the other team's picks. That makes sense. Teams draft the players they like best. The 49ers have six projected 2013 starters to show for their choices. The number is eight for the Seahawks, not counting Irvin or Tate. Seattle has had more choices and higher quality choices, and more openings in the lineup to accommodate those players. I think that shows in the results.

SEATTLE -- A few NFC West thoughts from CenturyLink Field as the Seattle Seahawks prepare to open their 2012 exhibition season against the Tennessee Titans:
  • Skies are clear and the temperature is about 80 degrees. It's a perfect night for summer football.
  • The Seahawks are wearing their new uniforms: dark blue pants with bright green piping, dark blue tops with bright green numbers and bright green markings, dark blue helmets. It's a lot of blue. Does the green glow in the dark? I know the big guys prefer the dark pants to the light gray ones. They're ... slimming.
  • Both teams have a No. 8 in uniform: Matt Hasselbeck for the Titans, Jermaine Kearse for the Seahawks. Strange.
  • Teams generally don't like to travel great distances for preseason games, but this trip is a homecoming for so many Titans, especially in the front office.
  • The Seahawks distributed a list showing the following players not expected to play in this game: Terrell Owens, Sidney Rice, Walter Thurmond, Allen Bradford, Jameson Konz, Matt McCoy, Barrett Ruud, John Moffitt, James Carpenter, Kellen Winslow, Ricardo Lockette, Doug Baldwin and Alan Branch. Some of those players are in uniform and warming up on the field, notably Rice and Winslow.
  • The Titans listed three players as unlikely to play: Terrence Wheatley, Brandon Barden and Dave Ball.
  • I'll be heading to San Francisco for a few days with the 49ers beginning Sunday. Looks like they won't have leading sacker Aldon Smith for the short term. The team re-signed outside linebacker Kenny Rowe, who went to camp with the 49ers a year ago. Safety Mark LeGree, a Seahawks draft choice who also spent time with Arizona, was released to make room on the roster. Smith has a bruised hip.
  • The Cardinals brought back veteran fullback Reagan Maui'a to help get them through camp. Jared Crank suffered a neck injury.
  • The St. Louis Rams kick off their preseason against Indianapolis at 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday. It's an odd time, but it could give me a chance to watch the Rams before heading to Candlestick Park for the 49ers' fan-oriented session later in the day.

Enjoy your Saturday night. I'll be back with notes after the game, and probably sooner as well.
Four safeties from the NFC earned Pro Bowl honors last season.

All four played in the NFC West: Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor from Seattle, Dashon Goldson from San Francisco, and Adrian Wilson from Arizona.

On the surface, few positions appear stronger within the division. Beneath the surface, there isn't much depth -- at all.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sized up the situation in San Francisco recently, noting that C.J. Spillman is the team's only backup safety with even one regular-season defensive snap on his resume.

The 49ers can expect Goldson, an unsigned franchise player, to report at some point before the season. But San Francisco, like Seattle in particular among NFC West teams, lacks proven alternatives if injuries strike at safety. The drop from Pro Bowl talent to unknown backup can be a hard one.

It's a position to watch in the NFC West, for sure.

Arizona Cardinals

Starters: Wilson, Kerry Rhodes

Backups: Rashad Johnson (498 defensive snaps in 2011), James Sanders (462), Blake Gideon (0), Eddie Elder (0).

Comment: Rhodes missed nine games to injury last season. Johnson started in his place and played extensively during the Cardinals' late-season defensive revival. The experience Johnson gained should leave the Cardinals feeling better about the position. Sanders started six games for Atlanta last season. Arizona did not re-sign backups Hamza Abdullah or Sean Considine, who were special-teams contributors. Overall, the Cardinals feel very good about their depth in the secondary. Wilson's ability to play at a high level last season despite a torn biceps tendon improved the position's outlook. Wilson turns 33 in October, but appears to have quite a bit left.

Seattle Seahawks

Starters: Thomas, Chancellor

Backups: Chris Maragos (11 defensive snaps in 2011), Jeron Johnson (9), Winston Guy (0), DeShawn Shead (0).

Comment: Atari Bigby provided veteran depth last season. San Diego signed him as a potential starter in free agency. Maragos projects as a core special-teams player. The Seahawks were high enough on Jeron Johnson, an undrafted rookie in 2011, to keep him on the 53-man roster over a draft choice, Mark LeGree. Maragos projects as a core special-teams player. Guy and Shead have made positive impressions in practice recently. This is one position where Seattle could stand to develop or acquire quality depth in case Thomas or Chancellor suffers an injury. But with two of the NFL's best young safeties in the lineup, the team should be set at the position for years to come.

San Francisco 49ers

Starters: Goldson, Donte Whitner

Backups: C.J. Spillman (16 defensive snaps in 2011), Colin Jones (0), Ben Hannula (0), Trenton Robinson (0), Mark LeGree (0), Michael Thomas (0).

Comment: The 49ers did not re-sign veteran backups Reggie Smith and Madieu Williams. They did not use an early draft choice for a safety or target a veteran in free agency. Spillman, undrafted from Marshall in 2009, is getting plenty of reps this offseason while Goldson remains unsigned as the 49ers' franchise player. Spillman is already among the very best special-teams players in the division (he joined Seattle's Heath Farwell among non-positional specialists on our all-NFC West team for 2011). It's a bit early to know whether the 49ers could count on Spillman at safety if an injury forced their hand. But with eight safeties on the roster, the 49ers do have developmental options at the position.

St. Louis Rams

Starters: Quintin Mikell, Darian Stewart

Backups: Craig Dahl (486 defensive snaps in 2011), Matt Daniels (0).

Comment: Dahl started three games last season and 24 over the past three. He gives the Rams decent veteran depth behind Mikell and the emerging Stewart. Daniels is an undrafted free agent from Duke. He was eager to sign with the Rams when he learned they had only three other safeties under contract. Rookie third-round choice Trumaine Johnson has the size to play safety, but coach Jeff Fisher said the plan will be for Johnson to remain at cornerback. "(Moving to safety) may be something that happens later in his career, but right now he helps us as a corner," Fisher told reporters during the draft.

Seattle Seahawks cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Surprise move: There really weren't any because the Seahawks had already parted with so many familiar names over the past couple seasons. Colin Cole was the most established player shown the door. He had been injured, his salary was $3.75 million and the team had re-signed Brandon Mebane with an eye toward moving Mebane to nose tackle. Those factors worked against Cole sticking around.

Receiver Isaiah Stanback, valued on special teams, landed on injured reserve along with defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson and tight end John Carlson. Rookie safety Mark LeGree, a fifth-round draft choice, was the Seahawks' only 2011 selection to miss the initial cut. Jeron Johnson, one of three undrafted rookies to earn roster spots, beat him out.

No-brainers: Golden Tate's status had drawn considerable attention in recent weeks, but the Seahawks never planned to release him. Tate came through with a strong performance in the final exhibition game, putting to rest questions about his status. Running back Justin Forsett wasn't in danger, either, even though Leon Washington could be moving past him on the depth chart behind starter Marshawn Lynch. With Washington and Forsett sticking around, there was no room for Thomas Clayton. Undrafted rookies Josh Portis (quarterback) and Doug Baldwin (receiver) had clearly done enough to earn spots initially. Both stuck.

What's next: The situation at fullback and tight end bears monitoring with Carlson landing on injured reserve, as expected. Dominique Byrd stuck as the third tight end for now. Assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable has valued h-back types in his offense and it's unclear whether the Seahawks' current personnel addresses that function adequately. Fullback Michael Robinson stuck on the roster as well. Seattle will have to wait six games before bringing back receiver Deon Butler, cornerback Roy Lewis and tight end Cameron Morrah. All are on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. The severity of left guard Robert Gallery's knee injury could influence how the team proceeds on the offensive line.

Three things revisited: Seahawks-Raiders

September, 3, 2011
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Looking back upon three things discussed here heading into the Seattle Seahawks' 20-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders in the preseason finale Friday night at CenturyLink Stadium:

1. Pass protection: The Seahawks made clear progress in this area against a Raiders defense that finished the preseason without a first-quarter sack. Right tackle James Carpenter played the first two series, then came back into the game to clear the way for a short scoring run. Carpenter played extensively in the second half as well. His power was apparent on the touchdown run, a play Carpenter punctuated by standing over his fallen opponent. A false-start penalty was the only glaring negative for Carpenter, who should gain confidence from this game. Backup Breno Giacomini also appeared to play well. I'd expect Carpenter to open the season as the starter and hit stride somewhere around midseason. Seattle can help him with a tight end or running back in protection as needed, particularly if left tackle Russell Okung returns from injury, as expected.

2. Golden opportunity: Second-year receiver Golden Tate needed and got a confidence boost with easily his best performance of the 2011 preseason. Tate caught five passes for 79 yards, including a 43-yarder from Tarvaris Jackson. He had a 34-yard kickoff return and a 43-yard punt return. The Seahawks wanted to get Tate going in this game with an eye toward speeding his development, which suffered from a coaching change and lockout. With Tate involved early, Jackson and the first-team offense moved the ball effectively. Tate did not appear at fault on the intercepted pass Jackson threw for him in the end zone on the Seahawks' opening drive.

3. Young defensive players: It's looking like first-year cornerback Brandon Browner, a 27-year-old prospect from the CFL, could be the best option at right cornerback heading into the regular season. Second-year corner Walter Thurmond has made strides physically since last season, but he's still shaking off rust after missing stretches due to an injury during camp. He even muffed a punt Friday night. Browner continues to cover well despite his 6-foot-4 frame. Thurmond is the better nickel option and would move inside on passing downs even if he were starting. Safety Mark LeGree, possibly battling fellow rookie Jeron Johnson for a roster spot, might have scored had he held onto a near-interception late in the game. Johnson showed up with a tackle for loss and pass breakup. Seattle could have at least three undrafted free agents earn spots on the initial 53-man roster (Johnson, receiver Doug Baldwin and quarterback Josh Portis).

Three things: Seahawks-Raiders

September, 2, 2011
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Three things to watch for in the Seattle Seahawks' preseason home game against the Oakland Raiders at 10 p.m. ET:

1. Pass protection: The Seahawks want their offensive line to make strides in preparation for the regular-season opener at San Francisco. Starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has taken seven sacks and avoided several others. The pressure has played a role in his 3.8-yard average per attempt. The Raiders have only four sacks through three exhibition games, including zero in first quarters and only one in first halves. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging a healthy 7.9 yards per attempt against Oakland overall. The 49ers' Alex Smith, under siege against New Orleans and Houston this preseason, completed 8 of 13 passes for 136 yards with no sacks when facing the Raiders. The Seahawks will remain without starting left tackle Russell Okung, their best lineman. But they should still expect improvement in pass protection against this opponent. Right tackles James Carpenter and Breno Giacomini are in the spotlight for this game.

2. Golden opportunity: Lame cliched lead-in, I know, but at least it's an accurate one. Receiver Golden Tate should expect to play more reps than usual. Seattle is missing a few receivers to injury in this game. The team would like to accelerate Tate's development following a condensed offseason. Tate, chosen in the second round of the 2010 draft, has four receptions for 24 yards to this point in the exhibition season. He dropped a pass against Minnesota, leading to a turnover. Tate does not appear to be fighting for a roster spot, but neither has there been signs he's going to factor into the offense as much as coach Pete Carroll has said he expects.

3. Young defensive players. Wait, that covers pretty much everyone, come to think of it. Linebacker Malcolm Smith, linebacker K.J. Wright and free safety Mark LeGree are the youngest players on the Seahawks' defensive roster. Safety Jeron Johnson and cornerback Richard Sherman aren't far behind. I'll be attending this game and hope to get a better feel for the young depth on defense, to the extent that is possible in a fourth preseason game. Oh, and there are five Seattle defenders in their 30s: Raheem Brock, Junior Siavii, Colin Cole, Marcus Trufant and Jimmy Wilkerson. Only one, Trufant, starts.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Seattle Seahawks' 23-20 preseason loss to the Denver Broncos on Saturday night:

1. First-team offense touchdown: The Seahawks left most of their starting offense in the game until quarterback Tarvaris Jackson connected with backup tight end Dominique Byrd for the No. 1 unit's first touchdown of the preseason. There was 14:16 left in the fourth quarter at that point, later in the game than a starting offense would generally play even in a third preseason game. Jackson frequently faced pressure, a common theme for him to this point. He was effective on a couple bootleg throws, but he took five sacks and averaged only 4.2 yards per attempt. Offensive rhythm remained elusive. The Seahawks emptied their backfield on a couple third-down plays. They could not beat the pressure with quick completions in those situations. The team will need better pass protection to develop timing. Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst got no first-team reps. He had to wait longer than expected to enter the game after undrafted rookie receiver Doug Baldwin broke a 105-yard kickoff return. The Seahawks kicked the tying field goal with 1:16 left as if to buy extra reps for Whitehurst, but the Broncos drove down for the winning kick as the fourth quarter expired.

2. Backup running backs. Leon Washington and Justin Forsett generally looked good despite average stats. Washington had a 21-yard run. Though the offense lacked rhythm overall, the screen again showed promise. Washington, healthier in his second season back from a career-threatening leg injury, was a threat as a receiver. His shiftiness and exuberance can be an asset on offense if the Seahawks are serious about working him into their rotation. Starter Marshawn Lynch did not play. Denver defenders tossed Washington and Forsett around a couple times, a reminder that Lynch adds a welcome physical presence.

3. Draft choice on bubble: Fifth-round pick Mark Legree was the player I wanted to watch. He caught my attention with an open-field tackle and a hard hit on the receiver following a Tim Tebow completion. He was also hustling to block for Baldwin during the kickoff return for a touchdown. Cornerback Byron Maxwell, a sixth-round pick from Clemson, seemed to stand out more. He was active on special teams and pressured Tebow.

Three things: Seahawks-Broncos

August, 27, 2011
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Three things to watch for in the Seattle Seahawks' preseason road game against the Denver Broncos at 9 p.m. ET:

1. First-team offense TD: The Seahawks have yet to score a preseason touchdown on offense with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. Shaky pass protection, dropped passes by Golden Tate and a failure at the Minnesota goal line have not helped. The first-team offense did sustain a 15-play drive against the Raiders, an improvement from the preseason opener. I'm interested in seeing who Jackson targets on third down. His 17-yard pass to Mike Williams on third-and-5 against Minnesota stands as his lone pass for a third-down conversion. He threw incomplete to Justin Forsett, Zach Miller and Doug Baldwin on three others. A 6-yard completion to Forsett came up short. This is not a huge deal. We're only in preseason. But it's something to watch.

2. Backup running backs. Starter Marshawn Lynch will not play. He's resting a sore ankle. That could leave additional opportunities for Forsett and Leon Washington. Both appear worthy of getting playing time this season. Washington's surgically repaired leg is closer to full strength now than it was last season. Rules changes on kickoffs will diminish Washington's impact in that part of the game. It seems to me the Seahawks should make an effort to get more from him on offense.

3. Draft choice on bubble. After two drafts with Pete Carroll as head coach, the Seahawks have more players selected under him (17) than they have remaining from the combined draft classes of Jim Mora (four) and Mike Holmgren (eight). Most 2011 draft choices appear quite likely to earn roster spots this season. One player, fifth-round choice Mark LeGree, faces stiff competition. Rookie free agent Jeron Johnson has had a strong camp and has done more during preseason games. The Seahawks have quite a few young prospects in the secondary. Will any of them catch our attention with big plays in this game?

Observation deck: Seahawks-Chargers

August, 11, 2011
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Observations from the Seattle Seahawks 24-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers in a preseason game Thursday night:

  • Losing left tackle Russell Okung to an ankle injury on the fifth offensive play ruined the night for Seattle. X-rays were negative, the team said, and it was not immediately clear how long Okung would be sidelined.
  • The Seahawks need Okung. Building up the offensive line has been Pete Carroll's top priority as the Seahawks' head coach. Carroll has sought highly acclaimed line coaches to lead the unit, going with Alex Gibbs and now Tom Cable. The team has used two first-round picks on tackles in Carroll's two seasons as coach, most recently taking a right tackle (James Carpenter) over a quarterback (Andy Dalton) in an effort to build from the inside out.
  • The offensive line struggled badly last season, so even modest success in an exhibition game counts for something. Carpenter had some rough moments in pass protection, but he helped clear the way for a third-and-1 conversion early. He played deep into the third quarter, as did right guard John Moffitt. The experience was valuable for both rookies.
  • Rookie linebacker K.J. Wright recognized a screen play quickly and tracked down the receiver for a decisive tackle. Two other Seattle rookie draft choices, linebacker Malcolm Smith and safety Mark LeGree, provided bit hits. Smith chased on his play and finished strong. LeGree broke up a pass with his hit. LeGree also secured Seattle's victory by breaking up a pass in the end zone on the Chargers' final play.
  • Two more rookie notes: Defensive end Pep Levingston batted down a pass on third-and-long, while undrafted free agent Jeron Johnson broke up a pass. Johnson also made a third-down tackle in the backfield off the left edge. And he combined with LeGree on the Chargers' final play.
  • Seattle’s quarterbacks were under siege early and didn’t have many opportunities to make big plays. Tarvaris Jackson moved effectively, as anticipated, and scrambled for a first down up the middle amid heavy traffic. But the offense had no rhythm. That was expected. Jackson and other players with new contracts began practicing only one week ago.
  • Backup Charlie Whitehurst gained momentum as the third quarter progressed. His strike to tight end Dominique Byrd for a 29-yard gain stood out. What did we learn about him Thursday night? Not much. Whitehurst has produced at times during past exhibition games (214 yards, 107.0 rating in the 2010 opener). He completed 14 of 20 passes for 115 yards in this one, with no touchdowns, interceptions or sacks. His rating was 84.4.
  • Third-string quarterback Josh Portis built upon the positive impression he made early in training camp. He showed a good feel for the game, moving away from pressure and finding tight end Anthony McCoy for a 6-yard touchdown. This performance should build confidence for Portis. Coaches and teammates were enthusiastic in their support for him following the touchdown pass.

Okung's status is the note that matters most stemming from this game. If Okung misses an extended period, the line will have a harder time against teams with strong right defensive ends (Seattle faces Justin Smith and the San Francisco 49ers on the road in Week 1). The team might also have to keep a tight end near the formation for blocking help.

Three things: Seahawks-Chargers

August, 11, 2011
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Three things to watch for in the Seattle Seahawks' preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

The quarterback rotation: Tarvaris Jackson will start and Josh Portis will finish. What happens in between interests me as much. No. 2 quarterback Charlie Whitehurst will stare down his former team and hardening perceptions of him as a career backup. Coach Pete Carroll professes to be all about competition, but he was all about installing Jackson as the starter before Jackson took even one snap in practice. That made sense on one level. Jackson has played in new coordinator Darrell Bevell's offense, and Jackson could use the vote of confidence after some tough seasons in Minnesota. But what about Whitehurst? Sure, Carroll said Whitehurst would compete for the job upon learning the offense, but that sounded charitable. Besides, Whitehurst has ranked third on the list of most impressive quarterbacks in Seahawks camp. Let's see how he runs the offense and whether he can throw shorter passes with greater accuracy, a necessity in the Seahawks' system.

New toys on offense: Seattle has a few of them. Receiver Sidney Rice played with Jackson in this very offense. He should have a leg up on teammates. Tight end Zach Miller, another high-priced addition in free agency, is making his Seattle debut. The other big-name addition this offseason will not play a snap. Tom Cable, hired as assistant head coach/offensive line, expects to see a more physical ground game. Right tackle James Carpenter, a first-round choice, has dominated at times during one-on-one drills. His conditioning has appeared a little shaky. How will he fare getting extended snaps?

Youth movement on defense: The Seahawks have gotten younger at linebacker and safety in particular. They also have some tall, young press cornerbacks. Second-year strong safety Kam Chancellor started strong in camp and can use the exhibition season to prove he's ready to become a full-time starter. I'm also interested in seeing how rookie safety Mark LeGree performs on passing downs in conjunction with free safety Earl Thomas. Thomas has the athletic ability to play corner against slot receivers, with LeGree taking over at free safety in those situations. LeGree was a ball-hawk in college. Will that carry over? At linebacker, the post-Lofa Tatupu era gets under way. K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith are two rookie linebackers to watch.
The Seattle Seahawks were on the clock with the 99th overall choice in the 2011 NFL draft when the Minnesota Vikings called to inquire about a trade.

Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider had a decision to make. The team wanted to add more picks, so sliding back into the Vikings' spot at No. 106 carried some appeal. But the Seahawks had not addressed defense to that point in the draft, and Mississippi State outside linebacker K.J. Wright was a player they had been targeting.

Seattle decided to stand pat at No. 99.

"It is rare that you would find a linebacker with that much length (6-foot-4) and 4.6 speed," Carroll said after the draft. "We need that flexibility."

[+] EnlargeK.J. Wright
AP Photo/Michael ConroyK.J. Wright, who was drafted by the Seahawks with the No. 99 pick, was the last 4-3 strongside linebacker drafted.
This seemed a bit improbable. After all, teams selected 24 more linebackers over the remaining 155 selections. Surely one of them could have provided what the Seahawks wanted from Wright, right? Not necessarily. The more I studied those selections, the more I understood what Carroll was talking about. Wright was the fourth and final 4-3 strongside linebacker selected in the draft. All were gone among the top 100 selections.

The NFL has become so specialized, particularly on defense, that players are increasingly difficult to categorize. Seeking fresh perspective on the 2011 draft, I reclassified the 254 players chosen into 20 positional categories, based largely on how teams plan to use them. The process was imperfect because teams view players differently, and some players transcend easy categorization. But patterns that emerged were helpful in bringing the big picture into clearer focus.

Breaking down linebackers into five categories across 3-4 and 4-3 schemes was particularly helpful.

Teams selected one 4-3 strongside linebacker in each of the first four rounds, but none thereafter. They selected 12 4-3 weakside linebackers -- none in the first two rounds, five in the sixth and three in the seventh. That position carried less value relative to others based on when the players came off the board.

Nine of 11 4-3 defensive tackles went in the first three rounds, affirming how much teams value that position. Teams selected five 4-3 defensive ends in the first two rounds, then none until taking one in the fifth and four more in the seventh. Teams selected four five-technique defensive ends in the first round and one in the second, but none over the next four rounds.

I ultimately divided players into percentiles based on where they were selected in relation to other players from the same positional categories. Three NFC West players were the first players chosen at their specific positions. They were in the top percentile for their positions. Three, including Wright, were the last players chosen at their specific positions. They were in the bottom percentile.

The percentiles say nothing about whether individual players will succeed in the NFL. In some cases, players with lower percentiles probably carried more value at that moment in the draft based on how few prospects remained available at their positions.

Without categorizing players more specifically, we might not have any idea.

Overall, this draft featured 37 cornerbacks; 28 wide receivers; 24 running backs; 21 interior offensive linemen; 20 offensive tackles; 16 safeties; 13 tight ends; 12 quarterbacks; 12 4-3 weakside linebackers; 11 4-3 defensive tackles; 10 4-3 defensive ends; 10 3-4 outside linebackers; eight five-technique defensive ends; seven 3-4 inside linebackers; seven fullbacks; six 4-3 middle linebackers; four 4-3 strongside linebackers; four nose tackles; and two specialists. Two defensive linemen -- Kansas City's Allen Bailey and Baltimore's Pernell McPhee -- qualified as nickel pass-rushers.

And now, a look at all 35 NFC West draft choices, listed by how early they were drafted in relation to other players at their specific positions:

First quarter: 75th percentile and higher

Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals: First of 37 cornerbacks selected

Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers: First of 10 3-4 outside linebackers

Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams: First of 10 4-3 defensive ends

Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals: Second of 24 running backs, putting him in the 91.7 percentile for the position (FBs excluded)

Lance Kendricks, TE, Rams: Second of 13 tight ends (84.6)

James Carpenter, T, Seattle Seahawks: Fourth of 20 offensive tackles (80.0)

Chris Culliver, CB, 49ers: Eighth of 37 cornerbacks (78.4)

Rob Housler, TE, Cardinals: Third of 13 tight ends (76.9)

John Moffitt, G, Seahawks: Fifth of 21 interior offensive linemen (76.2)

Second quarter: 50th to 74th percentile

Anthony Sherman, FB, Cardinals: Second of seven fullbacks (71.4)

Austin Pettis, WR, Rams: Eighth of 28 wide receivers (71.4)

Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers: Tenth of 24 running backs (58.3)

Bruce Miller, FB, 49ers: Third of seven fullbacks (57.1)

Kris Durham, WR, Seahawks: 12th of 28 wide receivers (57.1)

Daniel Kilgore, C, 49ers: 10th of 21 interior offensive linemen (52.4)

Sam Acho, OLB, Cardinals: Fifth of 10 3-4 outside linebackers (50.0)

Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers: Sixth of 12 quarterbacks (50.0)

Greg Salas, WR, Rams: 14th of 28 wide receivers (50.0)

Third quarter: 25th to 49th percentile

Richard Sherman, CB, Seahawks: 24th of 37 cornerbacks (35.1)

Mark LeGree, S, Seahawks: 11th of 16 safeties (31.3)

Quan Sturdivant, ILB, Cardinals: Fifth of seven 3-4 inside linebackers (28.6)

Byron Maxwell, CB, Seahawks: 27th of 37 cornerbacks (27.0)

David Carter, DE, Cardinals: Sixth of eight five-technique defensive ends (25.0)

Jermale Hines, S, Rams: 12th of 16 safeties (25.0)

Fourth quarter: Zero to 24th percentile

Colin Jones, S, 49ers: 13th of 16 safeties (18.8)

Jabara Williams, LB, Rams: 10th of 12 4-3 weakside linebackers (16.7 )

Ronald Johnson, WR, 49ers: 24th of 28 wide receivers (14.3)

Mikail Baker, CB, Rams: 32nd of 37 cornerbacks (13.5)

Pep Levingston, DE, Seahawks: Seventh of eight five-technique defensive ends (12.5)

Mike Person, C, 49ers: 19th of 21 interior offensive linemen (9.5)

Malcolm Smith, LB, Seahawks. Eleventh of 12 4-3 weakside linebackers (8.3)

Jonathan Nelson, S, Rams: 15th of 16 safeties (6.3)

K.J. Wright, LB, Seahawks: Fourth of four 4-3 strongside linebackers (0.0)

DeMarco Sampson, WR, Cardinals: 28th of 28 wide receivers(0.0)

Curtis Holcomb, CB, 49ers: 37th of 37 cornerbacks (0.0)

Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Seattle Seahawks a D-plus grade for their efforts during the 2011 NFL draft. No other team in the league received a grade so low.

The grade suffered because the team did nothing during the draft to address its quarterback situation, instead alluding to a plan that cannot spring into action during a lockout. The prohibition on player trades also handcuffed the Seahawks, who had became one of the NFL's most active teams under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.

This was going to be a boring draft for Seattle, most likely. A year ago, the team had two of the first 14 picks and new leadership. There was buzz around the possibilities.

This year, the team held none of the top 24 picks, no third-rounder and it could not make the player trades -- think Leon Washington -- that spiced up the 2010 draft. There was also a realization that Seattle needed to rebuild from the ground up with building blocks such as offensive linemen.

After the draft, Carroll said he didn't care what other people thought. Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune followed up, asking whether Carroll was being defensive in light of poor reviews. Carroll said that wasn't the case at all, and then he explained what makes players valuable to Seattle. I'm going to give him a chance to elaborate in detail here given the harshness of some post-draft reviews.

"We're looking for unique qualities for players that separate them from other players, and then we try to accentuate that uniqueness and make them special," Carroll said. "There are examples of really good receivers in the draft that weren't a lot different than what [Ben Obomanu] can do, so it wasn't something that interested us as much as a guy with a different style [6-foot-5 receiver Kris Durham]."

Durham visited Kansas City last week; the Chiefs called Seattle to congratulate the Seahawks on selecting a player they also wanted to take, according to Schneider.

Carroll also identified linebacker Malcolm Smith, a seventh-round choice from USC, as a player with "special qualities that few guys have" -- a running back playing linebacker.

"Whereas we have to develop him as a first- and second-down player," Carroll said, "we know he can be a third-down player right now. We know that, so that makes him unique to us. We don't have another guy just like that."

Fourth-round linebacker K.J. Wright was someone Carroll described as having "extraordinary uniqueness" for what Seattle wants to do. Seattle will play Wright at SAM linebacker, as a stand-up defensive end in the "Leo" role and as a nickel linebacker. Schneider called Wright "rare" in that he shows good instincts in zone coverage and strong route anticipation. Starting strongside linebacker Aaron Curry isn't particularly strong in those areas. Therefore, Wright gives Seattle something it does not have.

"It is rare that you would find a linebacker with that much length (6-foot-4) and 4.6 speed," Carroll said. "We need that flexibility."

Fifth-round cornerback Richard Sherman stands taller than 6-foot-2 and will play near the line of scrimmage more than he did in college. Carroll said Sherman's length makes him "very special and very unique" (those words again). Sixth-rounder Byron Maxwell also projects as a press-corner, according to Carroll.

"For us and for what we're doing, we've dug in and done our homework and are far enough along in our scouting department that we feel great about some of the picks," Carroll said. "Now, it is our job to prove that, and we understand that."
RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks have yet to draft a college quarterback under Pete Carroll despite saying they'd like to select at least one every year as a matter of philosophy.

Whitehurst
Whitehurst
Charlie Whitehurst, who has started two games in the NFL, is the only quarterback under contract heading toward an as-yet-unscheduled free-agent signing period.

Cause for concern?

"No," general manager John Schneider said following the draft Saturday.

"We don't feel like that," Carroll added.

"We had a plan going in and we still have our plan," Schneider said. "We just can't execute that plan right now."

That plan could include acquiring a quarterback by trade, pursuing one in free agency or re-signing Matt Hasselbeck. With none of those options a certainty and with Hasselbeck no longer the definite starter, Carroll is expressing more confidence in Whitehurst.

"The fact that Charlie is here, Charlie is part of this draft class in a sense," Carroll said. "We used a third-round pick to get him (via trade in 2010). We have a young, up-and-coming quarterback. I know you are looking, 'Hey, let's go get another one,' but we are happy with Charlie and hoping he is going to continue to flourish and blossom. I'm not feeling like we missed out on a quarterback opportunity because Charlie is growing with us."

The Seahawks were in a tough spot selecting 25th overall in this draft. They would have been picking eighth had they lost to St. Louis in Week 17 last season. Under those circumstances, I suspect they would have drafted Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. That was never a realistic option the way things worked out.

As for Whitehurst, the team had several opportunities to name him the starter last season. Hasselbeck struggled for stretches and was playing through injuries that affected him. I found it telling at the time when Carroll stuck resisted multiple opportunities to get playing time for the quarterback Seattle acquired and needed to see in action.

"That is how you perceived it," Carroll said, "but we had a starting quarterback and we supported our guy throughout his opportunities. When it was time, we got Charlie in there. Charlie had never even played before. He has now started two football games in his career in the NFL. He is just getting started, to me. He is just a young guy proving himself and is going to show us in time where he fits. We thought we had a young guy coming up and we still do."

Schneider said the Seahawks never valued a quarterback in the draft enough to select one over the players they chose.

The chart shows the players Seattle drafted and the quarterbacks other teams selected subsequently.


The Seattle Seahawks have talked about getting taller at cornerback.

They did something about it Saturday.

Fifth-round choice Richard Sherman, from Stanford, stands 6-foot-2. Byron Maxwell, a sixth-round choice from Clemson, stands 6-0. Throw in fifth-round safety Mark LeGree, who picked off 22 passes at Appalachian State, and it's clear Seattle is remaking its secondary.

Free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Walter Thurmond began the transformation as draft choices last year. The team traded 5-9 cornerback Josh Wilson last season. Sleight-of-frame cornerback Kelly Jennings, a first-round choice in 2006, is not signed for 2011 and faces an uncertain future with the team.

I'm also curious whether starter Marcus Trufant, who turned 30 last season and carries a $5.9 million salary in 2011, fits into the longer-range plans as Seattle looks to get younger.

Lockout-related rules prevented teams from trading veteran players during the draft, making it tougher to know where some incumbent players stand.

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