NFL Nation: Pep Levingston

Thoughts as Seahawks cut Owens, Lutui

August, 26, 2012
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Initial thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' moves as the mandatory reduction to 75-man rosters approaches Monday:
  • Deuce Lutui appeared likely to earn a roster spot, but things changed when rookie seventh-round pick J.R. Sweezy made a surprisingly quick conversion from college defensive lineman to NFL guard. Sweezy suddenly looks like a strong candidate to supplant incumbent John Moffitt as the starting right guard. That made Lutui expendable. Also, Lutui wasn't ideally suited for the Seahawks' zone blocking scheme. He probably would have helped most in pass protection. I think Lutui could help someone. Seems like St. Louis could stand to check him out, at least.
  • Alex Barron's release makes available a veteran tackle with talent and a history of inconsistent play. I thought Barron looked good early in camp. Arizona has obvious needs at tackle. Barron is probably more talented than other players available at this time. We'll have to see if that changes as teams reduce their rosters. Barron can play both tackle spots. He's spent the past month working against Seattle's pass-rushers in practice. He has fared pretty well at times, too. Arizona faces those same pass-rushers in Week 1.
  • Terrell Owens' name was on the cut list, as expected. Braylon Edwards' emergence played a role in Owens' departure.
  • Cornerback Roy Lewis played nearly a quarter of the Seahawks' defensive snaps last season. The team waived him with an injury designation. Lewis could land on injured reserve if he clears waivers. Or, the team could reach an injury settlement with him, allowing Lewis to sign with Seattle or another team once he's healthy.
  • Anthony McCoy seemed to help his cause at tight end against Kansas City on Friday night. He looks like the favorite to become the third tight end now that the team waived/injured Cameron Morrah.
  • Pep Levingston and Jameson Konz also received the waived/injured designation. Levingston impressed during pass-rush drills at times, but Clinton McDonald and others have offered more.
  • I'll be curious to see whether receiver Phil Bates lands on the practice squad. Also waived: tackle Edawn Coughman, cornerback Donny Lisowski, cornerback Ron Parker and running back Tyrell Sutton.
  • Seattle now has 77 players on its roster, by my count. The team must reduce to 75 by Monday at 4 p.m. ET. Placing offensive lineman James Carpenter on the reserve/physically unable to perform list appears likely.

Back to watching the San Francisco 49ers against the Denver Broncos. More in a bit.

MNF inactives: Rams without Fred Robbins

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
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SEATTLE -- The St. Louis Rams' inactive list could favor the Seattle Seahawks' run defense.

The Rams will be without veteran defensive tackle Fred Robbins, who was questionable on the injury report and did not practice during the week. Robbins' absence means more playing time for Darell Scott and Gary Gibson.

Also inactive for the Rams: quarterback A.J. Feeley, quarterback Tom Brandstater, running back Quinn Porter, fullback Brit Miller, linebacker Justin Cole and guard Kevin Hughes. Kellen Clemens will serve as the backup quarterback to Sam Bradford.

For Seattle, linebacker David Hawthorne is active. The Seahawks' inactive list features quarterback Josh Portis, safety Jeron Johnson, cornerback Kennard Cox, linebacker Adrian Moten, guard Mike Gibson, guard Paul Fanaika and defensive tackle Pep Levingston.

Seahawks' Hawthorne active despite knee

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
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SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks will have middle linebacker David Hawthorne and cornerback Richard Sherman for their game against Philadelphia on Thursday night. Both players are active after missing practice time with injuries.

Inactive for Seattle: quarterback Josh Portis, safety Jeron Johnson, cornerback Byron Maxwell, linebacker Adrian Moten, tackle Jarriel King, tackle Allen Barbre and defensive lineman Pep Levingston.

Inactive for Philadelphia: quarterback Michael Vick, receiver Jeremy Maclin, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, tackle King Dunlap, guard Julian Vandervelde, defensive end Phillip Hunt and the recently signed Greg Lloyd.

Seattle has five wide receivers active despite placing Sidney Rice on injured reserve. Deon Butler, who suffered a career-threatening leg injury at San Francisco last season, is active for the first time this season.

Hawthorne's mobility will be a subject of interest in this game. Knee problems have bothered him at times during the season, including last week. The shortened week of recovery time could work against him.

Lots of little moves as rosters in flux

September, 4, 2011
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Catching up with various moves around the edges of NFC West rosters Sunday:
Teams are also assembling practice squads. The 49ers announced adding seven players to theirs, all released by the team on the reduction to 53 players. I'll round up those additions once they become official.

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.

Camp Confidential: Seattle Seahawks

August, 3, 2011
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RENTON, Wash. -- NFL training camps aren't what they used to be now that players have secured day-spa treatment from coaches under the new labor agreement.

Still, teams aren't practicing in slippers and robes ... yet.

Earl Thomas, the Seattle Seahawks' second-year safety, did go through a recent practice -- make that a walk-through, just to be safe -- wearing a visor that also would have served him well standing over a Titleist. Several teammates wore ball caps.

None of this shocks the system for Seattle.

Coach Pete Carroll ran a player-friendly camp last year as well, giving the team full days off from practice. But the veterans who lauded Carroll's approach in 2010 aren't around to celebrate it this year. And therein lies the biggest difference for the Seahawks this summer.

For the first time since 2000, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck isn't around to offer the insights and asides that made him mandatory viewing at Seahawks camp. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, leader of the defense since 2005, also is gone. Other veterans I polled during the inaugural Camp Carroll are also elsewhere -- Lawyer Milloy, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Olindo Mare among them.

This day has been coming for a while. The Seahawks are getting on with their lives, untethered from what came before.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeTarvaris Jackson
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonTarvaris Jackson should be familiar with the Seahawks' offense since he spent five seasons with new coordinator Darrell Bevell.
1. Why Tarvaris Jackson? The Seahawks decided it was time to move on from Hasselbeck before they had a long-term replacement lined up. Once that decision was made, the team targeted Jackson because he and the Seahawks' new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, had spent five years together. Once Jackson was signed, Carroll wasted little time endorsing him as the starter. Three possible explanations come to mind. One, Jackson knew the offense. Two, Charlie Whitehurst hadn't asserted himself as a leader during offseason workouts when Hasselbeck was without a contract for 2011. Three, a quick endorsement gave Jackson a confidence boost following a rough run in Minnesota. There's a feeling that maybe, just maybe, Brad Childress did not give Jackson the best chance to succeed with the Vikings.

2. Who will lead the defense? Tatupu's release following six seasons with the team leaves the defense in transition. Tatupu was instinctive and adept at getting teammates lined up properly. His play had deteriorated through injuries, but Tatupu had three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl on his résumé. He was the defensive leader. Carroll pointed to linebacker David Hawthorne, pass-rusher Chris Clemons and defensive end Red Bryant as heirs. He named Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor as well. "I'm not worried about it," Carroll said. "There’s a lot of very strong character kids on that side of the ball, particularly."

3. Does Whitehurst have a future? It's tough to see him emerging in Seattle. The decision to go with Jackson even though rules prevented him from practicing right away said plenty about Whitehurst's status on the team. Whitehurst has been running the first-team offense while Jackson waits to become eligible under rules for players with new contracts. Everyone knows he's the backup even though there was never any competition. It's a tough situation for Whitehurst. Still, getting to work with the starters provided an opportunity to impress. It has not happened. Whitehurst's contract runs through the 2011 season. If Whitehurst doesn't show more as camp progresses, it's fair to wonder whether the team would consider bringing in a cheaper veteran.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Signing Zach Miller in free agency. Miller was on the Seahawks' radar when free agency opened. Assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable had high praise for Miller from their days together in Oakland. But the Seahawks never expected Miller to remain available so deep into the signing period. After a while, the Seahawks began to view Miller the way they would view a talented prospect falling to them in the draft. They felt compelled to pursue Miller with a strong offer. The Raiders made a push to keep Miller, but Seattle came through with a five-year, $34 million contract featuring $17 million in guarantees. Having Cable and former Raiders guard Robert Gallery in Seattle helped the Seahawks get this deal done. The team emerged from free agency with a 25-year-old Pro Bowl player.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Extending the lockout (sort of). Carroll has bristled every day over the rules preventing newly signed players from practicing before Aug. 4, only one week before Seattle's exhibition opener at San Diego. Jackson, Sidney Rice and Gallery are among the key additions who were forbidden from participating in practices or even workouts with the team. The situation was tough for teams throughout the league, but Seattle felt challenged more than most because the team has undergone so much roster turnover. Seattle also has quite a few new coaches on the offensive side of the ball, including Bevell, Cable and quarterbacks coach Carl Smith. Going a week without getting key starters onto the field didn't make any sense from a football standpoint.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeRussell Okung
    AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonRussell Okung has shown no signs of the injuries that nagged him last season.
    The ankle injuries that slowed left tackle Russell Okung as a rookie last season haven't been a problem so far. Okung appears exceedingly smooth. He rides out defenders effectively during pass-rush drills, sometimes even driving them to the ground. He's a threat to flatten defenders in the running game. Another recent first-round pick on the line, James Carpenter, has made a positive first impression at right tackle early in camp. He's thick and massive. He plays with an edge. He's going to start in Week 1.
  • Rookie right guard John Moffitt projects as a starter, but he could need time to develop. That was my impression watching Moffitt in drills. Of course, it's not fair comparing Moffitt to Okung or Carpenter. Those guys were first-round picks. Moffitt was a third-rounder. Having youth on the line is a good thing overall. Getting the 31-year-old Gallery into the lineup is critical, however. Gallery has been serving as a coach on the field during practices. He knows Cable's blocking schemes and is already proving valuable as a resource. Durability is a concern for him.
  • Seattle is finished with the big-ticket purchases in free agency. The team could still add veterans at linebacker and kicker. The team lacks experience in the secondary as well. Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings are the only cornerbacks on the team with more than one start. Going young sounds great during the offseason, but throwing untested corners onto the field against veteran quarterbacks isn't very appealing when the games start counting. The Seahawks face Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning in the first five weeks of the regular season.
  • Strong safety Jeron Johnson and three linebackers -- Mike Morgan, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith -- are among the rookies impressing Seattle early in camp. Another rookie, safety Mark LeGree, is getting a chance to play safety when Thomas, the starter at free, shifts to cornerback against slot receivers. Carroll alluded to such an arrangement during the draft. One more rookie, Pep Levingston, has impressed in early one-on-one pass-rush drills. A defensive tackle at LSU, Levingston projects as an end with Seattle. He's leaner than I had anticipated, an advantage in pass-rush drills.
  • Seven of the 11 cornerbacks on the roster are at least 6 feet tall. Three are 5-foot-11 and one is 5-10. The biggest, Brandon Browner, goes 6-4 and 221 pounds. Impressive? Perhaps, but only three of the 11 have started an NFL game, and none of the three with starting experience stands taller than 5-11.
  • Size is a theme throughout the roster. Mike Williams, Rice and fellow receiver Kris Durham are at least 6-4.
  • The Seahawks might need to find more touches for Leon Washington if they hope to get sufficient return on their investment in him. New rules governing kickoffs figure to diminish the value of Washington and other top returners.
  • Seattle's front office trusted its coaches during free agency. Just about every free-agent addition has ties to a Seahawks staff member. Miller and Gallery played for Cable in Oakland. Jackson and Rice played for Bevell in Minnesota. Defensive tackle Alan Branch was an exception. Seattle added him after failing to land a defensive tackle in the draft. Ideally, Branch would be a backup. He could start for Seattle at three-technique, with Brandon Mebane moving to nose tackle. Branch will also back up Bryant at five-technique.
  • For the second year in a row under Carroll, the Seahawks are piping hip-hop beats and mixes into practices. A disc jockey stands behind two turntables near the front corner of the practices fields. "Halfway home and my pager still blowin' up, today I didn't even have to use my A.K. I got to say it was a good day ..." Hearing those lyrics from Ice Cube during a recent practice, I couldn't help but wonder what Chuck Knox would think of the arrangement. Did I mention times have changed in the NFL? Just a little.
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)

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