Seahawks postcard (cont.)
New Face, New Place
Jones is getting a taste of life beyond the Cowboys for the first time in his career. He won't say whether he has set specific individual goals, and he sidesteps questions about potentially splitting time with Morris. Instead Jones says he's just focusing on learning the offense. Duckett figures less prominently in the big picture but could a needed role in short yardage.
Arguably the two most important additions are Solari and Wahle. The line appeared to be confused and ill-prepared at times last season. That won't be the case under Solari, whom Holmgren calls special. Wahle is expected to provide the interior tenacity that has been miising since Steve Hutchinson went to Minnesota.
Looking at the Schedule
The Seahawks play six teams that advanced to the playoffs last season, including both Super Bowl participants, and two others that reached the postseason in 2006. The good news is five of the games -- Packers, Redskins, Patriots, Eagles and Jets -- are at Qwest Field, where the Seahawks were 7-1 last year and have the league's second-highest winning percentage (.829) since Week 16 of the 2002 season. The three others are at the Giants, Bucs and Cowboys. Another positive for Seattle is it plays back-to-back road games only once and travels to Buffalo in September instead of December. Good health down the stretch will be critical because the Seahawks' bye comes in Week 4.
Memorable Image From Camp
Wide receiver Deion Branch doing agility drills. After Branch tore the ACL in his left knee last January in a playoff loss at Green Bay, the team said he would be sidelined nine months. That timetable may have to be accelerated. Although he's not participating in team workouts, Branch has looked surprisingly strong during rehab sessions. On Monday morning he ran, cut and moved laterally without signs of discomfort during agility drills. Branch has said he expects to be ready for the season opener, which would put his return a month ahead of schedule. Don't bet against him, although the Seahawks have no interest in rushing him.
For the first time since 2005, the defense returns every starter. Assistant head coach Jim Mora, who will take over for Holmgren next season, says the advantages that presents are obvious: "It allows you to move faster in your installation. It allows you to kind of expand your knowledge base."
He says normally when there are new players or a new system, players must memorize their assignments, then their teammates' assignments before focusing on how the offense might attack them. With a group that's familiar with each other and the system, Mora says you can get more quickly into the mindset of the offense and how the defense can attack that. "When you have guys who have been together a while, they learn to play off each other and that just helps you become a more aggressive, free-spirited, less-thinking, more-reacting type of defense."
Training camp was only a few days old, but quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was feeling it. "No NFL [Europa] roster exemptions," he says. "That means there are only four quarterbacks, not five. It's rapid fire in all our drills. I've got blisters on my fingers and blisters on my feet for the first time since my sophomore year in high school."
The starting linebacker trio of Julian Peterson, Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill is one of the best in the league, but there are concerns about depth, primarily because outside linebacker Will Herring has been sidelined with something that Holmgren calls a "sickness." He says more tests have to be done.
Rookie tight end John Carlson was slowed in the offseason because of injuries, but he has looked terrific in training camp. He's getting reps with the first unit and will be given every opportunity to start.
Holmgren can be intense, such as when he passed on post-practice interviews Sunday because he was dissatisfied with the workouts. But he also can be engaging and colorful, such as when he was asked about new quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor. "The quarterback coach for me, you have to have an iron jock, you know what I mean?" said the offensive-minded coach. "It's a tough job."
Should Branch return in time for the opener, the competition for the fourth wideout spot (behind Branch, Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson) could be interesting. Courtney Taylor, Ben Obomanu and Logan Payne all have had their moments -- particularly Payne, who made a beautiful diving catch Monday. The deciding factor could come down to who excels on special teams.
Engram is the ultimate pro. He boycotted offseason workouts because of displeasure with his contract, prompting some to wonder how he would conduct himself after reporting for camp. It's a non-issue. Engram quietly goes about his work like he always has, drawing praise from Holmgren for his professionalism.