Postcard from camp: Seahawks
'Camp Carroll' includes music blaring, T-shirts with slogans and a rare off day
Matt Hasselbeck is in contract year and he showed up leaner and more focused
Seattle has had plenty of turnover, with 38 players remaining from the 2009 team
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Jim Trotter had to say about the Seahawks camp in Renton, Wash., which he visited on Aug. 6. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
Pete Carroll's presence can be felt throughout the Seahawks' camp -- from the music that blares from loudspeakers during practice to the agility drills during warmups to the slogans on the scoreboard and T-shirts.
The most prominent is "ALWAYS COMPETE," which is the essence of Carroll's approach to turning around a franchise that has produced only nine wins over the past two seasons. It's also how he plans to silence critics who doubt whether he can succeed in the NFL after being fired in his previous two stints, first with the Jets, then the Patriots.
His approach is definitely player friendly. The schedule includes no back-to-back two-a-days and an off-day after only four days. "I think [left guard] Ben Hamilton almost gave Pete a kiss on the lips.," QB Matt Hasselbeck says of the day off. "That day off was huge. It's so rare that a coach would trust his team by giving them the day off, during training camp, in your home city, where everyone already lives and downtown Bellevue is as cool and exciting of a city with its bars and restaurants. Not only that, but he gave us the night off the day before and the next day."
It's little wonder that when players say "Camp Carroll," a smile crosses their face.
1.Hasselbeck is in the final year of his contract and looks like someone prepared to cash in, despite turning 35 in September. He reported to camp leaner and more focused and quickly squashed talk of a quarterback controversy after Carroll traded for Charlie Whitehurst in March, then signed the former San Diego backup to an $8 million, two-year contract. Carroll wanted to send a message to the team that each player -- even the entrenched quarterback -- would have to earn his job. But a competition between Hasselbeck and Whitehurst never materialized. The only battle at this point is between Whitehurst and former Buffalo first-round pick J.P. Losman, whom observers contend has the early lead for the backup position.
2. For a coach who loves diversity, Seattle's running backs sure seem homogenous. All of the backs are relatively small, with quickness ranking among their chief attributes. The personnel staff will look for a bigger, grinder type back when teams begin making roster cuts. Quinton Ganther provides some pop, but he might be better-suited for fullback. Justin Forsett has been impressive -- and stood out the last month of the 2009 season -- but at 5-foot-8, 198 pounds there are questions about durability. Julius Jones (5-10, 208) lacks Forsett's suddenness, and newcomer Leon Washington (5-8, 203) is coming off a serious leg injury. Seattle thought it had a solid complement in LenDale White, but he was released on May 28 for various reasons (five weeks after being cut he was suspended for four games by the league for violating its substance-abuse policy).
"I've always like complementary backs, different style guys," says Carroll. "We love the physical nature of the running game, so it's nice to have that type of big back. Ganther has been running really good for us and has that physical presence. He's tough and might give us that little change of style type thing. ... But I really like this position group. When Leon is ready to go [Aug. 16 is a tentative target date] and can throw his hat in the ring, I think this is going to be a very strong group. Julius has just done a marvelous job, and Justin has done a marvelous job."
3. Wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh led the team in receptions (79) and yards (911) last season after leaving Cincinnati as a free agent, but the longtime Bengal took a lot of heat for not having the impact that he and others anticipated. Houshmandzadeh's response: "They didn't throw me a lot of balls when the game mattered. Go count the attempts to me when the game mattered -- first-half attempts, then second-half attempts. Big difference. "
According to Stats Inc, Houshmandzadeh had 41 catches in the first half and 38 after halftime.
"Me and [former coach Jim Mora] talked about it; he said it was the protection and things like that. But I don't know. I don't really talk to coaches about that because I don't want to come off as I'm demanding the ball. Me and Matt talked about it. He said, 'I talked to them, too. I don't know why it's like that.' "
According to Stats Inc., Houshmandzadeh was targeted 38 times in the team's wins and 97 times in their losses. Forty-eight of his catches occurred when the team was losing. Make of the numbers what you will, but Houshmandzadeh says he will be more of a factor this season. He is still getting up to speed after missing all of the offseason workouts while recovering from hernia surgery, but he says it's just a matter of time before he and Hasselbeck are clicking.
"We're seeing the same thing, out there, but I'm just not reacting fast enough because I'm thinking as I'm doing it," he says. "I just have to get more reps. We're on the same page, just not the same tempo."
Who are these guys? As of Thursday morning, the Seahawks had made 108 personnel transactions -- with promises of more to come. Only 38 players remained from the 2009 team, and that figure will likely drop when final cuts are made. Linebacker Lofa Tatupu says he saw guys who were signed and cut on the same day. You half expect the team to use erasable ink when writing out locker-room nameplates.
"We've been busy and we're going to continue to be busy," Carroll said of himself and new GM John Schneider. "John and I are going to continue to do what we can to make the roster more competitive and make our guys better by doing that. They've embraced the central theme of the program, which is competition."
Top pick Russell Okung, a mountainous man who is expected to start at left tackle, was the last player from his draft class to sign. He'll be thrown immediately into the starting lineup, where he'll be responsible for protecting Hasselbeck's blind side. That's a huge responsibility for someone that who projected as a right tackle on some draft boards. The second of the team's two first-round picks, safety Earl Thomas, has impressed teammates. Like Okung, he is expected to start immediately. He has tremendous range and consistently has been around the ball. Finally, wideout Golden Tate will have a tougher time cracking the first team, although he has taken reps with the starters during camp.
The setting. The Seahawks train at their year-round facility in Renton, where the state-of-the-art complex is bordered to the west by picturesque Lake Washington. On Thursday morning, boats bobbed offshore, a bald eagle watched from the top of a light stand, Blue Angel jets roared across the sky, fans soaked up sun from a nearby grass knoll, and the scent of chicken and steak on the grill filled the air. It was enough to make Lombardi and Brown roll over in their graves.
The Seahawks had only two sacks in their final five games, and it remains unclear how they're going to pressure opposing quarterbacks this year. Their top three ends from last season are gone -- Patrick Kerney to retirement, Darryl Tapp in a trade and Cory Redding in free agency -- and linebacker Aaron Curry, the team's top pick in 2009, has rush ability but admits he favors playing over the tight end. Beyond him, there isn't much. End Chris Clemons had eight sacks two years ago with Oakland, but managed just seven total the past two seasons with Philadelphia. Linebacker Leroy Hill showed promise as a rookie in 2005 with 7.5 sacks, but has had a total of seven in the four seasons since and might be released or traded before the season.
Cornerback Marcus Trufant is turning heads. Slowed in 2009 by a back injury that cost him much of training camp and forced him onto the PUP list to start the year, he is healthy and making plays. Houshmandzadeh says he hasn't seen Trufant this quick and explosive in two years. That's a good sign for a defense that allowed the third-most passing yards in the league last season.
The OL was a problem last year because of age and injury. Carroll's most important hire arguably was respected line coach Alex Gibbs, whose zone-blocking scheme has succeeded most everyplace it has been. Still, you need players. Signing top draft pick Okung was big, and newcomer left guard Ben Hamilton previously played under Gibbs. The group has its work cut out; Seattle ranked 26th in rushing last season, averaging just 97.9 yards a game.
Practice isn't like being in a club, but close. Tatupu says he has caught himself tapping his foot during lulls, and Forsett says the beat keeps the intensity up. "I like it," he says. "It's kind of like we're performing. Just like before a game when music is playing. You've got to get ready. It's like we're simulating that."