‘Where’s Walt?’ That will tell you where Seahawks are
DAVE BOLING; THE NEWS TRIBUNE
RENTON – Training camps in the NFL are like the first week of classes in high school, and the day you declare you’re going on a diet … a time for optimism.
And the Seattle Seahawks have a number of valid reasons to feel good about how things have gone for the first week.
But the vision of a sore-backed Walter Jones walking gingerly onto the field, and the absence of Marcus Trufant and top draft pick Aaron Curry, added to sundry infirmities and potential manpower shortages, are enough to give pause to even those watching through the rosiest of glasses.
Both perspectives can be mitigated with the disclaimer: Hey, it’s early.
There’s definitely a different attitude with this team and staff – they’re all a little saltier, scrappier, more aggressive. Some of the new guys look like very positive additions, and others have obviously returned to health from last season’s injuries.
But the question of Walter Jones’ health affects almost any objective early assessments of this team’s potential.
Mostly because of previous contract issues, Jones has come into seasons with little or no training camp action in the past, and immediately been at top form. But never before at the age of 35. Not coming off knee surgery followed by the back spasms that have him shelved now.
Let’s just say that Jones’ back problem could be highly contagious. When Walter has a back problem, chances increase that quarterback Matt Hasselbeck could get a back problem, too.
While the offensive line is supposed to be learning the new zone-blocking scheme, Jones’ injury puts into place a negative domino effect.
Sean Locklear moves from right tackle to left, and gets replaced on the right side by the tender-kneed Ray Willis.
There’s already nobody proven at right guard, and one of the prime candidates for that position is rookie Max Unger, who could be pressed into premature action at center by an ankle injury to Chris Spencer.
There’s been no real prediction for Trufant’s return, which leaves Ken Lucas and Josh Wilson at starting corners. Trufant has a Pro Bowl on his résumé, and he’ll step back in as soon as he’s healthy. But, as they like to say, back injuries are unpredictable.
Curry’s missing of at least a week of practices may end up being a small matter in the big picture. He looked like a quick study with the playbook, and is one of those guys whose athleticism will allow him to make plays even if he’s not 100 percent assignment-correct.
If he can still get three or four exhibition games to get things figured out, he should be fine.
On the “up” side, the immediate impact of defensive end Cory Redding has to be near the top. The 6-foot-4, 292-pound Redding has been a powerhouse in drills and team sessions.
During one play in what was close to “live” action, he took on a fullback whom I can’t even identify because he disappeared so quickly, and then stuffed the run 2 yards deep in the backfield.
His play has been so impressive that coach Jim Mora came out and named Redding the starter on the left side early the first week. It’s interesting because the prime competition over there is last year’s first-round pick Lawrence Jackson.
Receiver Nate Burleson has looked physically reborn; left guard Rob Sims has been a bright spot after missing 15 games; and all the running backs have had nice moments and seem to be suited to the new scheme.
Perhaps most important, of the players returning to action from last season, Hasselbeck has been entirely convincing in his performance so far. He’s making all the throws and looks light on his feet and in complete command of the offense.
Probably a reflection of the fact that the head coach comes from a defensive background, the camp has an aggressive tone to it. Players on that side of the ball have been freer to, uh, express their opinions to their offensive counterparts.
Safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell, in particular, have been occasionally vocal about the duels with receivers. Newcomer T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who seems to have caught every ball thrown to him, regardless of contact or interferences, has stepped up and capably volleyed any heckling from defenders.
How do you measure intensity? Impossible, of course, but the attendance of cheering fans at practices seems to cause players to crank it up a bit.
At the new waterfront complex, fans have come by land and by “sea” to check out the new-edition Seahawks.
One visitor was former center Robbie Tobeck, who motored toward practice via powerboat.
He couldn’t see much of the action from the water, of course, and the one question he was heard to shout was: “Where’s Walt?”
With that, he cut through to one of the most important issues the Seahawks will face the rest of the training camp.
He might have added: Where’s Curry? Where’s Trufant? But it’s unlikely that any issue facing the 2009 Seahawks will have the gravity of Jones’ health status.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440