RENTON – At first glance, all the music over the loudspeakers, the new scoreboard on the field reminding players to “Always Compete” and some of the hyperactive warm-ups make Seahawks training camp feel very New Age.
That’s just the packaging.
If there was a more accurate sound track to the Seahawks’ first practice of training camp Saturday, it would be the thudding of pads and the percussion of players making high-speed contact.
I’ve been covering Seahawks training camps since about the time rookie receiver Golden Tate was born. And I’ve never seen a first practice of camp feature as much contact as the debut gathering of the 2010 Seahawks under coach Pete Carroll.
While his predecessors historically called for a few days in jerseys and shorts before padding up, Carroll had the guys dressed out in shoulder pads from the first minute.
Leave it to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to come up with the appropriate assessment of how the new approach feels: “It’s interesting, it’s kind of new-school, but it’s kind of old-school.”
Nobody was getting chop-blocked or submarine-tackled, and there weren’t any of the spectacular slobber-knocker hits you’ll see in an all-out scrimmage. But I guarantee you that linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill – particularly – unloaded on guys a few times Saturday.
“This just might be the first training camp I’ve been in that we put shoulder pads on for the first practice, so, yeah, it was more physical,” receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said.“Normally you just come out with your helmets and get your legs under you, but we went right into it with shoulder pads.”
It wasn’t just the defense leaving the bruises, either; running back Quinton Ganther decked somebody in the secondary one time, and tight end John Carlson dented a few defensive backs who tried to bring him down with high tackles.
Six-foot-5 receiver Mike Williams, then, enjoyed an obvious benefit while shrugging off 180-pound cornerback Kelly Jennings on one nice completion.
“(Being in pads) is a different transition for skill guys,” Williams said. “All of a sudden, you have the pads on and your range of motion – how you move your arms – is a little different, and you get used to contact after you get the ball. After a while, you kind of get tired of just running around in helmets. So … this is football, and football’s played with the pads.”
Maybe it felt like midseason because of the atmospheric conditions – mid-50s with a nippy breeze. And, as is Carroll’s way, fans were there to witness and cheer.
“He wants every practice to be like a game environment,” Houshmandzadeh said. “Nobody wants to look a fool when you’ve got people watching.”
Hasselbeck thought the offense was sloppy with the ball – even for a first practice. But there were a number of obvious strong plays.
Tate went up in traffic and made a nice catch, taking it away from veteran corner Marcus Trufant. Receiver Deion Branch, something of a question mark after dealing with injuries in recent seasons, had several good catches, including one where he maintained his concentration to pull in a deflected pass.
The focus on game simulation was manifest in more subtle ways, too.
For years, one of the most interesting drills of Seahawks training camps has been one-on-one pass blocking. The mano-a-mano aspect of it made it fun to watch, and the players got pumped up and cheered each other. But did drills reflect the way pass blocking and pass rushing actually occured in a game? Not really.
NowThose appear to have been scrapped. Instead, the entire offensive line goes against the entire defensive line. No group on the team has to operate as a cohesive unit more than the offensive line, where it’s critical to become accustomed to working in unison.
Why waste time working on one-on-one techniques when you’ll rarely use them in a game? The current approach makes sense.
And so does practicing in pads, especially after having gone through so many offseason workouts and minicamps wearing just helmets and skivvies.
“It’s fun to just get out here with pads on,” Carlson said. “It feels more like football.”
And it certainly sounds like it, too.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org