RENTON – The fun is in the winning.
Asked about a host of offseason accomplishments, including his first Pro Bowl invitation and an appearance at No. 66 on the NFL Network’s Top 100 players of 2012, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said he’s not concerned about individual awards.
“I don’t know what everybody else thinks, but in my eyes, if you’re a great player, the personal accolades are going to come, but you just let them fall and play ball,” Thomas said. “I’ve been playing ball since I was little, and I love doing it. If people like the way I play, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s fine, too. I just like to play ball.”
Thomas had a similar answer when asked about the possibility of improving a unit that finished as one of the league’s top 10 defenses in 2011.
“I just want to win games,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to set the standard for anything. I just want to go out there and play to the best of our ability and see what happens. I’m all about winning and everybody here is all about winning.”
While that’s understood, one of the ways that Seattle coach Pete Carroll is working to improve his defense is by adding more speed, through free agency and the draft, to create a more consistent pass rush.
The Seahawks struggled to pressure the opposing passer on third downs last season, getting just 12 of their 33 total sacks on the key down, tied for fourth-worst in the league.
With big bodies like Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch, the Seahawks have been effective stopping the run the past two years. But they need to give defensive end Chris Clemons some help on passing downs.
The Seahawks think they have done just that by adding inside pass rusher Jason Jones in free agency and drafting speedy defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Greg Suggs and inside pass rusher Jaye Howard to pressure the passer in obvious throwing situations.
Those young players combine with guys already on the roster such as Dexter Davis, Jameson Konz and Pierre Allen to give Seattle several options to bring off the edge.
Add to that mix athletic linebackers K.J. Wright, Leroy Hill, Korey Toomer and rookie second-round draft choice Bobby Wagner rushing in blitzing situations, and the Seahawks have an arsenal of new weapons to use in passing situations.
“We’ve got first- and second-down players that can rush the passer a little bit,” Seattle defensive line coach Todd Wash said. “Not very many people can run the ball on our first unit. But we went into the draft with an idea that we’ve got to increase our pass rush on first down. And we’ll see if we did it or not.”
An improved pass rush should help a Seattle secondary that held opponents to just 18 passing touchdowns last season (tied for sixth in the league) and finished with 22 interceptions (fourth).
“When the ball’s coming out quick, it’s giving me the edge just to break from sideline to sideline instead of the quarterback playing with me, looking me off and then going the other way,” Thomas said. “You see that a lot with Baltimore. (Safety) Ed (Reed) doesn’t really have to cover that long because they’ve got a great defensive line and the ball’s coming out (quickly). So when you’ve got pressure on the quarterback, everything’s easier for the secondary.”
BALDWIN ON GUARD
Doug Baldwin talked about avoiding a sophomore slump after leading the Seahawks in receptions last season. Baldwin had 51 catches for 788 yards and four touchdowns for Seattle, becoming the first undrafted rookie free agent to lead his team in receptions and receiving yards since Bill Groman for the American Football League’s Houston Oilers in 1960.
Baldwin says he sets the bar high and puts a lot of pressure on himself to exceed those expectations.
“One of my biggest things I keep hearing from people is not to have a sophomore slump,” Baldwin said. “One of my biggest things right now is to be perfect every day. Right now I’m working on my third perfect day with no drops and no missed assignments. So, not at all, I think I have so much more to prove and so much more I’m capable of.”
Baldwin would like to prove he’s a complete receiver and not a person who can only play in the slot. But the Stanford graduate said the team has not talked to him about playing as an outside receiver.
Seattle general manager John Schneider said he’s more concerned with Baldwin growing into his role as one of the best slot receivers in the game.
“He can play outside, but he can be a dominant inside player,” Schneider said. “He’s got a real natural feel for sitting down in a zone, stemming guys and breaking off outside. He’s got really quick hands, and real long arms.”
Receivers Sidney Rice and Kris Durham were active and running routes at Seattle’s offseason conditioning workout on Thursday but wore red jerseys to signal no contact, as did sixth-round draft pick strong safety Winston Guy. All three players are recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries. Offensive tackle James Carpenter continues to show incremental progress six months after knee surgery to fix a torn anterior cruciate liagment. The former Alabama player worked off to the side on his stance and starts. He was taking reach steps coming out of his stance and putting pressure on his knee. Wagner worked with the first unit at middle linebacker, flanked by outside linebackers Wright and Hill.firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8437 blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @eric_d_williams