The NFL calls them organized team activities – OTAs for short. But that sounds more like social outings set up by event planners than a series of non-contact practices in the offseason.
As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll examined the end of OTAs last week and previewed this week’s final mandatory minicamp, he used a phrase more apt: “Spring ball.”
It’s a residue from his 10 seasons at the University of Southern California, where spring practices are a time of experimentation with schemes and evaluation of personnel without the pressure of preparing for weekly games.
The three minicamp practices this week will be his last chance to school his squad until training camp starts in late July.
And like college teams during spring workouts, the Seahawks have tried some new looks, tested new players, and also tried some veterans at new spots. This week’s minicamp, Carroll said, “is really kind of like the final exam for the offseason.”
Perhaps a function of having so many veterans at key positions, particularly quarterback, the practices that were open to the media were sharp and competitive. Even at a brisk tempo, there were remarkably few drops, fumbles, penalties, aborted plays or blown assignments.
And according to Carroll, the players are up to speed and ahead of schedule with the installation of their schemes.
“We’ve installed enough offensively and defensively, team-wise, that we can kind of work on the things we’re counting on,” Carroll said after Wednesday’s practice. “We won’t experiment (in minicamp) at all. We’ll really be digging into the things that we think are really the basic aspects of the program. We’ve uncovered some things that we like in these 10 days, so we’ll look to … get an image of what it’s going to look like when we come back to camp.”
It seems simplistic, but a part of this enterprise is devoted to teaching the young guys and other new acquisitions how they’re expected to practice and prepare.
“We’ve had tremendous opportunities to see our guys come back and get after it with the right attitude and the right kind of tempo that we’re familiar with, and also see the young guys fit in,” Carroll said. “… So we’ve made a ton of progress.”
The period of acclimation will continue this week, though, particularly on defense where new coordinator Dan Quinn oversees some different looks.
Linebackers K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith have swapped sides; Wright goes from strong side to weak side, Smith doing the opposite. And pass-rush end Bruce Irvin, who will miss the first four games because of a performance-enhancing drug suspension, has been getting work learning the strong-side linebacker spot.
How the linebacker duties will sort out is still “one of the biggest question marks on what’s going to happen,” Carroll said. “There’s still some information to gather there, but we love the group and it’s very, very athletic.”
Carroll liked the progress on “things that we’re asking guys to do on the perimeter blocking, the runs by the quarterback. All that stuff has all grown and we’ll see how that all fits together. We’re very pleased at this time that we found some answers that we weren’t sure that we could get done at this point.”
Asked about notable developments, Carroll cited the healthy return of often-injured cornerback Walter Thurmond, and also the progress of young tight ends Sean McGrath and Luke Willson.
From the sideline, it appears the entire offense operates smoothly because of Russell Wilson’s continued growth at quarterback. Now so proficient in his duties, and secure in his position, he makes it hard to remember that he was an unknown quantity just a year ago.
And while it’s fair to expect eye-catching plays by an All-Pro player, cornerback Richard Sherman looks as if he’s already prepared for the season.
A former NFL quarterback watching from the sideline asked a good question: Has anybody even caught a pass against Richard Sherman in 2013? It hasn’t seemed like it.
Although still relatively new to the position, having played it only two seasons at Stanford, Sherman is showing such great recognition and anticipation – in addition to the obvious physical skills.
While there’s still three months until the real season starts, there’s only three more days of practice before the summer break. And it seems as if Carroll is justified in feeling good about what’s been accomplished because these team activities were not only organized, but also obviously firstname.lastname@example.org