RENTON — Two weeks into training camp, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll still has a muddled picture of which four players will be his team’s pass rush group when the season opens Sept. 8 at Carolina.
Identified as the team’s top priority this offseason, Carroll brought in edge rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency. Adding them to the team’s Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin should give the Seahawks one of the better pass rush units in the league.
However, Clemons remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list while rehabbing from major reconstructive knee surgery and might not play in an exhibition game this season.
Irvin has been out nursing a groin injury since Aug. 4, and will miss the first four games of the regular season because of a violation of the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. Carroll does not have a timetable for Irvin’s return.
And on Wednesday, Avril returned to practice on a limited basis for the first time since the third day of training camp.
Avril missed most of the team’s offseason training program because of a plantar fascia injury, and he has been sidelined most of training camp with a sore hamstring. It’s not the way Avril, who signed a two-year, $13 million deal with Seattle in free agency, wanted to begin his tenure with the team.
“It’s part of football – things happen,” Avril said. “For me, it’s just getting better every day and progressing with the injuries, and getting ready for the season.”
Even though Avril practiced some on Wednesday, Carroll said he likely will not play in the team’s second exhibition, Saturday against Denver at CenturyLink Field.
“It was just a start,” Carroll said. “We couldn’t get him past the individual periods yet, but we’re going to do a little bit more tomorrow. And then we are just going to start bringing him back. It’s just great to get him back on the field. We need him to be a part of this.”
The Seahawks played O’Brien Schofield and Mike Morgan at defensive ends, along with Bennett and rookie Jordan Hill during passing situations against San Diego last week.
Carroll likely will play the same group against Denver, giving the Seattle coach just two more games to figure out his four most talented and healthy pass rushers to play on third downs.
However, one player who has been a pleasant surprise is Hill. A third-round draft choice by the Seahawks in April out of Penn State, Hill has been an effective inside pass rusher on passing downs. He has performed better than expected in place of Alan Branch, who signed as a free agent with Buffalo in the offseason, at the position of run-stuffing defensive tackle next to nose guard Brandon Mebane in running situations.
“He played better than we had expected on first and second down during the game,” Carroll said. “He held his own, and he was very active. We really liked that he was so quick and that he had a really good savvy for rushing the passer, and it showed.”
Now, Carroll would like to see the same thing from Avril in an exhibition game.
“I definitely would like to get out there for one of these three games,” Avril said. “It’s a little bit different from practicing. When it’s out there, the games are a lot quicker and a lot more physical. So you definitely would like to get a feel for it before the season starts, for sure.”
Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel remains out with a groin injury and needs to make his way back to the field if he wants to earn a spot on the final roster. Carroll said after watching McDaniel work out on Wednesday that he will not play against Denver.
“It’s really important,” Carroll said. “We have not seen enough to know where he fits in. He has a chance to be one of the lead candidates for the 3-technique spot, but we don’t know anything about him right now. We’ve seen just limited play. So the game time is going to be really important for him.”
Running back Christine Michael remains out with back spasms. He will not play against Denver.
A total of 13 players missed practice on Wednesday. Along with Irvin, Michael and McDaniel, DE Jaye Howard (shoulder), CB Ron Parker (hamstring), OL James Carpenter (foot) and DE Ty Powell (thigh) remain out.
TE Zach Miller (foot), DE Clemons (knee), CB Tharold Simon (foot), WR Percy Harvin (hip) and DE Greg Scrugs (knee) still are on the PUP list. LB Korey Toomer (hip) remains on the non-football injury list, and it does not appear as if he’s coming back anytime soon.
Toomer’s still on crutches.
“I don’t know how long that’s going to take,” Carroll said about Toomer. “It’s really unfortunate that that’s happened, because he was hurt last year as well. He hasn’t had a real chance to show. And we’ve seen a lot of cool things from him, so we’ll just wait it out.”
Players returning to practice on Wednesday included WR Bryan Walters (hamstring), Williams (knee), Byron Maxwell (ankle), Bobby Wagner (shoulder) and Avril (hamstring).
Led by coach and former Seahawks quarterback Jon Kitna, the Lincoln High of Tacoma football coaching staff watched Seattle’s practice Wednesday. … Former University of Washington football coach Jim Lambright also was at practice. … Wednesday was the final training camp practice open to the public. The Seahawks break camp with a morning practice today.