Way back in the spring, after they drafted 11 players and brought in a couple of high-priced acquisitions via trade and free agency, the thought was that it would be an upset if many of the newcomers could land a spot on a Seattle roster loaded with more talent, perhaps, than any time in franchise history.
The team had gone 11-5 and finished as one of the hottest clubs in the NFL, and that was on top of being one of the youngest in the league.
Well, it’s game week, the initial cut to 53 players has been made, and it features 17 men new to the roster and another who had been a Seahawks sub for one game last season.
That’s a turnover of roughly one-third of the roster. There are eight rookies with the club, three who weren’t drafted, and two others who were taken in the sixth and seventh rounds.
One of the rookies, Benson Mayowa of Idaho, made the team after being initially noticed at a regional scouting combine (i.e., cattle call). Tight end Luke Willson had just nine catches his senior season at Rice, but had eight in four exhibition games to lead the Seahawks.
And wide receiver Stephen Williams, a castoff by Arizona (nine career catches), shows up in Seattle and leads the team in the preseason with three touchdown receptions and a 33.7-yard average per catch.
“It’s exciting we were able to find guys who would upgrade and take spots,” coach Pete Carroll said of the unexpected roster churn.
He said he thought another indication of the quality of the talent was the number of players who didn’t make the team but were picked up by other clubs.
The Seahawks had four young players (Ron Parker, Winston Guy, Jaye Howard and Sean McGrath) snatched up on waivers and a veteran (Will Blackmon) who was cut and signed by another team. It was a demonstration “of how competitive it was,” Carroll said. “We’re all about what we say compete.”
Linebacker Allen Bradford seemed a bit of a long shot at the start of camp. He’d been active for one game late last season, but when starter Bobby Wagner was out for the exhibition opener against San Diego, Bradford got the call and showed he could be effective from scrimmage as well as on special teams.
“They give people opportunities,” Bradford said after practice Monday, when the practice field looked sparsely populated compared to training camp days with a 90-man roster limit. “Everybody wants a job and everybody’s hungry.”
A key for any dark horse, though, is showing up for work every day.
“You have to stay out of the cold tub,” Bradford said. “You can’t get hurt, you can’t get comfortable, and you’ve got to stay hungry.”
So, then, might we suggest that the theme here for the long shots is: You make the play, you get to stay?
“Yeah, pretty much, for the most part,” Bradford said.
That’s not to say it’s been a month of good news. Williams got more of a chance because Percy Harvin (who cost $25 million guaranteed and a first-round draft pick) will miss most of the season after hip surgery, and Sidney Rice spent August trying to get healthy.
And young backs Derrick Coleman and Spencer Ware landed on the roster, at least in part, at the expense of veteran fullback and team leader Mike Robinson, who has been sidelined with illness in recent weeks.
Many of Marshawn Lynch’s big runs the past couple seasons have come when he followed Robinson’s blocks. Granted, with the scheme going to more read-option plays and three-receiver sets, the role of the fullback is diminished.
Carroll talked Monday about how difficult these decisions were. “It’s been a very challenging weekend,” he said.
And a surprising one, too Carroll and general manager John Schneider rewarded some long-shot guys with jobs – at least for now. As Bradford said, being on the 53-man roster Monday doesn’t guarantee being on it Wednesday.
“Those guys earned their way,” Carroll said. “They earned their spot; they battled through it. So that makes us tougher, and hopefully makes us a little better.”