The Seahawks' linebacking unit -- the core of their thudding defense -- is getting back into form in time for the real season to begin.
Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Malcolm Smith practiced this morning in individual linebacker drills and some group work. It was his first practice since surgery in the spring to remove "loose bodies" in his ankle.
"It's a great deal to get him back," coach Pete Carroll said of the former USC Trojan the coach recruited out of Northridge, Calif. "It's been a long offseason for him, a highlighted offseason for him, but it's still been hard for him getting back. He's got so much versatility. He's been with us forever; it seems like fourth grade."
Korey Toomer, Seattle's fifth-round draft pick in 2012, also returned to practice. He had been on Seattle's preseason physically-unable-to-perform list since a hamstring injury.
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"They got about half the practice of work today. Tomorrow they will try to take some more, and work them through the week to see what happens and what that means," Carroll said following this morning's warm, two-hour workout at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton.
Carroll also said pass-rushing outside linebacker Bruce Irvin might come off the preseason PUP list and practice some as early as next week. Irvin, who had eight sacks as a rookie in 2012 and two in 12 regular-season and three postseason games last season, had hip surgery in May.
"(Irvin's) doing great. He's running and changing directions today for the first time," Carroll said. "He really feels confident. He doesn't feel like he feels anything, at all. ... If everything continues to continues to go (well) we are going to try to get him some work after the Raider game (the final exhibition on Aug. 28) -- and maybe before that.
"He's making great progress and he's really encouraged. He feels like he's ready to go."
Add in the fact K.J. Wright has been all over the field in practices and that starting middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (hamstring) could also return to practice next week, and the Seahawks' thinnest unit all summer is on the verge of becoming regular-season thick. Just in time for the Sept. 4 opener against Green Bay.
The silver lining to all these injuries for the Seahawks at linebacker is they have spawned two revelations this summer.
*Undrafted rookie Brock Coyle has been anchoring the first team for weeks and has started both exhibition games, drawing Carroll's constant raves for how he's handled being an NFL middle linebacker and for consistent improvement. Coyle, it seems, has won a roster spot he might have gotten the opportunity to win had Wagner not been out.
*Mike Morgan, a free-agent signee in 2011 out of USC and a backup linebacker and special-teamer in all 16 games last regular season, has been impressive this month filling in for Smith.
Plus, Seattle didn't draft rookie Kevin Pierre-Louis in the fourth round in May out of Boston College to cut him in August. Pierre-Louis is playing catch-up, though, after missing the a week or so into early August with an oblique-muscle injury.
"It's a really good group. We are really excited about these guys," Carroll said. "It's been thin all throughout the camp, and Mike Morgan and Brock and K.J., they have really held it together for us. It's really fun to see these guys get back.
"We are going to get more experienced real quick here as they return."
--Veteran Eric Winston, a backup to rookie Justin Britt at right tackle since the Seahawks signed him to a one-year contract in late July, was with the first-team offense at left tackle. Alvin Bailey, who had been at left tackle while Russell Okung was still out earlier this month, was at right tackle.
Carroll downplayed the switch as just an ongoing search for "versatility" on the line.
That offensive line plowed the way for the Seahawks' 240 yards rushing on Friday against San Diego.
"One of the better preseason games I can ever remember us playing, as far as the line of scrimmage. Just coming off the ball. Just in that single element we were really flying off the football," Carroll said. "Sweezy played a fantastic half ... he had a bunch of knockdowns and fantastic blocks that we were really excited about. Showed the whole team, he had so many special plays."
--Rookie Paul Richardson ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the NFL combine this winter, the third-fastest time there. Yet in college he ran back just one punt and no kickoffs in three seasons at Colorado.
This isn't Colorado anymore.
I'm still a bit stuck on the risk of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas as the primary punt returner this season, a role Thomas has had in the first two preseason games. So I asked Carroll how viable Richardson might be as a punt returner.
"We are thinking of him more as a kickoff returner. We are working him there," Carroll said. "He's in the mix. He could play in the game at kick returner, right now."
Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin and Percy Harvin -- in his limited 2013 time, and splendidly in the Super Bowl -- returned kickoffs for the Seahawks last season. But that could be Richardson's first impact in the NFL come next month, while he continues to learn the nuances of blocking and footwork and the playbook on offense.
--In the-sky-really-is-blue news: Carroll said he got word over the weekend from the NFL that the illegal-contact foul Friday against the Chargers on cornerback Tharold Simon seconds before his end-zone interception and 103-yard return for what would have been a touchdown "shouldn't have been called."
I wrote in today's News Tribune about Carroll's hope that this particular "point of emphasis" gets deemphasized some by officials during the regular season.
As for how Simon, who missed all of his rookie year with foot injuries is doing, Carroll was positive but still had a tone of reservation: "We've seen nothing but good stuff. ... He's competing, you know, to be the guy that can go in there and play just like we like to play. He knows our style, he understands it. He had a really good year when he was out, to learn and to adapt. He's not like a first-year guy coming out. He's like a redshirt freshman coming back. He's in the middle of it. We are real excited about him."
--DL O'Brien Schofield, unblockable for much of Friday's exhibition game, sat out today's practice to "rest," Carroll said.
--WR Bryan Walters, daring and effective as a punt returner against San Diego, also rested. Carroll says Walters' ribs are sore.
--Asked about QB Terrelle Pryor, Carroll said: "I like the way he throws the ball. Big arm. Great downfield throws."
I put that in the category of: Things that make you go, 'Hmmm...." I sense Carroll sees Pryor at too athletic, too intriguing to not have on the 53-man roster for the regular season. And the coach isn't saying so, but I also sense he's sees the potential of Pryor doing more for this team that quarterbacking during the real season, if the right situation arises.
--Russell Wilson went atop the Space Needle to take his ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, as seahawks.com tells -- and shows, with video.
--Here is video of the start of Carroll. He is talking about Smith and Toomer at the start:
And here is the transcript of the entire session:
Head Coach Pete Carroll
August 18, 2014
(On Malcolm Smith and Korey Toomer getting back out there today) Yeah, Malcolm [Smith] got out there for the first time and Korey Toomer, also. It’s good to get those guys back out. They’ve been dying to get on the practice field and they did fine today. They got through this part of the week, about half the practice is what they worked today and tomorrow they’ll try to take a little bit more and we’ll work them through the week and see what happens, see what that means.
(On Eric Winston at left tackle today) He was just doing it for versatility and we moved Alvin [Bailey] to right. Just to make these guys have to go on those sides, just to get them some time there, just for the future.
(On O’Brien Schofield not practicing today) We just rested him today. He’s okay, not hurt, we just thought it would be good for him to rest on his knee and so he took a day off.
(On O’Brien Schofield’s performance Friday night against the Chargers) He’s shown two really solid games of being real active. He’s rushed tremendously in force in general and he had a couple plays in the back field in both games. Special teams - was active, so he’s done really well. He’s really on it. He’s giving everything he’s got to make the club and he’s making a great statement about doing that.
(On the pass rushing game against the Chargers) It was better. We were more active, we moved around pretty well. A lot guys contributed to it. It was great to see some of the younger guys. Benson [Mayowa] got one and Michael Mo [Mike Morgan] was involved in a nice pass rush. Just in general, I thought we were moving a little bit better. You know, here with the stadium and the crowd and all that, we kind of hope to see that and we did.
(On Jackson Jeffcoat’s progression) He’s working real hard to try to figure it out. He’s still in transition mode from where he was a down rusher all the time so it’s taken some time so we’re just continuing to give him shots and show us what he can do. He rushed okay in the game. He did a nice job, didn’t get much done at linebacker in the game.
(On what the NFL said about Tharold Simon’s pick-6 against the Chargers) They would say, as they observed it, that it shouldn’t have been called.
(On what he’s seen from Tharold Simon) Well we’ve seen nothing but good stuff, really when he’s played. He’s done really well in practice. He’s been very consistent. He’s been a really good deep ball guy. He just let that interception get away from him, the guy made a play on the ball but he was in tremendous shape so they threw a couple at him up top and he was on both of them. So that’s really good in the games but he’s done that in practice. He’s competing to be a guy to go in there and play just like we like to play. He’s knows our style, he understands it. He had a really good year when he was out to learn and adapt. He’s not coming in like a first year guy. He’s got that experience so he’s like a redshirt freshman coming back so he’s in the middle of it. We’re really excited about him.
(On how Doug Baldwin handles mistakes this year compared to last year) Well, he still gets mad. He’s a great competitor and he just doesn’t wasn’t to give up anything so anytime a play gets away from him he’s going to be hard on himself. He knows what he’s doing, he knows how to get back and regain his composure. I’m not worried about him at all in that regard, I have never seen anything really carry over and get him out of whack. He’s got a little [John] McEnroe in him, he handles it fine though.
(On if it was a problem for Baldwin during his second year) No, I don’t think so. The second year, his off season didn’t work as well. He came back and had problems getting going again. He over trained, worked too hard and it didn’t fare well for him until really the middle of the year. He’s balanced that out and knows what happened then and he’s fine.
(On how Bruce Irvin is progressing) He’s doing great. He’s running and changing direction today for the first time. He really feels confident. He doesn’t feel like he feels anything at all. Next week will be really important, this week is huge and to allow him to maybe get some work maybe even next week, for sure if everything continues to go, we’ll to try to get him work after the Raider game, but maybe a little bit before that. So we will see how that goes but he’s making great progress and he’s really encouraged and it feels like he’s ready to go.
(On how deep the linebackers are going to be when everyone gets back) Yeah, it’s a really good group. We are really excited about these guys and it’s been thin all throughout the camp. Mike Morgan, Brock [Coyle] and K.J. [Wright] have really held it together for us so it’s really fun to see these guys come back. Not only do they do well in scrimmage plays, they’re a fantastic addition to special teams too so we will get faster and more experience real quick as they return.
(On how the offensive line did the other night, James Carpenter fitting in well and Justin Britt doing better) One of the better preseason games I can ever remember us playing. As far as the line of scrimmage, they were just coming off the ball. Just in that single element we were really flying off the football. [J.R.] Sweezy played a fantastic half and James [Carpenter] did really well. If you look at Sweezy’s plays, he had a bunch of knock downs and really aggressive blocks that we were really excited about, showed the whole team he had so many impressive plays. Those two guys were really the highlights and they did a fine job for us so it was a good game. I hope we can come back. We had a very good day today and we want to keep this going all through preseason.
(On starting Brock Coyle if injuries occur) It’s not even a big deal to us right now. He’s done it so he’s kind of gotten through that. I’m not worried about him one bit. If he had to play he could play.
(On what Brock Coyle is improving on) He’s improving on his tackling and his pass drops. He got banged around week one. He did a little better this week, had a couple more aggressive tackles. He’s a little high in his tackles last week and he missed the opportunity on some pass drops trying to do too much. So we zeroed him in, during the week he had a nice game so he’ll continue to get better there. He’s a good instinctive pass defender. He was looking around trying to do too much the first couple of weeks, hopefully he will settle down a do a better job there.
(On if the NFC West will be as difficult this season as it was last season) I can’t imagine it not being. I think Arizona’s better, the Rams are loaded with talent, they got all kinds of guys. We know the 49ers have been great. I think it’s just as hard as it can get. It’ll be good, good for us, it’s the kind of challenges that we need. If you’re going to have a good team you’re going to have to deal with these guys and these good teams, so that’s what we’re faced with. Whoever comes out on top of the division is really going to be ready to play anybody.
(On how Paul Richardson is learning the nuances of the offense) He’s doing fine. There’s still some rough spots. There’s still some things – it’s just the little details and stuff – that he’ll get better at. He’s very conscientious. He really cares about doing things right, it’s a lot of stuff. We see him making really good progress, and there’s no reason to think he’s not going to get it all nailed. Whether he gets it all down by Week 1, I don’t know that, but he’s working hard at it. He’s got all of the capabilities to be right there learning all the stuff.
(On the chances of Richardson returning kickoffs or punts) We’re thinking of him more as a kickoff returner, he’s working there. He’s in the mix. He could play in the game at kick returner right now.
(On how excited he is to get Malcolm Smith back) It’s a great deal to get him back. It’s been a long offseason for him, and a highlighted offseason, but it’s still been hard on him getting right. He’s got great versatility. We totally trust him. He’s been with us forever, since like fourth grade it seems. He’s a real fixture in our defense. We love his flexibility, he’s such a great playmaker, so it’s great to get him back.
(On the progress of Bobby Wagner’s injury) They’re hoping for next week that he’ll make it back out. That’s what we’re shooting for. He’s really close, hopefully this week goes really well and he’ll be able to jump back out next week.
(On the battle to be starting punt returner) We haven’t had very many chances to tell much. Earl [Thomas] seems comfortable back there. B-Dub [Bryan Walters] has done a great job. A couple of other guys may get their chances. We haven’t had enough opportunities to tell in a game right now.
(On if Bryan Walters was just resting today) Yes, well he got a little banged up in the game. He just took some bumps and bruises, they thought it needed rest a little bit. He had some sore ribs or something like that, so we just gave him a day off.
(On if Walters showed guts on his returns during the game against the Chargers) Absolutely, he was awesome. Everybody is fired up about what he brought. He was really a valuable player in that game, you could just tell the way he was jumping around and making things happen. His great decisions on short balls that save us yardage – and make something out of it – it just showed his savvy and experience. You could tell he’s returned a lot of kicks in his career, and in his lifetime. He’s very comfortable back there.
(On how he views Terrelle Pryor as a passer) I like the way he throws the ball. He’s been great in practice. He hasn’t had as much opportunity yet as we’d like to see. The games have just gone in a manner that he hasn’t had to [throw the ball]. But he throws the ball really well. He’s a terrific downfield thrower, he’s got a big arm. He’s made a lot of big plays for us against the ones, and done a lot of good stuff so we feel very confident.
(On his thoughts on the longer extra point experiment) If I understand – and I’m not sure this is correct – but we thought that there were eight that were missed in the first two weeks, and there was five missed all of last season. So it’s obviously a factor, if that’s where it goes that will change the game. I can’t even gauge how many misses that would amount to over the course of a season, or if somebody lost a game or had a chance to tie a game up and they missed it. So I think the experiment was well done and we know what we got. Now whoever makes those decisions has to figure out if they want to do that or not.
(On if he’d like to see the longer extra points in the regular season) I don’t care. Whatever it is, doesn’t matter.
(On how he evaluated Christine Michael’s performance against the Chargers) He looked really good again. He made some great cuts. We’re just disappointed that the ball got away from him again, but he looks like he’s very assertive, very decisive and he looks quick. He looks very explosive.
(On if Michael has had trouble holding on to the ball at practice) No, it’s just the two plays in the game. Both the exact same plays where the guy got underneath his pads. Hopefully we’ll be able to correct that.