After four straight losing seasons, the Seattle Seahawks are no longer talking about rebuilding. With a revamped roster brimming with young talent, the Seattle brain trust thinks the Seahawks can regularly challenge for the NFC crown.
Veteran defensive lineman Brandon Mebane says his team has to focus on the little things.
“I think we have to execute,” Mebane said. “We have to get it into our minds to play the way we’re capable of playing, and then don’t make mental mistakes.
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“We’re building. So the key is to just take one game at a time.”
Rookies and veterans are scheduled to report to the team’s Renton headquarters on Friday, with the first training camp practice taking place Saturday morning. Here are five questions Seattle head coach Pete Carroll must answer.
Will T-Jack hold on?
Coach Pete Carroll said quarterback Tarvaris Jackson will get the opening snaps with the first unit when practice resumes Saturday. And even though Seattle signed Matt Flynn to a three-year, $19 million deal, including $10 million guaranteed this offseason, Carroll still holds Jackson in high regard for a couple reasons.
Jackson finished 7-7 as a starter in his first season in Seattle, playing behind a young, makeshift offensive line that struggled to protect him in the first eight games. After suffering a torn pectoral muscle on the throwing side of his body in Week 5 against the New York Giants he missed only one game, playing through pain for most of the season.
Jackson had a 5-3 record as a starter during the final eight games with a passer rating of 85.3. For the season, he threw for a career-high 3,091 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Jackson has the most experience in Seattle’s offense, having played for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for five seasons in Minnesota before joining the Seahawks in free agency.
However, Jackson struggled mightily in late-game situations last season, finishing with a 30.7 passer rating, with no touchdowns and six interceptions in two-minute situations.
Enter Flynn, who in a much smaller sample size posted a 103.5 passer rating. Although Carroll said money won’t enter into the equation when he decides who starts at quarterback, the Seahawks would not have signed Flynn to a lucrative deal if they did not think he could emerge as a starter.
Further, Carroll has not been shy in his praise of third-round pick Russell Wilson. The Seahawks like the University of Wisconsin product’s leadership, poise and athleticism. And while he might not earn the starting job this season, Wilson could be the team’s quarterback of the future.
Can ‘SeaHulk’ transform into Beast Mode?
When Seattle drafted Utah State product Robert Turbin in the fourth round of this year’s draft, the team did not expect him to start the season opener on Sept. 9 at Arizona.
But with Seattle’s best offensive player, Marshawn Lynch, recently arrested and charged with drunken driving in his hometown of Oakland, Turbin could be pressed into service sooner rather than later.
Lynch, 26, has two prior incidents and could be suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell under the league’s personal conduct policy.
But unlike last season, when the Seahawks depended on lighter backs such as Justin Forsett and Leon Washington to shoulder the load when Lynch was out – which likely cost them a win at Cleveland – at 5-10 and 222 pounds Turbin can mimic Lynch’s bruising running style.
“You see the physical style that he has – that’s what we want,” Seattle running backs coach Sherman Smith said about Turbin. “And that’s what Robert’s going to be.”
Because of his fondness for the Incredible Hulk and his bulging biceps, Turbin has been dubbed the “SeaHulk.” And he might need a super-human performance to fill the big shoes of Lynch should the Cal product be unavailable to open the season.
Will Bruce Irvin finish with double-digit sacks?
Seattle fulfilled its wish of pairing first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin with the team’s leading pass rusher the past two season after recently signing veteran Chris Clemons to a reported, three-year, $21 million contract this week.
The Seahawks finished with 33 sacks last season, tied for 19th in the league. Clemons had exactly one-third of those sacks with 11. Seattle sees the addition of Irvin on the outside, along with free agent signee defensive tackle Jason Jones, helping improve the team’s ability to get home on passing downs.
Irvin was not brought in to start right away. He’ll fill the role left vacant by veteran pass rusher Raheem Brock, who played about half the defensive snaps in his final year in Seattle.
Even though they don’t think he will be a full-time starter, the Seahawks see the speedy Irvin as someone who could post double-digit sacks, similar to what rookie Aldon Smith did for San Francisco last season, finishing with 14 sacks for the Niners.
The key for Seattle’s coaching staff will be to limit the amount of teaching and responsibility they heap on Irvin, so the 24-year-old West Virginia product can continue to play fast.
Can Sidney Rice stay healthy?
Signed to a five-year, $41 million deal before last season, including $18.5 guaranteed, receiver Sidney Rice played only nine games, finishing with 32 catches for 484 yards and two touchdowns.
The Seahawks expect much more from their star receiver in 2012, but Rice has played only one full, 16-game season in his five-year career.
Rice had offseason surgery on both shoulders to repair torn labrums, and he plans on adding 11 pounds of muscle to better handle the pounding of an NFL season.
The Seahawks anticipate more Rice on the field will result in more explosive plays for their run-first offense, making it easier for a unit that averaged 20.1 points a contest last year, 23rd in the NFL, to improve.
Seattle finished with 51 passing plays of 20 yards or more last season, tied for 17th in the league.
[caption id="attachment_14134" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Seattle Seahawks' Sean McGrath, left, has the ball knocked away by Seahawks' Bobby Wagner during NFL football rookie minicamp, Friday, May 11, 2012, in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)"] [/caption]Who replaces David Hawthorne at MLB?
Seattle’s leading tackler the past three seasons, linebacker David Hawthorne, signed a five-year, $19 million deal with New Orleans in free agency.
Hawthorne was considered one of the more cerebral players on the team. And he made game-changing plays, evidenced by his seven interceptions and six sacks in three years as a starter.
So second-round draft choice Bobby Wagner has some big shoes to fill. And so far he’s looked the part during the team’s offseason workouts. Wagner finished with 445 tackles as a four-year starter at Utah State, but that was largely against teams like Idaho, Colorado State and Hawaii – not the Niners, Cowboys and Packers. Wagner also had four career interceptions and 4.5 sacks in 48 games for the Aggies.
But the Seahawks have some options should Wagner struggle. They could move second-year pro K.J. Wright to middle linebacker. Wright started the 2011 regular-season opener against San Francisco in the middle when Hawthorne was hobbled with a knee injury, and trained there most of last season’s training camp. Barrett Ruud and Matt McCoy are also veteran options to man the middle.