An eventful return today for the Seahawks from a day off from practice here in Renton.
Dion Bailey rose from injured and late starting training camp last week to starting on the Seahawks’ top-ranked defense at strong safety today in its ninth practice. Seattle’s 2014 undrafted free agent from USC is now the fill-in over DeShawn Shead; “real” starter Kam Chancellor continued his holdout that could now cost the team leader a maximum of $530,000 in fines.
Coach Pete Carroll and line coach Tom Cable swung the competitions at center and left guard wide open. That was following another practice in which unheralded Drew Nowak was the starting center and emerging Keavon Milton became the fourth guy to start in training camp at left guard.
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Kasen Williams, who joined the team more than a month later than everyone else, in late June, starred for the second consecutive day. He made a diving catch for one touchdown and a sprinting, out-stretched grab for another on the only two passes he saw in scrimmaging.
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The former Washington Husky and Parade magazine national high school player of the year out of Skyline in the Seattle suburbs said the broken leg and foot that derailed his final year and half at UW “brought my hunger back, and my motivation. It brought back my love for the game. ... I was coasting.”
He said he failed a post-draft physical with Cincinnati this spring because the Bengals got scared by the pins in his foot. Those are there from his Lisfranc displacement fracture he got while landing on the Husky Stadium turf trying to catch a pass in his junior season against California. Unlike in Cincinnati Seahawks doctors, he said, had a rapport with his surgeon and got first-hand word from him that the pins were nothing to worry about.
Seattle signed him days after the Bengals let him go. Williams, though, had to wait per NFL rules until his UW class graduated in mid-June before he could practice with the Seahawks. So the only day he got on the field with them before training camp was the one day Seattle had for its only mandatory minicamp in late June.
That’s why Williams is taking every practice as a huge opportunity.
“I have to,” he said. “I don’t have a choice, because these guys have been here for OTAs and they were here last year.
“Every single day. I’m not getting many opportunities to make plays, so every one I get have to come down with the ball.
“Yeah, I’m taking advantage of my opportunities. And there’s still more to come.”
Safe to say Friday’s exhibition opener against Denver is the biggest game of Williams’ life. Then the following Friday night at Kansas City will be his next biggest game, and so on throughout August.
Bailey’s rise – and Carroll gushing after practice how no one can deny how productive Bailey has been in the last few days – felt like an underline to the coach stating how the team is moving on without Chancellor. At least for now and in the foreseeable future, that is, as I wrote for today’s News Tribune.
Bailey and Shead split first-team time in group drills. But by the time team scrimmaging began it was clear Bailey was the No. 1 strong safety for the first time in his brief career.
And when Bailey dived in front of backup tight end Anthony McCoy to make an impressive interception of Russell Wilson in the end zone during a red-zone scrimmage, it was clear Bailey may be on the first team for a while this month. That includes Friday night against Denver.
“I’ve got to take advantage of the situation,” he said on the edge of the Virginia Mason Athletic Center practice field, with the word “Faith” written on his eye black representing his spirituality over his left cheek.
He said the “greatest thing that’s helping me right now” is having played at linebacker at USC. That has him very comfortable and familiar in the run fits of Seattle’s gap defense, and with the traffic-cop aspects of playing strong safety and getting every teammate in the right spot from the center of the field just before the snap.
“Rolling down on the run is not a big deal to him. That’s why they had him do that,” Carroll said of his successors as USC on Lane Kiffin’s staff playing Bailey at linebacker. “But his pass defense has really shown up, though. He’s done very well.”
WHAT ELSE I SAW FROM 9TH CAMP PRACTICE
▪ Wilson threw late on a “hot,” blitz read to Jimmy Graham over the middle near the goal line. The new tight end wasn’t ready for the pass, so it went through his hands to the turf incomplete. I’ve counted Graham dropping just three passes total in nine practices, by the way.
After this practice, the two stayed 10 minutes and worked that same route from the same spot outside the goal line. Carroll said they have a ways to go on being completely in synch on all aspects of passes and routes, including the improvisational ones that are such a big part of Wilson’s game. Carroll isn’t concerned Wilson and Graham won’t get meshed, just that it takes time. It’s only August 10.
▪ The surges of Nowak and Milton to first-team center and left guard is part of Carroll’s “always-compete” mantra spiking just in time for the exhibition games to begin. Cable basically said as much with this description of the changes: “We are just creating as much competition as we can.” The coaches like how Nowak doesn’t get moved back, and his knowledge of the overall line play. Jeanpierre has the experience edge having been traded Max Unger’s backup for five seasons and a part-time, fill-in starter for him.
▪ Kevin Pierre-Louis again got a lot of plays with the first-team defense at outside linebacker. Carroll said the fourth-round draft choice from Boston College last year, who had his rookie season cut short after seven games by a shoulder injury, was the biggest standout upon the coaches’ film review of Saturday’s scrimmage. So expect to see plenty of No. 58 in blue early in Friday’s exhibition game.
▪ I’m sensing the best way for Williams to make the team is to prove himself on special teams. He’s playing on all four kick and punt units. That’s something he never did at UW. He acknowledges that’s his best chance to make the 53-man roster for the regular season, and that that’s the way Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Ricardo Lockette, Chris Matthews and others have made Carroll’s Seahawks teams at wide receiver.
▪ Tharold Simon had an ice pack on his right knee, apparently a result of his conditioning work as he continues to rehabilitate from offseason shoulder surgery. Meanwhile, last week’s trade acquistion Mohammed Seisay and converting-from-wide-receiver Douglas McNeil continue to make positive impressions at backup cornerback, the job Simon had as a rocky rookie and part-time starter last season.
▪ Jesse Williams was in the team scrimmage as a backup defensive tackle, the most extensive work I’ve noticed for him since the third-year man had surgery just over two months ago to remove his cancerous kidney.
▪ Earl Thomas watched practice again wearing a team cap, with his cleats slung over his shoulders -- including the one he had surgically repaired Feb. 24. Carroll said Saturday that even though the All-Pro free safety is now off the physically-unable-to-perfom list Thomas is unlikely to practice fully for at least a couple more weeks. Steven Terrell again was the No. 1 free safety for Thomas.
▪ Third tight end Cooper Helfet missed his second straight practice with a cracked rib.
▪ Outside linebacker Bruce Irvin said he added 18 pounds to get stronger against blockers. Carroll said Irvin is having his best camp since he entered the league as Seattle’s first-round draft choice in 2012, and that he’s now stronger yet still as fast as he’s been. Carroll keeps raving about Irvin.
▪ The Seahawks and military-affiliated insurance company USAA will host more than 100 U.S. military members from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor and the U.S. Coast Guard Thirteenth District at practice on Tuesday.