So far, Pete Carroll's winter of upheaval is paying the spring dividends he was seeking.
And Chris Carson looks like he never got hurt last fall.
Carroll completed the largest overhaul of his Seahawks coaching staff in January, in the weeks after Seattle missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. Then, in March, former cornerstones Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett,Cliff Avril and (perhaps) injured Kam Chancellor departed.
Icons gone. Jobs available.
Now, with the Seahawks finishing the voluntary portion of their offseason Thursday and entering next week's three-day, mandatory minicamp then training camp at the end of July, their coach sees as an energy. A "newness."
"I think there’s a sense of energy, that there is some newness. You can feel it," Carroll said Thursday after the 10th and final practice of this offseason's voluntary organized team activities. "I really appreciate that the guys are in that mentality. There’s some opportunities for positions and openings and stuff that are available, and you can feel them. They know. They know what we’re looking for.
"We spent a lot of time talking about what’s important to us as a staff as we’re trying to put our team together. The mentality (the players) need to bring, the energy they need to bring and the consistency they need to bring. These guys matched the criteria there (during OTAs) and gave themselves a good shot.
"It’s going to be a very, very competitive camp with a lot of really exciting spots to watch. ... We’ve made a lot of progress. There has been a lot of communication emphasis here between coaches and players, and players and players, across the board. I’m really pleased with what we’re seeing.
"Energy was great again, and really we look like we’ve recaptured the mentality that we need to practice the way we need to practice."
As for individuals, Carson was the most impressive player I saw during the four practices open to the media during three weeks of OTAs, compared to the last time I saw him on a field.
Carson, the seventh-round draft choice in 2017, is back bigger and looks faster than when he was the surprise starting tailback for the first month of last season, until he broke his leg and damaged ankle ligaments in the win over Indianapolis Oct. 1. Carson went on injured reserve the next day. He looks more decisive and taller when he runs so far—with the sizable caveat that it's easier to look big this time of year when carrying the ball without pads on and no one is hitting or tackling.
So, in other words, we'll see.
He said Thursday he felt fully back ready to play around Seattle's game at Dallas on Christmas Eve late last season, then had a minor setback for a week in the season finale. He felt had the team made the playoffs in January he would have been the Seahawks' designated returning player off IR.
“It makes you appreciate everything. Just being out on the sideline for how long I was makes you appreciate everything," Carson said. "Makes you realize this game can be taken away at any moment so you enjoy it while the time you’re out there.”
He gained 10 pounds this offseason, up to 226, while working out with a trainer in Bellevue and one in Dallas. One of them had him chugging protein shakes, something he said he'd never really done. He also did something else new: gave up his favorite hot chicken wings.
"I feel 100 percent. No problems, at all," he said.
"My offseason program I was doing a lot of stuff towards my lower body to make sure my ligaments were good. My strength coach in Dallas and up here, they try to help me out when it comes to my balance. I ended up putting on 10 pounds on of muscle, so I feel a lot more solid.”
Carson may be the most impressive player on the 90-man roster right now, considering where he was eight months ago—his leg and rookie season shattered—and how much the Seahawks need him to be back fully. Carroll has stated fixing Seattle's anemic running game is his first priority before the games get real again Sept. 9 at Denver, and that run game has been the primary focus of this Seahawks' offseason.
“What has really jumped out is Chris Carson. Chris has looked incredible the whole time, the entire offseason," Carroll said. "He hasn’t missed one snap of anything. He just looks so fit, he’s just so cut and quick and explosive and all that. He might be the guy, when you look at everybody, who jumps out in that regard."
Carroll also said wide receiver Doug Baldwin and quarterback Russell Wilson are "the best they've ever been."
Wilson is entering his seventh consecutive season as the Seahawks' starter to begin his career. With two years left on his $8.6 million contract, he seems particularly challenged and intrigued by working with Schottenheimer. The new coordinator and play caller is also essentially Wilson's quarterbacks coach, though Dave Canales has that title. Schottenheimer is a details man who has spent the last three weeks in OTAs yelling, roaring, high-fiving and getting on Wilson and every other QB if he doesn't carry out fakes after hand-offs.
Carroll thinks Schottenheimer is already tightening the fundamentals of the offense's two biggest stars.
"Doug and Russell have had really good work up to now. They have really been the best they’ve ever been, looked the tightest they’ve ever been," Carroll said. "Schotty has helped them in some ways that shows that."
Carroll also mentioned, in order of impression, other offseason standouts: veteran left tackle Duane Brown, who is looking "phenomenal," the coach said, entering the final year of his contract; third-year defensive tackle Jarran Reed and left guard Ethan Pocic. Carroll said Pocic "came back 20 pounds heavier" than he was in his rookie season of 2017, at the team's request.
What else I saw and learned from OTAs:
- Rush end Dion Jordan, whom the Seahawks are counting on to provide some of the sacks lost when they traded Bennett to Philadelphia and lost fellow Pro Bowl end Avril to a neck injury this offseason, didn't participate in any OTA drills because of another knee surgery recently. Carroll disclosed that on Thursday, calling the procedure minor with a six- to eight-week recovery time. It's his third knee operation since the Seahawks signed him in the spring of 2017. Jordan, the former first-round pick by Miami, has played five games in three years, all late last season for Seattle when he showed promise off the edge. Carroll said the team hopes Jordan will be ready for the start of training camp. That is seven weeks from now.
- Jordan's absence gave rookie sixth-round pick Jacob Martin a long look at defensive end on the starting defense. Carroll patted Martin on the back during team scrimmaging Thursday for a quick, decisive play into the offense's backfield.
- With Frank Clark choosing to skip the voluntary OTAs entering the final year of his rookie contract, Branden Jackson was most often the other first-team end opposite Martin.
- Marcus Smith, another discarded former first-round pick, by Philadelphia, has experience as a rush end. He was there at times in OTAs, but in base defense he's been getting time as the strong-side linebacker. Barkevious Mingo, yet another former first-round pick from 2013 signed this offseason, was also the strong-side linebacker at times.
- Kicker Sebastian Janikowski on Thursday made his first appearance at an open practice in the three weeks of OTA drills. Carroll said the 40-year-old had a sore hip. Janikowski, signed this offseason to a contract guaranteeing him $600,000 this year after 18 seasons with Oakland, stood watching practice with Jason Myers, the other kicker on the roster. Myers, the former Jacksonville kicker the Jaguars cut during last season before Seattle signed him in January, kicked the field goals during OTAs..
- New right guard D.J. Fluker did a little more this week after watching with a sore knee left over from labbbst season with the New York Giants. Carroll said Fluker may do more next week in the minicamp. Fluker is mammoth, even without pads on.
George Fant watched as Brown and Germain Ifedi were the starting tackles. Carroll said Fant, the starting left tackle until reconstructive knee surgery last summer, is "chomping at the bit" to return to practice, and could be practicing now if he absolutely needed to. But the Seahawks see no need to rush him back, and expect he will be ready for training camp. He may become a challenger to Ifedi on the right side, after Ifedi's huge struggle there last season.
- Willie Beavers, a third-year free agent signed in 2017, was the first-team right guard Thursday with Fluker watching. Beavers also got time at right tackle during OTAs.
- The rest of the starting line was as expected, and how last season ended: Brown at left tackle, Pocic at left guard, Justin Britt at center and Ifedi at right tackle.
- Rookie fifth-round draft pick Michael Dickson and 13-year veteran Jon Ryan each practiced their punting, though notably it was Dickson holding for place kicks. That's been Ryan's job for years. The Seahawks could save $2 million this year by releasing Ryan, their longest-tenured player who pre-dates Carroll here by two years. Carroll said Thursday Dickson and Ryan will compete well into training camp for the job.
- Carroll confirmed the reason coaches moved Shaquill Griffin from his starting right-cornerback spot he had as a rookie last season to Richard Sherman's old job on the left is they are confident Griffin can handle the switch and that Byron Maxwell played so well on the wright in his first stint with Seattle, including on the Super Bowl-champion team in the 2013 season. Maxwell, 30, re-signed last month for one year. He skipped the voluntary OTAs. Neiko Thorpe got a lot of first-team time at right cornerback during OTAs, with Justin Coleman returning as the first nickel back. Rookie fifth-round pickTre Flowers was the second right cornerback in OTAs, as he continues his conversion from being a safety at Oklahoma State.
- With Earl Thomas skipping OTAs and Chancellor's playing status in doubt pending another MRI and doctor's assessment in a few weeks, the starting safeties were Bradley McDougald at free and second-year man Delano Hill at strong. Tedric Thompson, another 2017 draft choice, was the second-team free safety.
- Wright apparently likes 1980s and '90s hard rockers Guns N' Roses. The pleasant-natured, 28-year-old Mississippi native walked to the sideline after the starting defensive finished a series and strummed air guitar to the song "Welcome to the Jungle" that was blaring from the sound system that's part of every Seahawks practice.
- Carroll said the team let recently signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall go home a day early from end of OTAs, to continue his rehabilitation from toe and ankle surgeries since October.
- The mandatory, three-day minicamp is Tuesday through Thursday. Carroll said he expects Thomas, Clark and Maxwell to show up for that because it is mandatory—not necessarily because the coach has received assurances from them that they will be tere. Something tells me Thomas may not show up for it, even at a risk of a $84,000 fine, as something of a last statement on wanting a new contract. Fines grow exponentially each day in training camp, so the Seahawks are expecting him to be there for that, too.