Does Brandon Marshall still have it?
Wait, does the six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver still have anything, at age 34 coming off two surgeries?
Why isn’t rookie Rashaad Penny sure to be Seattle’s No. 1 running back this season? He is, after all, the team’s first-round draft choice.
Those are the biggest among many questions on the Seahawks’ changed offense entering training camp that begins Thursday at team headquarters in Renton.
The Seahawks signed Marshall in late May to a no-risk, one-year contract. He’s here to possibly be the big receiving target for quarterback Russell Wilson the team lost this spring when Jimmy Graham signed as a free agent with Green Bay.
Or to possibly show his time has passed. The rest of the NFL thinks so.
When Marshall signed, he said Seattle was the only team that showed any interest in him. That was following surgeries to his toe and to fix a deltoid-ligament in his ankle.
“I think the sentiment around the league is that I’m done,” he said.
The Seahawks have yet to see any of what Marshall has left. He was absent from offseason practices, other than catching some balls from Wilson in early June while walking routes in the first days after he signed. During last month’s mandatory minicamp Marshall was back at his home in Florida rehabilitating. He got his surgeries when his only season with the New York Giants ended in October, after just five games.
His goal in May was to be ready for full participation from the first day of training camp.
Usually, a 12-year veteran as accomplished as Marshall need not break much more than a bead or two of sweat during camp.
Not Marshall. Not this year.
This is Marshall’s sixth team. He had a career-low 18 receptions with the Giants last year. His 2017 season ended on Oct. 10 when New York put him on injured reserve with the severe ankle injury. New York waived him April 19 with a failed-physical designation.
“There’s some things that I’ve already been challenged on,” Marshall said. “You would think that going into your 13th year that you’ve pretty much peaked and you’re tapped out, but there’s some areas that (Seahawks wide receivers) Coach Nate (Carroll, the head man’s son) has already pointed out where I can get better at, and I’m excited about that. Catching the ball, being more consistent there, route-running, and competing every single play. So I’m excited to get out there and get better.
“So it’s a blessing to be here.”
He says he’s going to be healthier than he’s been in years, after not only fixing the ankle but also a toe he says had bothered him since his last 100-catch season, 2015 with the Jets.
He must show the Seahawks in August he can, at 6-5 and 229 pounds, be the tal and physical receiver they lack. Seattle already has the shifty, sub-6-foot skills of No.-1 receiver Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. Marshall could be the masher Seahawks coach Pete Carroll loves, just physically bigger than the men covering him.
With six career seasons of at least 100 catches, Marshall will have camp and the first three preseason games starting with Aug. 9 at home against Indianapolis to seize the No.-2 receiving role. That’s on an offense set to rely far more on running the ball and running it more effectively than the Seahawks have in each of the last two seasons.
Carroll isn’t giving assurances Marshall will be a second target behind Baldwin. Or that he’s sure to even make the roster.
“We’ve got to get him on our field with our guys and see how it goes,” Carroll said.
That seeing starts Thursday.
The Seahawks aren’t handing Penny the job of lead rusher, even though in April they made him the third running back they’ve ever drafted in round one. The heir in that regard to Curt Warner and Shaun Alexander was the national rushing leader last season at San Diego State with 2,248 yards with 23 touchdowns. That was 22 more scores than Seattle’s running backs rushed for last year.
But Penny needs to show during camp and preseason games steady growth in Seattle’s passing game. And not just by catching the ball; the Seahawks still have oft-injured back C.J. Prosise for that. Prosise is (supposedly) healthy again to begin his third year.
No, the Seahawks want to see Penny take on and stonewall NFL edge rushers in pass blocking. As important, Penny needs to prove he’s picking up the protection calls of center Justin Britt and Wilson just before snaps. Chris Carson did that so well as a rookie last summer that’s why Carroll made him the surprise starting back by the 2017 season opener.
“Chad (Morton, Seattle’s running backs coach) was just talking about the pass protection stuff, that he looks so comfortable with after the time he has been here,” Carroll said last month of Penny. “That was something that was new for him and a demanding part of the game.
“We don’t have any hesitation that he’s going to be fine in that area.”
Still, if Penny is going one way and pass rushers come free from another during preseason games, Carson will cement the No.-1 running-back spot he has entering camp in his comeback from a broken leg in October and ankle-ligament damage. Yes, that would be even though the Seahawks used a first-round pick on Penny in a draft Seattle needed to fill many needs.
If Penny is going the right way to repel pass rushers in camp practices and preseason games, he and Carson, the seventh-round pick from 2017, may get closer to sharing snaps and carries by the opener Sept. 9 at Denver.
Carson isn’t entering camp ready to yield anything to the rookie. No surprise there.
“I still got the same mindset. My mindset is ‘Steady Hustlin’,” Carson said of his rookie year to now. “So I always want to come out and prove somebody wrong, because me being a seventh-round draft pick a lot of people passed me up. So you want to come out there and prove a lot of people wrong.
“My mindset is still the same way. I got to try to fit in, try to prove myself each and every day. You never want to get comfortable, because they’re always trying to find somebody to replace you each and every year.”
The third player who will be key to watch for Seattle’s offense during camp is D.J. Fluker.
And you can’t miss him. He might be the most massive Seahawk of the Carroll era.
The team lists Fluker at 6-5 and 342 pounds. The eyes tell you he may be able to block out the sun.
He’s here, signed to a one-year deal after his own injury-shortened season with the Giants, to do one thing: run block. That’s by driving his assigned defender into the earth.
Fluker fits Seattle’s new offense far more than he would have 2017’s. First, he is remaining with Mike Solari, the Seahawks’ new, veteran line coach who coached Fluker last year with the Giants. Second, Fluker’s accomplished far more in the NFL as a run blocker for the Chargers and Giants than he has as a pass blocker.
These 2018 Seahawks are OK with that.
Solari’s straight-ahead blocking system to which Seattle is changing is different than the zone blocking Seahawks linemen had been doing for seven years under coach Tom Cable. Solari’s demand to stay low, fire out straight and drive your man until he is on his back marries well, in theory, with new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s power-running focus.
It’s a return to no-nonsense offense for Carroll’s Seahawks. That’s after two, post-Marshawn Lynch years of Wilson scrambling around being Seattle’s top rushing threat in Cable’s angle blocking scheme, with battered and second-rate (Christine Michael), washed-up (Eddie Lacy) running backs and coordinator Darrell Bevell’s affinity for Wilson’s wondrous play making.
Fluker will get the first chance to become the starting at right guard during training camp. He was limited during offseason practices recovering from a knee injury. He, like Marshall, is a veteran who won’t be coasting through the first three exhibition games. He can’t afford to while on another no-risk, one-year contract Seattle could drop like Drake’s new album.
“D.J. gives you a physical presence in there,” Solari said.
“The whole thing again is that he’s got to compete for the spot. So we’re looking forward to getting him on the field to compete for the spot, showing the guys how to be physical. Physical in a sense of getting the pads down, driving the back-side knee, fundamentals, aiming points, hand placement, and then critical just to keep those feet moving.”