The rest of the league saw Brandon Marshall as finished.
The Seahawks are seeing daily evidence he may be back.
The 34-year-old six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver continues to increase his work incrementally in training camp. He also continues to make plays in practices that remind Seattle’s coaches that he was one of the NFL’s preeminent pass catchers and physically dominant play makers from 2006-15.
This week, Marshall has continued to show he’s nearing a complete return from toe and ankle surgeries since March and a strained hamstring last month. Sunday the 6-foot-5, 236-pound veteran of the Broncos, Dolphins, Bears, Jets and Giants ran a fly route down the left sideline between rookie cornerback Tre Flowers, his daily pupil, and arriving free safety Tedric Thompson during a scrimmage. Then he caught Russell Wilson’s 20-yard pass with only the crook of his left arm, turning his body and arm with the ball away from Flowers’ and Thompson’s closing coverage.
Marshall did it all seemingly effortlessly, almost like he was showing off.
Monday, Marshall turned around free-agent cornerback Jeremy Boykins at the left sideline boundary of the end zone. He spun around in time to grab Wilson’s throw to his back shoulder for a touchdown.
The way he positions himself for passes and gains angles on defenders before they know what he just did, plus the knowledge and experience he has dissecting defenses, are unique. The Seahawks don’t have any other wide receiver like the big, physical, savvy Marshall.
When he’s right, few teams do.
“Yes, it’s been really good. I mean, he had a big play (again Monday),” Seahawks first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “It’s just, there’s some timing stuff still. He and Russ are working through it. That’s a big part of him being out there. But I love seeing him out there. He’s been over with us during the quarterback individual stuff, which is great. They’re talking all the time, but yes.
Marshall was full go in pregame warmups then played only part of the opening offensive drive, the starters’ lone series of last week’s preseason opener against Indianapolis. Wilson did not throw his way.
Yet the daily shows he is putting on overmatched defensive backs so far in training camp, plus number-one wide receiver Doug Baldwin remaining out indefinitely with a left-knee injury, suggest Marshall’s going to not just make this team but have a featured role in the Seahawks’ offense starting in Week 1 against his former Broncos.
Is this more than the Seahawks expected when they signed him to a low-risk, one-year contract at the veteran minimum of $1.1 million in May?
“Very excited,” Schottenheimer said. “I haven’t really followed Brandon the last couple of years, of course, but you just see the matchup problem. Then again, the way he thinks football, the way he sees things on the field, he gives great input when he comes back. He was like, ‘Hey what were you doing there?’ and he’ll say something and then we’ll go and watch the film and you’re like, ‘Wow, he was right.’ I think that has a lot to do with it.
“We’re very encouraged.”
Marshall agrees he’s still got work to do meshing better with his new quarterback.
“Yeah, there’s some things that we got to clean up and there’s some things that we got to see. There’s some mistakes that we’ve got to make and correct,” he said. “But the good thing about Russ is he loves ball and he loves talking ball. He loves watching film. We spend a lot of time in the classroom talking about different looks, talking about third down, talking about red zone....
“So when you have guys that have played a lot of ball, seen a lot of ball, and have high football IQ, it’s easier to get on the same page than guys that really haven’t had that experience. So I think that we’ll be all right.”
Schottenheimer says Wilson, the Super Bowl winner entering seventh NFL season with the Seahawks, is getting a ton of growth out of throwing to and preparing with Marshall.
“I think it’s a two-way street. Quarterbacks just don’t communicate to the receivers. It goes both ways,” the play caller said. “And (Marshall) has seen a lot of football. He’s seen a lot of coverages. He knows how people have kind of played him over the years. You certainly have to respect him because he’s so big and powerful down in the red zone. I think it’s invaluable, some of the stuff that Brandon has seen over the years.
“And Russ is like a sponge. Russ is trying to learn anything he can from anybody. So it’s been cool to see them in conversation and engage and Russ kind of making notes. It’s pretty cool.”
Way cooler than Marshall’s 2017
He was limited to five games and a career-low 18 catches last season with the Giants. Then he had the surgery to fix a toe issue he says began bothering him in 2015 with the Jets, his last 100-catch season, plus the operation to fix the snapped deltoid ligament in his ankle. That’s why, Marshall said in May, the rest of the NFL thought he was done.
Then the Seahawks called offering a prove-it, incentive-filled deal. Marshall could double his money if he maximizes his contract incentives for playing time and catches this season.
He acknowledges he has work still to do get fully healthy in time to play extensively in one of the three remaining preseason games, perhaps Saturday at the Los Angeles Chargers, so he’ll be ready for the season opener Sept. 9 at Denver.
“That’s part of camp. That’s part of the process,” Marshall said. “But this is definitely a unique situation for me, coming off two surgeries and kind of rest and rehab, because I was cut (by the Giants this spring with a failed-physical designation) and a couple teams start calling and you got to prepare for a workout when you’re not ready to work out.
“It was a unique situation for me this whole offseason, pretty much rehabbing for eight months. I didn’t have time to really train.”
On Aug. 2 he said it was the first day “where I really felt like myself. I felt like...it’s the best I’ve felt in over a year. I’m still trying to get there in midseason form. I have time. But today felt good. And it reminded me that I can play some ball.”
So does Marshall indeed believe his tank has refilled for a resurgent, redemptive season in Seattle?
The signs so far are enticing, though not conclusive.
“You know what? We’re going to let my play do all the talking,” he said. “I’m confident and I hate getting (into) that debate. Now I’m here. I’m that guy. I’m that aging football player, right? So many years, I sat back and watched guys say ‘Yeah, I got something left in the tank.’ It’s either you got something left in the tank or you don’t.
“I mean, quarter tank, whatever, if you don’t got a full tank then you can’t play this game. So I’m working my tail off to get 100-percent healthy and get out there and contribute in a major way.
“I’m not here to just be a guy. I’m here to be the beast that I’ve always been. I’m confident I’ll be able to do that in the next couple weeks.”