Seattle Seahawks

A look at Seahawks OTAs: Bobby Wagner coaching, Ziggy Ansah, Chris Carson, others recuperating

Bobby Wagner coaching his younger linebackers. Then the All-Pro linebacker woofing and taunting coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and the offense, after the defense wins plays in scrimmaging.

Top pass rusher Ziggy Ansah and Pro Bowl veteran K.J. Wright, two of the more important — and, um... senior — members of that defense, running through conditioning drills on a side field.

Jarran Reed, the 10.5-sack defensive tackle, coaching instead of practicing following surgery for a sports-hernia.

Shalom Luani and rookie second-round pick Marquise Blair splitting time as the starting strong safety, because Bradley McDougald’s watching practice again following knee surgery.

Lead back Chris Carson, Seattle’s 1,110-yard rusher last season, joining McDougald in the jersey-over-hoodie look without a helmet, also watching following his own offseason knee surgery.

Rookie fourth-round draft choice Phil Haynes starting at left guard, as veteran starter Mike Iupati is absent.

Man. It’s a good thing it’s only May.

The voluntary, secondary and developmental nature of NFL organized team activities applies even more to the Seahawks this offseason.

“It’s all about the present time right now,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said Wednesday, after Seattle’s fifth of 10 OTA practices at team headquarters along Lake Washington.

“August doesn’t happen if today doesn’t happen.”

Here’s what I saw and heard from the Seahawks’ latest today, on Wednesday:

1. The safety pairings are a hodge-podge, for now.

Yes, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are long gone.

Luani and Tedric Thompson were the first safety pairing early in practice, with Blair and Thompson later.

McDougald and Thompson were the starting safeties the last three months of last season, after Thomas broke his leg and Thompson replaced him at free safety. Coaches aren’t convinced Thompson, Seattle’s fourth-round pick in 2017, is the long-term answer at free safety. If they were, they wouldn’t have drafted Blair in the second round this spring.

The Seahawks know the valuable McDougald is a skilled cover guy who can easily switch to free safety, if coaches ultimately prefer. They may prefer that when the games get real in September if Blair proves himself during the preseason to be the hard-hitting strong safety he was at the University of Utah—the “silent assassin,” to use general manager John Schneider’s term when he drafted Blair.

But, as Norton said, August isn’t here yet. McDougald’s not even practicing in helmets and shorts.

Ugo Amadi, the free safety Seattle drafted in the fourth round last month, and Blair were the safeties on the second defense initially. Marwin Evans and Amadi were the second-teamers later.

2. With all the moves at linebacker, what is Barkevious Mingo’s place?

Wagner showing up at these OTAs but refusing to practice until he gets a new, megabucks contract—and, yes, that’s coming—and Mychal Kendricks also watching following surgery leaves Austin Calitro calling the defensive signals this week. The backup middle linebacker had 2018 free agent Justin Currie next to him at weakside linebacker, for the “mentoring” Wright. Shaquem Griffin (in gold shoes) was at strongside linebacker rushing off the edge, as Seattle wants him to do more this year.

When Barkevious Mingo, last season’s strongside linebacker, entered with the second-team defense late in the practice it reminded me he was on the 90-man offseason roster.

The Seahawks can save $4.1 million against this year’s salary cap by releasing Mingo in this second year of his two-year, $6.8 million deal. Mingo had one sack in 16 games last season. He plays a position Seattle has used about 30 percent of the time in recent years, because it’s been in nickel with five defensive backs 70 percent of snaps.

Plus, the Seahawks re-signed Wright and Kendricks. Then they drafted linebackers Cody Barton in round three and Ben Burr-Kirven in round five last month. Wright echoed Norton and coach Pete Carroll saying how amazed he’s been at the speed and ease with which the rookie linebackers have picked up the defense.

If the team needs cap space to sign, say, another edge rusher or run-stopping defensive tackle, Mingo could become endangered. He may already be, if Shaquem Griffin develops in his new, edge-rusher role as a situational linebacker. Norton said Wednesday it’s on the coaches to find the proper role and time for a player with as much speed and smarts as Griffin.

3. Shaquill Griffin’s third-year focus.

The starting cornerbacks were Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers again. The nickel back was Akeem King first, then Amadi.

On one play Griffin ran across the field to track step for step a backside flag route. Coach Pete Carroll then ran 35 yards down field to slap Griffin on the back as congratulations for staying on his assignment.

Griffin missed more than a few of those last season in his second year as Seattle’s starter. And he got beaten deep far too often for Carroll’s liking. “Staying on top,” not letting receivers behind, is Carroll’s first rule for cornerbacks.

4. The defensive line will be in flux well into the summer.

Ansah was on the side field staying in shape. Carroll said last week the team doesn’t know when its recent big free-agent signing from Detroit will get on the field from shoulder surgery.

So the first defensive ends Wednesday were 2017 rookie Rasheem Greeen and Cassius Marsh. Marsh, Seattle’s fourth-round pick in 2014, signed this offseason after playing for New England and San Francisco the last two years.

Al Woods signed two weeks ago to perhaps be the run-stopping defensive tackle Seattle needs. I haven’t seen him do anything but stand with his helmet on in the two OTA practices that have been open to the media that last two weeks.

With Reed also out, likely until training camp begins in late July, the first defensive tackles were Poona Ford, last year’s undrafted rookie contributor, and rookie sixth-round pick Demarcus Christmas.

Reed, at the ancient age of 26, is suddenly the long-tenured defensive tackle. The second-round pick from 2016 spent time during drills mentoring Christmas on hand and footwork.

5. Geno Smith was ahead of Paxton Lynch in the back-up role behind Russell Wilson. For this day, anyway.

Smith was away tending to a family matter last week when the media got to watch OTA practice. Wednesday, the former New York Jets starter was the second quarterback behind Wilson.

In the other half of the NFL quarterback reclamation project going on in Seattle, Lynch, Denver’s failed first-round pick, was a clear third.

6. DK Metcalf continues to learn the Carroll Way.

The rookie second-round pick Seattle traded up to get last month joined Tyler Lockett and rookie seventh-round choice John Ursua running goal-line routes during position drills, fades, slants and out routes. Wilson made a point to throw to both Lockett and Metcalf each time the receivers’ turns came up.

At 6-4, 229 pounds, Metcalf is going to be bigger than any NFL cornerback who defends him down there, so time spent working on goal-line routes is time well-spent.

During team scrimmaging, Metcalf dropped a pass Lynch put into his stomach on a crossing route about 15 yards down the field. While the other 21 players went to huddle, Metcalf picked up the ball and continued running 40 or so yards to the goal line to finish the play, as Carroll demands of his ball carriers in practice. On his way back to the huddle Metcalf slapped the ball with his free hand in frustration over the drop. When he got back to the rest of his teammates upfield, the horn sounded to change drills and ends of the field. On their way to the next session, Metcalf had Lynch throw him another pass. The rookie caught that one, and looked more satisfied.

Metcalf redeemed himself later in the practice. He ripped a throw from Wilson into the end zone away and off the top of the back of Shaquill Griffin for a touchdown.

7. One veteran thinks Haynes is the biggest surprise of the Seahawks’ offseason.

Haynes was a basketball player who played just one year of high school football before becoming a football guard at Wake Forest. Last month, Seattle used its 120th-overall selection in round four, to make Haynes its latest relatively inexperienced offensive lineman.

Wednesday, Haynes was starting at left guard.

“I think Phil Haynes has been a pleasant surprise,” veteran left tackle Duane Brown said. “He’s a big, strong guy. He’s catching on pretty quickly.

“He’s got a great demeanor. A lot of times, this kind of atmosphere can be overwhelming, being given so much information, the speed right now, you’re not used to practicing without pads on so fast and everything’s happening so quickly. But he’s handling everything well. Today, he was in there with the ones and played next to me and communicated great.”

Iupati was the first-team left guard in the OTAs open to the media last week. He wasn’t on the field for the voluntary workout Wednesday.

8. Brown says the Seahawks’ 2019 offensive line “has the chance to be the best in the league.”

Say what?

The most scrutinized, ridiculed position group in Seattle outside the city council as the best in the NFL?

That’s what continuity from last season, plus the addition of Iupati to the league’s top rushing offense in 2018, has Brown thinking.

“I mean, our line has the chance to be the best in the league,” Brown, the 12-year veteran, said while answering a question about the line adding Iupati.

I think if we keep everyone healthy, the talent that we have, the mixture of youth and experience that we have, we have the chance to really be great. And Mike has been a great addition for us.”

D.J. Fluker is fully participating this month. This time last year the starting right guard was idling coming off knee injuries. Justin Britt is back at center. Germain Ifedi is the right tackle again entering the final year of his rookie contract.

This month the Seahawks decided not to pick up the expensive, fifth-year option on their first-round pick from 2016. It would have cost Seattle $10.35 million for Ifedi in 2020.

9. Rainn Wilson can hold for kicks.

The 53-year-old Seattle native and star of television’s hit The Office has been at OTAs this week. Wednesday, Carroll called him out during practice to hold for a 38-yard field goal by Jason Myers. Punter and usual holder Michael Dickson dutifully yielded his job to Dwight from The Office, who flawlessly held the ball as Myers put it—and every other of his five field goals during team scrimmaging—through the uprights.

Myers’ later try from 58 yards was good by at least 5 yards. splatting a ways up the net beyond the crossbar. Dickson, not Dwight, held for that one.

Wilson—Rainn, not Russell—is in Seattle to put on a comedy and music show Thursday night at the Paramount Theater.

10. Fluker, Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny appreciate the military.

With Carson recuperating, Penny, Bo Scarbrough, rookie sixth-round pick Travis Homer and C.J. Prosise (remember him?) have been getting the bulk of the work at running back.

Wednesday, sergeants from the United States Army’s Seattle Recruiting Battalion brought some of their latest recruits to watch the Seahawks practice on their way to basic training; perks for enlisting have indeed changed over the years.

One of the new teen recruits walked past the mammoth Fluker during some offensive-line drills and marveled, “Man, these guys are HUGE!”

After Wednesday’s work, Fluker, Carson and Penny bee-lined from the field to the Army soldiers, veteran and brand new. They were among the Seahawks players who extended their hands and their appreciation for their guests serving our country.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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