Seattle Seahawks

A beefy pairing at DT, 20 players not practicing, Jacob Hollister everywhere in Seahawks OTAs

The Seahawks are through eight of their 10 practices of offseason organized team activities. They have a mandatory minicamp over three days next week. Then the team gets its annual six-week vacation before training camp begins in late July.

Tuesday was the third OTA practice open to the media over the last three weeks. Here is what I noticed in it:

1. No need to take huge stock in who’s starting where right now.

I counted 20 players and five starters watching and not participating in Tuesday’s practice, for either injury, recuperation or contract (Bobby Wagner) reasons.

Wagner playfully ran up behind defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and surprised his former linebackers coach in between two drills. He shadow boxed with teammates. He again coached younger linebackers on details. He threw footballs to defensive tackle Jarran Reed; the 10 1/2-sack tackle from last season is also watching these practices after surgery this offseason for a sports hernia. And Wagner woofed at the offense for plays his defense won in the team scrimmaging, as he did during OTAs the previous week.

So, no, the All-Pro linebacker is not exactly being disruptive while staying out of practices until he gets his new Seahawks contract that will pay him at the top of the NFL market for middle linebackers.

Rookie third-round pick Cody Barton and Austin Calitro, who filled in some for Wagner at middle linebacker last season, replaced Wagner in Tuesday’s practice. With Mychal Kendricks (season-ending surgery last winter) sitting out watching, Shaquem Griffin was the other linebacker in base defense.

Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin (49) having his usual fun Tuesday during the eighth of 10 practices of organized team activities at team headquarters in Renton. Ted S. Warren AP

Bradley McDougald watched from 50 yards behind the defense and line of scrimmage. The starting strong safety is recuperating from offseason knee surgery and likely won’t be on the field until training camp into August. The safety paring was Shalom Luani with free safety Tedric Thompson. Rookie Ugo Amadi was the second free safety.

Amadi was also catching punts shot out of a machine following practice. The Seahawks are exploring options to reduce Pro Bowl returner Tyler Lockett’s jobs on kickoffs and punts more to the times they really need a big return.

Second-round pick Marquise Blair has a chance this summer to earn playing time right away at strong safety. But he sat out Tuesday’s practice. We don’t know if he has an injury because we were not afforded time Tuesday to talk to coach Pete Carroll, the lone Seahawks’ source for injury and attendance information.

The first cornerbacks again were Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers, as they were last season. The nickel defensive back was Akeem King.

The defensive line starters were Branden Jackson and Cassius Marsh at ends. Ziggy Ansah again did conditioning and change-of-direction drills on a back field with a trainer as the recently signed top pass rusher works back from shoulder surgery that may sideline him into August. The first tackles were Poona Ford and Al Woods.

The only starting unit intact during these OTAs is the offensive line: Duane Brown at left tackle, Mike Iupati at left guard, Justin Britt the center, D.J. Fluker at right guard and Germain Ifedi at right tackle.

Chris Carson is unlikely to get on the field until training camp following offseason surgery on his knee. Rashaad Penny was the primary running back instead of Carson.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Penny is impressing him with his agility and cuts catching passes in these offseason workouts. That’s something Penny did little off in his I-formation, pro-style offense at San Diego State before Seattle drafted him in the first round last year.

Paxton Lynch got more time than Geno Smith did in the previous week as the number-two quarterback behind Russell Wilson.

Wilson again threw precise passes short and deep onto the hands of receivers. Wilson’s final throw to end practice was particularly exquisite: past two defenders and looping onto Lockett’s hands from 50 yards away on a deep post route.

George Fant is continuing his role as an extra tackle lined up as an eligible receiver at tight end; the former starting left tackle (and college basketball power forward at Western Kentucky) got double-digit snaps in some games last year doing that for the NFL’s top rushing offense. Schottenheimer joked about Fant catching one pass from Wilson in the flat as a safety-valve option after pass blocking Tuesday, saying Fant and Lockett make the Seahawks’ passing game more dynamic. Fant caught a pass in a game last season, then fell over his feet in the open field.

Calitro was joking was Fant about his latest catch when he got back to the huddle following that play Tuesday.

David Moore got plenty of snaps as the first “X” receiver on the line opposite the tight end, which alternated between Nick Vanett and Ed Dickson. DK Metcalf was often paired with Lynch on the second offense.

Again, it’s June. Read into all that with caution and context.

2. There’s a beefy option developing at defensive tackle.

Many wanted the Seahawks to make a strong push to sign free agent defensive tackle Gerald McCoy before he signed with Carolina this week. Seattle had the salary-cap space to do the deal the Panthers eventually gave the former Tampa Bay starter: $4 million guaranteed for 2019, with incentives that could more than double that.

So what are the Seahawks doing at what remains a position of need?

Rookie draft choice Demarcus Christmas got some time alternating in at defensive tackle with the starting defense Tuesday. But the more intriguing sight was recently signed veteran Woods and undrafted rookie Bryan Mone side by side in the middle of the defensive line.

That’s 675-plus bounds of heft at defensive tackle. The starting offensive line didn’t exactly move those two off the ball Tuesday.

Mone is 6 feet 3 and listed at 345 pounds. He looks like he’s 355 or more.

“Yes,” Carroll said last month during rookie minicamp. “He’’s a monster.”

Monster Mone played in the middle of the line at Michigan. He was well above 350 pounds while playing in college. He’s getting a long look this spring as a potential candidate to work with Poona Ford as the run-stopping tackle Seattle needs after allowing 4.9 yards per rush last season.

“This will be a very competitive spot for us for the rotations that we’d like to have,” Carroll said, before continuing to talk specifically about Mone. “So, you know, I think he weighed in at 345 or something like...that’s just right. You know, it’s just it right where he’s supposed to be. ‘Cause he’s been heavier.

“Yeah, he’s not quite that big. But he’s still huge.”

If size matters, and he shows out when the pads come on, Mone could be this summer’s Ford: make the team as an undrafted free agent at defensive tackle.

3. Gary Jennings could be a bigger option at slot receiver—whenever he gets on the field.

The rookie wide receiver and fourth-round pick has yet to be on the field in any of the workouts the media has been allowed to watch the last month because of a hamstring injury he had before rookie minicamp began in early May. He’s been carrying around a play sheet to follow mentally each snap, but Schottenheimer mentioned Tuesday how nothing replacing live reps with the quarterbacks.

It’s only early June. But Jennings has missed more than a month of meshing time with Wilson. That’s the time that led to Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse becoming Super Bowl starters with Seattle after being undrafted rookies.

Jennings often played inside as a slot receiver in a spread, match-up offense at West Virginia. And he was a big slot: 6-1, 216 pounds. The Seahawks already have two primary options to be the retiring Baldwin’s replacement as slot receivers on third downs and in passing situations in 2019: Lockett, who has done it in previous seasons for Seattle, and John Ursua, the rookie seventh-round pick. Ursua had 16 touchdowns to lead major college football last season while the slot back for Hawaii.

“He’s a very natural player in the slot,” Schottenheimer said, mentioning the 25-year-old rookie knows how to get off the line and open among linebackers across a defense’s middle.

Schottenheimer also said Jennings could play slot for the Seahawks and create match-up problems for defenses that don’t have 6-1, 216-pound nickel defensive backs or safeties to cover him inside.

But Jennings and the Seahawks are a long way from that. First, he needs to get on the field and complete a practice.

Draft classmate DK Metcalf was doing that, and working extra with Wilson, Lockett and Keenan Reynolds on the field well after the practice.

4. The key for Collier: his feet.

Coaches are spending a large amount of time working with first-round pick L.J. Collier on the rookie’s footwork getting off the ball.

Seattle’s system will ask Collier to put his hand on the ground far more than the defensive end did in college playing for Texas Christian, which often had its ends standing up and roaming up and down the line immediately before snaps. The sooner Collier masters his new feet, the sooner and bigger the impact he will have in his rookie season.

Collier was the second-team defensive end again on Tuesday. When Collier was in, 2018 draft choices Rasheem Green and Jacob Martin alternated at the opposite end spot.

5. Patriots castoff Jacob Hollister is more versatile than advertised.

The tight end the Seahawks traded a seventh-round pick in 2020 to New England to get this spring is catching passes all over the offense. He’s inside on the edge of the interior line at tight end. He’s in the slot. He’s outside wide.

And he’s fast, faster than most 6-4, 245-pound tight ends. The runs fluidly, more like a wide receiver.

“He’s been a terrific acquisition,” Schottenheimer said, highlighting speed as Hollister’s most outstanding trait. “And he’s very good at route running.”

Hollister, 25, had eight catches while battling injuries in two seasons with the Patriots. A hamstring was one of his issues in 2018.

He could be that match-up problem the play caller talked about with Jennings, another addition to Seattle’s changing passing game—one that’s been overlooked.

Unlike the rookie, Hollister is on the field, making a strong initial impression.

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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