Seattle Seahawks

What has Brian Schottenheimer raving about his offense in year two calling Seahawks plays?

The lead running back getting a number of pass targets that would make many wide receivers happy?

A forgotten rookie emerging almost out of nowhere with the best, most “dominant” of practice the Seahawks have seen?

A fourth-string quarterback who just arrived to the team already learning the entire offense as well or better than anyone he’s every seen? Including Russell Wilson?

Being “light years ahead” of where he and Wilson were this time last year in meshing?

The way offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer sounds halfway through the preseason, the Seahawks would love the real season to begin now.

As in, tonight.

“We’ve obviously got a premier quarterback. We’ve got an excellent stable of backs and a terrifically powerful offensive line,” Schottenheimer said following the 14th practice of training camp.

“So hopefully teams have to figure us out.”

Well, OK! The Seahawks are all set on offense.

Schottenheimer’s sunny-all-over words were his answer to a variation of the same question Seattle’s play caller has been getting each time he’s been interviewed this summer: Will you have Wilson throw the ball more this season?

No one threw it fewer times—and no team ran it more—than the Seahawks did last season. Seattle led the NFL in rushing offense in 2018. Wilson had the most efficient passing season of his seven-year career, with his most touchdown throws (35) and fewest interceptions (seven).

Yet after a run-heavy (into a brick wall) loss at Dallas in the first round of the playoffs in January, people wanted more throwing.

Thing is, this is basically the same offensive line that struggled mightily to protect Wilson when defenses knew Seattle was going to throw last season. The Seahawks ran so much last year to keep defenses honest, so they could throw.

Schottenheimer wants one guy to get more passes in 2019, anyway: Chris Carson. His 1,151-yard back from last season got targeted just 24 times in the passing game in 2018, for 20 catches.

This month in camp, Carson is all over the field. He’s been outside as a wide receiver and in motion out of the backfield to a wide-out position before the snap. He’s been running deep, intermediate and short routes.

“That’s obviously something that we went to right after the season ended and said, ‘Hey look, Chris can help us win games a lot of ways.’ And a lot of ways that he wasn’t last year was in the passing game,” Schottenheimer said. “Something we went into, he and (running backs coach) Chad (Morton) the minute Chris came back had something to talk about.

“Chris was really excited about it. Again, we need to get that number up around the fifties. Would be a great situation for us.

“We are still getting his yards on the ground and he’s still helping us in the passing game.”

Schottenheimer’s push to involve the running backs more in the passing game was obvious on the final play of Tuesday’s practice. With the ball at the 7-yard line, number-two back Rashaad Penny split wide left against the sideline opposite rookie middle linebacker Cody Barton. Wilson saw the mismatch in space, plus the defense’s imminent blitzes off both edges. He threw the ball immediately to Penny on a quick out route. Penny used is body to keep Barton from getting to the pass, then caught it at the goal line for a touchdown.

“Russ saw an all-out blitz, kind of used the signal to get (Penny) involved,” Schottenheimer said. “What’s cool to see...we worked on that individually. They hit it, but it was cool to see things like that that they work on come to fruition where it’s like, ‘Wow, when it really counts in a situation like that they’re able to make that play

“Chris has been unbelievable. Rashaad made a great play. We know that C.J. (Prosise) and J.D. (McKissic, both injured this week) and those guys, what they can do. They’ll help us a bunch.”

So will this: Since last season Seattle’s passing game has added two of the NFL’s bigger wide receivers.

The football world knows all about DK Metcalf being 6 feet 4, 229 pounds with 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash and allegedly 1.9-percent body fat.

Few know fellow Seahawks rookie Jazz Ferguson is actually bigger than Metcalf.

Ferguson is 6-5. And he’s indeed been large the last two weeks in camp and in the preseason opener against Denver.

Coach Pete Carroll said after they traded up to draft Metcalf in the second round and signed Ferguson as an undrafted free agent in late April the Seahawks’ goal on offense this year is to get bigger and faster at outside receiver, in the wake of smaller Doug Baldwin retiring. Carroll wants Schottenheimer’s offense to take more advantage of what they see as Wilson’s unique accuracy on passes deep down the field.

Is Seattle, where Baldwin and small Tyler Lockett have excelled for years, now trying to have the largest wide receivers in the football world?

“It seems like that, right?” Schottenhiemer said, smiling. “We went from maybe the smallest or smaller crew to now, we’ve got these huge guys out there. It’s definitely different.

“It does change you in a lot of ways. The one-on-one matchups, like Jazz in the game the other night, right? I mean, he’s covered. Paxton (Lynch) puts it in a good spot and he’s just bigger than the guy and kind of takes it away from him. DK had a play today, same type of thing.

“We definitely look different. Of course, in the running game, we ask a lot of our guys. They can go down there and dig out safeties and things that they have to do. It’s been fun.”

Throwing to covered receivers is counter to how Wilson is wired. He is naturally risk-averse. He doesn’t throw the ball into dangerous places. It’s why he’s never had more than 11 interceptions in 500-plus attempts over any season in the NFL.

But Wilson and Metcalf in particular have been working from Los Angeles to Lake Washington the last three months.

And this month in camp, Wilson has been throwing the ball to Metcalf even when a defensive back is on him. More times than not, against reserves and starters alike, Metcalf is ripping the ball away for a catch in coverage.

The gawking and marveling over Metcalf and recently Ferguson have left rookie fourth-round pick Gary Jennings almost invisible in camp. Until Monday.

Jennings broke out with what Wilson estimated were at least eight catches, a couple for touchdowns. He was snagging balls from all the quarterbacks, including just-signed J.T. Barrett, from individual drills through scrimmaging.

“He was one of those guys that it kind of took him a while to pick some stuff up for us. Now I think he’s kind of relaxed a little bit—’Oh, these plays make a little bit more sense,’” Schottenheimer said. “You see the natural speed, and size, and athleticism.

“Probably one of the best practices any receiver has had all camp, (Monday). It was borderline dominant, some of the plays he made, and it wasn’t just one period. It was every, single period. We were very pleased to see that.”

Wilson said Monday the key for Jennings was consistency, to do it again the next day. Schottenheimer said Jennings “had a nice day” again on Tuesday.

If Carroll is true to his word and stated goal, chances are good Ferguson joins Metcalf among the wide receivers on the 53-man regular-season roster next month. Lockett is a lock to make that. Seattle usually keeps five wide receivers, but this year may be one it keeps six.

Jennings would be the fourth; it would be failure of the scouting and personnel departments to cut a fourth-round pick in a year new receivers is a goal. That leaves one and perhaps two spots for a list of returning Seahawks receivers: Jaron Brown, David Moore, Keenan Reynolds, Amara Darboh (who is hurt again and slipping out of a chance at the roster), Malik Turner.

Then there’s rookie seventh-round pick John Ursua. He’s more of a slot receiver, which Lockett is going to be this season now that Baldwin is gone. Seattle may try to get Ursua onto its practice squad after the final cuts of the preseason.

“We talk about it every day. It’s still so early that you’re crazy to try and figure it out right now,” Schottenheimer said of the competition at wide receiver. “It will play itself out. But there’s still so many more opportunities for them to compete, for them to make plays.”

The next one in a game is Sunday night in the second exhibition, at Minnesota.

“It will be a very, very competitive, very difficult decision in a lot of those places,” Schottenheimer said.

The coordinator and chief trainer of the quarterbacks said he’d like to see Barrett play Sunday. The Seahawks signed the former Ohio State star on Saturday. His first practice was Sunday. He has yet to run the offense in 11-on-11 scrimmaging through three practices.

Number-two quarterback Geno Smith wants to play at Minnesota. But he got a cyst removed from his knee on Friday. Carroll said playing Sunday might be pushing it too much. If Smith isn’t available, as expected, Barrett may get his possibly only chance to impress the Seahawks.

“I would love to,” Schottenheimer said of getting Barrett into the Vikings game.

I’ll say this about J.T.: he has picked up the offense maybe as fast as anybody. Tremendous, tremendous worker. We’re 10, 11 (playbook) installs in, and I don’t think that there’s not a play that he can at least begin to draw up. We do that a lot in the quarterback room, a little 30-minute deal we’ve got. We’ll call a play and they’ll all go draw it. And he’s right there with the other three. We kind of make it fun and competitive. He doesn’t maybe always win, but he draws it correctly.

“As a quarterback you need to be able to picture the play from the life in your mind, otherwise how do you go out and execute your read?

“He’s done an amazing job of picking it up. So, yes, we’d love to get him some work if we could.”

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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