All you need to know about how vitally important today's OTA practice on the field at team headquarters in Renton will be to the Seahawks' 2015 season: All-Pro safety Earl Thomas didn't participate. Franchise quarterback Russell Wilson, prized tight end Jimmy Graham, bedrock running back Marshawn Lynch, key rush ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and linebacker Bruce Irvin weren't even in the same zip code during it.
And they weren't even wearing helmets during scrimmaging.
That latter fact was because the Seahawks, coach Pete Carroll said, asked for input from the league office on the proper "tempo" for these OTAs that continue three days a week over the next three weeks and on minicamps, such as the mandatory one for veterans on June 18. The league docked the team two of its three on-field days for that minicamp next month, after the NFL deemed Seattle's offseason workouts last year were too physical.
Yet there were some insights and first impressions I saw from the nearly two hours of drills:
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--Thomas (recovering from shoulder surgery) would SO much rather practice, even in May, than watch. He was almost squirming inside his skin watching his fellow defensive backs in drills. He did chest bumps with them after plays. After Dion Bailey ran back an interception Thomas jogged 40-some yards and did a leaping hip bump with one of his backups to celebrate.'
--DeShawn Shead is becoming increasingly valuable to this team. With Thomas likely out until the start of training camp at the end of the July, Shead is for now the first-string free safety next to Kam Chancellor. He can also back up Chancellor at strong safety. He can play cornerback. Carroll said Shead could be the "dime" back when Seattle goes to six defensive backs. And the coach reiterated how good a special-teams player Shead is for Seattle's system. When you are predicting who will or won't make the team in late August, remember all that Shead can do and is doing. Nothing is more valuable in Carroll's system than backups who can do multiple roles.
--Brandon Mebane looks is far better shape than I expected him to look after not playing in six months. He tore his hamstring in November, but Carroll raved about his recovery and says the 30-year-old defensive tackle should be ready to go for training camp.
--Veteran Will Blackmon, the 30-year-old veteran signed this offseason, looks like he's going to be Plan A as the nickel back -- at least until Jeremy Lane comes back from his broken arm and torn knee ACL.
--Carroll said Lane may be back for training camp. Same with wide receiver Paul Richardson, who also tore his ACL last postseason. Those would be some mighty quick returns from knee reconstructions, six and seven months respectively.
--Tharold Simon sure looked snappy wearing a white bucket hat watching drills. The cornerback who has impressed coaches with his aggressiveness and length is recovering from offseason surgery on his shoulder.
--Rookie cornerback Tye Smith, fifth-round draft choice from Towson, got a hand slap of congratulations from Carroll for breaking up a downfield throw. Then on the next play Smith was in great position inside the receiver nearer the sideline to prevent a deep out route from being a completion. Smith is backing up offseason free-agent signing Cary Williams as the right cornerback opposite Richard Sherman.
--Williams looked comfortable jamming receivers at the line -- then again, they weren't wearing pads or even, for much of the day, helmets. Ricardo Lockette ran past the recent Baltimore Raven and Philadelphia Eagle one time, but the pass from B.J. Daniels went off Lockett's outstretched right hand.
--Rookie guard Mark Glowinski is really running well getting outside on sweeps and screens, as he did in the rookie minicamp. Offensive-line coach Tom Cable has to love the 6-foot-4, 310-pound former West Virginia guard and junior-college tackle's athleticism.
--Terry Poole, the rookie fourth-round choice who was a left tackle at San Diego State, continues to get long looks at left guard. That starting job is open after James Carpenter signed this offseason with the Jets.
--Lemuel Jeanpierre is for now getting most of the first-team reps at center over Patrick Lewis. Carroll says his experience is the system after years as departed Max Unger's backup are paying off now.
--Rookie Kristjan Sokoli, the sixth-round pick who was a defensive tackle at the University of Buffalo, is getting an intense crash course at center behind Jeanpierre, as the search to replace Unger (traded to the Saints for Graham) continues.
--Defensive end Cassius Marsh looks fast after having his rookie season cut short by a broken foot. Last year's fourth-round draft choice was speeding off the edge, one time forcing R.J. Archer to rush a throw into a fellow defensive lineman for an ugly, tipped interception. Marsh was getting Bennett's reps as the starter continued to stay away from voluntary workouts after saying he'd like a raise. A return of the high-motor Marsh to speedy form would be a welcome addition to the pass rush over last season.
--Defensive tackle Jordan Hill was full go and did not look at all limited by the calf injury that caused him to miss all of last postseason. The third-round draft choice in 2013 was playing as well as he ever has before he got hurt at the end of the 2014 regular season.
--Second-year linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis was also full go and seemingly running free. He missed the last two months of last season after going on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and was recently cleared to return.
--Coaches continue to go through the eaches teaching former safety and cornerback Eric Pinkins the fundamentals of playing linebacker. Today it was the finer points of shedding blockers with his hands extended.
--Christine Michael got all the feature-back reps with Lynch away. Asked what Carroll needs to see from Michael, now entering his third season after being Seattle's second-round pick from Texas A&M in 2013, the coach said "consistency."
--The glimpse of life without Wilson wasn't the best look. B.J. Daniels just flat dropped a handoff attempt to Michael on a scrimmage play. It would sure be a plus for the Seahawks to strike a deal with still-free agent Tarvaris Jackson.
--Kris Richard, promoted in February from secondary coach to defensive coordinator when Dan Quinn left to become Atlanta's head coach, says he won't be changing a single scheme from what Quinn and predecessor Gus Bradley ran to turn Seattle's into the league's top-ranked defense (not that Carroll would let him.
"If it ain't broke don't fix it," Richard said.
He's some more but not all of what Carroll said following today's drills:
Head Coach Pete Carroll
May 26, 2015
(Opening) “First off, we had some devastating news over the weekend with some of our players with losses in their family and our hearts go out to Cliff Avril and his family and Jimmy Graham and all of his people. Devastating losses and we send our heart and prayers to those guys. Obviously, they’re going to take some time taking care of the family business right now. Mo Kelly, vice president of player engagement, and Russell [Wilson] jumped on a plane last night to make sure that they could be there and just show support as well and just do the best we can. We know that there’s really nothing we can do but we’re trying to show the love and see if we can help out in any way. So we’d just like to respect that rightfully and all that.
“With that, today we started OTAs, we had a terrific day out here. Guys were fired up to get out here and run around. The tempo was really good. The attitude was great. We got a lot done. We made a big effort the last couple weeks here to understand better – we can all get better – about the OTA tempo and all that we’ve had some issues with in the past. We had Jon Ferrari from the league office come out last week and spend time with our coaches and show the league film and instructional film that we use for the players and we tried to get our tempo right and I thought we did a great job today and we’re off to a great start. That’s just one day, but we want to do this exactly the way it’s supposed to be done. You know, we push sometimes and we practice so hard here that we missed the tempo a couple times so I’m glad that we’ve got off to that kind of start – guys have really took to the lessons of it and had a really exciting day. So we’re off and running.”
(On Kam Chancellor talking about guys working harder after the Super Bowl loss this offseason and if he sees that too) “I feel it too. I felt it right since the first days that the guys came back. Each year we challenge ourselves to put together the best offseason we can put together. It starts with the individual and then the guys bring that to their position groups and then to the team. We’ve had no exception to that. We’ve had great work and the attitude has been on it. That’s all we could ask for. It’s been five weeks now coming to this point and you see the result today. We went out and practiced and ran around and guys knew what they’re doing and flying around, communicating well and we’re off and running. It’s exactly the kind of tempo we anticipate seeing if we’re on it. So that’s a credit to all the work these guys have put forth so far.”
(On how defensive coordinator Kris Richard is settling in) “Well I’m pretty pumped up about the job Kris has done so far. He’s felt very comfortable with the transition, he’s been very strong with his thoughts and his addition to always moving ahead and trying to get better. I think he and Rocky [Seto] are a great team. These guys have been together a really long time and they see eye to eye on everything and I think they’re giving great leadership to the defensive side where we’ve obviously lost some leaders over the years – past coordinators. They’ve really jumped at the cause. It’s been fun to watch. Guys are flying around and I expect nothing but us getting better.”
(On what challenges Richard faces coming from being a position coach) “Yeah, that’s a good question because you just assume that you just take over but it’s entirely different when you step in front of the whole group and now it’s your turn to set the tempo and critique for the entire body of guys. You’re talking all position groups every day. He’s got meetings every day and he’s in front and he’s got to do it. It’s a challenge because you don’t know how guys are going to handle it. You think they’ll do well and Kris and I and Rocky worked together a lot this offseason to make sure that messaging was clear and they’re real solid in how they want to go about this, but you’ve still got to go do it. I’ve been in a bunch of Kris’ meetings and he’s hit it with his feet running and we’re off to a great start. I’m really excited about the transition. Obviously we lost a great coach, but I think we’ve put some guys in position to do a fantastic job now.”
(On what he’s seen out of Cary Williams) “Cary’s doing everything. He looks very much the part of the kinds of play that we anticipated on his first day against somebody today but still, he gets it, he’s smart, he’s really dedicated, he hasn’t missed a trick. He’s been on everything. He’s assuming the responsibility of trying to take over that position on a defense that he seems to be proud to be part of too. We’re off to a really good start. It’s early and all that but I anticipate he’s going to play like we saw on film, if not better. That would be good enough to help us play winning football.”
(On Earl Thomas’ timeline and any other players that had offseason surgery) “Yeah, Earl is to get ready for camp – that’s really the idea here. We have three and a half weeks here before we’re done. He looks great – they’re really fired up about his return and the rehab work he’s done already. So it looks like it should be no problem. We’ll have to wait and see once he gets back out there.”
(On Brandon Mebane) “Brandon is doing great. He’s running all over the place. I don’t see why he can’t make it back for camp. The trainers have been thrilled about his work regimen. I think he’s having the best offseason he’s had. We’ve seen so much of him and so much running that he’s running around like a DB out here. Not exactly. I’ll take that back. But he’s doing great.”
(On Robert Turbin) “Turbo’s got a really good regimen going up north and just kind of like the way it’s going. He’ll be ready for camp as well. Hopefully we’ll see him in the next couple of weeks sometime here so we can check up on him but all reports are great and he’s had a very successful surgery and recovery so far so we’re pleased about that.”
(On Jeremy Lane) “Jeremy Lane has had another concern come up in his arm and they’re going to stay with it. His knee’s doing great. His arm is going to take a little longer than we thought to heal so there’s some stuff they’re doing to take care of him but he should be ready for camp. That’s the thought.”
(On Paul Richardson) “Paul could make it back for camp but we’ll be careful there. We just want to make sure that we get him back. Same with Jeremy. Paul has a little advantage over him – he’s been through it before so we’ll see if that helps. But we just have to see how the guys progress through the workload as it increases.”