To Eric’s thorough roster update logged yesterday, I’m adding a few thoughts on how the Hawks are positioned to enter training camp. The full piece will be my Sunday column in the print edition. The many dozens of transactions have kept players on their toes and well aware of the threat of being replaced if production lags. It was an important message that was broadcast clearly.
What have the players learned about the staff thus far? They seem to think that Carroll keeps things lively and interesting. They have responded to his request to “Buy In.” I don't detect anybody rolling his eyes or sneering. A number of offensive players have commented positively on coordinator Jeremy Bates. Line coach Alex Gibbs has been teaching technique and scheme, but also attitude. Ken Norton Jr., is doing the same on the other side with the linebackers, staying on guys to get after it every play. Secondary coach Jerry Gray also obviously commands respect. How they prepare for games, how quickly they adapt and adjust, how they motivate over a 16-game season will be revealed later, of course, but the OTAs have established a foundation that seems very positive.
When the new regime made a splash bringing in an unproven quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst, it raised some eyebrows. Don’t they need help elsewhere? Getting JP Losman later added to the mix. The biggest development from this, to my mind, was the way Matt Hasselbeck responded. He welcomed the challenge and once again proved himself as the legitimate starter and leader of the team. Losman will make Whitehurst better or will end up at No. 2. Win-win for the Hawks. To me, the issue of the No. 2 quarterback will definitely enliven the preseason schedule.
Whenever Carroll is asked about up-for-grabs positions like receiver and running back, he likes to say: “Let the games begin.” I think Houshmandzadeh can be expected to be what he has been. He doesn’t have a history of injuries, so he should return to being a fairly predictable commodity. Branch? Unconvinced he'll stay healthy. Mike Williams has made impressive plays in Red Zone sessions where he simply reaches up and pulls down balls whether he’s covered or not. The obvious wildcard will be Golden Tate. The kid just keeps making plays. He may not yet know where to be at all times, but he goes up and gets the ball. The thing about Carroll is that he’s not at all interested in shielding young guys and letting them ease into roles; he’ll toss guys in there right off. It will be interesting to see how Tate responds in live action. I suspect he’ll be pretty impressive.
I think the guy with the most ground to cover before September is tackle Russell Okung. He’s being tossed into the deep end and he has a ton to learn. They’re going to try to bracket him with veterans to serve as human training wheels, so that will help.
Generating pass rush will be a huge goal during camp. I still think the key will be the creative utilization and instruction of Aaron Curry. He has the tools and instincts; they have to find the best ways to apply them. That would be an important step in solving a major deficiency.
At the start of last season, the linebacker corps seemed the most bankable unit on the team. How certain can you be with Tatupu’s health and Hill’s mind-set? Hawthorne and Herring make such issues less worrisome, though. And I wonder if the somewhat curious mix of a rookie (Earl Thomas) with a 15-year vet (Lawyer Milloy) will end up being the starting tandem at safety.
If Carroll and John Schneider have conditioned observers to anything in the first six months or so, it’s that change is constant and inevitable. It's been interesting so far and should stay that way through August. Carroll reminded that it’s a long way before they have to get down to 53 players and play for real. So, as he says, let the games begin.