RENTON Jimmy Graham jogged down the Seahawks’ practice field nearest Lake Washington. Big number 88 reached out and grabbed throw after throw. He was catching passes from Russell Wilson again.
Even though it’s just May, still four months before the games get real, the scene a few minutes before Seattle’s third organized team activity practice began was the most significant of the team’s week. Or month(s).
“He’s going to be back sooner than people think,” Wilson said after Seattle’s OTA practice Thursday at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
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These are the first days Graham’s been on the field running in six months, since he fell in a heap in an end zone at CenturyLink Field trying to catch one of Wilson’s passes against Pittsburgh.
The $40 million tight end was back looking far from patellar-tendon knee surgery on Thursday. After 10 minutes or so of running and catching, he watched the practice along with Thomas Rawls. Marshawn Lynch’s replacement as Seattle’s lead running back was also in his blue practice jersey and shorts without his helmet, five-plus months after his 2015 ended with a broken ankle and torn ligaments. Rawls did a couple shuffle-dance moves on the sidelines while watching drills.
Though Pete Carroll cautioned Graham and Rawls still have a long way to go, the coach said the Seahawks are planning to have both starters back from their injuries in time for the season opener Sept. 11 against Miami.
“Those guys are both making really good progress,” Carroll said, adding Rawls was ahead of Graham right now. “Thomas is running. And Jimmy is back to running on the field for the first time the last couple days, which is great. He’s made terrific progress. His attitude -- both those guys’ attitudes have been really good, really positive on making it.
“It’s a long haul for those guys, and we feel for them because they want to be a part like everyone else. But they are doing a great job...”
When I asked if there are any more indications Graham and Rawls will both be ready for that opening game, Carroll responded: “We’re thinking that’s real possible. That’s kind of what we’re thinkin’, yeah. We have to avoid setbacks, obviously, but we’re kind of counting on that.”
The biggest news of these OTAs that will continue three more days next week and three final ones the week after that are the facts Graham and Rawls weren’t on crutches or in walking boots within six months of their major injuries. And that Rawls is ahead of Graham, who is running again after tricky patellar-tendon surgery and months of rehabilitation near his Miami home.
It’s the most positive sign yet the Seahawks will have both back in time for the start of the 2016 regular season.
Other items and scenes that caught my eyes and ears in the first OTA practice of the offseason the media was permitted to cover:
▪ The starting offensive line Thursday wasn’t exactly a who’s who of blocking legends: Bradley Sowell at left tackle, Mark Glowinski at left guard, Justin Britt at center, Graham Ifedi at right guard and Terry Poole at right tackle.
Before you completely freak out, some disclaimers: New starting left tackle Garry Gilliam had surgery Wednesday to remove a cyst in his knee, Carroll said. The coach added last year’s starting right tackle will be out “a couple of weeks.” J’Marcus Webb, the free agent signed in March from Oakland to be the new right tackle, missed practice with a calf injury.
But suffice to say this offensive line will remain an issue and story well past training camp.
Britt was the clear leader ahead of 2015 starter Patrick Lewis at center, at least for Thursday. Then again, the team knows what it has in Lewis at that position. Carroll said Britt was rapidly catching on to the center position, and that line coach Tom Cable has also been working him at tackle; Britt started as a rookie at right tackle in 2014, including in Super Bowl 49.
For those asking how Ifedi looks: The first-round pick, listed at 6 feet 5 and 325, looks BIG.
My TNT colleague Dave Boling is writing more on the O-line today.
▪ Defensive end Michael Bennett remains away; he is making his second annual, relatively quiet spring protest of his contract that has two years remaining. Carroll confirmed he doesn’t expect to see the Pro Bowl sack man for any days other than the mandatory ones of this Seahawks offseason. The team’s only mandatory minicamp is June 14-16.
Bennett told Seattle’s 710-AM radio this month he will be participating in training camp that begins in late July on time, as he did last summer though unhappy with his deal.
“We’d love to have him here,” Carroll said Thursday. “His choice.”
▪ Wilson said he again spent the offseason focused on training his legs, adding his needs his leg strength for throwing as much or more than his running. He is coming off a 2015 in which he became the first Seahawk to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.
▪ Wide receiver Paul Richardson was zooming around the field catching passes and fully participating. He spent much of the late winter and early spring working out in the Los Angeles area with Wilson. That was after Richardson missed the first three months of last season recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, made one long catch Nov. 15 against Arizona, and then missed the rest of the season with a hamstring injury.
▪ Recently signed defensive end Chris Clemons is not at these OTAs. Carroll said that was the veteran’s choice and that “he really knows the definition of voluntary.” The coach didn’t seem particularly pleased about that.
▪ Kasen Williams leaped, rolled and caught just about everything I saw thrown near him. The wide receiver and former standout at the University of Washington and Skyline High School east of Seattle signed last year as a rookie free agent and made his NFL debut Dec. 27 against St. Louis. He looks far more integrated in the offense and in synch with Wilson than at any time last year.
Williams also connected with Trevone Boykin, the undrafted rookie from TCU bidding to be Wilson’s backup. He made a leaping catch of Boykin’s deep throw while the receiver jumped over cornerback Tye Smith.
▪ Smith, the fifth-round pick in 2015, drew praise from Carroll for showing up at these OTAs in great shape and looking stronger.
▪ Rookie third-round draft choice C.J. Prosise watched practice because, Carroll said, the running back and former Notre Dame wide receiver has a hip flexor that “heated up.”
▪ Safety Brandon Browner, whom the Seahawks are using as a matchup defender inside and out, short and deep in his second go-around with the team, said he chose to return to Seattle this offseason over a contract offer from Washington. He called that choice “a no-brainer” and said “I’m happy to have a job.”
He had a lost season last year in New Orleans as the most penalized player in the league playing through what he’s said was a knee injury.
▪ UW coach Chris Petersen watched Thursday’s practice and talked to Carroll on the field after it. Petersen even took time to tweet a “WOOF!” on getting a commitment from a recruit during practice. My colleague Christian Caple has more on that.
▪ Linebacker K.J. Wright missed practice because of the birth of his baby.
▪ Cassius Marsh, who spent his first couple seasons with the Seahawks as a rush defensive end, worked with the outside linebackers.
▪ Rookie seventh-round pick Zac Brooks was watching drills without a helmet. With Rawls and Prosise also watching, three of the top five running backs were out. Christine Michael was the fill-in lead runner, with rookie Alex Collins behind him.
Wilson remarked he’s been impressed with Collins, and how catching the ball is new to the former 1,000-yard, power back at Arkansas.
▪ The starting defense in pass-D drills Thursday: Cliff Avril and Frank Clark at ends, Quinton Jefferson and Jordan Hill as pass-rush tackles, with a secondary of Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Tharold Simon.
Simon, coming off yet another injury that ruined his second consecutive season, had an interception in a scrimmage -- but only after he bear-hugged receiver Jermaine Kearse.
▪ Defensive back DeShawn Shead watched drills instead of participating, though he did some running on the side.
▪ Britt sent at least one shotgun snap far over Wilson’s head towards the lake.
▪ Michael made a fine, rolling catch in open field of a low pass by Wilson.
▪ Wide receiver Tyler Lockett ran past Smith and safety Kelcie McCray on a Wilson deep ball that was overthrown. Lockett was running so fast his momentum carried him out of the back of the end zone and through an open garage door into a storage building, out of sight for a moment.
▪ Drew Ferris, a free agent signed this offseason, was the new long snapper.
▪ Undrafted rookie Tanner McEvoy from Wisconsin is listed as a wide receiver, but worked as a 6-6 safety Thursday.