Ah, yes, this felt like real football.
For the ninth and final day of their organized training activities, the Seattle Seahawks replaced their ballcaps with helmets and spent almost the entire practice session in scrimmage-type scenarios.
It was non-contact, but far closer to full speed, and, as usual, highly competitive.
It also was an opportunity for younger players to get on video as a handful of their veteran standouts – Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Cliff Avril, for instance – exploited the “voluntary” nature of the OTAs and were elsewhere.
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Practices get more serious next week when Seattle will gather for three days of mandatory minicamp workouts.
Coach Pete Carroll was not available to the media afterward, so no explanations were made for the numerous absences.
Previous OTA sessions featured more group sessions and less scrimmaging. The expectation is that this was a prelude to the real action in minicamp.
Receivers Paul Richardson and Kasen Williams continued to make nice catches, but most of the big plays Thursday were defensive.
Two young defensive linemen were particularly impressive: Rookie nose tackle Jarran Reed and second-year defensive end Frank Clark.
Reed, the second-round pick, continues to be the fastest defender at getting off at the snap. His gap penetration has been very disruptive. At Alabama, he was asked to occupy blockers at the line, but he’s showing the ability to get into the backfield.
Clark is trimmed down from 272 pounds to 260, and looks quicker and more comfortable with his responsibilities. He said he lost the weight to regain some of the quickness he said he lost last season.
He said he continues to see action as a pass-rushing defensive end, not as a possible linebacker replacement for the departed Bruce Irvin as has been speculated.
Receiver Doug Baldwin was extremely tactful in his post-practice interview when asked about possible talks with the Seahawks about extending his contract. He diverted the question with a somewhat poetic description of the joy of being on a football team and the privilege he still feels walking onto the field.
Although he set a record with 14 touchdown passes last season, and his life has changed in many ways, Baldwin said he has not lost any of the core motivations that have always pushed him.
It’s certainly believable, as he continues to be among the most conspicuously hard working and competitive Seahawks in practice – regardless of the time of year.
Although some took the day off, others who had missed time with injuries were back in action. In the secondary, Tharold Simon and DeShawn Shead were back. And tackle J’Marcus Webb was involved in unit drills but not team sessions. Tackle Garry Gilliam was on hand but not active as he continues to heal from the removal of a knee cyst.
Practice ended with Steven Hauschka hitting a 50-yard field goal.
The timing in the kicking game will be tested in the preseason as Hauschka and punter Jon Ryan get used to new snapper Drew Ferris, who has replaced Clint Gresham. Ferris has excellent velocity on his snaps, but the key will be reliability under pressure.