by Clint Elsemore
We have all been living a charmed sports life since February, relishing in the Hawks’ title, and, if you are like me, re-watching the Superbowl on your DVR 5-6 times just to confirm it was all real. The off-season with free agency departures, some limited arrivals, the draft, and the post-draft free agency period have completed. There are now 90 men wearing Seahawks uniforms hoping to contribute to a repeat title this year. I believe these are the 6 biggest storylines heading into training camp the Seahawks need to address to again field the best team and come away with another championship:
1) The contract holdout of Marshawn Lynch casts a shadow over the start of camp. He knows that from an NFL personnel standpoint a 28 year old running back that has led the NFL in carries over the last year is viewed as having minimal tread left on the tires, and he has read how the Seahawks are likely to cut him to make room to sign Russell Wilson to a big contract next year. The struggle is that he is a top 10 paid running back who got a large raise two years ago, restructuring or increasing his deal does not send a good precedent to other players who may look for the same. The difference here is Marshawn Lynch embodies the style of this team, he has earned his contract and then some. I believe the Seahawks will eventually bend after a 1 to 2 week holdout and will either guarantee a larger portion of his 2015 deal, or will increase his payout marginally in 2014. I also believe Marshawn will play out his deal in 2015 with the Seahawks, and will most likely not be re-signed after that, but two more years of Marshawn would be great for Seahawks fans if they can find a solution both parties can live with.
2) Four major contributors are returning from injuries and hoping to participate early in camp, they are: Kam Chancellor, Russell Okung, Malcolm Smith, and Bruce Irvin. Each of these individuals did not work out during mini camps, and has not played since the SuperBowl. All are currently slated to be either starters or major contributors. Their ability to start camp off in good shape and without medical hurdles to clear will be key in starting the year off strong and starting as close to where they finished last year as possible.
3) Special teams was a major advantage for the Hawks over their competitors last year, and punt return was a big contributor to their ability to flip the field to their advantage. Golden Tate has moved on to Detroit, and there are a host of candidates from Earl Thomas to Richard Sherman to Percy Harvin to rookie Paul Richardson. All of them have one thing in common, none has been the primary returner in the past and there could be a learning curve in this duty. Identifying the winner of this job and giving him as much in-game experience to grow into the role and get comfortable fielding punts will be key to keeping this portion of special teams an advantage instead of a concern.
4) Stability on the offensive line was an issue the Seahawks struggled through last year with major injuries to Okung and Giacomini as well as Unger, leading to linemen playing out of position, and unseasoned rookies starting pivotal games. Identifying the starting line and building cohesion will help keep Russell from running for his life and better consistency in the ground game. Okung, Sweezy, Carpenter and Unger appear locked in, but a battle needs to be settled at Right Tackle between 2nd year player Michael Bowie and Rookie Justin Britt. Bowie has the inside track due to experience, but was scolded by coaches for being out of shape at minicamps. If Bowie reports to camp in shape and with good initial results I believe he runs away with this position, then with some luck, health will play out this season leading to improved play throughout the line in 2014.
5) Identify receivers who will contribute this year beyond Harvin, Baldwin, and Kearse. I expect rookies Richardson and Norwood will make the team no matter what based on their draft position and their initial work at minicamps. Receiver is traditionally a very difficult position for a rookie to have a huge impact in. With Sidney Rice retiring there is likely one veteran position up for grabs. Look for former practice squad player Phil Bates or special team contributor Ricardo Lockette to emerge and grab the last receiver roster spot, and to have a material contribution to the team’s offense this year.
6) The defensive line rotations will need to be determined from a variety of good young players. Gone are Bryant and Clemens, two ends with very different skill sets. The starters of Bennett and Avril remain, but having solid rotations with little drop off between players is a Seahawks belief. Look for 3rd year man Greg Scruggs and 2nd year man Jesse Williams to emerge as versatile players heavily involved in rotations this year. This is also a spot where difficult decisions will have to be made at roster cut time. Someone from the Scruggs, Hill, Mayowa, Jesse Williams, or Kevin Williams backup DT/DE group will not make this team due to the sheer numbers crunch, and will be eagerly picked up and play for another team this year.
As you will hear from any coach, player, or front office person, “Getting through training camp healthy is our primary concern.”, and again that is the case for this team. The raw talent coupled with demonstrated production eclipses every other NFL team’s roster. Sorting out the 6 issues above and remaining healthy will get this season started on the right foot with the potential for another quick start. Fans in every city in America relish getting back to football and the possibilities this season may hold for their team. Seattle fans are different we don’t need to dream about the possibilities this season may hold, we have seen the reality of what this team already is, I can’t wait to see them take the field again.
Clint Elsemore has been a rabid Seattle sports fan for his entire life and possibly in several past lifetimes should reincarnation prove to be legitimate