And now for the main event! A rematch of last years NBA Finals that went an entertaining 7 games. Last year the Miami Heat were victorious, winning their 3rd NBA title in franchise history and their second in back to back years. Meanwhile, the Spurs have been stewing about last years NBA Finals loss since the moment the final buzzer sounded in Game 7, and are looking to get revenge on the defending champions. The X- factor in this heavyweight battle will be bench production. The superstars on both teams will do their respective roles, but then it’s up to the bench to produce and make it easier on their superstars.
Winner: San Antonio Spurs in 7 games
Antonio Foster is a former basketball player for Rainier Beach High School
Western Conference Finals: San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Down to the two best teams in the west. They happen to be the #1 and #2 seed. This is a matchup that lots of people expected this late into the playoffs. The Spurs are veteran ball club with a lot of bench production. The Thunder are led by MVP Kevin Durant as they try to reach the Finals again. Both teams are matched up evenly so the key factor is bench play. Whoever has more production out of their bench will advance to the NBA Finals.
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder in 7 games
Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
The most anticipated match up of the playoffs by far. Since day one of the NBA season everyone has been saying the only team that can dethrone the back-to- back defending champions is the Indiana Pacers. The Heat are the best team in the playoffs sitting at 8-1 in the postseason. Lebron James and the rest of the team are firingon all cylinders. The Pacers on the other hand are struggling as of late. However the Pacers do happen to have home court advantage in this series, and if they can get things together they ill be the Heat’s toughest matchup. The key factor in this series is Roy Hibbert. The Pacers can’t win unless he has a monster series scoring on the low block and controlling the paint with rebounds and blocked shots.
If you are a Seahawks die hard like me you probably spent the weeks leading up to the draft looking at Mocks, reading insights about the prospects likely to be there around the end of the first round and hoping it all fell into place so that the Seahawks got a top 10 talent that somehow fell into their lap. Instead the Seahawks did what they have done for the last three years and picked individuals rated by “experts” far lower than the spots the Seahawks took them in, leaving us all running to our computers to learn about who these mysterious players are.
Full disclosure, I am no scout, and I cannot break down tape and tell you why the Seahawks took the players they did when they did. Based on their track record, I do have confidence in their ability to find underrated prospects and develop them better than any other team in the NFL. I will attempt to breakdown the draft to focus on the positions taken, how prospects in the past have fared under this coaching staff, and the likely contribution of this draft class for this season.
Wide Receiver – Seahawks took Paul Richardson in the 2nd round out of Colorado, and Kevin Norwood in the 4th round out of Alabama. They are different players with Richardson offering pure speed and over the top ability versus Norwood closely resembling Jermaine Kearse and boasting strong hands and the ability to catch the ball in traffic. The only major contributor to the receiver position via the draft under John and Pete was Golden Tate, and he did not contribute much his rookie or second years in the league. With Harvin, Baldwin & Kearse locked into the top three spots both rookies won’t be relied upon for high snap counts this year. I believe Richardson will have big play opportunities, and might score 3-4 touchdowns this year in his limited opportunities, but the receiver position is generally very difficult to find immediate contributors as rookies. Expect both players to make the roster and contribute as supporting cast member this year.
Offensive Tackle – Seahawks selected Justin Britt in the 2nd round out of Missouri, and Gerrit Scott out of Marshall in the 6th round to add to the right tackle competition with 2nd year player Michael Bowie. The both possesses all the prototypical size and speed tools, and offers toughness and depth to a position in need of it. In the past the Seahawks have drafted former first round pick James Carpenter to play RT opposite Okung, but he struggled with speed on the outside and was moved inside to guard where he has struggled with injuries and been moderately successful when healthy. The Seahawks also drafted Russell Okung in 2010 as a top 10 pick, and when healthy he has played at a pro bowl level. The Seahawks have been as effective developing undrafted players, late picks, and practice squad players like Bailey, Bowie, & Giacomini at OT as they have in drafting players in the first round like Okung and Carpenter. Expect a healthy competition to exist between Britt and Bowie throughout camp, but Bowie to have the 2nd year advantage and to play significantly better in his second season winning the starting job, Scott is more a developmental prospect not likely to play this year.
Defensive Line – Seahawks selected Cassius Marsh in the 4th round out of UCLA, and Jimmy Staten out of Middle Tennessee State in the 5th round to help offset the defensive line losses of Red Bryant and Chris Clemens. Defensive line is an area the Seahawks have targeted the two prior years in 2012 draft and 2013 draft but saw little time on the field last year due to injury. I expect 2012 late round pick Greg Scruggs returning from knee surgery as well as 2013 draftees Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill will play much larger roles this year, but these two rookies have a chance to contribute this year. Rotational snaps are up for grabs due to free agency departures, but I see it more likely that the second and third year players fill these gaps and barring injury these two rookies again have minor roles to play for the 2014 season. If I have a dark horse for 2014 it would be Staten because he is such an unknown. The Seahawks have an outstanding track record of taking players late completely off the experts radar and developing them quickly in Sweezy for 2012, and TE Willson in 2013. Staten was the most off the radar pick the Seahawks made this year making him possibly the most likely to contribute early.
Linebacker – Seahawks selected Kevin Pierre-Louise in the 4th round out of Boston College to add to the outside linebacker depth. Pierre-Louise is a slightly undersized linebacker that timed the fastest 40 at the combine, and provides even more athleticism to a group that has it in spades. The Seahawks have been incredibly good at drafting linebackers to play right away in KJ Wright & Bobby Wagner, and well as developing talent over time in Superbowl MVP Malcolm Smith. The position and physical attributes match up well with Smith, and with both he and Wright approaching free agency next year Pierre-Louise is a good developmental prospect who could grow into a starter next year when budgetary decisions might have to be made. Expect Pierre-Louise to play special teams this year and limited snaps on defense as Seattle currently has 3 starting caliber outside linebackers in Smith, Wright & Irvin for only two starting jobs.
Secondary – Seahawks Selected Eric Pinkins in the 6th round out of San Diego State. He played a hybrid safety/linebacker position in college at 6’3” and 220 pounds, but due to his size and speed the Seahawks plan to convert him to CB over time. The Seahawks’ secondary is the envy of the league boasting late round developed players in Sherman, Chanceller, & Maxwell. None of these players started immediately with Sherman playing halfway into his rookie year only because of two injuries at the position in front of him. Maxwell also became a starter due to suspension and injury after two and a half years of development, but when given the chance played exceptionally well last year. Pinkins sets up to be a practice squad player based on the position switch and the depth in front of him, but could be a key player for this secondary down the road learning from the best and competing every day during practice. I don’t anticipate any contribution this year other than potentially special teams.
Fullback – Seahawks selected Kiero Small out of Arkansas in the 7th round to compete with existing fullback conversions Kevin Ware and Derrick Coleman. The past two years have seen the Seahawks take bigger running backs in Ware and Coleman and convert them to fullbacks to compete or replace Michael Robinson. Ware was hurt in the preseason last year and placed on IR, and Coleman also had a significant injury forcing management to bring Robinson back midyear. Both existing players are hybrid fullbacks with a running back history, and significant room for improvement in their fullback duties. Small in short in stature, but heavier than both Coleman and Ware, and seems to bring a natural aggression to the position. Coleman was a major contributor on special teams last year possibly making it hard to move on from him, but Small brings a skillset on offense the Seahawks don’t currently have. Expect him to make the team and possibly play a larger role than most of this draft class this year, as we attempt to re-establish our ability to consistently run between the tackles on any defense again this year.
Early 2013 draft picks barely saw the field last year due to health at their positions holding up, and a sharp learning curve for any rookie new to the NFL. The players that saw the most time were Bowie (7th round), Bailey (undrafted), and Willson (5th round), and in each case there were significant injuries to the OL and TE positions last year forcing them into action. The 2014 draft class’s contributions this season are likely to again hinge on the health of starters already on the roster, with limited apparent holes that need to be filled. The Seahawks have built one of the deeper rosters in the NFL by thinking long term in their draft approach, developing talent through excellent coaching, and embracing competition at every level of the organization. I expect we don’t hear much from this rookie class this year, but in 2015, 2016 and beyond we very well could be looking back at this draft providing multiple starters and hopefully a pro bowler or two that once again the “experts” never saw coming.
Clint Elsemore has been a fanatic Seattle sports fan for his entire life, and possibly several past lifetimes should reincarnation be proven to be a fact.
What a series the Trailblazers are coming off of beating the Houston Rockets. The Trailblazers went from being a young underdog to merging as a potential Western Conference Finals team. However, next up they go against last year’s NBA Finals runner up, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have a lot of veterans that they expect to lead them to the promise land for another shot at the title. Vets Parker and Duncan’s experience will show against Aldridge and Lillard.
Winner: San Antonio Spurs in 6 games.
Miami Heat vs. Brooklyn Nets
The defending champs are still looking like the favorite coming off 4-0 sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. While the elderly Brooklyn Nets went to a grueling game 7, beating the young athletic Raptors, the Nets beat the Heat four times during the season and is the only team to do so. However, with the Heat coming off a week of rest, Lebron James will be too much for the Nets
Winner: Miami Heat in 7 games
Washington Wizards vs. Indiana Pacers
The Wizards are the second hottest team in the NBA Playoffs besides the defending champs. Now they are up against the struggling #1 seed Indiana Pacers. This is going to be another tight series, but Roy Hibbert is the key. If he can get his confidence back then the Pacers can win, but it will be tough going up against Washington’s strong post players like Nene and Gortat.
Winner: Indiana Pacers in 7 games
LA Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Both teams are battle tested from tight first round series that went all seven games. This is another heavyweight matchup between two favorites. This series X-factor is Russell Westbrook. If he can keep his turnovers down and disrupt Chris Paul’s offensive flow the Clippers are in trouble.
We all know the Seahawk philosophy and method of winning games, play unmatched defense, dominate on special teams, and control the ball on offense taking your explosive shots down the field at the right times. This formula keeps the game within reach no matter what. Having said that, the most significant loss the Seahawks face in free agency is most likely Golden Tate, will the Seahawks have enough talent at Wide Out to compete for another title a year from now? I believe the answer is an emphatic yes depending upon players staying healthy for the coming year.
Pete and company believe in their players, put them in the best situation to succeed, and help them to maximize their talents, but not at the expense of the overall team concepts. Even if the Seahawks WR corps was Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, and AJ Green, I don’t believe they would throw the ball 40-50 times per game, Marshawn and the running game would still be the identity of this offense. Now shake yourself out of the Johnson, Bryant & Green dream and let’s look at what the Seahawks have for the coming season and how this group of Wide Outs has the ability to be even better than last year.
2013 – Percy was penciled in to be the lead wideout, but when inflammation turned into hip surgery and he missed all but one half of the regular season as well as one and a half playoff games, the impact in 2013 was minimal (notwithstanding his electric performance in the SuperBowl).
2014 – Percy is once again tabbed to be the main guy, but his recovery appears to be nearly complete. The impact of a healthy Harvin cannot be understated, as the role he has on the game cannot be measured by stats and box scores. Hi speed and ability to run in space creates matchup problems for the defense as shown on the two WR reverses by Harvin in the big game. Towards the end of the first quarter the Hawks faked a handoff to Percy and gave the ball to Lynch, two defenders hesitated and moved in Harvin’s direction leading to running room and a first down for Lynch. In the Mic’d up tape you can hear Sherman on the sideline say, “It’s Percy, he’s got their eye”. From a defensive perspective you can see how much they have to pay attention and gameplan to stop him, if healthy he opens up opportunities for other WR’s as well as the ground game. The last bonus is Harvin’s ability to impact the game as a kick returner he is one of the best, and the Hawks struggled last year with both Kearse and Turbin fumbling prior to switch to Baldwin who was good, but not exceptional in this area.
Verdict – 2013 < 2014 – based on expected health of Harvin for the coming season.
2013 – Sydney Rice started the year coming of a strong 2012 and had solid moments early in 2013 including his multiple touchdown game against the Jaguars, and a beautiful touchdown early in the Cardinals game, but blew out his knee against the Rams in week 8 and did not return. The season started ominously when he missed the first week of training camp for a mysterious non-surgical procedure in Switzerland, but he never appeared at full speed.
2014 – Doug Baldwin is elevated to the #2 position for this coming season. With the injury to Percy he proved he can play outside, and he stepped up to every challenge last year. Yes, he is not your prototypical receiver being smaller than most teams are comfortable with, but he has proved durable, dependable, and has an incredible ability to come down with the ball in contested situations.
Verdict – 2013 < 2014 – Rice was inconsistent and injured for much of the year, Baldwin looks to improve upon his strong 2013 season.
2013 – Golden Tate started the year as the #3 wideout, and was quickly elevated due to Harvin’s injury. Golden had a very good year largely mirroring his production from 2012 when he finally broke out. He was explosive and made some sensational plays, including winning the Rams game in week 8 almost on his own accounting for all of the offenses points. He was also one of the best punt returners in the NFL routinely flipping the field in the Seahawks favor.
2014 – This position appears to fall to 2013 breakout player Jermaine Kearse. Kearse flashed in the pre-season last year, and stepped up to make big grabs with limited opportunities early in 2013 against the Panthers and Colts. With the injury to Rice his snaps increased, and he closed the season strong and played well in the playoffs culminating with the go ahead touchdown in the NFC championship game, and an incredible 4 broken tackle TD in the Superbowl.
Verdict – 2013 > 2014 – Kearse has the potential to come out on top, but Tate had a solid year that will be tough to match.
2013 – Jermaine Kearse had a breakout year and made the most of his opportunities finding the endzone at a very high rate even with limited usage the first half of the year.
2014 – Sydney Rice is back, and if his recovery proceeds he appears to have the inside track on this spot. I believe the Hawks are likely to take a WR in the first 4 rounds of this year’s draft, perhaps even in round 1 that can fill this role as well. Getting an athletic and dynamic playmaker that can provide big play ability is likely given the strength of talent entering the NFL via the draft this year.
Verdict – 2013 = 2014 – Kearse filled this role well in 2013, a healthy Rice or dynamic rookie have the ability to match or exceed this production.
WR Depth (5 – 7)
2013 – Lockette rejoined the Hawks during the season to improve depth, and Walters was active for a few games during the year. The Seahawks don’t run a lot of 4 or 5 wide plays as this goes away from their identity, but you need depth for injuries and the ability to put pressure on the opponents secondary by spreading them out in dime coverages when weaker opponent DBs are on the field.
2014 – Players vying for the final roster spots include either Rice or a newly drafted rookie, Lockette, Bates, Clark, Matthews (CFL), Price (Free Agent), & Walters.
Verdict – 2013 < 2014 – The depth of this unit would be stronger than what the Hawks had at the end of last year with Lockette playing the #4 wideout role in the Super Bowl. Depth was tested in 2013, and with injuries some of these players will play a role for the Hawks in 2014.
Verdict: 2014 = 3, 2013 = 1, Equal = 1
Tate will be missed at some point in the coming season, but the players are there now to exceed the production and efficiency of 2013. The health of Percy Harvin will determine whether this is a top ten unit in the league for 2014, or if it is more a serviceable but middle of the pack unit that is was in 2013. The main question that remains to be answered is who will be the dependable and explosive punt returner that will change momentum in 2014; but given Pete and John’s track record in the draft and player development I have little doubt they will get that figured out. Wide receiver will not be the place to hold back the Seahawks in 2014, it looks like this will be an improved and possibly exceptional unit for the coming year.
Clint Elsemore has been a fanatic Seattle sports fan for his entire life, and possibly several past lifetimes, should reincarnation be proven to be real
As the NBA Playoffs are once again upon us, our basketball expert, Antonio Foster, shares picks that you can take to the bank:
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have a great offense but are lacking on the defensive end. With Andrew Bogut out for the playoffs the inside presence of Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin is going to be too much. I’m taking the Clippers in 7 games.
Portland Trailblazers vs. Houston Rockets
Winner: Houston Rockets
The 4 vs 5 seed match-up is pretty even. The series depends on the health of the Houston Rockets (Pearsons & Howard). In the end I think Houston will win this series in 7 games.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks
The Spurs are one of the favorites in the west after earning the #1 seed in the NBA Postseason. With these two teams both having lots of playoff experience it should be a fun series to see these older teams go at it. Spurs in 5 games.
OKC Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies
The Thunder are also one of the favorites in the West with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the way. The Grizzlies are a great defensive team but the lack of scoring on the perimeter will be their downfall. Thunder in 6 games.
Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks
Indiana faced some troubles in the final stretch of the season but managed to lock up the #1 seed in the East. In the season series Atlanta managed to win 2 out of 4 games. However I feel like the Pacers will get it together and Paul George and Roy Hibbert will lead them to winning this series in 5 games.
Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats
The defending NBA champions take on a Bobcats team that is lead by Al Jefferson. The Heat spent the last stretch of the season getting healthy so they can make another Finals run. The 4 time MVP will be too much to handle for the Bobcats that already gave up a 62 point performance to Lebron James earlier this season. Heat in 4 games.
Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards
The Chicago Bulls are still missing superstar Derrick Rose but managed to march their way into the playoffs led by Defensive Player Of The Year candidate Joakim Noah. The Wizards are led by John Wall, a point guard that causes problems for opposing defenses with his speed. The Bulls have the playoff experience and better coaching so im taking them in 7 games.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors
The Brooklyn Nets go into the playoffs after becoming the hottest team after the All Star break. As the Nets seemed to get it’s Veterans healthy the seemed to be playing better. The Raptors are experiencing one of their greatest season since Vince Carter was apart of the organization. However their lack playoff experience will be the difference in this series. Nets in 6 games.
In the weeks following the Seahawks’ demolition of the Denver Broncos, in what was anything but a Super Bowl, a collective anxiety seems to have stricken the entire football fan base of Seattle. The hair pulling and gnashing of teeth that’s resulted from players leaving for greener pastures, and seemingly every other NFL team loading up to knock the Hawks off the perch they now occupy, has made much of the 12th man forget that our World Champions (Admit it, you still pinch yourself at the sound of that!) are in a lot better shape than the general consensus gives them credit for. While perhaps not being as good as a prescription of Lexapro for our distressed Hawks’ lovers, here are a few practical steps that the brass has taken and still can take in order to make sure they stay on top for the foreseeable future, which may help alleviate a few worries:
Step 1 (Complete) – Get your most effective and versatile pass rusher locked up in Michael Bennett. Bennett offers value equal to the league leaders in Sacks, QB pressures, and QB knock downs. In addition he plays the run well both as a defensive end, and as a defensive tackle in passing situations making him invaluable, and without a match in free agency, or within the upcoming draft.
Step 2 – Extend Earl Thomas for 5-6 years, and make him the highest paid safety in the league (he’s earned it). Our league leading defense is enabled by the play of our two safety’s in Cam and Earl. The NFL as a whole continues to be more of a passing league, and Earl’s unmatched ability to read quarterbacks and cover ground virtually eliminated the deep passing game of opponents for the last two years. Cam was locked up and rewarded last year, Earl is priority #1 to continue this defenses’ dominance for the foreseeable future.
Step 3 – Extend Sherman 5-6 years(probably highest paid corner, but he earned it too). Sherman has unmatched production, and eliminates receivers to his side of the field. He studies like crazy, and communicates better than any corner in the league whether it is with his own teammates or he is discussing things with the opposition.
Step 4 (For 2015) – Extend Russell Wilson 5-6 years(somewhere in the top 5 highest paid). Russell is the heart and soul of the offense. It is true Beast Mode embodies the style this offense plays with, but Russell makes it all happen. He routinely makes something out of nothing, and this guy will only continue to grow and get better. As long as he is a Seahawk for the core of his athletic prime this will be a winning team.
Step 5 – Develop internally or find an effective DT to spell Mebane and McDaniel. With Red leaving and McDonald getting a new deal as well our rotation looks much thinner, but remember McDonald was released last year, and by the end of the season he had 5.5 sacks. There are too many weapons on defense for the OL to worry about, and our coaches consistently maximize the player’s potential. Look at the out of nowhere performances on defense from McDaniel, Malcolm Smith, even Maxwell at DB. All were unheard of and not counted on last pre-season to contribute to the 2013 season, and all played critical roles as the year developed.
Step 6 – Draft a high quality receiver in round 1 or 2 & bring in a mid-level veteran for competition. Bringing in Jackson from Philly would be flashy, but would tie up too much money in a de-emphasized position on this team. A solid veteran, possibly bringing back Sidney Rice if/when healthy, and a rookie to groom and develop would be upgrades to the offense the Hawks operated with for the majority of last year. Losing Tate hurts, but having a healthy year of Percy should offset his loss, the key will be actually getting a healthy year of Percy in 2014.
Step 7 – Continue to build offensive line depth. Losing Guacomini decreases the edge the line plays with, but functionally it won’t be a huge loss. Either Bailey or Bowie will be much better next year, and exhibited strong abilities to run and pass block effectively. Based on the usage last year I think Bowie has the inside track, but I like Bailey to blossom and play regularly next year as well. Adding depth and versatility via the draft in the middle rounds will be necessary.
Step 8 – Lock up Pete Carroll to a 5 year extension (Again, he’s earned it). He is one of the highest paid coaches in the league already, but he salvaged a flailing franchise and has turned around the energy, passion, skill, athleticism, and competition. For the first time in Seahawks history we are the envy of the league both for winning the Super Bowl, but for the opportunity to continue to win more Lombardi’s in the near future.
Follow these steps in the next year, and we are set up much better than the Niners to dominate for the next 4-5 years and compete for multiple Superbowls. I know it is difficult to look at the losses of Tate, Clemens, Bryant, Guacomini, Thurmond, Browner etc., but take heart, none of those players were in the top 10 total contributing players on the team, and likely not in the top 15, so although it hurts to lose them, keeping the core top players together over the long term and continuing to bring in quality young players is the key to future Hawks domination.
Clint Elsemore has been a fanatic Seattle sports fan for his entire life, and possibly several past lifetimes, should reincarnation be proven to be real.
Amplifying the Authentic Narratives of South Seattle