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Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Tight end shines as Seahawks' minicamp opens

Coaches evaluating recent draft picks in three days of workouts

  • Tight end Luke Willson protects the ball after making a catch during Friday's minicamp.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Tight end Luke Willson protects the ball after making a catch during Friday's minicamp.

RENTON -- Just how nervous are rookies and tryout players who are hoping to impress Pete Carroll and rest of the Seahawks coaching staff?
Well, the first practice of this weekend's three-day rookie minicamp had to start early because players, trying to adhere to Carroll's "be early" rule, were on the field warming up 10 minutes earlier than scheduled.
"Oh, I think they're tight," Carroll said. "They're tight. It's good to get them out here banging around, running around and getting sweaty. They kind of forget about it, but (it's) just the indication of how eager they are for everything and how compliant they are. They're amazingly best-foot-forward as they make their first impression."
Welcome to rookie minicamp where players are nervous, mistakes are made, but every so often, someone can emerge as a breakout player for the upcoming season. And it's where, sometimes, an All-Pro cornerback swings by on a Jet Ski (more on this in a moment).
At this time last year, Russell Wilson was beginning the process of winning the starting quarterback job. While it might be hard to see right now how many of these rookies can win spots in the lineup, Carroll isn't about to rule out the possibility that one of them is good enough to surprise everyone and beat out an established veteran.
"The goal for us is to try to find out what our guys look like on the practice field and how they learn, and see if we can see some sparks of hope for the guys who are coming on here to try out," Carroll said. "... When they're out here we're treating them all the same and letting them all compete."
And before taking the field for the first time, Carroll used Wilson's success story as a reminder for players that they'll get a chance to compete, and for coaches that even the best rookies may need a little seasoning.
"To start off our staff meeting this morning, I showed clips of Russell's first day in camp," Carroll said. "We had him mic'd up and all, and he was fumbling snaps and cursing himself out a couple of times. It was funny to see it, to know how far he's come in such a short time. It was kind of for the staff to remember that we might not see everything on the first day, and to keep hopes that we can bring some stuff out of these guys."
Seattle's top pick in this year's draft, running back Christine Michael, admitted it was hard to always stay focused as he and the rest of the rookies took part in their first NFL practice.
"Oh yeah, I had to refocus in every now and then, because this is what I dreamed about," said Michael, a second-round pick. "... It was just fun bringing emotion to the game and just having fun, man, competing."
And just as Wilson struggled on his first day, so, too, did many of this year's rookies. But what the coaches want to see more this weekend is not so much perfect execution -- that's nearly impossible considering these players aren't familiar with each other, let alone the Seahawks' offensive and defensive schemes -- but rather the right attitude.
"Right now, what I'm hoping is they try really hard and they work hard at studying and they show us what their natural way is. We've told them that we're looking for competitiveness. Show us that first. They're not going to do their assignments all right, they're not going to be technique sound. But ... show us that they have a really good spirit about them and a good will about them that they can be competitive on our football team. That's what's most important."
Who stood out on Day 1? Carroll mentioned he was pleased with several of his draft picks, including Michael, fullback Spencer Ware, tackle Michael Bowie and defensive tackles Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill.
The player who stood out most to observers and Carroll, however, was tight end Luke Willson. He showed off the combination of size and speed that made him so attractive to the Seahawks despite not putting up big numbers as a senior. On one play, Willson was able to outrun the secondary to the end zone -- not something you often see from a 252-pound man. On another catch, he outmuscled a defensive back for the ball, then showed nimble footwork to stay in bounds and turn up the sideline.
"He jumped out today," Carroll said. "Luke had a very good first day for us. He had a couple of good opportunities. He got the ball on the sidelines; he got to turn it up and took off. He has really good speed and it showed up, which is cool to see that on the first day out. He caught the ball really well.
"That was probably the brightest spot where you could really see a guy jump out today. We'll see how it looks going forward, but that's a good first impression."
And if Willson was the pleasant surprise of the day, the unexpected one was the sight of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman stopping by on a Jet Ski to check out the rookies. Sherman wrote on Twitter that he was going to swing by, and it turned out he wasn't kidding. The All-Pro corner floated just offshore from the Seahawks' Lake Washington headquarters for a few minutes, interacted with a few fans on boats, then was off.
Seahawks sign seven draftees
Thanks to the league's most recent collective bargaining agreement, there is little drama when it comes to rookies signing contracts. Pay is now slotted based on where a player is drafted, so there isn't much leverage for a player who wants to hold out. Thus it's no surprise that on the day minicamp kicked off, seven of Seattle's 11 picks signed their rookie contracts: DT Jordan Hill, WR Chris Harper, DT Jesse Williams, TE Luke Willson, G Ryan Seymour, DE Ty Powell, G Jared Smith.
That leaves four picks still unsigned: RB Christine Michael, CB Tharold Simon, RB/FB Spencer Ware, T Michael Bowie.
Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » Seahawks

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