By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — After spending their first two years in Seattle overseeing a major overhaul, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider head into the 2012 season with a roster that is almost entirely theirs.
Yes there will be turnover — there always is in the NFL — but for the first time since making coaching and front-office changes after the 2009 season, the Seahawks open training camp today with a team that fits the vision of the people running it.
All that being said, this still figures to be a very interesting training camp. The roster may be taking shape with more young talent than the Seahawks have had in recent years, but Seattle has plenty of questions to answer between now and the kickoff of the regular season. So, as the Seahawks prepare for a campaign in which they hope to improve upon back-to-back seven-win seasons, we offer seven questions they need to answer in training camp.
1. How will the quarterback competition play out?
The single biggest storyline in training camp will be the three-way quarterback competition between Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn, and rookie Russell Wilson. Question No. 1 is who will ultimately win the job, but almost as intriguing will be watching how the competition unfolds. Will Carroll really allow three players to split reps equally deep into camp, or will he make it a two-man race early on? How will playing time in the preseason games be divided, assuming the competition is still going on that long? And does a rookie who was a third-round pick really have a shot?
Carroll wouldn’t say how the battle will play out, or how long it will last, but he did offer this following the team’s final minicamp practice last month: “Let the games begin. We’ll be really excited to see what happens.”
2. Is Sidney Rice healthy and ready to be Seattle’s No. 1 receiver?
Whoever wins the QB competition would love to be throwing to a healthy Sidney Rice. Rice played through a shoulder injury last season before eventually landing on injured reserve following multiple concussions. Rice underwent surgery on both shoulders in the offseason, which limited what he could do in offseason workouts, but for Seattle’s offense to improve, the Seahawks need Rice to be a big part of the passing game.
“There’s nothing to stop that from happening,” Carroll said last month. “That’s going to happen. He’s going to be there. He just needs to get his strength up. His legs are in great shape and he’ll be ready to go. I’m hoping he’s well along his way and he’s really in great shape when he comes back to camp.”
3. And speaking of Rice, who is the other starting receiver?
Assuming for a moment that Rice is healthy — and yes, that is a big assumption — Seattle has itself a pretty solid No. 1 receiver. What the Seahawks have at the other starting spot, however, is a mystery, especially following the release of Mike Williams. Golden Tate finished last season strong, but has yet to prove he can be a consistent performer. Kris Durham fits the part physically, but saw very little playing time last year before going on injured reserve. Ricardo Lockette is one of the fastest players in the league, but is still a raw talent. Seattle also could turn to veteran Ben Obomanu, or perhaps even Antonio Bryant who signed with the team following a tryout Thursday. It would be tempting to call Bryant, who has been out of football for two seasons because of knee problems, a long shot to even make the roster, but the same could have been said of Williams two years ago before he became the team’s leading receiver.
4. Is rookie Bobby Wagner ready to start at middle linebacker?
With David Hawthorne gone to New Orleans, the Seahawks have a void in the middle of their defense. The Seahawks do have a veteran option in Barrett Ruud, but they hope second-round pick Wagner can win the job in training camp. It’s not unheard of for rookies to start at middle linebacker right away, but it is a position that asks a lot of young players. Wagner would have help if he’s the starter — Carroll said K.J. Wright, who played middle and strongside linebacker last year, could make the defensive calls from the strongside position.
5. Can the offensive line and running game pick up where they left off?
Marshawn Lynch and the offensive line improved dramatically in the second half of the season, which coincided with more wins. Now can they keep it up? One encouraging sign last season was that the line was able to continue its improvement even as starters James Carpenter and John Moffitt went down with injuries. This year’s line, on paper anyway, looks like it could be the best and deepest Seattle has had in years, but half a season of success hardly makes it a proven unit.
6. How quickly can Bruce Irvin make an impact?
Carroll and Schneider surprised a lot of people when they picked Irvin, a defensive end from West Virginia, in the first round of this year’s draft. Irvin has freakish speed for a pass rusher, which is a big reason the Seahawks like him. Irvin won’t be asked to be an every-down player right away with Chris Clemons starting as the pass-rushing end, but expect the Seahawks to get Irvin involved in the defense in a big way.
7. Can Robert Turbin carry the load (if necessary)?
As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, Lynch was recently arrested and charged with DUI. His lawyer said he thinks Lynch will beat the charge, and the Seahawks hope he will avoid discipline from the league since this is his first violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, which is separate from the personal conduct policy. But — and this is a big but — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has never been one to shy away from making an example of a player, nor does he need a conviction to hand out discipline, so the Seahawks have to at least consider the possibility that they could be without their Pro Bowl back at some point this season.
And if Lynch does face a suspension of any sorts, that would temporarily mean a bigger role for Robert Turbin. A fourth-round pick, Turbin has demonstrated an impressive combination of size and speed in Seattle’s offseason workouts, but is he ready to shoulder the load?
Herald Columnist John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.