By John Boyle Herald Columnist
The confetti had barely settled on the field at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., when the Seattle Seahawks already began looking ahead.
In the locker room that Sunday evening, the Seahawks didn’t just celebrate the first Super Bowl title in franchise history, they already had begun thinking about the next one. When players gathered for a speech by Pete Carroll, defensive end Red Bryant wrapped things up by shouting, “’What’s next?’ on three.” Immediately his teammates responded with a resounding, “What’s next!”
Well, we’re about to find out what’s next, because with training camp opening Friday, Seattle’s title defense begins in earnest and we start to get a look at the team that is hoping to become the first repeat champs since the 2003-04 New England Patriots.
That Bryant, who quickly went from captain to salary-cap casualty, was the one leading the post-Super Bowl “What’s next?” yell is somewhat appropriate in that it serves as a reminder of just how hard it can be to sustain success in the NFL. An unforgiving salary cap means important players leave every offseason, and while the Seahawks, thanks to their youth, are in much better shape than most defending champs, they still lost some key players and they still have questions to answer if they’re going to stay on top.
So with camp kicking off Friday, let’s take a look at 14 questions the Seahawks need to answer if they’re going to live up to lofty expectations in 2014. We’ll have seven questions today, and seven more in Friday’s Herald.
Will it be an issue for the defending champs? No. Next question.
Oh, you wanted more on this … OK, fine.
Look, there is a good chance the Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl six months from now. The NFL is set up to create parity. There’s a salary cap, scheduling favors teams that struggled the year before, and in a game as violent as football, a few key injuries can turn the best teams into mediocre ones in a hurry. And let’s not forget that the NFC West is the best division in the NFL, and the NFC has a couple more legit Super Bowl contenders like Green Bay and New Orleans.
So yeah, repeating will be tough, but if the Seahawks fall short, it won’t be due to a lack of motivation. Yes, the Seahawks were everywhere this offseason, from awards shows to national TV interviews to naked magazine shoots to beef jerky commercials, but as much as you might wish it were the case, NFL athletes aren’t focused on football 24/7. In years past, you might not have seen the Seahawks at the ESPYs or on commercials during their downtime, but that doesn’t mean they were spending every waking hour of the offseason working out or delving in their playbooks.
This team understands that it is capable of much more than a single championship. It is led by players like Earl Thomas and Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman who don’t just want to be good, or even great, they want to be considered the best to ever do their jobs. They also understand that their legacy can be much greater than just a team that won a title and faded away the next year. On the day Sherman signed a massive contract, he talked about still being a “raggedy dog” and a few months later he was getting into a fight at a June minicamp.
Plenty of things could stand between the Seahawks and a repeat championship. Complacency won’t be one of them.
2. Will Marshawn Lynch be there?
The Seahawks’ running back is reportedly unhappy with his contract, and was going to skip last month’s mandatory minicamp right up until he didn’t. If Lynch is serious about getting a new deal for 2014, that could mean a holdout to start camp, though his decision to show up for minicamp seems to indicate he’s willing to negotiate while still participating. Seeing fellow Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles get a big raise Wednesday likely only adds to Lynch’s desire to get at least a bit of a raise or more guaranteed money.
3. Assuming Lynch shows up at some point, does his role change in 2014?
Lynch could miss part of camp, but the Seahawks won’t trade him and he won’t forfeit game checks, so barring a very unlikely retirement, he’ll play this season. But will his role change any?
Lynch is 28, an age when running backs often start to slow down a bit, and he has more than 900 carries over the past three years in the regular season alone. That’s a big workload, especially for someone who runs as physically as Lynch does, so it’s possible the Seahawks will look to limit his workload a bit in 2014.
Doing that would not just save Lynch for the postseason, it also would create opportunities for Christine Michael, Seattle’s 2013 second-round pick for whom the team has very high hopes. Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell have raved about the progress the running back has made since last year, so it’s hard to imagine him not having an increased role this season. Quite possibly, that increased role could come from a slightly reduced role for Lynch.
4. What receivers will make the team?
The Seahawks will keep five, maybe six receivers on the 53-man roster, and that means, barring injury, some very tough decisions have to be made.
Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and second-round pick Paul Richardson all seem like safe bets, if not locks, to make the team. If only one or two more receivers are going to make the team, that means players like fourth-round pick Kevin Norwood and Ricardo Lockette could be on the outside looking in when final cuts are made. With Sidney Rice deciding to retire Wednesday, that could make things a little less complicated, but this still should be one of the more competitive groups in camp.
5. Who’s the starting right tackle?
With Breno Giacomini leaving in free agency, right tackle is one of the few starting positions featuring a wide-open battle on either side of the ball. Michael Bowie, who filled in for an injured Giacomini for part of last season, and who also saw playing time at guard, got the majority of the time with the starters during offseason workouts, but the Seahawks also have high hopes for Justin Britt, a second-round pick out of Missouri.
Don’t expect Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable to rush this decision. If they’re willing to rotate left guards for an entire season, they’ll let Bowie and Britt battle throughout camp for the job, and even into the season if necessary.
6. Who backs up Russell Wilson?
More often than not under Pete Carroll and John Schneider, the Seahawks have kept just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, and if they go that direction again in 2014, that means either Tarvaris Jackson or Terrelle Pryor, both starters at times in their careers, could be gone before the season begins.
Jackson, Seattle’s starter in 2011 and Russell Wilson’s backup last year, is the favorite in this battle. He knows the offense, is very well respected in Seattle’s locker room, especially for the way he played through a torn pectoral muscle for much of the 2011 season, and quite frankly, he was just a lot better than Pryor in offseason workouts, or at least the ones open to the media.
Pryor, however, is an intriguing prospect, and while Seattle didn’t give up much to get him (the 32nd pick of the seventh round), they still had enough interest to make a move. Pryor definitely did show improvement as offseason workouts progressed, and as the 2012 battle for the starting job showed, Carroll won’t be afraid to wait to make a decision with his backup quarterback.
7. With Russell Wilson in his third year, and with Percy Harvin healthy, will the offense look any different?
Some ask this question wondering if the Seahawks will throw the ball more often, and if you’re approaching it from that angle, the answer is likely no. Sure, the Seahawks could throw the ball a bit more, but their run-to-pass ratio won’t change dramatically unless for some reason the Seahawks find themselves frequently trailing late in games, something that seems unlikely given their talent level, especially on defense. Carroll believes in a balanced attack; in setting the tone with a physical running game, and that won’t change in 2014.
That being said, the passing game could look a bit different this season, and we’ll start to get hints of what it might look like when camp begins. As we saw in the Super Bowl, Harvin changes things for an offense, and the Seahawks will look to find ways to get him the ball in space, perhaps with more short, quick passes, or on the fly-sweep type runs we saw twice in the Super Bowl. One of the few criticisms of Wilson so far in his career has been that he’s too reliant on scrambling and making plays after things break down, and not as good at making the quick read and getting rid of the ball, but with speedsters like Harvin and Richardson on the field, the quicker passes could be a bigger part of the offense in 2014. And if you need a reminder that Wilson has those throws in his arsenal, just look back at the way he carved up Denver in February, especially in the second half.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.