By John Boyle
Seahawks rookies will be on the field starting Friday for their first minicamp, and while no jobs will be won during a three-day rookie minicamp, there is something to be said for making a good first impression.
In case you somehow forgot, it was at last year’s rookie minicamp where Russell Wilson put on such an impressive display that Pete Carroll declared after the third practice that Wilson would compete for the starting job. And you obviously know what happened after that.
And while nobody is going to put himself in a position to win the starting quarterback job this weekend, players from top pick Christine Michael to the undrafted rookies can all begin the road of setting themselves up for a successful first season, or they can start down the road towards being cut if they don’t have what it takes.
So in no particular order, here are five things I’ll be interested in watching when rookies take the field this weekend. (And as a quick aside, a reminder that under the league’s new CBA, veterans cannot be at this minicamp. It’s rookies/first-year players only, which means for numbers sake, there will be a handful of unsigned tryout players on hand too).
1. Just how explosive is RB Christine Michael?
The Seahawks liked Michael enough that they used their first pick in the draft at a position that already looked pretty good with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin in the fold.
“He was the highest-rated player on our board,” Seahawks GM John Schneider explained.
As Seahawks area scout Matt Berry put it, “He’s a really explosive back. I mean one-cut, downhill, runs through arm tackles, really good balance on contact. He’s just an explosive NFL back that has a lot of talent that jumps off the tape.”
And Michael is pretty darn impressive on tape. Go ahead, take a look. I’ll wait…
… But sometimes it takes seeing a player in person to realize just how fast, or explosive, or big, or fluid, or good at catching a football, or whatever, he really is. We’ll get our first glimpse of that with Michael on Friday.
2. How impactful can the two new defensive tackles be right away?
Of all the players Seattle drafted, the two who seem to have the clearest paths to significant playing time are defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams. If he plays well and stays healthy, Williams is a candidate to start in Seattle’s base packages, while Hill should see a lot of playing time as an interior pass rusher. There’s only so much they can show in an un-padded practice in May, but it will still be interesting to see how they look early knowing they could be key parts of Seattle’s defense.
3. Does QB Jerrod Johnson have a shot to make this roster?
The Seahawks signed the former Texas A&M standout just before the draft, and while Johnson’s résumé suggests he’s a long shot to make the team, but Carroll and Schneider spoke highly of him after the draft. Johnson, who started at A&M ahead of current Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill before injuring his shoulder, was undrafted and has bounced around without landing a job in the NFL, but after slowly getting his arm strength back and improving his mechanics, he did enough to make the Seahawks think he could be an asset.
“He’s going to go out there in this camp, and if he throws the ball around the way the did the other day for us, he should be pretty impressive,” Schneider said. “This is a pretty good college football player now. He actually had a really nice preseason with the Steelers last year. He will get a lot of work.”
If Wilson was the surprise quarterback who fought his way into the competition to be the starter last year, Johnson could be the guy this year who, with a good weekend, could get a chance to compete for the backup job.
4. Is there a Doug Baldwin in this group of undrafted rookies?
It’s almost a given that one of Seattle’s undrafted free agents will make the team, but the real question is if they found a real difference maker after the draft ended. Being that player becomes tougher each year as the Seahawks’ depth improves, but perhaps we’ll see a player this weekend who will make everyone wonder how that guy was passed over for seven rounds.
One position at which an impact undrafted rookie could emerge is linebacker. The Seahawks presumably won’t re-sign starting weakside linebacker Leroy Hill, and while that doesn’t necessarily leave a big need—Malcolm Smith started three games there last year, and Carroll said they’ll have more flexibility this year with defensive ends playing linebacker, namely Cliff Avrill and Bruce Irvin—the Seahawks could still use depth at linebacker. Of the nine undrafted rookies Seattle signed, three are linebackers: Ramon Buchanan (Miami), John Lotulelei (UNLV) and Craig Wilkins (Old Dominion).
5. Is Luke Willson the perfect complement to Zach Miller?
Seattle took Willson, who wasn’t even the most productive tight end at Rice last year (that would be San Francisco’s second-round pick Vance McDonald), but the Seahawks were still very high on Willson, who at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds was one of the most athletic tight ends in the draft.
“For us he was the second best tester of all the tight ends in this draft,” Schneider said. “He’s 6-5 running a 4.51 (40-yard dash). Great hands and can get down the field. He’s quick off the ball, gets his shoulders around quick. He’s a really interesting prospect for us.”
The Seahawks have been looking for a dynamic two-tight end attack since signing Miller, but John Carlson hurt his shoulder before the 2011 season and missed the entire year. Last year they added Kellen Winslow to pair with Miller, but ended up releasing him before the season. Maybe Willson is that guy? We could at least get a hint of that this weekend.