By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — School’s out, so to speak, for the Seattle Seahawks and the rest of the NFL.
With the conclusion of last week’s three-day minicamp, the Seahawks wrapped up a month of offseason workouts that kicked off preparation for what they hope will be a successful Super Bowl title defense.
Players will now scatter around the country and are on their own until training camp gets underway in five weeks. But before we turn our attention to other things for a month (do we ever really turn our attention from the NFL?), let’s look back at the past month of organized team activities and minicamps.
Call it The Herald’s offseason superlatives.
One disclaimer before we dive into this. I focused almost entirely on young, up-and-coming players for this column. You don’t need me telling you that Earl Thomas, one of the best defensive players in the NFL, looked good in minicamp. Nor is it worth worrying about the multiple interceptions Russell Wilson threw in the last couple days of workouts — he’ll be fine. Instead, let’s look at the players who made an impression during the past month.
Most impressive rookie — WR Kevin Norwood. Paul Richardson, the receiver Seattle picked two rounds ahead of Norwood, has the wow factor; defensive end Cassius Marsh was incredibly impressive in limited action; and tackle Justin Britt has arguably the best shot of earning a starting job as a rookie, but Norwood is my choice here because he was the most consistent performer. Receiver is one of the tougher positions for a rookie to adjust to, and when you factor in Seattle’s secondary, excelling in practice becomes that much more difficult. However, day in and day out, Norwood was coming up with difficult catches and looked nothing like a rookie. Seattle has missed on receivers in the fourth round twice before — Kris Durham and Chris Harper — but Norwood looks like a player ready to make an immediate impact.
Most impressive redshirt — CB Tharold Simon. Pete Carroll and his coaching staff like to refer to the group of second and third-year players who missed last season with injuries as their redshirt class, and those players are a big reason Carroll thinks his 2014 team can be every bit as good as the Super Bowl champion squad despite losing a number of key players.
There are several good choices for this one, from linebacker Korey Toomer to defensive linemen Jesse Williams, Jordan Hill and Greg Scruggs. But the player who might have made the best impression out of the “redshirt class” was cornerback Tharold Simon, who came into this offseason as a complete unknown. Simon barely took the field in rookie minicamp last year before a foot injury sidelined him, and he never practiced again with the Seahawks in 2013.
Yet throughout OTAs and minicamp, the 6-foot-3 Simon looked every bit like a player who fits right in with the rest of Seattle’s talented, rangy defensive backs. In particular, Simon, a fifth-round pick last year, was the star of an OTA session in which Richard Sherman took a day off, coming up with two interceptions while playing with the first-team defense. While passing Bryon Maxwell on the depth chart for a starting job seems unlikely, Simon looks like a very strong option as a backup to Sherman and Maxwell, and a viable starting option down the road (Maxwell is a free agent after this season).
Most impressive position group — Linebacker. OK, so the secondary might have been the best group throughout camp (big surprise), but that’s also way too easy of a choice. Instead, we’ll go with linebacker, the overlooked position of the defense last season, and a group that looks poised to make a name for itself in 2014.
Seemingly day after day, linebackers were making plays, even with Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith sidelined by surgeries. And it wasn’t just the usual suspects like K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner. Korey Toomer looks like a big-time playmaker if he can only find a way to get on the field. Mike Morgan more than held his own working as the first-team strongside linebacker. Rookie Kevin Pierre-Louis is as athletic as advertised. This is potentially the deepest position group on the roster.
“Us as linebackers, we’re really trying to stand out,” Wagner said. “I love the D-line, and the secondary gets a lot of talk, but you will talk about the linebackers this year.”
Position group that was a pleasant surprise — Wide Receiver. With Golden Tate leaving in free agency and Sidney Rice recovering from knee surgery, the Seahawks came into offseason workouts with few proven pass catchers beyond Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Percy Harvin, and Harvin was injured for almost all of last season.
But with Harvin healthy and once again running past everyone, and with rookies Norwood and Richardson showing plenty of potential, this group, despite the loss of last year’s leading receiver, suddenly looks very deep and promising. Or as Baldwin might put it, there is nothing pedestrian about this group.
It’s particularly fun to imagine Harvin and Richardson on the field together at the same time with their blazing speed.
“It is a really fast group,” Carroll said. “It’s really exciting to see the guys catch the ball well, too … There’s nothing like being fast, that kind of speed, so we’re really excited about it.”
However, all of this excitement about the rookie receivers needs to come with one caveat — after quarterback, receiver might be the hardest position for rookies to make the leap from college to the NFL. You could easily find as many if not more glowing reports on Golden Tate in 2010 as there have been about Norwood and Richardson this summer, yet Tate struggled to even get on the field as a rookie.
Player who helped himself the most — G James Carpenter. Carpenter couldn’t hold down a starting job last season, splitting time with Paul McQuistan all year, then the Seahawks decided not to pick up the fifth-year option on the former first-round pick this offseason. So to say Carpenter has a lot to prove in 2014 is something of an understatement, and so far he’s off to a good start.
While most were expecting Carpenter to be fighting somebody for a starting spot, offensive line coach Tom Cable has made it pretty clear that the left guard job is Carpenter’s. That likely has a lot to do with Carpenter coming into offseason workouts in the best shape he has been in since Seattle took him with the 25th pick in the 2011 draft. Carpenter still has a long ways to go to live up to that draft status, but if he can build off this encouraging offseason, a position that was a big question mark last year could turn into a strength for Seattle without adding a player.
Nice to see you out there — WR Percy Harvin. We knew Harvin got through the Super Bowl healthy, so it was expected that he would be available for offseason workouts. But even if it was expected, Harvin’s presence on the practice field is a very welcome sight for the Seahawks. When Seattle acquired Harvin in 2013, he was something of a luxury acquisition, which was evident in the fact that they got to the Super Bowl with almost no contributions from him because of a hip injury. But with Tate in Detroit and Rice a question mark because of his knee, the Seahawks offense will need to get a lot more out of Harvin in 2014.
Still have work left to do — QB Terrelle Pryor and S/CB Eric Pinkins. It’s wildly premature to say anyone is struggling or a bust before training camp has even started, especially players new to the team. However, Pryor and Pinkins are two players who at first glance have some work to do in order to make the 53-man roster. Pryor, a part-time starter in Oakland, has undeniable ability, and he showed considerable growth from the first session of OTAs to last week’s minicamp, but he still has progress to make if he’s going to beat Tavaris Jackson for the backup job or convince the Seahawks that it’s worth keeping three quarterbacks on the roster.
Pinkins, a sixth-round pick out of San Diego State, was a safety in college, but the Seahawks said when they picked him that they saw him as a cornerback. It didn’t take long for the Seahawks to move Pinkins back to safety — he was done playing cornerback by the third day of rookie minicamp. As a safety, he was struggling to get reps with the second-team defense. Pinkins has plenty of time to either show he can adjust to cornerback or improve his status on the depth chart at safety, but like Pryor, he will have work to do in camp to earn a roster spot.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.