By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — The distance between making an impression at a rookie minicamp in May to being ready for the NFL regular season is, as Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll put it, “a million miles.”
Even so, that doesn’t mean this past weekend’s minicamp didn’t give some hints of what this year’s rookie class might have to offer. Sure, the majority of the players who were on the field for the last three days won’t be in the NFL this season, but Seattle’s 2013 draft picks, as well as a handful of other players, did take an important step in what Carroll’s hopes is the journey towards being important members of this year’s team.
And while we won’t be able to make any real judgments on this draft class for a long time, here are five early takeaways from the rookies’ first practices as Seahawks.
1. As expected, the defensive tackles figured to have significant roles immediately.
Carroll and general manager John Schneider said after the draft that third-round pick Jordan Hill and fifth-rounder Jesse Williams should be factors right away, and those two did nothing to change Carroll’s opinion over the weekend.
Hill, who figures to see playing time as an interior pass rusher, impressed Carroll playing nose tackle (think Brandon Mebane), while Williams worked primarily as the three-technique tackle (think Alan Branch). Hill isn’t likely to threaten Mebane for a starting job, but he could carve out a significant role as a rotational player who comes in on passing downs. Williams, on the other hand, looks to have a real shot at winning a starting role in Seattle’s base defense based on Carroll’s assessment.
“Jordan is an accomplished nose tackle,” Carroll said. “He knows how to play the position, he’s been coached very well. We can’t get a lot done in this short of time, but technique wise he’s really good, he’s got good long arms for his size, he uses his hands really well and he got in the backfield and penetrated a lot. He looks like he could be a really good addition to complement what Mebane does in there. … We’d like to fit Williams in as the three-technique and see if he can play first and second down for us.”
2. TE Luke Willson can fly for a big man.
Willson, who made a great first-impression Friday, was impressive all weekend, showing the speed the Seahawks were hoping might make him a downfield threat from the tight end position.
“What we wanted to see was if his speed would show up down field, and it certainly does,” Carroll said. “He’s very fast. He’ll be our fastest tight end at camp, so we’ll continue to develop him. We don’t know anything about his blocking ability at this point — we won’t know that until we get to camp — but as far as calling on him to fit a role to be a downfield type of guy, he looked good.”
3. Jerrod Johnson has a real shot at sticking around
A year ago, it was Russell Wilson making such a good impression at rookie minicamp that he worked his way into the quarterback competition, and while Johnson, who went undrafted in 2011 and has bounced around the NFL and other leagues looking to stick, is not a threat to Wilson, he did do enough over the past three days to show he could be a factor in the competition for the backup job.
Johnson was a standout at Texas A&M as a junior, but a shoulder injury derailed his senior season and it took him, by his estimate, two years to fully regain his arm strength and refine his throwing mechanics. If Johnson, who the Seahawks signed before the draft, continues to impress throughout training camp, he could work his way into the battle for the backup job. Or at the very least be an intriguing prospect to develop on the practice squad.
“He’s got a very good arm, he can really gun the football down the field, he’s got a great presence in that he’s such a big guy in the pocket,” Carroll said. “He’s totally different than our guys, so if he can hang with us, you’ll see us utilize him doing the things that he can do well. He’s bright and has handled things very well, so we’re excited about him.”
4. Tharold Simon looks like a Seahawks cornerback. He also needs to be in better shape.
Seeing the 6-foot-2 Simon play aggressively with receivers or make plays on balls in the air, it’s easy to see why the Seahawks see the LSU product as a fit in a position group that includes the 6-3 Richard Sherman and 6-4 Brandon Browner.
“He did a good job,” Carroll said. “He fits the profile of the big guys that we like. He’s long, he’s an aggressive kid, has good savvy, can anticipate routes and things. I don’t know what kind of condition he’s in yet, but we’ll get him stronger and get him right. By the time we get to camp, I would think he could compete with our guys. He looked kind of in the fashion of guys we like.”
Did you catch what Carroll did there? In case you weren’t sure, “I don’t know what kind of condition he’s in yet” is very much coach-speak for “This guy had better show up in better shape than that for the next round of workouts.” Carroll praised the conditioning of several players, including Williams and Hill, so he was well aware of the kind of condition players were in. What he said about Simon was the nicest way of sending a message.
5. Carroll is a lot more interested in what a young player can do than what he can’t.
Now, this is nothing new when it comes to Carroll. He’s always been a coach who focuses more on a player’s upside than his limitations, but Carroll’s comments Sunday served as a good reminder that this year’s rookies will be given every chance to show what they can do without being put into a position to fail miserably when they start mixing it up with veterans.
“Every guy has kind of a plan like that, and we won’t ask them to do too many things early until they show us that they can handle that,” Carroll said. “That’s really been a successful way to introduce guys to our play and get something out of them and build their confidence so that they can grow faster.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.