Underdogs fighting to impress at Seahawks’ training camp

RENTON — Fans shout their approval and laugh as Richard Sherman dances between plays to the music that is a constant at a Pete Carroll training camp. Kids chant Russell Wilson’s name after practice, hoping to get the Pro Bowl quarterback to come sign autographs.

But forget the stars for a moment. For now, look past the big-name players who we’ll be discussing from now until the season ends. The best part of these early days of training camp, the stories that are often most fun to follow are those of players like defensive Benson Mayowa or receiver Bryan Walters tight end Sean McGrath. The hopefuls, the long shots, the “hey where’d that guy come from?” players who force you to pay attention.

When the Seahawks held their rookie minicamp in May, they, like every team, filled out the roster of draft picks and undrafted free agent signings with a bunch of tryout players looking to make a name for themselves in the NFL. When Carroll was asked after the three-day minicamp if anyone stood out, his answer was, “The kid from Idaho did a good job.”

Mayowa, that “kid from Idaho,” earned a contract with his performance over those three days, and now he looks like a player with a real chance of making the team. With Chris Clemons recovering from knee surgery and Cliff Avril battling a hamstring injury, Mayowa has even seen significant time with the first-team in Seattle’s nickel defense this week. Sow now, just a few months after going undrafted, he’s sharing a field with Pro Bowlers and All Pros like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor and Antoine Winfield. And hey, Carroll even knows his name now.

“I love that,” Carroll said. “I love the underdog guy jumping up and making a splash. He really has, he’s done a nice job. The competition is tough at that position, although it’s a good opportunity time for him with Clem not being out there and also with Cliff being banged up. It’s giving him a chance to really show some stuff. He’s trying to take advantage of it. He’s got a great attitude about it and he’s going for it.”

So go ahead, get caught up in the underdog stories of training camp. Yes, there’s a good chance many of these guys won’t be around come September, or that even if they are, they’ll wallow in practice squad obscurity or be special teams contributors at best, but we’ll have all season to dissect every Wilson pass, or to contemplate how Bruce Irvin is doing as a linebacker, or to worry about Percy Harvin’s hip. Now is a great time to appreciate the obscure players fighting for their football lives.

“I Love it,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said of training camp underdog stories. “Absolutely love it. Those are some of the best battles in the preseason games, the guys who are totally going for it. … Every team has them, and it’s fun to see it.”

Mayowa knows he still has plenty of work to do to earn a job. He admits he’s not nearly as strong against the run as he is as a pass rusher. Besides that, Avril will be back soon, Clemons will return at some point, and already newly signed pass-rusher O’Brien Schofield is taking reps away from him.

Still, Mayowa recognizes a good opportunity when he sees one. When he worked out at one of the NFL’s regional combines, he didn’t think that Seahawks coaches even noticed him, yet he did well enough to earn a minicamp invite. That eventually led to a contract, and some impressive play, along with some injuries, has opened the door for Mayowa to make a real impression.

“It’s been a great opportunity,” he said. “I was undrafted, I flew under the radar, and to come out here and show what I’ve got — because I knew what I had — that’s a good opportunity. They notice talent.”

Once the Seahawks are at full strength, Mayowa might well get cut. When the Seahawks have to narrow down the roster, Walters, a Kirkland native who has enjoyed an impressive first week of camp, could well be on the outside looking in. And despite Seattle’s lack of depth at tight end, former pro basketball player turned football project Darren Fells may well be seen as too raw to play in the NFL.

For now, however, it’s hard not to get behind stories like theirs as they fight to win jobs over more accomplished players. For someone like Mayowa, just having the coach learn his name was a good start. Now Carroll not only knows the “Kid from Idaho’s” name, he’s talking about Mayowa like a player who might just stick around for a while.

“He’s done a really cool job at this camp,” Carroll said. “He’s shown an unusual knack for rushing the passer, and so far he’s been very impressive. We don’t know what that means at this point, we haven’t gotten him in enough live situations, but everyday he’s made a play of some sort to gain some recognition. We’re kind of hopeful, we’ll see what this means. … but he’s shown special pass rushing ability.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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