By John Boyle Herald Writer
When the Seahawks begin their rookie minicamp today, there almost certainly won’t be another Russell Wilson there to open coaches’ eyes.
A year ago, Wilson was so impressive in three days of practice that Pete Carroll was compelled to make the third-round pick part of the quarterback competition, and well, the rest is history.
But 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 take a step toward a successful first season this weekend. Or they can start down the road towards being cut if they don’t have what it takes.
And even if this year’s rookies have less of a clear path to playing time or starting jobs thanks to Seattle’s improved depth, remember that Carroll always will give every rookie, even undrafted players, a chance to win jobs. Just as nobody saw Wilson winning the starting job last year, there is probably a rookie in this draft class capable overtaking an established veteran.
So with minicamp beginning this afternoon, here are, in no particular order, five things worth keeping an eye on over the next three days.
1. Just how explosive is RB Christine Michael?
The Seahawks liked Michael enough that they used a second-round pick — their first of the 2013 draft — to add to a position group already very talented with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin.
“He was the highest-rated player on our board,” Seahawks general manager 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, 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. That first glimpse comes this weekend.
2. How much impact can the two new defensive tackles have right away?
Of Seattle’s 11 draft picks, the two who seem to have the clearest path to playing time happen to play the same position — well sort of. Third-round pick Jordan Hill and fifth-rounder Jesse Williams are both listed as defensive tackles, but their different size and style of play means they both should have immediate roles. Hill is an interior pass rusher and Williams is a run-plugger who has a good shot to win a starting job in the base defense following the departure of Alan Branch.
There’s only so much that linemen can show in an un-padded practice in May, but it still will be interesting to see how they look early, knowing they could be key parts of Seattle’s defense.
3. Can QB Jerrod Johnson make this roster?
The Seahawks signed the former Texas A&M standout just before the draft. Johnson’s resume might suggest 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, went undrafted in 2011 and has bounced around without landing a job in the NFL. After slowly getting his arm strength back and improving his mechanics, he did enough in a tryout 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. And with veterans unable to participate in the rookie minicamp, Johnson will get plenty of chances to shine as the No. 1 quarterback this weekend.
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 surprise rookie 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.
Linebacker is one position at which an impact undrafted rookie could emerge. The Seahawks presumably won’t re-sign starting weakside linebacker Leroy Hill, and while that doesn’t necessarily leave a big need, the Seahawks could still use depth at linebacker. Seattle does have Malcolm Smith who 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.
Of the nine undrafted rookies Seattle signed, three are linebackers: Ramon Buchanan (Miami), John Lotulelei (UNLV) and Craig Wilkins (Old Dominion). Without naming names, Schneider said they had draftable grades on a couple of those linebackers, but decided to use those picks on other positions and take their chances with free agency.
5. Is Luke Willson the perfect complement to Zach Miller?
Willson wasn’t even the most productive tight end at Rice last year. That would be San Francisco’s second-round pick Vance McDonald. Still, the Seahawks are 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 tight end. Fans could at least get a hint of that this weekend.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.