RENTON — The just-completed offseason program helped the Seahawks learn a few things about the team they expect to have in 2019.
It confirmed their starting offensive line is set, their young receivers should be able to help immediately and Russell Wilson is still Russell Wilson — an easy thing to overlook in the understandable emphasis on new and young players, but still the biggest thing this team has going for it.
But questions inevitably remain.
Here are five things I’m still wondering about as the Seahawks head into their summer break, in no particular order.
1. Who is going to play safety?
OK, we know one name: Bradley McDougald. McDougald will play either free or strong (has started at both), saying this week what he has said often in the past, that he prefers strong safety. That’s where he started 14 games last season.
But the Seahawks liked when he played the final two games of last season at free safety paired with Lano (no longer Delano) Hill, and that may still be the favored pairing.
The problem is neither was available for the offseason program, with McDougald coming off surgery to repair a partially torn patella tendon and Hill rehabbing from hip surgery.
Second-round pick Marquise Blair, who figures to get a look at strong safety, also missed much of organized team activities (OTAs) and all of minicamp. That had Seattle going with Tedric Thompson at free safety and Shalom Luani at strong safety for much of the offseason and also using fifth-round pick Ugo Amadi solely at safety to fill in — he’s expected to be in the mix at nickel once camp begins.
And it means safety, a spot where the Seahawks long had been one of the best in the NFL with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, ranks as maybe the most uncertain position on the team heading into 2019.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll said assessing the safety position right now is “a little bit difficult” due to all the absences.
“We’re going to have to reserve judgment a little bit in how it’s going to wind up in the starting spots,” Carroll said. “ … It’s going to be an interesting spot when we come back to campus. We’re going to have to make up a lot of ground there.”
2. How will the pass rush hold up?
The team’s biggest free-agent signee, end Ziggy Ansah — acquired to replace the traded Frank Clark — was limited to conditioning work as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Carroll offered a hopeful, but still vague, timeline for a return sometime during training camp. Ansah’s pedigree is reason for optimism that he can fill much of Clark’s lost production once healthy. But there will be some hefty sighs of relief once he does actually get full clearance to play.
As Carroll also noted, the nature of OTAs/minicamp — no full pads, no full contact — makes it pretty hard to evaluate linemen, so any real assessment of the readiness or improvement of young players such as Rasheem Green, L.J. Collier and Jacob Martin will have to wait. Cassius Marsh, in his second stint with the team, seems certain to play a key role. Carroll this week said Barkevious Mingo — who last year played mostly at strongside linebacker — will be used more as a pass rusher this season. But Mingo has just five sacks in his past five seasons and may not even be a guarantee to be on the roster come September.
Seattle still has almost $24 million in cap space for 2019, 11th-most in the NFL via OvertheCap.com, so it won’t be a surprise if the Seahawks use some of that flexibility to scour the waiver wires for veteran pass rushers who become available as the season nears.
3. Who will be the third-down running back?
The third-down/two-minute running back has always been a key role in the Seattle offense, held primarily by Robert Turbin in the Super Bowl years and Mike Davis much of last season.
Seattle has three candidates this year — C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic and Travis Homer — and might not have room for all three on the roster. Homer flashed early but then was out with a hamstring issue. The oft-injured Prosise was largely healthy this offseason before sitting out some on the final day with a sore hamstring (which appeared to be cautionary and nothing that should slow him down once camp starts), while McKissic was steady throughout. That McKissic can help out as a kickoff and punt returner helps his cause greatly. Prosise is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so the team no longer has any reason to exercise patience with him if he runs into injuries again. And the Seahawks have raved about the overall contributions Homer could make on special teams.
All that means Prosise could be the odd man out — especially if injuries creep up again. But Seattle will be intrigued by him if for no other reason than his performance in the memorable 2016 win at New England (66 yards rushing, 87 receiving), a game the Seahawks wouldn’t have won without him.
Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, who will be the primary early-down backs, are each good receivers, so Seattle doesn’t have to take them off the field in third-down/two-minute situations if no one else proves worthy of the snaps.
4. Who will be the backup quarterback?
Seattle has an intriguing battle brewing here between Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch. Carroll said the two have been pretty even so far but also mentioned that Smith’s experience — 31 career starts compared to Lynch’s four — has been noticeable in his huddle command and adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
“He brings a little bit of savvy, and it’s nice to have,” Carroll said. “We haven’t had a guy like that really since Tarvaris (Jackson, the backup from 2013-15) who’s played quite a bit as a backup.”
So give Smith the edge heading into camp. But as Carroll said, much will be determined by the first two preseason games, as well as the fourth, when the playing time will largely go to the backups.
5. How will the receiving depth chart shake out?
The format of OTAs and minicamps — no contact, defenders unable to make plays on the ball — means receivers inevitably stand out. So some of the excitement about the young receivers has to be considered within that context.
Still, everyone who watched left excited about second-round pick DK Metcalf’s potential, while fellow draftees Gary Jennings and John Ursua also had their moments once each returned from hamstring issues.
Carroll also cited veterans Jaron Brown and David Moore as offensive standouts at different times, and Amara Darboh — a third-rounder in 2017 — also showed he’s still in the mix. Undrafted free agent Terry Wright also has impressed, and 6-foot-5, 228-pounder Jazz Ferguson intrigues for his size alone, while vets such as Keenan Reynolds and Malik Turner each had their turns on the active roster last season.
Seattle had just five receivers on its roster at the end of the 2018 season and usually has no more than six. Tyler Lockett, Moore and Metcalf seem like locks, with Brown pretty close to it (the team could save $2.75 million by releasing him, which leaves him somewhat vulnerable), possibly leaving the rest vying for only one or two spots.
Worth remembering, though, is that Seattle typically keeps two or three receivers on its practice squad, and players cut in September can always resurface later.
But there will be some really intriguing decisions for Seattle when the cut down to 53 arrives.