Seahawks learning new systems as OTAs get underway

New coach Mike Macdonald is using the start of offseason workouts to install his defense, offense.

  • Gregg Bell, The News Tribune
  • Thursday, May 23, 2024 10:37am
  • SportsSeahawks

RENTON — Mike Macdonald spotted someone who predates him around the Seahawks.

That is just about everyone, in these first days of Macdonald’s first offseason practices as an NFL head coach.

“Music loud enough for you?” Seattle’s new coach said as he walked onto the field to begin Wednesday’s OTA at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

The mix of rap, rock and more was louder Wednesday than Macdonald had it playing on the sideline speakers during rookie minicamp last month. Yet it remained far below the blaring volume Pete Carroll chose for the previous 14 years of Seahawks practices on these fields astride Lake Washington.

The 36-year-old Macdonald has so many reasons to keep the volume lower right now.

These are his first days on the field installing his regime. Veteran players are learning entirely new systems with all-new terminology and play calls on offense, defense and special teams. Macdonald is one of 22 new Seahawks coaches.

Heck, even the jerseys the players were wearing in practice Wednesday were new. Instead of basic practice uniforms, these new Seahawks were in the team’s shiny, trimmed game jerseys. The offensive players were in home dark blue. The defense was in road whites.

Gone are the red, no-contact jerseys quarterbacks wore in Seattle’s practices for decades. Geno Smith and Sam Howell were in the Seahawks’ alternate royal-blue throwbacks during Wednesday’s OTA.

“We want to practice as much as like a game as possible,” Macdonald said following the two hours of no-pads, no-contract drills. “So how we dress, all the details, where we stand, how we operate, how we coach them up timing-wise, we want them to always feel like they are out there playing.”

Macdonald learned that from John Harbaugh, the head coach in Baltimore. Macdonald was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator the last two seasons.

“We’re learning as we go,” Seattle’s new coach said. “We’re chasing it.

“We are chasing execution.”

That chase is just beginning for these almost-all-new Seahawks.

What we saw in OTAs

Players went the wrong ways before and at the snap during practice Wednesday, the second of 10 OTA practices over the next three weeks and the first open to the media. Starters made mistakes on audible calls on defense and on offense.

“It’s a challenge right now,” Macdonald said. “We are going to be installing defensively, shoot, throughout.

“Not really worried about the pace of how we are getting everything in.”

Devon Witherspoon played exclusively inside as a nickel cornerback throughout the second OTA. The 2023 Pro Bowl selection played both outside at left cornerback and inside at nickel as a rookie.

Witherspoon broke up two of Smith’s passes with aggressive plays that wowed teammates.

Macdonald called the defense’s plays through a walkie-talkie into the helmet of inside linebacker Jon Rhattigan. New defensive coordinator Aden Durde carried a walkie-talkie, too, but kept his at his side in listen-only mode.

Rhattigan was with the first-team defense because Tyrel Dodson was limited to position drills only and Jerome Baker had offseason wrist surgery. Seattle signed Dodson from Buffalo and Baker from Miami this offseason to one-year contracts to replace departed Bobby Wagner (to Washington) and Jordyn Brooks (to Miami) as the starting inside linebackers.

Top pass rusher Uchenna Nwosu was full go as the starting right outside linebacker. He had season-ending surgery for a torn pectoral in October.

Macdonald said about 20% of his new defense has been installed with the players. With 10 OTA practices between now and mid-June, it appears Macdonald’s schedule has been, up to now, to install 100% of the defense during OTAs, before the team’s mandatory veteran minicamp June 11-13.

Geno Smith: Seahawks’ offense fits

Macdonald’s defense is just part of what’s new with the Seahawks this spring.

Seattle’s grand 2024 experiment also includes the new head coach bringing in Ryan Grubb from the University of Washington’s 21-game winning streak and run into January’s national championship game to be Seattle’s new offensive coordinator. It’s almost unprecedented, a college play caller going directly into an NFL play-calling job.

Grubb called the offense’s plays into the helmets of Smith and Howell, last season’s starter with the Commanders whom Seattle acquired in a trade for a fourth- and a sixth-round draft choice this offseason.

Grubb has his former UW line coach Scott Huff with him from the Huskies as the Seahawks’ new offensive line coach. Huff’s starting line will be the key to Grubb’s, Smith’s — and thus Macdonald’s — 2024 season with Seattle.

Huff’s starting line Wednesday was Charles Cross at left tackle, new arrival Laken Tomlinson at left guard, Olu Oluwatimi at center, McClendon Curtis at right guard and George Fant at right tackle.

Archbishop Murphy High School graduate Abe Lucas, the starter at right tackle the past two seasons, remains rehabilitating from offseason knee surgery, trying to fix an issue that sidelined him on and off in 2023. Macdonald said the team hopes to have Lucas on the field for the start of training camp July 26, but no one is sure about that.

Smith said nothing Grubb or Macdonald are installing is different from what he’s already been coached in football, concepts-wise. It’s the terminology and command of the intricacies in Grubb’s offense that Smith is working to perfect this spring and summer.

“We are all learning a new system, and we are all pretty much starting at the same spot,” Smith said. “For us, just talking about things that we may not understand with the coaches, or gaining some clarity if we need it, whether that’s from me or one of the coaches, that is something that we continue to work on. Together. Just kind of learning this thing.”

Smith says he loves how demanding Grubb is.

And the QB loves how Grubb’s system, the one in which Michael Penix Jr. starred at UW for two years before Atlanta drafted him eighth overall last month, fits Smith.

“I feel like I’m a drop-back passer,” Smith said. “I feel like this is a drop-back offense, an offense that’s going to spread the ball around, trust the quarterback to make the right decisions — that’s pre- and post-snap.

“And that’s something I feel like I’m good at.”

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