RENTON — A most unusual training camp for the Seattle Seahawks came to a quiet end Thursday with another practice at the VMAC, the 17th since Aug. 12, including three mock games.
But with no fans at practices and other COVID-19 restrictions and protocols, there was none of the obvious fanfare that often greets the end of training camp.
Thursday, though, did mark a transition as Seahawk players will now take a few days off before returning Monday to begin game week preparations for the regular-season opener Sept. 13 at Atlanta.
With no preseason games, it’s a bit of a mystery what exactly was learned in camp, as coach Pete Carroll acknowledged Thursday when he spoke to reporters via Zoom.
“We haven’t had enough competition at this time of the year to really make the evaluations the way we’d like to,” Carroll said. “We’d like to have all those game snaps, and we’ve told you many times you’ve got to wait to see guys in games and we weren’t afforded that in the evaluation process. So that’s the only setback. Other than that it’s been a really solid camp.”
At the top of Carroll’s list of the positives from camp is the relative lack of significant injuries. One harrowing exception: a neck/head injury to defensive end Branden Jackson that further revealed a spinal condition that could end his career.
But of what would reasonably be assumed to be the team’s projected starters, all should be available for the Atlanta game.
With camp over, it’s time to hand out a few awards:
Biggest surprise, veteran edition: Ethan Pocic
The fourth-year offensive lineman appears to have won the starting center job over free agent signee B.J. Finney, though Carroll said Thursday he wasn’t ready to confirm anything publicly. The converse to that is that Finney could be described as the biggest disappointment, failing to win a starting job after signing a two-year deal worth up to $8 million with $4.5 million guaranteed. But the positive spin is that maybe Pocic, a second-round pick in LSU, has finally found a home at the position that was his primary spot in college. We may need a few games to answer the lingering question — was this more about Pocic improving or Finney struggling?
Biggest surprise, rookie edition: Alton Robinson
With Darrell Taylor so far unable to practice — which would qualify as the biggest disappointment for a Seahawks rookie — fifth-round pick Robinson has emerged as a player who should be a legitimate factor in the rotations at both defensive end spots, with the specific hope he can contribute at the rush end position and help revive the pass rush. Robinson put on more than 10 pounds in the offseason (now around 270 pounds), which Carroll initially seemed to be concerned about. Instead, Carroll later said Robinson appeared to have the same speed but with a little more power, appearing ready to play from Day 1.
Biggest question mark: Do the Seahawks really have enough pass rush?
Despite Robinson’s emergence and the solid play of veterans Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa, the pass rush remains the biggest unknown (and yes, a few preseason games might have helped greatly assess it better, as Carroll mentioned). Don’t expect the Seahawks to end up with Jadeveon Clowney. But it won’t be a surprise if they add another defensive lineman during the weekend.
Second-biggest question mark: What will the receiving unit look like?
Seattle knows what it has in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, but a lot of the rest of the WR unit remains a mystery, especially after the signings this week of Paul Richardson and Josh Gordon. Carroll noted Thursday that Richardson did little in three practices this week, indicating the Seahawks don’t really know what he might be able to do this season. Gordon’s status in terms of his suspension remains unclear. And Phillip Dorsett is dealing with a sore foot and didn’t do much the last two weeks of camp. If the Seahawks played a game today, the third receiver would likely be David Moore. But he has a $2.13 million non-guaranteed contract that has led to speculation about his place on the roster.
Biggest question answered: Marquise Blair can play the nickel
Blair was one of the standout players in camp, quickly showing coaches he could make the transition from safety to nickel. Seattle had no clear nickel heading into the 2019 season, one reason it played so much base defense. But with Blair as the main guy there now, and Ugo Amadi a year older and also able to play it if needed, the Seahawks seem far better positioned to play nickel and dime defenses this season.
Off-the-radar player who seemed to have a really good camp: Cody Barton
The second-year player from Utah is backing up Bobby Wagner at middle linebacker, so he’s going to have a hard time finding his way on the field a whole lot. But he seemed to make a lot of plays throughout camp and looks to have made a significant leap from his rookie season.
Two newcomers who shined: Jamal Adams and Brandon Shell
Adams may be a really obvious pick. But, so far, he appears to be everything Seattle hoped for when it made a heavy investment to get him, both in his play on the field and his quick forming of relationships with teammates and others in the organization. He’s still going to want a ton of money in a contract extension sometime following the 2020 season. But he already seems totally bought in to being a Seahawk, which can’t hurt that process.
Shell, meanwhile, signed a two-year deal with $5.1 million guaranteed in the spring with the hope he’d take over the right tackle spot for the departed Germain Ifedi. But as the Pocic/Finney battle showed, Shell was still going to have to earn it over the likes of free agent signee Cedric Ogbuehi and holdover Jamarco Jones. Shell has done that, running with the starters from Day 1 and impressing the Seahawks with his athleticism. Now to prove he truly is an upgrade over Ifedi.
Biggest sigh of relief: Chris Carson’s health
Seattle was confident all along Carson would be fine after fracturing his hip last December. Still, it’s always good to see it on the field, especially with Rashaad Penny not yet ready to return from his knee injury. Carson missed some camp time for family reasons but was a standout when he was around. Carlos Hyde also performed well, as did Travis Homer and rookie DeeJay Dallas, giving the Seahawks a full complement of healthy and ready-to-go backs for the season opener, a stark contrast to the last time we saw Seattle play.
One competition that never materialized: Backup quarterback
The minute Geno Smith re-signed it was pretty evident he’d be the backup. Still, some wondered if former WSU standout Anthony Gordon could push him. But the shortened training camp meant Smith got almost all the reps that didn’t go to Russell Wilson, assuring he is ready if needed, with the lack of preseason games also meaning Gordon just didn’t have the time to show much. Midway through camp, the Seahawks claimed Danny Etling off waivers from Atlanta. And assuming the Seahawks only keep two QBs on the active roster but one on the practice squad, it will be interesting to see which of Gordon or Etling gets the call. Etling showed well in the second mock game, in particular.