In the midst of offseason programs in May and June, positivity flows from every NFL facility coast-to-coast. All 32 teams have a 0-0 record and have a chance to make the playoffs. Every player is seemingly in the best shape of his career. There’s no shortage of optimism this time of year.
With that in mind, when coaches such as Pete Carroll talk up incoming rookies, this commentary should be taken with a grain of salt. None of these first-year players have even participated in a padded training camp practice, so it remains uncertain how they will perform in a real NFL game at this point.
At the same time, however, Carroll’s unbridled enthusiasm for the Seahawks 2022 class shouldn’t be completely disregarded either. Unlike the past two offseasons when the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the traditional May/June schedule, rookies and coaches alike have benefited from a normal program with rookie minicamp, OTAs, and mandatory minicamp being held without a hitch.
From Carroll’s perspective, comparing the preparation of Seattle’s current nine-player class to the franchise’s previous two classes heading towards training camp presents a night and day difference. It’s not even closed.
“I can’t even compare where these guys are now to when they would’ve come to us and have never been on the field, but a couple days,” Carroll explained. “They’ve had a lot of work, a lot of good quality work too. I’m talking about the rookies now and the young guys, the first-time guys here. This is kind of where we’re supposed to be at this time of year and we have not been there in the years past, in the last couple. It’s fun to get out here. These guys had a blast. They had fun doing it, they liked the work, they came with a great attitude every day, and really, this was not difficult on them.”
Not having to worry about canceled on-field sessions or being solely relying on Zoom meetings as they were over the past two years, Carroll and his staff have had a far better opportunity to evaluate first-year players and see where they fit into the mix .
For example, first-round pick Charles Cross jumped right in with the first-team offense to kick off OTAs and has played all of the snaps over the past three weeks. Across from him, third-round pick Abraham Lucas began the offseason program working with the second team, but at minicamp, he received his first crack at playing with the perceived starting unit at right tackle.
Without doing any actual blocking at OTAs or minicamp, Cross and Lucas still will have to prove themselves in August to secure starting jobs. But Carroll hinted they will receive every opportunity to become immediate starters as rookies.
“The tackles, to nail both those guys, both those guys have a chance to play and they’re competing. They’ll be competing to start,” Carroll said. “When they come back to camp, if they hold their own and they make the right progress, they have a chance to start for us, which is huge, that would be huge. I don’t know that they will, but they’ ve got a chance and they give us every indication that they have what it takes to do that to this point.”
Cross and Lucas weren’t the only rookies who saw extensive first-team action for the Seahawks either. On the defensive side of the ball, rotating with Darrell Taylor and Uchenna Nwosu at outside linebacker, second-round pick Boye Mafe impressed in his first offseason program, drawing comparisons from Carroll to former Pro Bowl defensive end Cliff Avril.
With Taylor and Nwosu in front of him, Mafe may have a difficult time etching out a starting job by Week 1 and he’s a raw talent with plenty of areas to improve. But if his performance over the past month translates to training camp and the preseason and he’s hunting down quarterbacks with regularity, he may be pushing for a starting role earlier than anticipated and the two veterans will have to watch their backs.
“I’m really holding out hope that [Boye] Mafe is going to really have a chance to help us [right away]. He’s really talented,” Carroll said.
Heading towards a six-week moratorium, cornerbacks Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen finished off their first offseason program in strong fashion as well, turning in solid three-day minicamp performances that caught Carroll’s eye.
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After missing the first couple of OTAs for personal reasons, Bryant got his hands on the football regularly over the past few weeks, which should not come as a surprise given his track record. At Cincinnati, he registered nine interceptions and 25 pass breakups over the past four seasons, including a pair of picks and nine pass breakups as a senior to win the Jim Thorpe Award.
Those instincts and ball skills have been on display at the VMAC, particularly during minicamp as Bryant continued to become more comfortable in Seattle’s scheme.
“Coby Bryant made a ton of plays out here,” Carroll gushed. “He’s a football player, natural play maker, he’s got great hands, he might catch the ball as well as anybody on the team. He’s got terrific hands and you could see that adds to a guy’s confidence when they’re faced with the opportunity to make plays. He’s one of those guys, that’s why he was recognized around the country. He’s a big-time player, he did a nice job.”
As for Woolen, the fifth-round pick out of UTSA has showcased his elite 4.26 speed in spurts, leading Carroll to call him the 6-foot-4 cornerback the “flashiest” of the Seahawks rookies thus far.
Last month, after working his way back from a tight hamstring that prevented him from practicing in rookie minicamp, Woolen battled inconsistency early in OTAs. He struggled at times in one-on-one matchups against speedy veteran Marquise Goodwin, who got the better of him on a pivot route for a touchdown in red zone drills. However, he picked off Jacob Eason moments later, shooting out of a cannon to jump an out route in the end zone.
In minicamp, with his legs back underneath him, Woolen seemed to take a significant step forward. In particular, Carroll cited a sequence of consecutive plays where he held his own covering multiple vertical routes, including a pair against Goodwin, catching the attention of his teammates.
“It was an impressive showing, and our guys noticed it, ‘our guys’ meaning the players,” Carroll remarked. “They could tell, so we’ll see what happens. He hasn’t done nothing yet, but there’s a lot of potential there and it’s fun to see.”
Of course, not everything Carroll said in regard to Seattle’s rookie class on Thursday proved to be positive. Four players – running back Ken Walker III, receivers Bo Melton and Dareke Young, and linebacker Tyreke Smith – missed minicamp dealing with injuries. Walker, Melton, and Young all had hamstring issues, while Smith’s injury wasn’t disclosed.
In blunt fashion, Carroll indicated many of Seattle’s incoming rookies didn’t arrive in good enough shape, which isn’t abnormal coming out of the pre-draft process. Players have been trained for running the 40-yard dash and other athletic tests rather than training for football season, setting themselves up to get “sore or aggravated” by not being in peak condition.
Giving a nudge to his players with public comments, Carroll spoke on how critical the next six weeks would be for players such as Walker, Young, and Melton to get healthy and ramp up their conditioning to ensure they can make it through the workload the Seahawks will throw at them in training camp. He also advised that they work out with veterans on the team who know what to expect come August.
“That’s the idea, is to make that impression on them and to make sure that they’re communicating with our players, our other players that know and have done and been through it before, so that they can get ready for it,” Carroll elaborated. “We encourage them to work out with our guys and get together periodically throughout the timeframe so that they can get a sense for where our other guys are. Hopefully all of that adds up to where they come in here and they’re ready to fly , and we can’t wear them out so we can take off and not look back as we go through camp, and they can have the best chance to show what they’re capable of doing by not sitting on a bench.”
Nevertheless, while Carroll sees room for improvement in the conditioning realm, he couldn’t be more excited about the potential of the Seahawks latest draft haul after watching them get off to a quick start in a traditional offseason. With at least three players pushing for early playing time, if not more, the coaching staff will be giving the group ample opportunities to prove they are ready to make a difference on day one.
“Really jacked about the class, really, these guys should help us. We’ve got to do a really good job of forcing them to the action and force them in there so that they show us how far they’ve come and what they can handle. They’re going to be really utilized and called on… so it’s going to be really fun to see how they contribute.”