Finally, training camp is underway. After months of waiting and wondering, we can finally see whether the Seahawks have what it takes to make the leap from a surprising 7-9 in 2011 to a potential playoff run in 2012.
This year, some believe the 'Hawks have the look of a winner.
Yet while many fans are excited about games against the likes of Green Bay, Dallas and New England to determine whether this team is for real, the truth is, if the 'Hawks intend on going to the postseason, they're going to need to handle their division rivals as well.
So before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I figured it might be worth taking a look to see where the 'Hawks have a few big advantages over every team in the NFC West.
I've said it before, but it bares repeating, the 'Hawks secondary is something special.
Young, talented and deep, this crew sent three starters to the Pro Bowl last year and some would argue that rookie Richard Sherman could have been a fourth had he managed to crack the team's starting lineup earlier in the season.
This season, they should manage to do a solid job handling their division rivals' receivers and tight ends, yet they do need to be careful with the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Vernon Davis and Danny Amendola, to name a few, and perhaps a surprise or two if Randy Moss manages to come back to life in San Francisco.
Last year, the idea of pairing tight ends John Carlson and free agent Zach Miller seemed like a distinct possibility until the plan died before it got off the ground in training camp, with Carlson being lost for the season due to injury.
Making matters even more disappointing, the 'Hawks ended up using Miller as a blocker for the majority of the year and his numbers suffered as a result.
Seeing Miller catch 25 passes all of last season seemed like a terrible waste of talent and, by the end of the season, I hoped the 'Hawks would at least consider making an offer to Carlson as a free-agent to be.
Alas, it wasn't meant to be, as Carlson signed with the Minnesota Vikings and with that the dream died once again...for what seemed to be for good.
Of course Winslow comes with question marks, but in what could be a low-risk, high-reward deal, the 'Hawks may finally have the dual tight end package capable of putting some fear in opposing defenders.
Between Winslow's pass catching abilities and Miller's brute strength as a blocker, the combination of the two can hopefully expand the 'Hawks play-making abilities underneath and over the middle regardless of whoever the team has at quarterback.
While these two are still a long ways from matching New England's combination of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, they, in theory, have serious potential and should be the envy of the division provided they stay healthy and play up to their abilities.
Who cares, right?
Isn’t it sad enough that the ‘Hawks are without a clear cut choice at starter?
Fair points, all of which we’ve discussed for months on end, but for now we can settle for this small consolation regardless of whoever emerges from the competition.
In an ideal world a team’s starting quarterback can play all 16 games without incident. However, it would be a bit foolish to wager on any one man to take every snap over the course of the season in today’s NFL.
So whether Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson or rookie Russell Wilson gets the starting gig, I strongly believe the ‘Hawks are in good hands in the case of an emergency. Beyond Kevin Kolb, Sam Bradford and Alex Smith, do fans in the NFC West feel confident with the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Kellen Clemens or John Skelton?
As a backup he has ample experience, has fought back doubters throughout his career and is tough as nails given he played through a pectoral injury the better part of last year.
Feel free to sell him short and argue he isn’t much of a starter, but I’d really have to see a lot from Russell Wilson (not to mention Matt Flynn) over the next few weeks to feel comfortable with the ‘Hawks letting T-Jack go.
Then again, maybe Russell Wilson is for real.
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King seems to have a small crush on Wilson after meeting him this past weekend:
It's very difficult to make any judgments on a player, or a team, watching a pad-less practice, with players in helmets and shorts. But Wilson's arm looked every bit as strong, and maybe slightly stronger, than Flynn's in this practice. On one snap, Wilson was flushed from the pocket, scrambled right ('He scrambles to throw; he doesn't scramble to run,' Carroll said) and launched a slightly wavering 32-yard strike down the right side to a covered Ben Obomanu, who came down with the ball. Good play, the kind of play he's going to have to make in the NFL when the pocket breaks down.
Of course, it’s only training camp, that wonderful time of year in which everyone looks like a winner as they’re out to prove or redeem themselves.
With head coach Pete Carroll in charge, expect to hear nothing but good things the next several weeks all across the field, yet at some point cuts will need to be made.
Between now and then, you can question this group of rookies all you want. Believe me, even I’m not quite sure what the Seahawks are getting, but there is no denying that just about every pick by the ‘Hawks, not to mention a handful of rookie free-agent signings, will all get a fair shot at serious playing time.
Coach Carroll isn’t joking when he says ‘’Always compete,’’ as the likes of Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Wilson and Robert Turbin could be starting sooner than later if the stars align.
(Don’t pretend you’re unfazed at the prospect of Marshawn Lynch missing at least a game or two following his recent DUI. It could happen and Turbin could be the man starting in his place.)
As for the rest of the bunch, don’t sleep on them either.
Could Winston Guy be this year’s Richard Sherman for the ‘Hawks secondary?
What about either Jermaine Kearse or Lavasier Tuinei pulling off what Doug Baldwin did last year at wide receiver?
Unlike the past two camps, starting jobs are a bit more scarce, but opportunities do exist and this rookie class should be determined as ever to impress.
Understand this isn’t a knock on the competition in the division, more an observation on how the Seahawks do business in how they scout their newcomers.
Finally, with all due respect to the 'Hawks fellow NFC West rivals, The 12th Man is tough to beat.
It's a source of pride to know that CenturyLink Field is the loudest stadium in the NFL since 2005 when measured by the number of false starts by opponents.
It's so loud and intense that even reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs gave praise to the fans in his recent interview with Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson on the red carpet prior to the ESPY's (jump ahead to the 4:26 mark):
It’s really hard to play up there [in Seattle], but it’s fun. That’s what the game is all about—how electric the stadium is. I love going to play the Seahawks. I’m 0-2 up there, but I must say both of the games, they were very fun. And the city—I love the city. It’s a beautiful city. I’m gonna have to get me a ‘W’ up there, though. But the Seahawks—it’s a really good stadium, it’s a really good atmosphere. That’s what NFL football is about up there.
Indeed and this season that energy is going to be needed for at least eight games with all three critical divisional matchups against the NFC West during the month of December.
The next few weeks we will see if the 'Hawks really do have something special for 2012. Until then, these are a few points that fans can take pride in knowing their team has an edge going into camp.