Heading into their first exhibition game of 2012, 19 Seattle Seahawks draft picks and free agent rookies are working hard to impress Pete Carroll and his coaches for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Seven offensive players, 11 defenders and one kicker face dire odds on a daily basis to keep their spots on the squad. Utilizing a variety of sources from the Seahawks website and blogs, each rookie was evaluated. They were given a grade on their progress, or lack of it, to attain a place on the regular season roster.
Rising to the top were players with ratings of B and above: defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Greg Scruggs, guard J.R. Sweezy, running back Robert Turbin, linebacker Robert Wagner and quarterback Russell Wilson.
As for the rest, it will require more hard work and a bit of luck to earn their way into the NFL.
The ex-Ohio University undrafted free agent is making an impression in the early stages of fall camp. Bates is still learning how to play the receiver position. He lined up for two years at quarterback before switching to receiving his last year at Ohio. Bates also had reps as a rusher and kick returner.
His multi-dimensional skills came in handy the first week of training camp. Bates ran for a big gain on a reverse handoff. During a red zone passing drill with Tarvaris Jackson at the helm, the rookie receiver made a fine over-the-shoulder catch.
The Seahawks entered training camp with a full house of receivers. Despite the odds, Bates remains optimistic about his chances.
“I’m just trying to make sure I grab something new every day – make sure I just keep building and just keep going,” Bates said. “That’s the goal every day: Just try to get better."
Jaye Howard started 25 games for the Florida Gators where he played for Dan Quinn, a former Seahawks defensive line coach. The college relationship with Quinn improved Howard's chances of getting drafted by Seattle.
“It helped me a lot (playing for Quinn)," Howard said. "He got my technique right. He stayed on me this year. I appreciate him coming in and just getting me to where I needed to be. So it helps me a lot going into (the Seahawks system). I’m sort of familiar with it. So it helps.”
Playing at nose tackle during a recent drill, the former Gator tracked down running back Marshawn Lynch behind the line of scrimmage. He is a contender for one of Seattle's defensive line slots.
Seattle's sixth-round draft pick didn't participate in the spring minicamp due to surgery on his shoulder.
"It’s going to take few more weeks before we can see him physically, and it’s killing him," Carroll said at the start of fall training. “He probably could get through it, but we won’t let him until he’s well.”
He has his work cut out for him to gain a safety slot. Guy will need to beat out Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor to move up the depth chart. His best chance to play may be in situations where an extra defensive back is required.
Carroll likes Guy's athleticism and speed. "His speed is very good, instincts are excellent, he's got a lot to learn to not make the boneheaded mistakes and things, but he's going to play for us and be a part of what we're doing."
Bruce Irvin's speed and athleticism as a defensive end excited Carroll. He's already made an impression in one-on-one defensive drills and ability to get into the backfield.
“Out of all of the aspects of our football team I’m most excited about our potential to improve there," Carroll said. "We know that Bruce is an obvious opportunity guy that can really add to it with the great speed that he has."
Irvin noted that his defensive linemates were equally quick and athletic. "Everybody on the D-line can run, everybody's strong and everybody's fast."
Rishaw Johnson signed with the Seahawks as a free agent after not being picked in the draft.
Despite not attending a major university, the 6'3", 313-pound guard from California University in Pennsylvania is getting noticed for his knowledge of the game and ability to learn.
“He showed some tremendous stuff,” Carroll said. “We liked him going through the later rounds of the draft. He’s just a long ways down the road of understanding how to play the game. I think if he’ll continue to learn and understand what we’re asking of him, he has a chance to help us.”
Johnson is keeping his expectations in check.
“I can’t get too excited,” Johnson said. “I’ve still got to bust it and do everything I’ve got to do to make the team. But it was still good to hear that coach Carroll said that.”
Jermaine Kearse stayed close to home after finishing his career at the University of Washington. He faces an uphill battle to gain a roster spot with a myriad of receivers in camp, including the combustive Terrell Owens.
Kearse returned to action last week after coming off the physically unable to perform list. The Seahawks took a slow and conservative approach to his recovery.
Kearse has some catching up to do in order to get the attention of the Seattle coaching staff.
Kyle Knox signed with Seattle in mid-June. The California native faces long odds if he's to gain a place on the opening day roster. He's far down in the linebacker rotation with a slew of veterans and newcomers ahead of him. Fellow rookie linebackers Bobby Wagner and Korey Toomer are slated to make the team.
Despite his lowly position status, he has peaked Carroll's interest: “I thought I saw Kyle Knox do some good stuff."
Jeremy Lane's best chance of making Seattle's 53-man roster will be on special teams.
He's fast and has a 42-inch vertical leap, but it may not be enough to overcome a crowded secondary group. At best, he's a long shot.
The 6'0", 180 pound corner from Northwestern State in Louisiana knows it will be a challenge to stick with the Seahawks.
"Just because my school size doesn’t mean anything," Lane said. "So I know that was my chance to take a shot and show everybody what I can do. When the time came, I believe I stepped up and did it.”
Cordarro Law signed as a free agent with the Seahawks at the ending of April. The former Southern Mississippi lineman is another agile and athletic rookie trying to gain a place in Seattle's lineup.
Law surprised his teammates after a recent workout by dunking the ball in a pickup game. He lettered in basketball while in high school. At an earlier season training session, he ran expert wide receiver routes.
"Law ran like every route with us,’" receiver Sidney Rice said. "And he only dropped two passes the whole day. So that’s pretty impressive."
He may not be able to stick as a defensive end, but could earn a spot on special teams.
Sean McGrath previously played for Division II Henderson State in Arkansas. The undrafted free agent tight end is making the best of his opportunity in Seattle.
McGrath scored the only touchdown early in a fall camp session while playing for the third unit. He caught a 10-yard pass from quarterback Matt Flynn with two seconds left in the drill.
The humble and workman-like tight end gave credit to others for the score.
“That starts up front with the offensive line first and foremost,” McGrath said. “I’m just doing what they tell me to, following the examples of the veterans, and just trying to work to get better in camp.”
His demeanor may not be enough to make the grade.
Greg Scruggs was drafted No. 232 overall in last April's NFL draft, and that's provided the motivation to make his presence felt during training camp.
In his last two college games at Louisville, a toe injury impacted his performance and draft status.
"It’s water under the bridge," Scruggs said. "You look back and learn, think about things you could have done differently. … Now, it’s just time to move forward.”
At a recent practice, Scruggs more than held his own during one-on-one drills against fellow rookie J.R. Sweezy. He displayed his physical skills and finesse in his matchup against Sweezy.
Scruggs could be a keeper.
DeShawn Shead is another rookie free agent who knows that the odds are stacked against him. The former Portland State defender was a four-year starter with speed. He ran track in high school and set a pole vault record.
He's a feisty and aggressive player who can tackle, force fumbles and intercept the ball. Shead's not shy about taking his shots even during "non-contact" drills—he triggered a fight after nearly decapitating a receiver going over the middle.
Shead is a long-shot that will need a break or two to continue his pro career in Seattle.
The former North Carolina State defensive lineman has lined on the offensive side of the line by playing at the right and left guard positions with the first unit.
“I’m definitely learning more being in there with the first team,” Sweezy said. “Those guys know this offense like the back of their hand. They’ve helped me a lot. I still don’t know it as well as I should, but going with that first-team O-line helps a lot.”
Sweezy went on to credit assistant coach Tom Cable for his offensive line coaching skills.
“He’s the best,” Sweezy said. “He’s already taught me so much. I’ve learned a ton in this past few weeks span. Every day I fill up two pages of my notebook with information that he’s teaching me and helping me with, and I’m continuing to get better every day.”
Korey Toomer failed to get an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine, but he still caught the attention of Seattle linebacker coach Ken Norton. What caught Norton's attention was Toomer's speed and vertical leap during his Pro Day workout.
At Idaho, Toomer played as an end, linebacker and fullback, scoring a two-point conversion. His versatility may be just enough to move up in the depth chart.
Toomer's role could be situational when the Seahawks need an extra linebacker.
Lavasier Tuinei needs to distinguish himself against a gaggle of competitors at the wide receiver position. He played at Oregon last year and caught 48 passes while scoring 10 touchdowns.
At camp, Tuinei showed his downfield blocking skills on a reverse handoff that resulted in a big gain. He's also taken passing reps from quarterback Matt Flynn.
“The crew of Durham, Tuinei, Bates, and Kearse – all those guys are trying to get into the game and get up a notch." Carroll said.
The competition may be too much for Tuinei to continue past the first or second round of cuts.
Robert Turbin is a stocky, fast and muscular runner. He's receiving compliments not only from his coaches but also from fellow teammates. They have been focusing on his ability to learn and adjust quickly to the rigor of playing in the NFL.
“He had a bunch of carries in school, and if we needed him to play on a regular basis he’s as physically fit as you could get," Carroll said. "He’s used to pounding, he’s use to a lot of carries being a feature back. That’s what he would love to be if we would give him that opportunity."
Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson also noticed his physical abilities.
"He’s quick and fast," Jackson said. "I need to get on his workout plan somehow and see what I can do, see if I can get in the backfield.”
Pencil Turbin in as a feature back that should take some of the load off Marshawn Lynch.
Bobby Wagner moved up the linebacker pecking order since the start of training camp. Carroll loves his attitude, ability to hit people and natural athletic talents.
“He is really doing fine; he’s really fast and has a great attitude'" Carroll said. "That’s the first thing I look at when I watch film, if he’s stepping up and hitting guys and doing what you want a linebacker to do."
Carroll all but guaranteed the former Utah State player significant playing time.
"Whether he winds up starting or not, he is going to play a lot," Carroll said. "You can tell that. And he still has a chance to take the starting spot.”
Carson Wiggs was released at the ending of July and signed again on August 5.
The ex-Purdue kicker earned the distinction of being the most accurate kicker in Boilermaker history with a 74% success rate.
Besides his ability to kick it between the uprights, a third of Wiggs' kickoffs were touchbacks. He also converted two on-side kicks in last year's Little Caesar Pizza Bowl against Western Michigan.
Life as a kicking specialist is always tenuous. Wiggs' tenure with the Seahawks may also be day-to-day.
Russell Wilson is giving veteran quarterback Tarvaris Jackson a battle for the backup slot.
Carroll sees the competition as a positive sign of a deep offensive squad.
“Well it’s definitely exciting; we have a lot of talent at the quarterback position," Carroll said. "It’s exciting because we have threats at the receiver position, tight end position, and running back position and the offensive line was really good as well.”
Wilson is taking the quarterback battle in stride.
“I’ve never been in a three way competition before, but I mean, it is what it is right now," Wilson said. "So just take it, take it how it is."
As Seattle prepares for their exhibition opener, Carroll's decided that Wilson will get the nod ahead of Jackson, last year's starter.
"This week through tomorrow and the game, Matt is the number one quarterback," Carroll said. "So he’ll take all the reps and start the game Saturday night and Russell will take the reps in the second half and will run with the twos."