The Seattle Seahawks have had several players step up during their 2012 training camp. The most impressive performances are being attributed to newcomers, but the top spot belongs to an over-achieving rookie.
There are several players who can make an argument for the top spot.
Bruce Irvin has had a solid camp, showing the speed and promise that made him Seattle's top draft pick. Bobby Wagner has played well enough to allow the Seahawks to trade Barrett Ruud to the New Orleans Saints, while Robert Turbin has shown the speed and strength that could make him a workable replacement for Marshawn Lynch if needed.
Seattle's later draft picks will struggle to make the roster, though, as the team has seen significant talent upgrades over the last two seasons.
Russell Wilson has had an amazing training camp. His play during rookie practices was impressive enough to push him into the competition for starting quarterback.
His poise, confidence and performances thus far in camp have earned him the start against the Kansas City Chiefs. This must be enough to earn him the top spot on this list. Or is it?
If Wilson emerges as the team's starting quarterback when the regular season starts, then he will deserve the top billing. But for now there is one player that is more deserving.
Seattle has a seventh-round selection who is not only challenging for a roster spot, he's working with the first team in preseason games. Even more impressive, J.R. Sweezy is doing it at a new position on the opposite side of the ball.
The Seahawks are building a reputation for finding and developing talent that others don't see. Last season they had Pro Bowl seasons from Brandon Browner, a former CFL player; and Kam Chancellor, a fifth-round draft pick in the 2010 draft.
Richard Sherman was selected in Round 5 of the NFL draft in 2011. He began his transition from wide receiver in college and is showing he could become an elite cornerback in the NFL.
It looks like the Seahawks have struck gold with another project player in 2012.
I was originally very skeptical of Seattle's late-round draft picks in 2012. They took two defensive linemen, a cornerback and strong safety (Winson Guy) who seemed redundant with Jeron Johnson on the roster.
Then came word that the team had a different plan for Sweezy, taken with the 18th pick in Round 7 of the 2012 NFL draft.
Seattle was intrigued with Sweezy, who played defensive tackle at North Carolina State, and his combination of size (6'4", 300 lbs) and speed (4.85 seconds in the 40-yard dash), making him the fastest offensive lineman on the roster.
GM John Schneider told the team's website about why the Seahawks moved ahead with Sweezy. “Here’s a guy who is a really tough, aggressive, quick defensive lineman who the staff at N.C. State would tell you, ‘This guy has a chance to be a really good offensive lineman.’
“Once we heard that, we asked Tom Cable to fly down there and work him out and spend some time with him, and he came back raving about the workout.”
Cable was impressed with Sweezy's quickness and athleticism during the workout and continues to be impressed with his performance, as shared by Eric Williams of The News Tribune.
I’m shocked, really. I think he’s doing a fine job in terms of his learning. Every day it’s new for him, in terms of whatever he’s experiencing he’s never experienced before.
He’s not the typical defensive lineman who played offensive and defensive line in high school. He was a linebacker and fullback kid in high school. So he’s never been an offensive lineman and never put his hand on the ground that way. So this has been his first time, and his transition so far, I would say he’s ahead of schedule. Now let’s see how far we can take it.
Sweezy is far enough ahead of schedule that he'll be making another start at right guard, playing in front of veteran Deuce Lutui, for the injured John Moffitt.
Sweezy's need for coaching is obvious, and Cable isn't missing any opportunities. He could be seen working with Sweezy on the edge of the field during the Seahawks preseason win over the Denver Broncos.
“He’s a great teacher,” Sweezy said of Cable, per the Williams' article. “In the film room, he helps me every day, pointing out things. After practice he tells me stuff to work on.
"The older guys are sticking around. Like I ask them probably 100 questions a day–I’m probably getting on their nerves. But they’re helping me out, and I’m continuing to grow.”
One of the "older guys" helping out is Breno Giacomini. He was also quoted in The News Tribune article. “We kind of clown him a little bit because he’s a D-lineman," Giacomini said. "But it’s all in fun. That’s a good skill that he does have–that fight in him.
"(You’ve) got to help him on every play, really, because he’s so new to this. But he’s getting it. He’s getting it fast–a lot faster than when I switched from tight end to tackle. So that’s a compliment.”
Sweezy's transition isn't a surprise to some outsiders. Bryan Fenley of CBS KREM 2 in Spokane, WA has high expectations for Sweezy in his rookie year.
Fenley was one of the early fans, but the Seahawks hope Sweezy won't make his mark at right tackle.
Moffitt is expected to man right guard in 2012 after missing a little over half of his rookie season due to a knee injury. He's on the sidelines recovering from a minor elbow surgery but is expected to be back on the field for the season opener on September 9.
Sweezy could be depth this season, but may also challenge for reps on the left side when Moffitt is healthy.
Pete Carroll offered his thoughts on Sweezy's play so far this summer during the team's preseason Week 3 press conference.
The biggest story from the coaching staff is J.R. Sweezy. He's such a tenacious tough guy and smart and obviously he had to be physically fit to play it. It's really surprising that a guy could compete like he's competing.
He had a very good game in the second game. That (replacing Moffitt) may be week to week. We're interested to see J.R. play again with the first group and see how he does. It's such a surprise that he could do all that so soon.
It is easy to see how Sweezy's natural talent is leading his success. He moves very well and seems to be relying on instincts to maintain contact.
He is adjusting to the need to anticipate the snap count as opposed to reacting to it. With another season working with Cable to refine his technique he could become a very talented offensive guard.
It would be nice to see Cable working with Seattle's offensive line for several more years, but his work with Sweezy could move him up other teams' priority lists for coaching positions a little higher up the food chain.
Should that happen then Seattle would have their first reason to be unhappy with Sweezy.