Seattle Seahawks: 10 Players With Something to Gain During 2011 Training Camp
The Seahawks are a roster in transition going into 2011, with as many as 27 free agents from IR or last season’s final 53 man roster. That said, the organization has a young group of unproven players looking to elevate their games to the next level and replace some of the 27 possible departures.
Unfortunately for Seattle, the undrafted free agency process has been delayed and the draft class is yet to be completed; no players from the 2011 draft were considered for this list, the focus being on 2010 IR players, backups or spot starters that head into 2011 with an opportunity for more playing time—with a few exceptions sprinkled in.
Let’s take a look at ten Seahawks that have something to gain with a strong training camp; whenever camp happens to occur heading into next season.
Golden Tate, WR
In highlighting 12 Seahawks to watch back in February, I tabbed the 2010 2nd round pick as a more physical, less speedster Percy Harvin-type for Darrell Bevell, who had 75 touches his rookie season; Harvin used all over the field as a run after the catch receiver and occasional rusher.
At the time, I noted Tate had 93 catches and 25 carries with a 7.4 yards per carry average and two touchdowns in his senior season at Notre Dame, fast forward to his second season with Seattle, a 200-plus percent increase in regular season offensive touches, 46 or more in 2011, would result in a more explosive offense.
Tate showed athleticism and play-making ability throughout the offseason into the season, but struggled with his route running and consistency as the season wore on.
On Monday, The News Tribune’s Eric Williams provided the following:
Carroll believes Tate should see the field more in 2011, particularly in third-down situations as the slot receiver, similar to how Brandon Stokley was used last season. That’s an interesting development because Stokley worked with Tate a lot after practice on improving his route running in his rookie season.
“There’s nothing that we would like to see more than to elevate Golden’s effectiveness,” Carroll said. “We just didn’t get him over the hump last year, and we need to do that. He’ll be in position to take over a huge role for us.”
I highlighted Stokley as a player the Seahawks would be wise to re-sign, but could be cut if the team feels the receiving core is primed for a big step forward in 2011; is Stokley’s status with the team tied to Tate’s pre-season/early season performance?
Clearly, the Seahawks are expecting big things from Tate, as Carroll and Schneider have both referred to Tate as a player they hope to see improvement from in 2011.
Tate was used all over the field at Notre Dame, an undersized receiver with solid downfield ball skills; do the Seahawks see him as a budding playmaker in the slot?
My prediction of 46-plus offensive touches may be in jeopardy for what Carroll and co. seem to have in mind for Tate in 2011. If he can step up to the lofty expectations being set for him going into training camp, Tate may have the chance to give the Seahawks near Harvin-like production in 2011.
Kam Chancellor, SS
The 2010 fifth round pick proved during his rookie reason he is a physical presence to be reckoned with—6’3”, 223 pounds—but where exactly he fits into the 2011 defense remains to be seen.
Chancellor was a rover-strong safety type in the Virginia Tech secondary before enduring a rough transition to free safety his last two seasons. His size and lack of range, suspect ball skills and and struggles in deep zone projected him to move back to strong safety in the NFL, 208 college tackles to his credit; solid straight line speed and a heavy hitting nature around the line of scrimmage indicators of the possible move.
Chancellor made an impact on special teams early in his rookie season; a forced fumble/tackle of Darren Sproles in Week 3 and a touchdown saving hit on a Leon Washington fumbled kickoff Week 9 two of his early season plays of note.
He had one of his better games on the field in Week 9 as well, a pass batted at the line and he showed solid tackling during increased playing time in the second half; he also made a stout third down tackle in Week 13.
However, his coverage was inconsistent. In Week 15 versus Atlanta, Chancellor blew a “deep half” assignment that broke a 10-10 tie inside 30 seconds to go in the first half.
Fox’s Tim Ryan,“I don’t know what Kam Chancellor is doing…he’s got one thing to do, play your deep half and he got caught up in no man’s land…I don’t know what he saw, he was chasing a ghost up front.” Momentum Atlanta, one of the best halves of the season squandered.
One positive play of note; a strong pass breakup in zone coverage on third down versus New Orleans in the playoffs, the “beastquake” run to come three plays later.
Regardless of whether or not Lawyer Milloy comes back—Carroll saying during his post season presser their conversation regarding his return would be as “man to man” as possible, Milloy still unsure of his return at this point—there will be competition at the position. Rookie Byron Maxwell’s role is unknown and the team acknowledged they are looking to bring in more safety prospects when the lockout is lifted.
He will have to fight off competition from a growing group of players on his heels, but Chancellor has a chance to be more than just a short yardage and “bandit” safety in 2011 if he can prove during camp he has the cover skills to play on every down.
Isaiah Stanback, WR
However, based on the comments of John Schneider this offseason, it sounds like there is a place for Stanback on the Seahawks roster. Schneider had the following to say in February (some thoughts on Golden Tate included in the link as well):
“Isaiah had a great camp when he was healthy...And if he can get over the injuries, he’s a big, strong, physical run-after-the-catch, take-the-ball-out-the-air core guy that’s played quarterback. And he just has a very strong, natural leadership aura about him. He’s a great guy in the building. He’s a great guy in the community. He wants to be there. He wants to be a really good player.
“I can’t get over the fact that several years ago I was out there scouting him, and I fell in love with the guy.”
No need to translate; Stanback brings the intangibles off the field, the adjective “great” the word Schneider used to describe the character of Mark Legree in the post draft presser.
Ruvell Martin played seven games for Seattle in 2010 including the post season, a solid backup and special teams player; Stanback has similar size and is a special teams contributor, also a possible weapon from the wildcat package. Now that we know Carroll is hoping Tate can play a role similar to Brandon Stokley on third down, Stanback becomes the clear candidate to replace Martin.
It’s becoming increasingly clear this offseason Seattle is expecting their receiving core to take a step forward in 2011. Mike Williams’ attitude sounds in line with a hungry bear that just came out of hibernation, talking about working to be on the level of a Larry Fitzgerald and admitting he is nowhere near where he wants to be; Obomanu is the veteran of this squad and is expected to play a steady role; Tate expected to step into a bigger role, as noted previously; Kris Durham a well rounded receiver with unique size and freakish leaping ability; Deon Butler the wildcard returning from injury.
Stanback will be counted on to bring experience to the group, all things being relative if the team doesn’t bring back Stokley and/or Martin. The praise paid by Schneider is high, especially given Stanback’s 14 career receptions.
His stints in Dallas and New England suggest he has spent time on talented rosters, and the Seahawks are hoping the hometown product can play his way into the receiving rotation in 2011; hopefully he has used the lockout as time to further his rehabilitation, as he needs to pick up where he left off before his injury to be a factor.
David Hawthorne, MLB/LB
Hawthorne is exception number one on this list, a 16 game starter at weakside linebacker in 2010.
A natural middle linebacker, Hawthorne’s 2011 role remains unclear as the team drafted two linebacker; weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith—an excellent athlete out of USC—and versatile linebacker K.J. Wright.
I previously highlighted Hawthorne's exceeding of expectations when filling in for Lofa Tatupu, who tore his pectoral in Week 7 of 2009. Hawthorne proved his nickname “the heater” was true to form, constantly swarming to the ball and packing a punch; he also showed the ability to cover between the numbers, down field—“the pipe.” Only a second year player, Hawthorne proved he had potential.
In 2010 he continued to play mature as the Seahawks put him in a new position, at weakside linebacker, when Lofa Tatupu returned. Hawthorne doesn’t have ideal range or one on one cover skills to be weakside backer in Carroll’s system—Smith has 4.46 speed, Hawthorne had 4.69-4.8 speed coming out, and is more suited for contain and coverage. Restricted free agent linebacker Will Herring is primarily a weakside linebacker, and could compete for time if still on the roster in 2011.
In my opinion, Hawthorne looked uncomfortable on the weak side at times in 2010 compared to his 2009 play in the middle, but he still played well enough to become noticed as an up and coming linebacker.
Last week I highlighted Tatupu as a Seahawk with something to prove in 2010; his salary, declining performance and deterioration of healthy the past two seasons are reason for concern; Hawthorne made John Clayton’s All Underrated Team released last week.
The Seahawks have Hawthorne signed through 2011 for $900,000 base salary this season, part of a $1.38 million dollar extension he signed last November, the extension preceded by a month of particularly solid play.
The team can’t afford to belabor their decision of what to do with Hawthorne; the undrafted free agent has proven he has abilities well beyond just a backup during his first three seasons in the league.
Tatupu is still the leader of the defense; if Hawthorne keeps improving--especially as an on field communicator and signal caller--and Tatupu fails to fully recover from his dual arthroscopic knee surgeries, Hawthorne may find himself in position to snatch the starting job.
Cameron Morrah, TE
Morrah left California in 2009 against the opinion of coach Jeff Tedford; Morrah starting only 19 games in a three year college career, 2008 his only year as a consistent threat in the offense.
He declared early for personal reasons, mainly because he wanted his grandmother to see him play in the NFL; the glue to his family growing up, she endured heart problems during his childhood and he considered her sickness a motivating factor for working towards NFL success.
He was tabbed as an ascending prospect with great receiving talent, but lacked polish shown by lapses in concentration; he also needed to add bulk and prove he could be a consistent run blocker.
Morrah only had one catch during his rookie season, but the 6’3”, 251 pound playmaker proved towards the end of 2010 he had the ability to become a vertical threat as a tight end; he had two catches of 30-plus yards, in Week 13 and the Wild Card round, on only 13 total catches including the playoffs.
He proved to have the athleticism to field tight end screens—two throws to the outside on the first drive Week 15 versus Atlanta- and both of his downfield grabs displayed solid hands and athleticism; a crucial drop early against Chicago in the playoffs Morrah’s notable negative play of the year.
John Carlson underperformed in 2010; partly due to injuries across the majority of the offense, but also due to dropped passes. With the drastic changes on the offensive coaching staff, Morrah must prove he’s willing to work at the disposal of the coaches.
Tom Cable’s confidence in Morrah’s run blocking abilities may ultimately make a difference in how much time Morrah sees, his receiving capabilities already flashed by his 2010 big plays.
If Morrah comes to camp and it’s clear he has worked on becoming a more complete player during the offseason, he may be in position to climb the depth chart.
Walter Thurmond, CB
The second year pro out of Oregon is presumed by many pundits to step into a starting spot, assuming he continues to re-gain explosiveness after his 2009 knee surgery--the injury dropping the early round talent to the 4th round of the 2010 draft.
Thurmond was an explosive playmaker at Oregon, three consecutive seasons with a pick six and two straight five interception seasons; he scored two touchdowns in three games during his injury shortened 2010.
Though a physical tackler in college, Thurmond was less physical in coverage on the line; he relied on his athleticism and long arms and struggled as a press corner. He was a captain and tough leader, missing only one game before his season sending ACL/MCL/PCL injury his senior season.
He played in 14 games, one start, as a rookie and broke up seven passes; five coming during Week 6 and Week 7 , and he made a great play in the endzone defending the 6’6” Jimmy Graham in Week 11.
However, He struggled at times to disrupt on the line of scrimmage and found himself trailing in coverage, as most rookies sometimes do. Furthermore, he missed two games and struggled to continue to produce as the season wore on, missing a game and going tackle-less in three of the season’s final eight regular season games.
On the whole, Thurmond flashed his athleticism and willingness as a tackler enough so that a starting job is likely his to gain.
Mike Gibson, OG
Gibson was a surprise contributor in 2010, playing three weeks at the left guard position before ousting Stacy Andrews at right guard in Week 15; the right side of the offensive line played better after his insertion into the lineup.
Gibson was a Ju-Co all American before going to California, where he played primarily left tackle and was a tone setter in the trenches, with 2011 pro bowl alternate center Alex Mack, in 2006 and 2007--; his short arms would prevent him from playing tackle in the NFL, but he proved he had the motor and work ethic to be a solid NFL guard. Gibson came from the Eagles practice squad in 2009 to join the contingent of Cal players on the Seahawks.
Gibson’s toughness is what stands out to Forsett, who has “nothing but good things to say about Mike Gibson.”
Tom Cable has no limitation on the size of his preferred lineman, 2011 draftees James Carpenter and John Moffitt both hovering around 320, while Gibson is listed at 298.
We know the importance of fit to this organization, Gibson’s attitude and ethic a clear fit in my opinion; the guy refused surgery on a torn labrum until after the season in 2006—a red flag that has proven to be a non-issue thus far.
Gibson is not the favorite at the position, the team acknowledging they will pursue a guard in free agency; they pursued Chester Pitts and Ben Hamilton last season, in the lineup at left guard a total of nine games in 2010. Gibson’s college experience on the left side could be a factor in evaluating his prospects for the starting left guard position in 2011.
However, Gibson has proven throughout his career he is willing to work hard to earn his time, and Tom Cable may appreciate Gibson's attitude enough that a strong camp puts Gibson in competition for the left guard spot.
Brandon Browner, DB
Browner is the second exception on the list, an unknown player who has the potential to make an instant impact in Seattle.
The Seahawks signed CFL defensive player of the year Rickey Foley during the 2010 offseason after his 2009 breakout, award winning season; unfortunately, the move never made an impact for Seattle.
In the 2011 offseason, the Seahawks are using the same approach; Browner signed a futures/reserve deal with the team in late January.
The three time CFL All-star for the Calgary Stampeders had a tough decision to make after his fifth pro season in the CFL, among the league’s best at his position.
Browner came out of Oregon State, raw but talented, with an early to mid round grade in 2005; he went undrafted, signed by the Broncos. He broke his arm in the 2005 pre-season and was released in July of 2006.
He signed with the Stampeders in 2006; in his third season, the team won the Grey Cup.
Scouts questioned if Browner would need to convert to safety in the NFL; now that he has five years of cornerback experience in Canada’s pro league, his versatility could prove to be a major factor in making the Seahawks roster.
Marcus Trufant’s true 2011 role is in limbo due to his large contract and declined play the past three seasons; both Jordan Babineaux and Lawyer Milloy are unsure of their 2011 role with the team, if any.
If Browner can prove he is more than just young depth and provide unexpected experience on the roster—he left large footsteps to fill with the Stampeders--, he may make the team as a member of the cornerback or safety rotation in 2011; a move to safety given his 6'3", 210-215 size is not out of the question.
Browner will be competing for those snaps with a group of young players; maybe having a leg up, as he has been under contract with a pro team every year since he left college in 2005.
Browner has a chance to become one of the surprise contributors to the 2011 roster if he can have a strong training camp, as he brings the potential to play two positions in the secondary.
Dexter Davis, DE
The former Arizona St. Sun Devil started every game in his four year college career, a former high school wrestler who proved to have excellent strength for his size. He had 31 career sacks, 10 forces fumbles and 45 tackles for loss in his career, but did not possess the coverage skills to project as a 4-3 outside linebacker in the pros; more suited as a backup rush defensive end that is stout against the run for his size, adept enough in coverage to drop into short zone.
The 2010 seventh round pick played mostly on special teams, his only career sack coming in Week 1; he also saw time against the Giants in a fourth quarter, backup role. He at times looked out of rhythm on the snap, but showed strength, physicality and the attitude to compete for backup playing time.
At the combine, John Schneider had the following to say about Davis, “A guy like Dexter Davis, he’s been hearing that he’s an under-sized guy his whole career,” Schneider said. “And he just has a natural feel, God-given ability to rush the passer."
Obviously, high praise for the lack of production in his rookie reason. Furthermore, Carroll had this to say about Aaron Curry earlier this week, via The News Tribune;
“We would like to continue to utilize him on the line of scrimmage...He’s a real physical factor matching up on the tight ends, and he’ll continue to get that done. He really excelled on that, and we’ll just continue to let him grow in that situation. We think he’s has a guy who has a tremendous amount of potential to get better. He wasn’t able to factor in the pass rush as we hoped. He wasn’t able to break into the top two rushers.”
Curry could see more time rushing the passer in 2011, but his primary position is strong side linebacker. The Seahawks didn't draft a pass rusher, paving the way for Davis to step into a larger rushing role in 2011; especially if Raheem Brock doesn't return to Seattle.
Charlie Whitehurst, QB
Whitehurst is currently the only quarterback on the roster and has been given the chance to win the starting job in training camp. Naturally, he lands on this list as he is in position to possibly land one of the team's most important roles.
Last week I posed the following questions in highlighting Whitehurst as a player with something to prove in 2011:
“Few feel Whitehurst is the answer, especially given the questions surrounding the lockout; has Whitehurst been able to receive the right coaching, a pair of eyes that will scrutinize to the extent that the Seahawks coaching staff will? Has Whitehurst been training to add bulk? Is he watching game film correctly and gaining a proper understanding of the playbook?”
We don’t know the answers to any of those questions, but Whitehurst did come to Seattle for the team practices—as he should have—just after ESPN’s John Clayton had said Whitehurst was dropping the ball in not taking a leadership role this offseason.
Just a week prior, Mike Williams defended Charlie Whitehurst saying that Whitehurst has a “big time arm” and “people were very critical of him but I don’t think people take into account what repetitions do in this league…”
Opinion is varied on Whitehurst, the moniker “clipboard Jesus” not given to him because of widespread faith among fans in his abilities to lead the Seahawks to a division title in 2011.
Whitehurst knows his role going into camp, fully aware the starting job could be his if he can show up looking like a second version of the player that won the division in 2010; even if he doesn't prove to be the answer at quarterback when all is said and done in 2011, a strong enough performance to win the job in training camp would be a step forward in his career.