Seattle Seahawks: 5 Changes Brewing During Final Week of Preseason
The Seahawks have had a busy week; John Carlson is heading to the IR with a torn labrum, Kelly Jennings was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals and competition exists on the right side of the offensive line; not to mention the 53 man roster is becoming a constant topic of conversation.
The team is ultimately focused on fixing their mistakes—a constant theme recently—as they prepare to host Oakland and hope to end the preseason on a high note. What's changing as we move closer to the regular season?
John Carlson Is out for the Year; Will a New Name Emerge?
The Seahawks had high expectations for Zach Miller and John Carlson being together on the field this season. They planned to use a lot of multiple tight end sets as Miller and Carlson presented a one-two punch on par with the top tandems in the league.
With Carlson out, the Seahawks have expressed disappointment and rightfully so. He is a hard worker and a guy who many hoped would blossom as the number 1B tight end with Miller. Unfortunately his 2010 ended with injury and his 2011 didn't begin because of one.
But, there could be a silver lining to the situation; this may save Seattle from facing a tough decision of which tight end to cut. Dominique Byrd and Anthony McCoy have emerged this preseason—Cameron Morrah is on the PUP list—and the Seahawks have the chance to evaluate both during the season.
The point here is not that the Seahawks are better without Carlson; rather, they get an unexpected opportunity to see what they have at the tight end position. Based on the results of the preseason thus far, the outcome could be surprising.
Seattle has big skill position players that can make up for Carlson's receiving production and maybe his roster spot; or they can find a blocking specialist to make up for Carlson's H-back abilities, Seattle strongly linked to Mike Karney.
One thing to take note of on Friday is how the Seahawks use their tight ends. Perhaps they've prepared for a couple of weeks with Carlson out, as we've seen McCoy and Byrd involved already.
Can either of these guys—Morrah when he is healthy—step up now that the opportunity has presented itself; do the Seahawks ultimately have to reduce the frequency of two and three tight end sets due to the loss of Carlson?
The depth of this unit has been praised by many throughout the preseason and this sentiment will now be tested for the entire regular season. Tight end has gone from being one of the deepest groups to now facing a major question mark; the speculation begins as to whether or not Carlson has played his final game for the Seahawks.
Kelly Jennings for Defensive Tackle Cilnton McDonald. Good Move?
The simple fact that Kelly Jennings was traded is music to many Seahawks fans' ears.
Enter 6'2", 297 pound defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, a 2009 seventh round pick who has appeared in only eight games, but has had a strong preseason. On the surface, McDonald doesn't appear to offer much. But as usual with this organization, it's about fit.
As noted after the Denver game, Seattle has been unable to generate a pass rush with their massive size inside; their primary purpose being to stop the run, not generate pressure. Seattle still needs an explosive interior rusher.
McDonald came out of Memphis as a two-time team captain and hard worker, an undersized, strong and productive three-technique tackle—a YouTube search uncovered the video, a draft profile. His upside was tabbed as a high motor interior rusher.
Though he does not have production to show for himself in the pros, this write up notes some intriguing qualities about McDonald:
As a member of the practice squad, he used to meet the team bus as they returned from road games—often in the middle of the night; he came to 2011 training camp noticeably bigger and stronger and registered eight tackles in the team's first preseason game; signs are pointing to 2011 being a step forward for McDonald.
They may not have acquired a star, but they found a player that may be a strong fit in both the locker room and at the three technique position in the four man, under front. Last year, Brandon Mebane played the three-tech, but he's not the quick footed, disruptive rusher that's needed for that spot in that alignment.
McDonald may be able to succeed with more one-on-one matchups, not playing at the nose tackle spot. Furthermore, he can provide size and pass rushing ability from the inside in second/third and long situations.
The Seahawks acquired a rotational interior pass-rusher for a sub package corner; a position of weakness became a position of strength over the course of the preseason, so they traded the player that didn't really fit all along for a promising player at a position of need.
Hopefully, a round-a-bout way of filling a position Seattle is yet to find the right fit for, and not just a trade-for-and-cut one game experiment.
Full Steam Ahead Developing Young Cornerbacks
The departure of Kelly Jennings, after Jordan Babineaux and Lawyer Milloy, means all three of the Seahawks' free agent defensive backs are gone.
The departure of Jennings signifies the Seahawks were not simply acquiring players and hoping certain ones stuck throughout the offseason. With the addition of Brandon Browner from the CFL, Richard Sherman in the fifth round and Byron Maxwell in the sixth, they showed an emphasis on athleticism, length and physicality; they executed their plan for re-stocking their cornerbacks, the question becoming how long would it take for the pieces to fit.
During the preseason the new talent has proven up to the task. Through three games, it was clear Jennings may not even fit as a sub package corner—especially if Roy Lewis returns from the PUP list.
With Marcus Trufant, Browner, Walter Thurmond, Sherman, Maxwell and potentially Kennard Cox—not to mention the versatility of Earl Thomas and others—the Seahawks are intent on molding a physical, fast group to complement the defensive line.
Physical, press corners throw off the rhythm of the passing game and their large defensive line is supposed to slow down the running game. With the right personnel up front and in the backend, they can manufacture a pass rush. Now, Seattle can begin to implement that blueprint.
When Kelly Jennings re-signed, it was unclear what role he would play. In the end, he was a barometer for judging where the young secondary was in their maturation. The new corners have turned heads this preseason and appear on the rise; trading Jennings in favor of youth is a sign the organization is willing to push through growing pains that will come with their belief in this raw, talented group.
The Tom Cable Attitude and a Competition That Makes Sense
Heading into the preseason and before Week 3, the offensive line play looked on track for a potential change; such as a member from the veteran, second unit offensive line being inserted into the first unit, the goal being to create short-term stability with the long-term in mind.
Carroll announced Tuesday that right tackle James Carpenter is splitting reps with Breno Giacomini—"Giac"—as the team prepares for Oakland. Given Carroll's postgame comments on Saturday night, noting the team will do whatever is needed to fix the problems up front, this competition is one I don't find surprising.
The attitude is along the lines of we screwed up and we'll fix it, no panic; this is the attitude Pete Carroll talked about permeating through the organization, after he hired Cable. We're getting our first clear example of what he can potentially bring to this organization, hopefully for the better.
In the preseason the Seahawks have learned that Carpenter will have issues with his transition to right tackle; in order to put the entire team in position to succeed right now—and get an accurate reading at quarterback—the Seahawks need stability up front.
Carpenter has been given the opportunity to learn on an "island" in the preseason. Their protection has been "vanilla" and not what the Seahawks plan on running in the regular season; thus far, more one-on-one responsibilities and less scheming for protection.
"Giac" is an unknown, but has been strong splitting reps with Carpenter, who has continued to struggle. Given the ultimatum, inserting a "veteran" in place of the first round pick, with high expectations, is a move aimed at creating long term success for Carpenter. He's already struggled, so it's time to pick him up and create a favorable environment for his maturation throughout the season.
It's not the competition some hoped for, but this is a promising move. The change appears in line with the sentiment that the offensive line play is affecting the rest of the offense, and therefore starting at the "root" of the problem is the first way to fix it.
In the end, Carpenter will only be thrown into the fire to start the regular season if he proves more capable than Giacomini; and hopefully the quarterback situation will gain clarity as a result of the "fixes" up front.
A Look at the 53 Man Roster; Is a Surprise Cut Coming?
Given the Seahawks' sometimes bold and unorthodox methods to personnel management, it wouldn't surprise if there was a cut or two that comes out of nowhere.
The final game will be the last chance for players on the bubble to distinguish themselves, but also for players who are assumed to be part of the 53 man roster to prove that they belong. Here are three players that may not be on 100 percent solid ground going into Friday:
Golden Tate: On Tuesday John Clayton noted there's a chance the Seahawks could cut Tate, given his lackluster performance this preseason.
Given the expectations they have for Tate and his standing as a second round pick, releasing him after just one year doesn't make much sense in my opinion. I think Seattle would be willing to explore trade, but also understands the need for depth at wide receiver. They had health issues at receiver in 2010.
Is it possible Tate is at the end of the line? This should be a wake-up call, but a good game could put this issue to rest for now.
Justin Forsett: His leadership in putting together the Seahawks' offseason workouts looked like a sign that Forsett was ready to step up as a leader for this organization. To this point, he has had an average preseason, missing the first game due to injury.
Though Forsett is undersized, his knowledge of pass protection and skills as a receiver are two of his best strengths. Portis is aging, but brings a similar skill set. Even if the Seahawks don't sign Portis, it shows they're willing to explore at running back.
When Lofa Tatupu left, I feared it was a sign players like Forsett may not be safe. With Lynch out this weekend, how much time does Forsett see on Friday; does he need the chance to solidify his spot? I think he is valuable depth they can't afford to release; the organization may have alternative plans.
Matt McCoy: He played for Gus Bradley as a linebacker in Tampa and was signed before the 2010 season because of his special teams skills. He has seen time during third down and on the second team this preseason.
He continues to shine on special teams, but hasn't performed as well on defense. The Seahawks have nine linebackers and will cut to six, maybe seven. McCoy could be on the bubble, but a solid game should keep him in consideration.