Seattle Seahawks: 7 Reactions to 53-Man Roster Cuts and Victory over Raiders
The Seahawks capped off the preseason with a 20-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders, and quickly began cutting a talented, young 80-man roster down to 53 players. While the Seahawks had flashes of brilliance during the preseason, it is clear that leadership roles are shifting and the team hasn't gelled yet.
The Raiders' game provided the first team with their final audition, and proved this is a new team moving forward; the front office is fully immersed in their plan for rebuilding the organization.
The team finished 2-2 after an up and down preseason, hopefully setting a positive tone for a two game road trip to start the year. Where does this team stand as they head into Week 1?
To the Coaching Staff and Players, the Win Wasn't Meaningless
The Seahawks' home loss to Minnesota left a sour taste in the locker room and while the win against the Raiders really doesn't mean anything on paper, it sets the tone going into the regular season.
They won on both the road and at home; at the very least got to experience what it feels like to win in varied atmospheres.
Plus, Carroll will take advantage of any team building opportunity that presents itself; intimating the final preseason game was a "mini Super Bowl" when he got to the podium for the post game presser.
Going into the game, I mentioned the importance of the coaching staff's preparation and effort getting the 80 man roster ready to compete; the goal being to put a product on the field that could garner a bit of optimism heading into the season.
The entire team played with energy and toughness, looking like a more cohesive unit than we've seen to this point. Pass protection was very improved and the defense allowed three points.
Even with cuts looming, the focus was on performing and celebrating the end of the preseason as a unit; Carroll's unusually optimistic attitude and methods shining through.
Carroll finished the post game presser fielding a question about running back Thomas Clayton; if there was room for him on the 53 man roster—which there wasn't.
Carroll summed up the decision with they would have to see, but Carroll cracked a smile when taking about Clayton's strong preseason.
It was interesting to see Carroll's reaction, especially coupled with a short interview by Clayton in the locker room afterwards. He was all smiles about the college like atmosphere the Carroll had created in Seattle and said he simply wanted to be a part of it.
The final preseason game was about getting the gameplan right and creating the best atmosphere possible for evaluating the players—a group of reserves that played hard to the final whistle.
Hearing the attitude of bubble players such as Clayton is a sign the organization is in fact building an energetic culture that is attracting players; as a result, the organization had more depth this preseason than expected.
The coaching staff got it right and fielded a football team worth watching in the final game of the preseason, coming through on the expectation of finishing strong; an accomplishment that will hopefully boost the confidence of the team heading into the regular season.
Competitions to Watch, Revisited
Heading into the game, I noted five competitions to watch in preparation for the 53 man roster.
Let's take a look at the results (note: this slide was written prior to roster cuts being announced, but serves as a primer for upcoming slides).
James Carpenter played much better, a false start offset by better protection. Breno Giacomini also played solidly and this situation is ongoing; a competition that will make this line better in the end.
Golden Tate had his best game of the preseason and one of the best games of his career. He noted after the game that he noticed blogs and newspapers were saying he could be on the cutting block; he didn't want to be cut and knows he is a good football player.
Controversy ended, for now.
Kris Durham had a very solid game, with a strong third down catch, inside the five, on a high ball from Whitehurst. Doug Baldwin was less impressive, but should still make the roster. Ricardo Lockette won't make the active roster.
Byron Maxwell and Richard Sherman drew penalties with overaggressive play, which just needs to be reined in. Sherman made a fantastic breakup in the end zone late in the game and Maxwell had a strong preseason.
I think the Seahawks like Maxwell and Sherman too much to risk losing them, and Cox hasn't shown enough to leapfrog them.
I think Jeron Johnson has performed to well be left off the 53 man roster, and the Seahawks need to make a decision between Bigby, Pinkard, and LeGree. Schneider likes Bigby and Carroll brought in Pinkard.
Bigby or Pinkard get the final spot, LeGree is a candidate for the practice squad if he doesn't get picked up.
Maurice Fountain, A.J. Schable and David Howard have all made their cases to stay with the organization.
I'm very curious if the Seahawks are willing to cut ties with Dexter Davis and if they treat Clinton McDonald with the same approach they were using with Jennings, a bubble player. I think all three guys above made a case to be picked over Davis and to a lesser extent McDonald.
The First Unit Offense Makes Progress, but How Much?
Heading into the game it was important for both first units to establish a rhythm and gain some continuity.
The first unit offense and Tarvaris Jackson executed what was perhaps their best drive of the preseason, until the end.
Jackson threw the ball well, especially on the move and on screen passes—a welcome change to this offense. His major flaw was staring down his receivers, which caused the turnover in the end.
First and 10 in red zone, he forced an unnecessary throw for an interception, the safety reading his eyes the whole play. As Pete Carroll preaches, "it's all about the ball;" unfortunately, Jackson wasn't able to abide and finish the drive.
When Jackson completed a 43 yard pass to Golden Tate—who had one of the best games of his career—on the first play of the next drive, we officially saw what can happen when Jackson is given time to throw; in the end, the drive stalled for a field goal.
Seattle's pass protection was the best of the preseason, and Jackson praised them after the game for giving him a nice pocket.
The Seahawks appear to have a rotation of eight or nine lineman that they trust, and could look to add one more. Seattle gained more information by rotating their lineman consistently, a smart move, but they remain a work in progress.
Though the running game didn't find much room, the backs were making plays of 10 yards or more, as both rushers and receivers.
Leon Washington's 32 yard catch on the immaculate-reception-like deflection off a pass directed towards Golden Tate is just another sign Leon Washington can be a special player.
The first team offense made progress, but getting into the end zone was the primary goal and that did not happen. As long as Jackson is careful with the football and the offensive line continues to steadily improve, the questions surrounding the first team offense should remain at bay, for now.
The First Unit Defense Is Coming Along
On defense, the Seahawks front line is gelling and the back seven has a variety of young, talented players who will see the field.
The massive first unit lineman—Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch—can stop the run and all play well along the line of scrimmage; sans a 14 yard run by Michael Bush, the Seahawks run defense was solid and allowed two yards per carry on the game.
As a trio, they are meant to complement veteran pass rushers who can get to the quarterback—though the loss of Jimmy Wilkerson on IR is discouraging, as he flashed playmaking ability consistently this offseason.
This will force Seattle to find ways to pressure the passer with role players.
We need to see David Hawthorne come back from injury, but Leroy Hill has had a great preseason—a strong game versus Oakland—and is primed for a comeback season if he can stay healthy. Aaron Curry continues to flash improvement, but needs to remain consistent.
Marcus Trufant looks ready to start and Brandon Browner could start opposite because of his unique size and CFL expirience. Walter Thurmond will probably be on the field and often in the slot because of his quickness.
Earl Thomas can come down in coverage or fly in on the blitz like he did to blow up a Raiders screen pass. As a whole, can they improve upon the shabby secondary play from 2010?
This group is inexperienced, but the personnel fits the scheme better than in 2010; the defense has more athleticism, length and potentially playmaking ability. If health can be a non-factor, this unit should get better as the season goes on.
Five Surprises from the Cuts to 53; a Balance of Youth and Experience
The Seahawks opted for experience at linebacker over depth on the defensive line, and chose youth in the secondary and at receiver over adding another offensive lineman or runningback.
Colin Cole, DT (cut):
Cole was going to start the season on the PUP list, so it's understandable that he would be a candidate for release.
His nearly $4 million salary for 2011 was also a factor. Cole was stout against the run, but never offered much of a pass rush; plus, Mebane is now back at nose tackle and Branch has versatility and is signed for $4 million a year.
Freeing up cap space while they wait for Cole's injured ankle to recover makes sense. It's worth wondering if he'll come back for cheaper price in the future.
Mike Gibson, OG/C (cut):
Gibson was impressive towards the end of 2010 when he stepped in for Stacy Andrews at right guard, but was moved to second unit center in 2011. His name is not one that was floated around as a potential roster cut; given his play, the departure is a bit perplexing.
Gibson's experience and attitude was not enough to make up for his lack of size, Cable liking bigger offensive lineman. It's worth wondering if the Seahawks could have traded him considering he's shown promise since the old regime traded for him in 2009. Lemuel Jeanpierre is now the back up center.
Josh Pinkard, DB (cut):
Because of Pinkard's experience with Carroll at USC and now in Seattle, many thought that he would stay with the Seahawks after his year on the practice squad. But that was before Jeron Johnson had one of the best pre-seasons of any young Seahawk and made himself uncuttable.
It's interesting to note that Bigby, a "Schneider acquisition," beat out Carroll's USC guy. I commend the organization for giving Johnson a chance and realizing that if Bigby is healthy, he can be very strong role player.
Seattle's reportedly trying to sign Pinkard to the practice squad; we'll see if he remains off an active roster. On the whole, I like the organization's approach to this situation.
Dexter Davis, OLB/DE (retained):
The 2009 seventh round pick, registering 31 career sacks in college, remained a Seahawk after a lackluster preseason in which he went in and out of the lineup with a hip injury.
28-year-old Maurice Fountain was perhaps the most surprising player on the defensive line in my opinion; he provided constant pressure and a high motor presence on the edge.
Fountain fits the traditional defensive end role, but with the injury to Jimmy Wilkerson, I question whether or not Davis is the right type of player to be the last guy on the line.
Matt McCoy and David Vobora, LB (retained):
I did not think they would keep both of them. This is the area of the roster where the Seahawks chose experience over youth; given the departure of Lofa Tatupu, I can't say I disagree with their approach to making sure that there is depth in the middle of the defense.
Is having both of them worth more than depth along the line of scrimmage, a fourth back or another defensive back? If David Hawthorne remains nicked up or Hill has injury troubles, then yes.
Do they keep both if injuries pile up at other positions and the team needs to create roster space? Not sure.
Note: Vobora has been cut. Given McCoy's familiarity with Todd Wash and Gus Bradley, I'm not surprised he stayed.
Who Makes the Practice Squad?
The Seahawks had talented depth they couldn't keep on 53 man roster, but they can keep eight players on the practice squad.
Guys highlighted below—add previously mentioned Josh Pinkard and Mark LeGree to the group—have not played more than eight games in the NFL and have less than three years accrued experience, meaning they are most likely eligible.
Jameson Konz, DE/OLB:
Konz was converted from tight end at the beginning of training camp, after being converted from a defender to H-Back/tight end his senior season of college.
His athleticism and motor stood out, as he registered a sack and was able to make tackles in pursuit. His speed could land him a spot on special teams.
He is a player who could have made the roster instead of Davis given their similar skill sets, but if the Seahawks are able to keep Konz on the practice squad—given that they drafted him last season—he could potentially find himself on the active roster sometime in the middle of 2011.
David Howard, DT:
Howard was a bit of a surprise on the 80 man roster over Jay Alford, but had a sack and a half, with a forced fumble, to close the preseason. A smart player out of Brown University, Howard is the type of hard-working body the Seahawks could use on the practice squad as depth on the interior line.
He showed his potential and is worth keeping around if he can be coached up for NFL competition.
Dorson Boyce, FB:
The Seahawks only fullback is Michael Robinson, and having a player like Boyce on the practice squad would be an under the radar moved aimed toward the future.
He showed solid hands as a receiver out of the backfield, converting first downs when called upon—he was solid as a blocker and had two carries for 11 yards versus Oakland.
Unfortunately, he suffered a stinger on the final play before the Seahawks knelt it out. I'd like Seattle to develop a fullback on the practice squad, even if it's not Boyce.
Michael Morgan, LB:
Morgan excelled in his Junior year under Carroll at USC at strong side linebacker.
He flashed a good combination of speed and athleticism for a linebacker during the preseason, a guy that could also make an impact on special teams. His ties to Carroll and athleticism make him a solid candidate for the practice squad.
Maurice Fountain, DE:
He was with the Seahawks at the end of 2010 on the practice squad and his performance this preseason warrants a spot in 2011.
Given his age, he is a player who needs to develop quickly or be released; but with the injuries along the defensive line in 2010—and Jimmy Wilkerson already—the Seahawks can't afford to lack depth.
Vai Taua, RB:
Thomas Clayton got the bulk of the preseason work while Taua saw limited time, released and re-signed at one point.
But, Clayton is not eligible for the practice squad and Taua showed a patient, tough, one-cut running style that would work in this offense.
His college production—three 1,300-plus yard, 10-plus touchdown seasons—suggests he has potential.
Ricardo Lockette, WR:
The former D-II receiver is still raw, but flashed his playmaking ability throughout training camp; the trouble is inconsistency. Carroll previously mentioned Lockette as a player who had stood out during camp and he may have too high of an upside to completely cut ties with.
Paul Fanaika, OG:
He was most likely on the bubble for final cuts but considering the release of Gibson, Fanaika was not going to make the roster.
A member of the practice squad in 2010—heading into his third NFL season and yet to play in a game—the 6'5", 327 pound long armed, big handed, road-grader type blocker is a candidate for Cable to develop.
Note: Six spots on the practice squad have been filled: DE Maurice Fountain, DE Jameson Konz, WR Ricardo Lockette, G Brent Osborne, S Josh Pinkard, WR Owen Spencer
Roster Concerns Going Forward and Summing Up the Preseason
The Seahawks were active after initial cuts to 53 players in 2010, as they acquired Michael Robinson, Junior Siavii and Raheem Brock.
They don't appear to need as much help in 2011, but have a few roster concerns to address going forward.
Robert Gallery's lack of durability and age were a concern heading into 2011; his knee injury from the Oakland game, coupled with marginal play in the preseason, isn't a great start.
Given the fact the Seahawks cut Gibson and are already facing injury questions concerning Russell Okung, Seattle could add depth on the interior offensive line.
Jimmy Wilkerson was expected to provide another veteran pass rushing presence who could bring experience; now that he is hurt for the season, Seattle may look for another veteran.
The Seahawks could explore another veteran fullback, but Michael Robinson holds a high position in the locker room and on special teams.
I'd still like to see Jeff Reed get pushed by competition.
Note: The Seahawks have released four players; Jeff Reed, Junior Siavii, David Vobora and Pep Levingston. Reed has been replaced by Steven Hauschka, Vobora is not too surprising given Matt McCoy remaining with the team and hopefully Levingston makes the practice squad. Siavii had a marginal preseason.
Jarriel King (OT), Al Woods (DT), Landon Cohen (DT) have been added in addition to Hauschka.
On the whole, we learned from the 2011 preseason that this team has a significantly different make-up than the NFC West champions from 2010. They have 10 players left from the old regime and are among the most youthful, unknown rosters in the NFL.
The Seahawks are without Matt Hasselbeck and Lofa Tatupu, placing an added importance on sticking to Carroll's team-building philosophies, especially through times of defeat—not because his philosophies are better, but because the organization needs to create continuity.
The coaching staff must find a way to carryover the attitude that shined through during the playoff victory over New Orleans.
Carroll and Schneider never claimed that moving on from the franchise quarterback, gaining continuity on a young offensive line, and fielding a defense with many new starters was going to be a pain free process.
Nor should it be. Seattle's 2010 season created a false hope that 2011 can have a similar fate, but the truth is, this is a new team still learning its identity.
This process starts with Carroll and his coaching staff. They have significantly rebuilt the roster and will continue to do so; now, they must build the mentality of a division champion.