5 Seahawks Who Could Be Sleeper Starters in 2012

Darin Pike@darinpikeContributor IJune 25, 2012

5 Seahawks Who Could Be Sleeper Starters in 2012

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    During the 2010 NFL offseason, the odds of predicting the starting lineup for the Seattle Seahawks were somewhere between winning the Lotto and being struck by lightning twice...on the same day. However, the 2012 starting roster is mostly set save a few position battles that will be settled in training camp.

    Obviously, quarterback is one of the positions up for grabs. There has been ample coverage on the three-headed race that will be decided after preseason games start. 

    Tarvaris Jackson is the current QB1, with Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson breathing down his neck. For simplicity, I've been referring to the starting quarterback as Jack Flylson.

    But there are a few other position battles that will come to a head in August, some of which could yield surprising results.

Jaye Howard, DT

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    The front four will see a rotation that includes Red Bryant, Alan Branch, Brandon Mebane, Jason Jones and Chris Clemons, with Bruce Irvin getting time in passing situations.

    At first glance, there's very little room for another 300-pound body to find playing time.

    But the Seahawks did just that, using a fourth-round draft pick on a player they had near the top of their draft board for defensive tackles.

    Seattle certainly had some insider information on Howard, as their former defensive line coach Dan Quinn was his defensive coordinator in 2011 for the Florida Gators.

    “I thought he really improved as the season went on,” Quinn told the Florida Times-Union. “I thought it was important for him from last year to this year to get his weight down, get his conditioning up so he could finish on plays and I think he’s shown that on tape.”

    Howard had an impressive 60 tackles and 5.5 sacks from the interior of the Florida defensive line. He recorded 1.5 of those sacks in a dominating performance in the Gator Bowl against Ohio State.

    The Seahawks are likely interested in Howard for an expanded role in 2013, as both Branch and Jones will be free agents. But look for him to make some noise in camp, as he's very athletic for his size.

    Howard will see playing time as an interior pass-rusher this season and could even be a factor at defensive end. He could be used to spell Red Bryant on an occasional rushing situation and figures to be an option to replace Chris Clemons in short-yardage situations.

Korey Toomer, OLB

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    The 2012 Seahawks defense leaves very little room for new blood to earn a starting spot. The team returns 10 starters from last season's top-10 defense, leaving just the middle linebacker spot vacant.

    The team figures to upgrade the departed David Hawthorne. Although he played well enough in running situations, he was a liability covering tight ends and running backs in passing routes.

    There simply isn't much room left for additional new starters on defense.

    The front-four was addressed on the prior slide, and the secondary is set with Earl Thomas, Cam Chancellor, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Marcus Trufant should settle in nicely at the nickel corner spot.

    This just leaves the linebackers on the defensive side of the ball, where two of the positions could possibly see new starters this season.

    Seattle signed Barrett Ruud this offseason and then drafted Bobby Wagner to compete for the vacant starting job in the middle. Perhaps, Ruud could have a slide of his own, as Wagner has an early lead for the starting spot.

    However, the competition is still open, and Ruud is expected to be healthy and ready to play at the start of training camp. He will push for starter reps and neither he nor Wagner would be a surprise starter.

    While Ruud has been a middle linebacker in the NFL, he also has the ability to move outside. This could also leave him in the running for the starting strong-side linebacker.

    But the Seahawks re-signed Leroy Hill, who reported to minicamp in excellent physical condition. He played very well last season and is expected to start in 2012, but the team is looking for more speed from their linebackers.

    Korey Toomer could be that player to play opposite K.J. Wright. He was drafted in the fifth round, coming out of the University of Idaho. 

    He'll have some work in front of him adjusting to the NFL, but he has the speed and physical tools to excel in the NFL. He ran a 4.53 40 at his pro day and posted an amazing 42" vertical jump.

    Toomer looked solid in the team's OTAs and minicamp. It will be tough for him to oust Leroy Hill from his starting spot, but at a minimum, look for him to replace Hill in some passing situations in 2012.

Russell Wilson, QB

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    While addressed briefly in the opening slide, I feel the quarterback position deserves a little attention. 

    Conventional wisdom says that Matt Flynn has the maturity and experience working with an NFL offense to win the quarterback battle. While not game-hardened, he has spent four years learning how to approach the game in a quarterback-friendly Green Bay Packers system.

    He's played well when given a chance on game day and is the quarterback I've spent the last year mentioning as the next Seahawk franchise quarterback.

    That said, the mental toughness and decision making that summarize Flynn's game can also be found in Russell Wilson.

    Tarvaris Jackson offers a tough, physical passer with a very strong arm. While I don't expect to see Wilson airing the ball out quite like Jackson, he embodies the best of Seattle's 2011 starter.

    The only critique of Wilson is he's just under 5'11" tall, which some consider to be a midget for NFL quarterbacks. It is the reason I wrote him off...before spending some time analyzing his play.

    Wilson's overhead delivery will help compensate for his height issues.

    Many point to issues seeing over linemen as the biggest hurdle to short quarterbacks. I tend to see getting the ball over their outstretched arms as a bigger issue and one that Wilson has learned to address with his delivery.

    If Wilson and Flynn are close to each other during the competition I expect to see Flynn start under center. The Seahawks have spent two years rebuilding; the defense and most of the offensive starters are ready to compete in the playoffs.

    Seattle needs a good quarterback to get them over the hump, and Flynn's experience in the NFL gives him an edge over Wilson.

    However, Wilson could step onto the field with the first unit to face off with Peyton Manning on August 18th. If given the opportunity, I wouldn't bet against the quarterback who set the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) record for passing efficiency. 

    Anyone who has spent much time watching and listening to Wilson knows better than to count him out. He's risen to every challenge so far and don't expect two or three inches of vertical elevation to be enough to keep him off the football field—at least not for long.

Deuce Lutui, OG

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    The starting offensive line for the Seahawks figures to be Russell Okung, Paul McQuistan, Max Unger, John Moffitt and Breno Giacomini.

    Seattle's 2012 first-round pick, RT James Carpenter, isn't likely to be ready for the start of the season and will look to challenge for a starting spot later in the season.

    Given the Seahawks' issues with health since their 2005 Super Bowl run, Carpenter figures to be an injury replacement this season at a minimum. 

    Barring injury, Okung, Unger and Moffitt will be starting, and it would take a huge camp by one of the competitors to unseat Giacomini.

    Seattle added Alex Barron, Frank Omiyale and Rishaw Johnson in free agency—the latter after he failed to be drafted in 2012. All three will compete in camp and add great depth to the roster, but it would be surprising to see more than one of these players make the final 53-man roster.

    The other free-agent acquisition was former star RG Deuce Lutui. He had issues controlling his weight with the Arizona Cardinals and showed up for training camp one year just a few happy meals short of 400 lbs.

    Tired of the antics, the Cardinals opted to let the six-year veteran look for options again this offseason.

    He was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011, only to be released because he couldn't pass his physical. Adam Schefter originally reported the team felt he was simply too fat to play the position. He rejoined the Cardinals and played in 15 games last season.

    Lutui responded this offseason by adopting a vegan diet, if only temporarily, and reported to the Seahawks at a friendly 338 pounds. His $1.29 million contract stipulates his weight needs to stay below 350 lbs.

    Head coach Pete Carroll offered some thoughts about adding Lutui on Seahawks.com.

    Deuce Lutui, he is a joy to have out here. He has got such a great spirit. He always did. We looked at opportunities to get him on this club just because of that. He looks good. His weight is down—I mean, way down from where he can be. He’s a vegan, too, now, so he has really made a big turn, if you can imagine.

    Carroll joked that Lutui reported at 208 pounds—a weight Lutui hasn't likely seen since junior high.

    Some of his new linemates are also ribbing Lutui about his diet. Unger responded to news that Lutui went vegan by stating “I’m not sure if that story is true or not. He said it was 'for a period of time.' What does that mean? I’m a vegan right now. I haven’t eaten in three hours.”

    Lutui cleared the air during the team's minicamp last week.

    It was true, I did get into (a vegan diet). It helped me keep off a lot of weight. Now I’m into chicken and fish and staying away from red meat. I’ve adapted to the vegan concept and mixed my cultural identity and the vegan together.

    I don’t want to say I’ve lost any identity or anything, but I made a commitment to myself and my family. It’s helped bless my life. It’s been an issue in the past, but I have my eyes forward and I’m very optimistic with this team and with reuniting with Coach Carroll.

    Duece Lutui on going vegan and his weight battle

    Lutui built a reputation as being a bad boy on the field in college and the NFL. Hard-nosed play is a quality Carroll likes in his players, as does line coach Tom Cable

    This approach to protecting Jack Flylson and opening holes for Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin could lead to Lutui snagging the starting spot at left guard.

Kris Durham, WR

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    Mike Williams manned the starting spot opposite Sidney Rice when the two were healthy enough to be on the field together last season...seldom as that was.

    They both offer great height and are sure-handed receivers—characteristics that are important to the coaching staff.

    Mike Williams is expected to be on the field competing for his spot at the start of training camp. Ben Obomanu will need a very good preseason to hold his position, as Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate could both demonstrate they deserve more playing time.

    The thick mix of receivers also include speedster Ricardo Lockette, who will likely see time in four receiver sets. Deon Butler could take advantage of a full offseason and training camp and show he's too valuable to leave off the field and undrafted rookies Jermaine Kearse (6'2") and Lavasier Tuinei (6'5") will battle for roster spots or to make the team's practice squad.

    There's another receiver who could earn starting honors for the Seahawks, though.

    Kris Durham offers the size of Williams, though he lacks the girth that helps Williams battle for position to make catches.

    That isn't all bad, as the 6'5", 216-lb Durham makes up for it with blazing speed. While he was inexplicably snubbed from the NFL combine, the receiving mate of A.J. Green at Georgia ran his pro day 40-yard-dash in the 4.36 to 4.46 range.

    Seattle has two talented tight ends who can work underneath or down the seams in Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow Jr. Perhaps, the latter is deserving of a slide of his own, but he is expected to see ample playing time in the Seahawks offense.

    Seattle would be well served starting two receivers who can spread the field, opening up additional options for their tight ends.

    Rice (6'4") and Durham would give opposing corners matchup issues. The strong safety would likely need to key on Winslow, leaving just the free safety to help over the top. 

    While it would be a surprise to many fans, Durham could be the best option to take advantage of coverage mismatches.

    Add in a quarterback who can anticipate when receivers will be open instead of just throwing to open receivers and the Seahawks passing attack could see a revival in 2012.