Saturday, August 26, 2017

Solid Dress Rehearsal-- Seahawks 26 Chiefs 13

The regular season is so close-- you can taste it.

The Seahawks move to 3-0 in the preseason with another impressive offensive performance against one of the leagues most formidable defenses. We've seen marked improvement from one game to the next on both sides of the ball-- though, special teams did not have it's best performance last night.

Russell Wilson looks ready for an MVP campaign.  Not just because he appears healthy and at the top of his game, but because his weapons look more focused and generally more talented. Doug Baldwin looks elite and the duos chemistry has never been better.

I go back and forth every week on Jermaine Kearse's future with this team.  He is responsible for some of the greatest plays in Seahawks history, but in the NFL, 'what have you done for me lately?' is the collective mantra.  He is arguably the best downfield blocker on the team, but lacks the consistency of a Baldwin or Lockett.

The offensive line performed admirably in the absence of George Fant.  They are far from being established, but I feel much better this year than I did the previous season. Ethan Pocic looks like we can plug him in anywhere on the line and get decent production.

A week or two ago, if you had asked me about Chris Carson's future with the team, I would've told
you that he was making a strong case to be on this roster.  After last night's performance-- I'm starting to think this guy might be the starting running back against Green Bay.

Thomas Rawls and CJ Prosise, two of the highest touted backs on this team, have largely been unavailable for most of the time that they have been apart of this team. When healthy, both look like they could start on any team in the league with Pro Bowl potential.  The problem is that they are seemingly injured more often than not.

Their continued absences have afforded more playing time to Carson, Alex Collins, Mike Davis and JD McKissic, who is himself making a case to be on the final roster. Collins looks vastly better than last season, but will be lucky if he finds himself on the Seahawks practice squad.  Davis has had a solid preseason and camp, but appeared to take a step back last night.

McKissic can play receiver, special teams and running back with an electricity unparalleled on this roster.  They have to find a way to squeeze him onto the roster in some capacity.

The 3 best backs on this team are Rawls, Eddie Lacy and Carson.  Rawls would ideally be the starter but we'd be foolish to bank on him like we did last season.  Lacy seems more of a change-of-pace type back but will see a healthy portion of touches.  With Prosise being a high draft choice last season and the potential he's displayed when healthy, it seems unlikely that he doesn't make the team, but I struggle to see where he fits, largely because of his availability.

Every week I fall more in love with this team's depth.  The depth of talent was, in my opinion, the greatest factor in Seattle's Super Bowl victory and the lack thereof has been their shortcoming the past few seasons. It is truly exciting to think about what this team is capable of accomplishing with not only the depth that was present during the Super Bowl season-- but added to that the experience that the veteran players have acquired since hoisting that trophy.

The sky is the limit this year and anything short of a World Championship will be disappointing.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Not for the Fant of Heart-- Seahawks 20 Vikings 13

As the Seahawks were gearing up for the opening kickoff at CenturyLink Field to face the Vikings, I was heading to my end-of-summer-softball-barbecue. We had planned this gathering weeks ago and it never occurred to me that the Seahawks might have a game on that particular Friday night.

"It's only preseason." I told myself.

As long as I set the DVR, I was confident that my wife and I could enjoy our party and watch the game Saturday morning without any issues.

Not long into our gathering, I felt a buzz in my pocket and-- like the trained monkey I am-- I instinctively grabbed my phone to investigate.  I saw the ESPN update flash in my notifications.  

My brain saw the word 'Seahawks' and connected the dots.  I quickly stuffed it back in my pocket. Later, I reached for my phone again to pull up something from Facebook to reference something we were talking about. I cleared my notifications, but I did see this before I could shield my eyes.

My stomach knotted up.  I put my phone away for good, knowing that whatever bad news was looming-- looking into it further at that point wouldn't accomplish anything productive.

When we got home late that night, we couldn't wait to watch the game.  We decided we'd fight through exhaustion and watch the first half, saving the rest for the following morning. We knew something unfavorable had occurred with regard to George Fant.  We knew it happened in the first half of the game.  We just didn't know the extent of what had transpired.

Watching the pregame with the benefit of hindsight was eerie.  Brock Huard and Curt Menefee were heaping praise on Fant's offseason progress and the unusual nature of his NFL journey.  It's not common for someone to come from a totally different sport, basketball in Fant's case, and walk on to an NFL team undrafted and start at left tackle-- one of the most challenging positions in the sport.

Fant was a guy we were all rooting for.  Earlier in the week, offensive line coach Tom Cable had declared that the left side of the line was set in stone.  Recently extended Justin Britt would be the Center, offseason free agent acquisition Luke Joeckel would play Left Guard with Fant manning the blind side tackle spot.  It was reassuring for a fan base that had watched it's team struggle to find continuity across the offensive line the past few seasons.

Huard was literally mid-sentence praising Fant's progress when he went down, clutching his knee in obvious pain. It was abundantly clear that a serious injury had just befallen our newly crowned tackle. 

My wife had run out of patience.  She grabbed her phone and began searching for clarity on the injury that had by this point happened hours ago. 

"Fuck." She muttered. "It's an ACL."

As we watched the team's training staff put Fant's leg in an air cast and cart him off the field, my heart sank.  I'm sure he knew in an instant that all of the hard work he had put in this offseason went up in smoke in the blink of an eye.

There was a lot more positivity to glean from this game than there were negatives, but Fant's injury was a black cloud over an otherwise great performance by the Seahawks against a top-rated defense.  Doug Baldwin and Russell Wilson were in late-season form.  Kasen Williams continues to make a case to be on the opening day roster. The depth of this team continues to impress.

Now we're back to the drawing board.  Seattle made a trade for Matt Tobin to compete with Rees Odhiambo to replace Fant, who will miss the entire season.  It's not that the loss of Fant throws the Seahawks Super Bowl hopes into turmoil-- I don't believe it does. Seattle has had worse to work with and made it work.  At least this injury occurred midway through the preseason, when the pool of capable players is deeper than it tends to be once final rosters are set and the season is underway.

What really sucks is that George Fant is a likable dude who had made tremendous progress toward  achieving an improbable goal-- only to have the rug pulled out from under him. He's young enough to bounce back from this and get right back after it next year, but you have to feel for him. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Rolling in the Depth-- Seahawks 48 @ Chargers 17

The Seahawks didn't enter this offseason looking to rebuild or make any drastic changes.  The championship window remains wide open, but the team needed to replenish their depth.  It appears as though Seattle did just that.

Seattle has had it's core group in tact for a handful of seasons now.  We've known for years now who to expect starting opening day at positions like quarterback, defensive end, cornerback, safety, etc. The issue the past couple seasons has been the depth behind those guys as the season drags on.

Injuries, big and small, hamper the team's efficiency down the stretch-- but even more important is
the need to look multiple seasons down the road.  There will come a time when hard decisions need to be made on contract extensions and the Seahawks need to make sure they are grooming young talent to push for those positions.

In Sunday night's preseason opener-- it certainly looked like the Seahawks have their deepest roster since the Championship season.

In all honesty, I have been concerned about the apparent lack of competition over the last couple of seasons. Much of the starting offense and defensive lineups were established just a few seasons in to the Pete Carroll era by hitting big on young, gifted and often inexpensive players in the draft and free agency. Maintaining competent depth behind those starters gets increasingly difficult with each season as more second contracts are established.

One area that was specifically concerning to me was our kicker.  Hauschka had been so reliable for so many years, but it was evident that the Seahawks would have difficulty retaining him under the salary cap.  I think many of us expected him to leave once the season was over.  With as many picks as the Seahawks had, I thought they could have easily 'wasted' one on a kicker and brought in a few veterans to inspire competition.

Instead, it appeared to me as though they handed the job to Blair Walsh-- most immediately recognized by Seahawks fans as the guy that missed a chip-shot field goal that sent the Seahawks to the Divisional playoff game in 2016.

Walsh has had a pretty successful career before that missed kick.  He was an All-Pro and Pro Bowler his rookie season in 2012.  However, after missing that potentially game-winning kick, he skidded into a slump.  He had a rough season last year, where he missed 4 PATs and saw a decrease in field goal percentage and was released by the Vikings.

Still-- I wasn't against bringing him in.  I just wanted him to 'earn' the job through open competition.

When I saw that the Buccaneers released Roberto Aguayo, another kicker with past success that is struggling with the mental side of his job, I mentioned on twitter that I'd like to see the Seahawks bring him in and kick the tires.

Suffice to say, I caught some backlash.

Walsh performed excellently last night and looked every bit the part. Obviously, I hope that carries throughout the season-- I would've taken no joy in seeing him struggle. That would've only stood to amplify my concerns.

From what we saw last night, there will indeed be some difficult roster decisions looming over the next few weeks.  Two areas that seemed thinnest just a season ago-- running backs and receivers-- now seem brimming with talented, young players that could start on any NFL roster.

Kasen Williams took the same path as Jermaine Kearse.  Local UW standout on a bad team goes undrafted but fights his way onto the Seahawks roster.  Williams largely earned his keep on special teams and the practice squad previously and every indication was that the drafted wideouts from the previous two draft classes would push him out the door.  Kasen put on a clinic last night, pulling down 4 receptions for 119 yards, just missing out on a couple of touchdowns.

I was really intrigued by David Moore, a 7th round selection from this past draft.  He's built like future Hall-of-Famer, Steve Smith.  Kenny Lawler looked much more pro-ready, having bulked up from his rookie season. Paul Richardson showed that he's going to be a huge playmaking threat, if he's able to stay healthy.

The Seahawks coaching staff would've killed to have this group of running backs available to them last season. It seems evident that Rawls and Lacy are going to be the staples of this group, but how it shakes out behind them is anyone's guess.

Chris Carson, another late pick, looks like this season's Thomas Rawls.  Mike Davis might have been our starting running back if we'd had him last year-- now, however, he might not even make the final roster. We've seen CJ Prosise do incredible things last year when healthy.  Well, he's healthy, so we better make some room for him.

The defense restocked the cupboards, too. There seems to finally be legitimate competition for the linebacker spot not occupied by Wagner and Wright.  The young cornerbacks will eventually find their footing and we seem to have a contingency plan behind Kam and Earl for once. I would've liked to see more pass rush, but hopefully that will come in time. Four turnovers is plenty to get excited about.

By far, the most satisfying takeaway from last night's game was the performance of our offensive line.  Pass protection was good for Wilson, Boykin and Davis.  Run lanes were there for the taking.  It wasn't just the presumed starters-- we might actually have some reliable depth on the line this season!

I know it's just preseason, but football is back!  The Seahawks are looking ready to contend and we're only a few short weeks away from meaningful football.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Buying a Jersey for Life

I'd like to consider myself an expert when it comes to buying jerseys. I've been wearing jerseys since
I was 7 years old. While they are no longer a part of my everyday wardrobe-- I still wear a jersey on game day, all these years later.

My first Seahawks jersey was Steve Largent's #80. Obviously, this was something that was purchased for me by one of my parents or grandparents, but it certainly would've been my first choice even then.  To this day, Largent's throwback is still a great choice for any fan to wear on Sundays.

The first jersey I purchased for myself was Matt Hasselbeck.  I loved #8 and that jersey lasted me through the better part of a decade.  Like Matthew himself, this jersey is retired from my rotation. Both the Seahawks and myself got a terrific return on our investment.

When Hasselbeck left, I knew it was time for a new jersey. There are a lot of variables to consider when picking out a jersey. I wanted one that would last me, at a minimum, 5 seasons.  After all, anyone who has purchased a replica jersey can attest to how expensive these things can be.

Here are some tips to help you get the most bang for your buck with your Sunday apparel:

1.)  Pick a player that's going to be in the team's plans for the immediate future.

Longevity is difficult to predict in today's NFL.  With the average career lasting only about 3 seasons and free agency constantly shaking things up, it can be quite challenging.

Generally, quarterbacks are an easy choice.  Most teams in the NFL have a quarterback who is either in the developmental process, is an established veteran, or is otherwise under (a manageable) contract for the foreseeable future.

I got my Hasselbeck jersey in his second year as a starter.  I got my Russell Wilson jersey after his 3rd preseason game.  In both instances, I felt comfortable that the team was sold on the player being 'the guy' for a while. Fortunately, I was correct in both instances.

Conversely, don't buy a jersey of an aging veteran free agent that was brought in to 'win now'.  At every Seahawks game, you'll find a few suckers with a Jerry Rice or Percy Harvin jersey.  While it was exciting having those players at the time-- everyone knew there was a good chance they wouldn't last long.  

2.) Position Matters

Career averages can be drastically different from position to position. Couple that with the fact that team/player loyalty is at an all-time low, you'll find that there are a lot of variables at play. For example, Tom Brady just celebrated his 40th birthday and has has eluded in the past that his plans are to play well into his 40s. Meanwhile, he's probably had 20 different running backs start in his backfield.

The average career for a Running Back is roughly 2.5 seasons. Wideouts and Cornerbacks are closer to 3 seasons, but not by much.  So, outside of Kickers and Punters, Quarterbacks are typically the safest bet.

3.) Rookies are a slippery slope!

One way a rookie jersey is a safe bet is because they're immediately signed to an average contract of about 4 years, so it buys you some time.  NFL contracts aren't guaranteed, but organizations are typically more patient with rookies.  

Still, you should proceed with caution before buying your rookie jersey.  It's always a gamble seeing if these young men can mentally and physically pick up the game at its highest level.  Many 12s excitedly purchased Aaron Curry's jersey when the Seahawks selected him with the 4th overall pick in 2009.  I can't say as I blame them.  Top five picks are among the safest bets among rookies.  Still, Curry quickly flamed out and fans were forced to get replacements or suffer the embarrassment of wearing the jersey of a major bust.

4.) You can always play it safe

Look, jerseys are a luxury-- being a die-hard fan doesn't require a uniform.  If you want to play it safe, that's totally understandable.  Seahawks fans have a privilege that other teams do not.  We have our own jersey.

In tribute to their fans, the Seahawks organization retired the number 12 in 1984.  The gesture was to show that the fans impact was as important as the other 11 men on the field, so no one will ever wear that number for this team again.  That means it can never go out of style.

Additionally, the Seahawks now have 4 players in the Hall of Fame which you can wear as a throwback.  Plus, it's always cool to see someone with a less memorable throwback like Joe Nash, Eugene Robinson or Dave Kreig.

Then again, if all you can get your mitts on is a Darrell Jackson jersey you scored at a thrift shop or a Shaun Alexander jersey you picked up at a garage sale-- that's cool, too.  Your fandom shouldn't be measured by how much you've spent on merchandise. Just root for your team, win or lose.