Last January, expectations were that the ascending Seattle Seahawks would come into the Georgia Dome and take down the favored Falcons. And they nearly did, except for giving up a last minute play to tight end Tony Gonzalez that set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal. The Seahawks will get their chance to avenge their defeat in 2013, facing the Falcons in Week 10 of the upcoming season. Considering the Seahawks were considered by some to be a Super Bowl favorite in the NFC last year, they don’t enter 2013 with very many questions that need to be answered in training camp.
Only a pair of starting offensive positions appears to be open for real competition, that being either guard spot where the team has featured a revolving door of starters over the past year. The incumbents are James Carpenter on the left and John Moffitt on the right. They will be pushed presumably by Paul McQuistan and J.R. Sweezy, respectively.
Carpenter is coming off a knee injury that limited him to only seven games in 2012, and also limited him during the off-season. McQuistan finished the 2012 season as the starter and was serviceable in that role. That gives them insurance in case Carpenter can’t prove to be durable again this year. The Seahawks really like Carpenter’s upside after making him their top pick in 2011 but he has yet to really play at a high level. They hope that this is the year he finally does, and it begins with a strong training camp and remaining healthy.
The other guard spot is fairly wide open with both Moffitt and Sweezy earning first team reps in the off-season. Moffitt was a third round pick in the same class that netted Carpenter. But Sweezy emerged as a rookie last summer to win the starting right guard spot after converting from defensive tackle. But he got worked over by Darnell Dockett in the season opener and quickly lost his job. Head coach Pete Carroll is known for placing a high value on competition, so the best man will certainly win regardless of draft position. But Moffitt should have the edge given his experience at the position.
Carroll believes in competing and unlike most teams it’s not all talk. Sweezy and quarterback Russell Wilson last summer proved that the best man will win the gig. But assuming that certain veterans don’t come in and have a disappointing preseason, they should win and/or keep their respective jobs.
Thus, much of the focus this summer will be integrating incoming wide receiver Percy Harvin into the offense. There has been talk of Harvin having a similar role in Seattle as he did in Minnesota, which was primarily a slot receiver, but also would line him up in the backfield and across the field to create matchup problems for defense.
Harvin likely will become the focus of the Seahawks skill position players, joining Sidney Rice and tight end Zach Miller as Wilson’s top targets. But the 2013 Seahawks offense will still center around their running game led by Marshawn Lynch. One of the interesting battles to come this summer will be for his backup between Robert Turbin and rookie Christine Michael, their top pick this past April. Turbin didn’t get a ton of reps last year, but mixing in either him or Michael more this year could help keep Lynch fresh down the stretch, something he was not in that Falcons loss last January. They have made efforts to limit his reps during the off-season and that should continue into training camp, thus giving both Michael and Turbin opportunities to step up this summer.
Defensively, most of the question marks center on the new faces up front. Chris Clemons tore his ACL in the Seahawks opening playoff win over the Washington Redskins, and his absence was felt grievously against the Falcons. He is expected to return at some point this season, but when remains to be seen. Talk of him being ready for the season opener remains alive, but he should certainly be back for the Falcons-Seahawks rematch in November. Either way, the Seahawks don’t need to rush the MVP of their defense back thanks to some off-season pickups and lineup tweaks.
The team signed Cliff Avril ostensibly to replace him in the lineup until he’s ready. Avril has one of the better first steps off the edge in the league and should help bolster that position where Bruce Irvin failed last year. But Avril too has been limited this off-season with a foot injury, although he is expected to be healthy when camp opens up later this month.
Irvin may be looking at playing more on his feet this year. He shined early in the year as a situational rusher off the edge across from Clemons, but lacks the size to hold up against the run at end. He’ll begin the 2013 season with a four-game suspension, thus he’ll need to hit the ground running this summer with the conversion to his new position. Irvin is expected to continue putting his hand in the dirt as a situational rusher, but his conversion to linebacker could help mask his deficiencies against the run.
It’s another reason why the team opted to bring in former Buccaneer defensive end Michael Bennett along with Avril. Bennett likely will replace Jason Jones as the team’s interior specialist in nickel situations once Clemons, Irvin, and Avril are fully integrated into the lineup. But should also earn reps at defensive end given the uncertain statuses of those guys at the start of the year. The team’s normal starter on the outside on run downs is Red Bryant, a massive run defender that in 2012 wasn’t quite the immovable object he was the year before. Replacing Alan Branch inside is likely to be newcomer Tony McDaniel or incumbent Clinton McDonald who will play alongside nose tackle Brandon Mebane. With promising rookies Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams, the Seahawks will feature a heavy rotation of players. Which ever foursome can emerge this summer as the most potent group will be counted on to pay similar dividends until Clemons’ healthy return.
Long-time starter Leroy Hill is out at linebacker, and will be replaced by Malcolm Smith. Smith is undersized, but he won’t be asked to play much as the majority of the reps will go to returning starters K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner, both coming off strong 2012 seasons. He will also lose reps to Irvin when he returns. But they would like to see him have a good summer to help bridge the gap until then.
The Seahawks also made an addition in the secondary by bringing Antoine Winfield aboard from the Vikings. Despite turning 36 this past June, Winfield was still the Vikings top corner a year ago. He is undersized, but one of the league’s best run support corners of his era and should be an upgrade over the declining Marcus Trufant who served in the nickel last year. The team also expects Walter Thurmond back this year, after missing most of the past two years with injuries. He was considered a future starter when Carroll first arrived in 2010, and could push things forward via competition.
Another position to watch will be the Seahawks’ special teams, which was among the league’s best a year ago. But they dumped returner Leon Washington in the off-season following the acquisition of Harvin. That should clear the road for Harvin to take over kickoff return duties. Golden Tate, displaced by Harvin on offense probably will return punts. Tate handled those duties as a rookie in 2010, and it will be worth watching if he takes well to his return to the position. Otherwise, the team may have to settle for a player like Will Blackmon or go out looking for another player.
For the most part, the key for the Seahawks this summer will be getting players healthy. They have some question marks on the defensive line for those very reasons and several players will be vying for reps atop their rotation. They will also have a heated competiton on the offensive line, with both projected starters Carpenter and Moffitt also trying to prove they can stay healthy. But the Seahawks retain much of their 2012 personnel, and with additions like Harvin, Bennett, and Avril should be enhanced in a lot of key positions to make another potential run at a title in 2013. That is unless the Falcons have something to say about it.