RENTON, Wash. -- For the first time in franchise history, the Seattle Seahawks went into training camp as the reigning Super Bowl champions.
How the players react to that lofty status will go a long way to determining whether they can become the first team in 10 years to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
This training camp has been just as intense and competitive as any other since Pete Carroll became the head coach in 2010, so there is no evidence of complacency.
"I think that’s what’s so unique about being around this place," receiver Percy Harvin said. "Coach Carroll does a great job at putting the task right in front of our hands. It’s not about today or tomorrow or the future. When tomorrow comes, worry about tomorrow. We’re worried about what’s in front of us."
What’s right in front of this team in training camp is figuring out how to fill the gaps with younger players. The Seahawks lost 10 players who were part of the Super Bowl roster, and that doesn’t include cornerback Brandon Browner. Those 10 players had a combined 56 years of NFL experience.
Although most of the starters are back, the Seahawks' depth will be much younger and less experienced this season.
Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman, who signed a $56 million contract extension in the offseason, was looking for specific things at training camp.
"You just want to see growth," Sherman said. "You want to see guys take the next step, and I think they have this camp. I think a lot more guys will get more opportunities than they have had in the past. They’ll take advantages of those opportunities. It’s good to see what they can do."
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1. Russell Wilson: He is starting his third season as an NFL quarterback and already has set numerous records to go along with leading the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory. Wilson gets a bad rap, often referred to as a game manager -- a guy who doesn’t make mistakes but also doesn’t put up a lot of impressive statistics. But the Seahawks are a power-running team that throws the football far less than most teams in this pass-happy era. However, Wilson is an underrated passer who has only scratched the surface of how good he can be.
2. A healthy Harvin: The Seahawks traded for Harvin last season believing he was the explosive player they needed to win the division and reach the Super Bowl. For the most part, they did it without him. Harvin was injured most of the season after having hip surgery last summer. But Harvin is 100 percent healthy now, and it shows. He has wowed everyone with spectacular catches, blazing speed and his ability to elude tacklers. Harvin alone is a reason Wilson will put up bigger numbers, but the offense also added rookie receiver Paul Richardson, who might be faster than Harvin and gives the Seahawks two legitimate deep threats.
3. The best defense could get better: The Seahawks had the best defense in the league last season, and by all indications in camp, it should be as good or better this season. The Legion of Boom secondary arguably has three of the best players at their respective positions in Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor, and all three still are young. Chancellor and Sherman are 26, and Thomas is 25. The team also has a young linebacking corps led by the man in the middle, Bobby Wagner, who is starting his third season. Outside linebackers Malcolm Smith, the Super Bowl MVP, and K.J. Wright are 25. The coaches believe Wright is headed toward a Pro Bowl season. And defensive end Michael Bennett had 8.5 sacks in 2013, leading to a new $28 million deal.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM
1. Uncertainty up front on offense: The offensive line was the weakest link of a Super Bowl-winning team. The line lost starting right tackle Breno Giacomini to the Jets in free agency and now will start rookie Justin Britt, a second-round pick. Britt is more athletic than Giacomini and has looked good in camp, but a rookie going against the talented defensive ends in the NFC West is a tough challenge. The other starters are solid, but depth is an issue. Seattle signed veterans Eric Winston and Wade Smith during camp to try to provide some insurance up front.
2. Injury unknowns: Four key starters (Russell Okung, Malcolm Smith, Chancellor and linebacker Bruce Irvin) had offseason surgery. Okung and Chancellor returned to practice full speed on Aug. 12, but they probably won’t play much in preseason. Irvin is rehabbing from hip surgery and might not be ready for the start of the regular season. Smith is hoping to get back to work next week. And Wagner has missed most of camp with a hamstring injury. The Seahawks are hopeful all of these guys will be 100 percent for the season opener, so they are being very cautious.
3. Defensive line depth: The Seahawks had the deepest defensive line in the NFL last season, but three veterans who combined for 90 tackles and 11.5 sacks last season are gone -- defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. Seattle had an eight-man rotation and no one played much more than 60 percent of the snaps, which kept everyone fresh and more effective at the end of the season. The Seahawks want to do the same thing this season, but they will need young players such as Greg Scruggs, Jordan Hill and rookie Cassius Marsh to step up. Adding veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams before the start of camp should help.
No young player in camp has been more impressive than Richardson, the second-round draft pick from Colorado. His blazing speed was obvious from the start of rookie minicamp. He has consistently beaten defenders, including the starting cornerbacks, deep on long touchdown receptions. Richardson is rail-thin at a listed 180 pounds but has shown signs that he can hold his own in blocking and getting hit.
The biggest surprise of training camp has to be undrafted rookie linebacker Brock Coyle of Montana. Coyle was a huge long shot entering camp, but he took advantage of his opportunity to show what he can do at middle linebacker while Wagner was out with a hamstring injury. Coyle is strong, quick, smart and tough. He is as fundamentally sound a rookie as you will ever see.
Wilson has seen enough at camp to believe the offense has improved. "I definitely believe we’re better than a year ago," Wilson said. "I think that the receivers, tight ends and running backs are extremely good right now. Everybody’s just on the same page. I think that we’re more in control in terms of how we practice. It’s all about the details, and we really harp on that."
Running back Marshawn Lynch missed the first eight days of camp because of a contract holdout, but he’s in good shape and appears ready to carry the load again this season. "Marshawn is such a disciplined runner," Seahawks running back coach Sherman Smith said. "He understands the run game and understands what he has to do. Marshawn knows what his reads are, and that’s his big thing. Marshawn has been there and done it. He’s got a track record of being able to make plays. I think one of his special skills is making something out of nothing. That’s what he does."