The Seattle Seahawks open 2020 NFL training camp July 28 at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Washington. Here's a closer look at a few storylines.
Can the pass rush be good enough without Jadeveon Clowney?
The Seahawks' defense struggled across the board in 2019, especially in getting after the quarterback. That was with Clowney, who had only three sacks but produced the league's fifth-best Pass Rush Win Rate while frequently facing double-teams. A lot will have to go right for the Seahawks to mount a championship-caliber pass rush without him: free-agent pickups Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin matching their career seasons from 2019, Jarran Reed returning to his 2018 form, Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier taking big jumps and rookies Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson outplaying their draft positions. Reduced offseason reps won't do any favors for the development of young players like Green, Collier, Taylor and Robinson.
In theory, improved play in the secondary would help out the pass rush, but that's another question mark with Quinton Dunbar's availability uncertain because of his alleged armed robbery case. As for Clowney, he would have to accept significantly less money than what he already turned down from Seattle in order to return. Without him, the Seahawks have a handful of complementary pass-rushers but no obvious primary threat.
How can the Seahawks let Russell Wilson cook?
"Let Russ Cook" has been a rallying cry among Seahawks fans who believe the team's run-heavy offense is underutilizing one of the game's best quarterbacks. Pete Carroll's desire for offensive balance is why Seattle ranks 24th in dropback percentage over the last five seasons and 32nd over Wilson's career. Carroll is not going to reinvent his offensive approach at 68, but there are realistic ways he can put more on Wilson without asking him to throw the ball 40 times per game.
Two ideas: 1) Give him more freedom to go up-tempo, which Wilson loves and which often works for Seattle in urgent situations and 2) Don't take the ball out of Wilson's hands in crunch time. With Phillip Dorsett II joining Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and David Moore, the Seahawks have a speedy group of wide receivers that can complement what might be their quarterback's best strength -- throwing the deep ball. They've looked into Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon, two receivers Wilson has advocated for the team to sign.
Which position group is under the most scrutiny?
The offensive line, where Seattle projects to have at least three and possibly four new starters. That would pose enough of a challenge under normal circumstances given how continuity is more important along the offensive line than anywhere else. That challenge is amplified with all the missed reps due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The projected new starters are B.J. Finney at center, Damien Lewis or Chance Warmack at right guard and Brandon Shell at right tackle. Phil Haynes would be the fourth if he can beat out Mike Iupati at left guard, in which case left tackle Duane Brown would be the only returning starter from last year. No on-field work during the offseason program and only two preseason games, at best -- on top of whatever changes are put in place for training camp -- means Seattle's offensive line has its work cut out for it as all the new pieces try to jell.
Will the Seahawks rely on Bobby Wagner & Co. as much as they did in 2019?
They ran an abnormal amount of base defense, which in Carroll's 4-3 scheme meant keeping all three linebackers on the field in situations which usually call for a fifth defensive back. Drafting linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the first round might seem like an indication that Carroll plans to continue with a base-heavy approach in 2020, but that's no certainty.
A main reason for all the base last year was that the Seahawks trusted their third linebacker (Mychal Kendricks) more than either of their nickelback options (Jamar Taylor and Ugo Amadi). Kendricks and Taylor are gone and Amadi has a year under his belt, as does fellow 2019 draft pick Marquise Blair. Amadi and Blair will compete for nickelback duties. Carroll wants to see them and others on the field before making a decision on how much base versus nickel he plans to run.
What summer trend would the Seahawks like to end?
The rotten injury luck they've had with their top draft pick in each of the past four years. Collier (2019) missed most of camp and the season opener with a sprained ankle, a big setback in what turned out to be a dud of a rookie season. Rashaad Penny (2018) missed a couple weeks with a broken finger. Malik McDowell (2017) never played after injuring his head in an ATV accident. Germain Ifedi (2016) missed the first three games with a sprained ankle. All of those injuries occurred over the summer or right before the opener.
Assuming Brooks can make it through unscathed, the Seahawks expect him to play a significant role despite something of a surplus at linebacker. They could move K.J. Wright to the strong side, where Irvin has been the projected starter on early downs. Wright might not be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Either possibility would open the door for Brooks to start on the weak side, where Seattle believes he's best suited to play.