Seahawks training camp preview: Can Seattle catch the 49ers?

The San Francisco 49ers swept the Seahawks in three meetings last season, including a wild-card matchup that the Niners won, 41-23. Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks will open their 2023 training camp on July 26 at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Washington. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:

Biggest question: Are the Seahawks ready to compete with the San Francisco 49ers?

San Francisco was clearly in a different class last season, outscoring Seattle 89-43 during a three-game sweep. On paper, the Seahawks appear to have narrowed the talent gap with a productive offseason in which they overhauled their front seven, selected cornerback Devon Witherspoon fifth overall and added arguably the top receiver in the draft in Jaxon Smith-Njigba with their other first-round pick.

It’s a much improved roster from the one that went 9-8 last season and earned a wild-card berth in what had the look of a rebuilding year after the Russell Wilson trade. But if the Seahawks are going to take the next step and get past the divisional round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season, they may have to get past their division rival first. The two teams don’t play each other until Thanksgiving, then meet again two weeks later.

The player with the most to prove: Jamal Adams, S

The blockbuster trade to acquire Adams in 2020 looked pretty good at first. He made the Pro Bowl that year while recording 9.5 sacks, a record for a defensive back. Since then: one big contract, zero sacks and several injuries, including a torn quad tendon in last year’s opener. Adams is still working back from surgery and couldn’t participate in any offseason practices, so his status for Week 1 is in question.

When he gets back, expect the Seahawks to use him as a linebacker in passing situations, accentuating his blitzing prowess while minimizing his coverage deficiencies. He needs to have a bounce-back season or else Seattle will be tempted to move on in lieu of paying him the $34 million he’d be owed over the final two years of his deal. The Seahawks signed Julian Love in March as short-term insurance for Adams -- and potentially a long-term replacement.

Most impactful offseason addition: Dre’Mont Jones, DE

Seattle’s D-line was woeful last year, with poor scheme fits and not enough top-tier talent, making for a brutal transition to a 3-4 -- especially against the run. That led to an overhaul centered around the signing of Jones to a three-year, $51.53 million deal. It was an out-of-character splurge for a regime that previously hadn’t signed another team’s free agent to an APY of more than $9 million, and it showed how much Seattle is counting on the 26-year-old Jones to be a difference maker up front.

He’s been one of the NFL’s most disruptive interior defenders over the last three seasons, with 18.5 sacks, 25 tackles for loss and 32 quarterback hits in that span. Witherspoon and Smith-Njigba should both have significant impacts as rookies, as should Bobby Wagner in his return to Seattle. But no offseason addition has the potential to transform an entire position group like Jones.

Most compelling position battle: Evan Brown vs. Olu Oluwatimi at C

Interior offensive line competitions usually don’t move the needle, but history adds intrigue in this case. Center has been a revolving door for Seattle over the last decade, with 11 different players starting at least one game in that span. The Seahawks are hoping to put an end to the constant turnover -- they just don’t know yet who will do the honors.

Seattle signed Brown in free agency to a one-year deal, then drafted Oluwatimi in the fifth round, which was much later than many expected them to address the position given all their early-round draft capital. Brown took most of the first-team reps in the spring, but Oluwatimi -- voted the best center in Division I last season -- may be better positioned than most rookies to start right away given his experience in a pro-style offense at Michigan.

Fiercest fantasy-relevant battle: Kenneth Walker III and Zach Charbonnet at RB

There’s no competition for the starting job. Walker is the undisputed RB1 after a debut season in which he arguably should have won Offensive Rookie of the Year. The question is what kind of a role Charbonnet will have as the No. 2. The Seahawks drafted him in the middle of the second round, high enough to suggest they expect him to contribute quite a bit right away. Charbonnet is a bigger back who looks plenty comfortable running between the tackles.

As usual, the padded practices of training camp will offer a good gauge of how much the coaches can trust him in pass protection. He’s a natural pass-catcher, as is seventh-round pick Kenny McIntosh. Walker has good hands, as well. However the workload shakes out between those three and DeeJay Dallas, Seattle’s backfield has the potential to be more involved in the passing game than it has been in the past.