RENTON — Seahawks players returned to Virginia Mason Athletic Center (VMAC) Wednesday for the start of their fourth training camp under coach Pete Carroll, and the atmosphere in the Seahawks’ locker room definitely had a first-day-of-school feel.
There where hugs, handshakes and how-are-you’s, not to mention shared tales from their five-week break, as the players reported for physicals and a team meeting before the first practice on Thursday morning.
“It is like the first day of school,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. “It’s good seeing everybody back, and back ready to get to work. Everybody’s excited. First day. Everybody’s been running in here as quickly as they can, coming in early, and that’s exciting.
“It’s going to be an exciting year.”
Following Sherman’s lead, here are some snapshots from the first day back:
“It was just time for a change,” Thomas said. “It was like 4 in the morning and I was like, ‘Let’s cut this off.’ So I just did it. It felt good, though.
“Like I always say, ‘In the offseason, you grow.’ You grow as a person. You have different thoughts about yourself. So it’s a new me.”
Not that there was anything wrong with the old Thomas, a first-round draft choice in 2010 who has been voted to the Pro Bowl the past two seasons in addition to earning All-Pro honors last season.
The new ’do also meant a new helmet for Thomas, who now wears a size 7½ rather than the size 8 he was wearing.
But his freshly shorn locks weren’t the only new look in the locker room. Thomas, Sherman and the other members of the starting secondary – cornerback Brandon Browner and strong safety Kam Chancellor – were greeted by “Legion of Boom” mats in front of their cubicles. Complete with name and uniform number.
“I feel like I’m at home,” Thomas said.
The new kids – The newest player on the roster is tight end Michael Palmer, who was just signed on Tuesday. And there also are the players who were signed in free agency – including defensive linemen Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett; and selected in the NFL Draft – including defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams, running back Christine Michael and tight end Luke Willson. But they were around for the spring OTAs and minicamps.
Then there’s quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who was re-signed in June but not in time to participate in the minicamp that concluded the offseason program.
Jackson was the Seahawks’ starter in 2011, as well as the offensive captain. But he was traded to the Buffalo Bills last August after Russell Wilson was selected in the NFL Draft and Matt Flynn was signed in free agency. Flynn is gone, having been traded to the Oakland Raiders in April and replaced by free-agent addition Brady Quinn. Jackson will compete with Quinn to be Wilson’s backup.
“When I came in to sign, it felt like I was back home,” Jackson said. “It feels good to be back. It feels really good.”
The cover boy – That would be Sherman, who is on the July 29 cover of Sports Illustrated. It’s historic stuff, because the last Seahawk to be featured on an SI cover was Shaun Alexander. That was on Dec. 19, 2005, when the team’s all-time leading rusher was well on his way to being the first player in franchise history to be named league MVP. Alexander led the NFL is rushing that season and also scored a then-league record 28 touchdowns.
“It’s humbling,” Sherman said. “It’s always nice to see things like that. It’s an awesome opportunity, and I appreciate Sports Illustrated for doing that for me. I’ve still got a lot of work to put in, but things like that are always fun.”
Not to mention just the latest sign of the expectations that accompany the Seahawks as they open this camp. Last season, they posted the third-best record in club history (11-5) by winning seven of their final eight regular season games. They also won the franchise’s first road playoff game since 1983, and then came within 32 seconds of advancing to the NFC Championship game in a two-point loss to the Falcons in Atlanta.
Because of the players they have returning, and those they added during the offseason, the Seahawks are expected to be – and expecting to be – even better in 2013.
“You approach it the same way you always have – one day at a time,” Sherman said. “Camp is always a grind. As long as you approach it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one competition at a time, then I think it will be a successful time for us.
“I think everybody has the right mindset to come to work.”
Regardless of the heightened expectations, this team still has a bevy of players who continue to approach the game with chips firmly planted on shoulders. And not just players, but leaders like leading rusher Marshawn Lynch, sack leader Chris Clemons, Sherman and Thomas.
“It’s never going to stop,” Sherman said. “You’ve got guys like that, and that’s what kind of drives the team. You’ve a team full of guys with chips on their shoulders. And a little bit of hype and a little bit of notoriety isn’t going to knock that chip off.
“I think that’s what separates us from a lot of other teams. We’re never satisfied, because there’s nothing to be satisfied about. We’re still very frustrated and (perturbed) about whatever it was that frustrated us in the first place.”