RENTON, Wash. – After six years of what passes for stability in the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks head into training camp with a clipboard full of question marks.
Gone are All Pro players Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennet, as well as the team’s highest-profile assistant coaches in Tom Cable, Darrell Bevell and Kris Richard.
The Seahawks are clearly headed in a new direction, with a renewed focus on the run game on offense, and a youth movement underway on defense.
Training camp kicks off at 10 a.m. Thursday with a live two-hour special on the home of the Seahawks, Q13 FOX.
It could be years before we know how the overhaul will work out, but here are five questions we hope to know the answers to by the time the regular season gets going:
Did they finally solidify the offensive line?
With Justin Britt firmly entrenched at center, Pro Bowler Duane Brown back for his first full season, and D.J. Fluker coming in at tackle to embody the offense’s pivot to the running game, the offensive line is suddenly not the team’s hands-down Achilles’ heel.
Q13 Sports Director Aaron Levine says:
I think they’ve done it. I think we’re going to see a huge change in offensive line play this season. They made the running game and offensive line a huge priority. They brought in Mike Solari as offensive line coach, and D.J. Fluker as a run-first guard. Outside of him, you’ve got four returning starters, and George Fant is going to return from injury to give Germain Ifedi a run for his money. But the biggest change will be the offensive line scheme, as they move away from their zone-blocking philosophy.
Is this the beginning of Legion of Boom 2.0?
New defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. says it is. So too does Shaquill Griffin, who says he’ll step into Richard Sherman’s spot as left cornerback. But with Earl Thomas holding out and Byron Maxwell as the likely starter at right corner, the Seahawks’ most obvious strength has turned into their most obvious question.
The question is, can Shaquill Griffin be the next Sherm? The Seahawks think so. Byron Maxwell will be opposite him at right corner, just as he was opposite Sherman back in the day. Justin Coleman is one of the best slot corners in the league, with two pick-sixes last week including that one where he jumped into the Salvation Army kettle at the end.
Maybe the most intriguing player though is Tre Flowers, who they converted from safety to corner after drafting him in the fifth round. We might not see his talent right away, but his ceiling is very high.
The biggest question though is safety – will Earl return, and then what that means for Bradley McDougald? If Earl’s on the field, McDougald will play at strong safety. If not, he’ll move to free safety and we’ll see a heated competition between Delano Hill and Maurice Alexander.
What will Shaquem Griffin’s role be?
Perhaps the most splashy pick of April's NFL draft was when the Seahawks drafted Shaquem Griffin in the fifth round. Griffin, whose left hand was amputated at a young age and who will join his brother Shaquill on the Seattle defense, immediately became a national sensation. The question now becomes, what can he do on the field?
Shaquem Griffin is going to try to win the backup weakside linebacker position behind K.J. Wright. Given that this is K.J. Wright’s final year of his current contract, might Shaquem Griffin end up being ultimately the starter at that position in future years? That’s something to keep an eye on. He’ll also be a huge contributor on special teams. But for now, he’s the perfect understudy to K.J. Wright, one of the best weakside linebackers in the game.
How much will the offensive philosophy pivot?
Last year, the offense was mostly just Russell Wilson making things happen. Much of that was a product of poor offensive line play and a running back corps decimated by injuries and disappointing play. Pete Carroll began the offseason saying the Seahawks would get back to a run-first mentality, then showed he was serious when he replaced his offensive coordinator and offensive line coach and used his first-round pick on running back Rashaad Penny.
I think it will be pretty apparent that they are going to force the running game this season and make it work. Pete Carroll has emphasized the “winning formula” that he believes in, is tried and true. That starts with an effective running game and winning in the trenches. Doug Baldwin – a wide receiver, no less – strongly believes in that formula, and thinks an effective running game opens up everything else for the offense and allows the team to control the clock.
Will the Seahawks have a true No. 1 running back?
You never want your quarterback to be your top rusher. You REALLY never want your quarterback to nearly have more rushing yards than your top three running backs combined. With Chris Carson back from an injury and Rashaad Penny firmly in the mix as the team’s No. 1 draft pick, the Seahawks are optimistic they won’t find themselves back in that unfortunate situation again. Will somebody be firmly entrenched as the top back by the time the regular season starts?
I think so, and your starting running back will either be Rashaad Penny or Chris Carson. Both are fully capable of winning that No. 1 running back spot. The big question with Penny is, will he be an effective pass blocker? He was one of the best running backs in college football last year: Twenty-three touchdowns, more than 2,300 rushing yards. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, but can he pass block?
Chris Carson has come back on a mission to show that last year wasn’t a fluke. He’s fully healthy after being injured in the fourth game of last year. He’s put on 10 pounds, and he looks like he’s ready to make a run at that starting running back position. A two-headed monster isn’t a bad thing. As we’ve learned from the past, the Seahawks can’t get enough healthy running backs.
The big question is, who will be the third-down back. Can C.J. Prosise stay healthy, finally? Will it be Mike Davis, who ended last year as the team’s No. 1 running back? Or will it be J.D. McKissic, who has shown flashes of speed out of the backfield too?