RENTON, Wash. -- The 2010 Seattle Seahawks engaged in almost 300 roster transactions through the league year. That reflected the modus operandi set by the new regime of head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, who had taken over from a previous administration that had left the cupboard mostly bare. After attaining the dubious honor of becoming the first team in NFL history with a sub-.500 record to win a division and make the playoffs, and now on the other side of a four-month lockout, Carroll and Schneider are making sweeping changes once again.
Gone is veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the former face of the franchise. In his place is a somewhat hodgepodge assortment of potential starters in Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson. Sidney Rice, Jackson's old teammate in Minnesota, has also come on board to work once again under offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, the man who ran the Vikings' offense through the Favre era. New offensive line coach and running game coordinator Tom Cable, formerly the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, got the guy he could only call "free agent anonymous" in a draft-weekend press conference when free agent guard Robert Gallery was signed to reinforce an offensive line very much under construction. The five players projected to form Seattle's starting line in 2011 have never played a meaningful game together before, and first-round right tackle James Carpenter showed up for his first NFL practice on Friday morning.
But none of those newbies were out on the practice field on Thursday or Friday; due to the post-lockout free agency rules, those hypothetical transactions can't be officially announced until 6:00 p.m. ET Friday evening. And as a result of that, coaches across the NFL have been unable to talk about the players they know full well will be joining their teams very soon. Some coaches, like New England's Bill Belichick, deal with this by going up the podium every day and simply saying, "I can't talk about that..." over and over. The Seahawks' coaches have availed themselves of a different solution; deciding to avoid talking to the media altogether until after the deadline.
In the meantime, it was up to the early arrivals to clarify how they felt about post-lockout life, and time-crush games of musical chairs the likes of which we've never seen before in the NFL. Just to add pressure to that list of challenges, the Seahawks take the field for the first preseason game in less than two weeks.
"It's amazing how fast it's happened, for sure," Whitehurst said Thursday about the process that had the players from lockouts to two-a-days in less than a week. "but now we're out here on the practice field throwing the ball around. You didn't really know what to expect, [we were] open for anything. It's full speed right now. We've got a lot of catching up to do, but you've got to work harder than everybody else. That's kind of our motto around here. We're going to out-work everybody, absolutely try to do that every day. We take it serious. When we come out here I think you guys can see, we're full speed and we have business to take care of. That's the only way to get it back."
That's all well and good, but learning an offense he's never seen before will be a real challenge for Whitehurst — it's where a player like Jackson will have an advantage when he gets the lay of the land over the weekend.
"It's definitely new. We're just starting in the playbook now, but I like some of the things we do. We're going to try and run the football here, no doubt about it. We will be able to do that. The play actions, the drop-backs, all that stuff. I think we're going to throw it short, throw it long, and do a bunch of stuff. I'm confident I can do anything he asks me to do."
For other players, the challenges are newer and greater. Last year, receiver Mike Williams was just trying to make the team coached by his old USC mentor after a NFL career that had been nothing short of busterific. Williams came in with no guarantees, cut off weight, and became the team's number-one receiver. Now, and even with Rice coming in to take that title, Williams has become a leader in a group so young, not a single player on the current roster was born in the 1970s.
"Yeah, we're used to faces we haven't seen around here, but that's always a good thing. Just from [Wednesday] night, when Coach Cable talked about the attitude he wanted for the offense — I'm sure the same thing was said over in the other room. It was good to get out here today. Guys were running around and you could tell guys have been working.
"You have to be ready to go," Williams said of the new guys. "I played with Robert Gallery in Oakland, so I know what kind of toughness he's going to bring to our group … When you get a talent like Sidney Rice, it makes everything easier. And Tarvaris Jackson, I don't know much about him, but [receiver] Ben Obomanu speaks highly of him — they grew up together in Alabama. So, when everybody gets here it'll be a feel out process maybe the first practice, maybe even the second practice. But the attitude is right, the energy is right and we'll bring those guys in and they'll find out how we do things. We're happy to have them."
Things will get more intense over the weekend; the first two days of camp were more like a high-speed dress rehearsal for the action to come. In the meantime, it's all about getting back up to speed.
"This is an interview all over again. We're going to win new guys over. Different personalities, a lot different than [former offensive coordinator Jeremy] Bates — with all respect to coach Bates — it's just a different approach with Coach Bevell and his staff. We have got to work. Everybody is starting on the same page, the same level. Nobody really has an advantage except the Minnesota guys (laughs), but that's all right. We'll all learn it. We'll make mistakes together and then minimize those mistakes as much as we can. But everyone is learning and that's the exciting part."
It's just the beginning. And it's so much better than anything that happened from the lockout's beginning to its end.