RENTON, Wash. -- If there was any question as to the Seattle Seahawks' status as one of the buzzier teams in the NFL these days, that question was answered when the team took the field at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center for the first day of rookie minicamp on Friday. Not only was there a larger group of local media in attendance (including most of the local television stations), but All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman cruised up on a Jet Ski, rolling up a few feet from the grounds on nearby Lake Washington.
“Was that Sherm? Cool,” head coach Pete Carroll said after practice. “I was surprised there weren't more guys. You might not have noticed, but I think Russell [Wilson] was up in the hills over there, peeking over the top, wanting to see what was going on.”
Well, maybe. That's expected interest for a team seen to be among the top few in the league according to most pre-season polls, but the players looking to make an impact in this three-day camp came with more questions than answers.
Seattle traded its first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings in the Percy Harvin trade, which left lower-round guys trying to stand out. There was second-round running back Christine Michael, once thought to be a first-round talent before he landed in Kevin Sumlin's doghouse at Texas A&M. There was third-rounder Jordan Hill from Penn State, a defensive tackle saddled with the "too small to start" label by some teams, but someone Carroll could use as he used Mike Patterson at USC. There was Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams, who dropped to the fifth round as a result of a knee injury suffered in last year's SEC Championship. Williams showed enough in two seasons to land the 35th position in this year's Shutdown 50, but the NFL saw him differently. And there was offensive tackle Michael Bowie, once a potential starting left tackle for Oklahoma State, who finished his collegiate career at Northeastern State after Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy dismissed him for violating team rules.
At last year's rookie minicamp, the Seahawks benefitted in ways they could have never imagined from the immediate ascent of Wilson, a third-round, too-short quarterback, who took rep after rep and forced himself into the discussion as a potential regular-season starter. This year, there were no off-the-charts stories like that at the position, but there was former Texas A&M starter Jerrod Johnson, the 6-foot-5, 251-pound former star for the Aggies who looked like a prospect on the rise before he was lapped by former receiver Ryan Tannehill.
For Carroll, who's got enviable depth at almost every position (at least on paper), this year's camp was less about picking off potential starters and more about finding diamonds in the rough.
"The goal for us is to try and find out what our guys look like on the practice field and how they learn and see if we can see some sparks of hope from the guys that are just trying out," Carroll said. "Of course we’ll look real seriously at the draft picks, but we’ll look at everybody and when they’re out here, we’re treating them all the same and letting them compete."
Johnson, who may have a legitimate shot at a backup slot for the Seahawks -- there's only Brady Quinn and Josh Portis behind Wilson on the depth chart right now -- seemed to impress his new coach.
“Well he’s handling himself well," Carroll said of the big quarterback. "Right now, he’s ahead of the other guys because he’s been around. So he’s handling the huddle and he gives us a sense that the guy’s got some experience. He’s like a vet out here. So that’s a good start. He’s had a good start joining up with us. We’re very pleased with how he’s doing so far and we’ll see how far he takes it.”
Michael impressed right away with the same kind of speed and agility you'd see on A&M tape -- he blasted through the unpadded drills and showed some real downfield explosiveness. But athletic ability has never been the question with Michael -- it's about finding the right environment, which he seems to have done.
“Just that I’m a good player, I’m a great teammate, I’m here to compete, I’m here to learn and just put it all out there," he said, when asked what he wanted to prove. "Help contribute to my team as much as possible ... I had to refocus in every now and then because this is what I dreamed about. This is what I prayed so hard on and I couldn’t ask for anything better than to be in Seattle.”
While Hill and Williams looked very solid when lined up side by side in defensive line drills (as expected), the real surprise was Bowie. If you didn't know any better, you'd watch the big kid with jersey number 73 and wonder how someone from Northeastern State could look so polished and strong. Bowie repeatedly fired off the snap with authority, blowing his linemates back in pad drills -- he clearly came into this camp with something to prove. I asked Carroll what coaches look for when a player estimable talent is demoted to a situation in which he should clearly dominate.
"Well, you would think that the guys would dominate a little more. He was a legitimate player at a Division I school and then [he went] down. But that’s not always the case, and isn’t. We watched that in a couple other guys this year that moved down a couple notches. So we’re still just looking for the basic stuff. We’re looking for feet, we’re looking for movement, he’s got enough movement to play with us and then does he have the size and the profile? We know he had some issues, so now we’re going to learn about him. We’re going to learn what he’s like and how serious he is to put that stuff behind him. He’s off to a good start today."
Carroll had the example of Russell Wilson to use for those rookies who believe they won't have a shot to make the active roster no matter what, but the buzz around the team -- including his star cornerback's aquatic party crash -- said just as much to the new players. You work hard, like Wilson did, and like the former fifth-round pick Sherman did, and there's something for you here.
"To start our staff meeting this morning, I showed clips of Russell’s first day in this camp, walking out, we had him miked up and all. He was fumbling snaps and cursed himself out a couple times. It was funny to see it, to know how far he’s come in such a short time. It was kind of for the staff to remember that we might not see everything on the first day and to keep hopes that we can bring some stuff out of these guys.
"It’s a great story for everyone.”
Carroll can but wait and see if any of the new kids make their own stories.