Carroll sees Seahawks challenging for NFC West title

With players enjoying some time off before training camp begins at the end of July, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll believes he has done enough during the offseason for his team to compete with defending NFC West champions, the San Francisco 49ers, for the division crown.

"We had great work," Carroll said. "We really have had productive days and the attitude of our team, the willingness to do everything we ask of them has been great.

"So we have taken a huge step here. We just feel so much differently going into camp than we did a year ago without the whole buildup of the preseason and the OTAs and all. So there's a good feeling about where we're going and we're excited about it."

The Seahawks brought back key free agents in re-signing running back Marshawn Lynch, defensive end Red Bryant and right tackle Breno Giacomini. They added impact players to the defense through the draft in defensive end Bruce Irvin, linebackers Bobby Wagner and Korey Toomer and safety Winston Guy.

And Seattle also added another pass rusher via free agency in former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jason Jones.

But offensively, Seattle has the most room for improvement, with a unit that finished No. 28 in total offense in 2011.

The Seahawks attempted to upgrade the most important position on the field in signing quarterback Matt Flynn to a three-year, $19 million deal in free agency, and drafting University of Wisconsin product Russell Wilson in the third round.

Those two will compete with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson for the starting quarterback job. Although Flynn will make $8 million in total compensation in 2012, and Jackson's due to earn $4 million in non-guaranteed salary if he's on the active roster for Week 1, Carroll said money will not be a determining factor on who's the team's starting quarterback for the regular-season opener at San Francisco on Sept. 9.

"Draft picks and money and stuff like that is not going to play in the decision at all," Carroll said. "We're going to go with what it looks like through the competition and how they play, and the results of that, and how we feel about that."

The players would like a decision on the quarterback competition sooner rather than later, so expect Carroll to make a decision on who will be the team's starter by Seattle's second preseason game at Denver on Aug. 18.

While the quarterback competition is the headline-grabber during training camp, who that person will throw the ball to may be even more important.

After two shoulder surgeries, receiver Sidney Rice is expected to be healthy for training camp, giving the Seahawks a No. 1 receiver the team sorely lacked last season.

"His legs are in great shape and he'll be ready to go," Carroll said. "I'm hoping he's well along his way and he's really in great shape when he comes back to camp. But when he's in there he's a special football player and really gives us the kind of accent that we need to make this a very good group."

Seattle added another playmaker in trading with Tampa Bay for tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. to work the middle of the field on red-zone and third-down situations.

If both Rice and Winslow can stay healthy, the Seahawks' passing game should be effective enough to keep defenses from stacking the box against Lynch.