He was outside as a wide receiver. He was inside, in the slot.
He was tight on the end of the line of scrimmage. He was running and catching passes all over his new offense.
For this spring, anyway, Noah Fant was what the Seahawks wanted Jimmy Graham to be as a dynamic tight end a half-dozen years ago.
“Noah probably had one of, maybe the, most spectacular camps of anybody,” coach Pete Carroll said as Seattle’s offseason workouts and veteran minicamp ended. “I just thought he made plays throughout the whole time down the field, short-area stuff, understanding the scheme, all of it.
“He just adapted so beautifully.”
The 24-year-old Fant arrived in March with former Broncos teammates Drew Lock and Shelby Harris in the Seahawks’ stunning trade of quarterback Russell Wilson to Denver. He’s 6 feet 4 and 249 pounds. He was the Broncos’ first-round choice in the 2019 draft.
He showed over two weeks of organized team activities and three minicamp practices last week the Seahawks have a tight end that’s more like a wide receiver in speed and receiving ability.
“He handled himself just impeccably,” Carroll said.
The Seahawks loved getting Fant so much they guaranteed him more than $9 million for this year and next in April by picking up his fifth-year contract option for 2023. They did that before they’d even seen him practice once for them. He had 40, 62 and 68 receptions his three seasons with Denver.
Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron wanted to move Gerald Everett, the coach’s former tight end with the Los Angeles Rams who signed with Seattle last year, all around the Seahawks’ offense and feature him in 2021. But Everett often had trouble holding onto the ball. He missed games with the team’s first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 in two years.
He’s gone. The Seahawks left Everett unsigned this offseason.
Then they got Fant.
Fant loves the new fit.
“It’s definitely an offense that’s favorable to the tight end, making life a little bit easier, making sure you know where you fit conceptually — being able to move around within the offense,” he said.
“The options are endless of what you can do, which is exactly what I want to be in.”
Fant was one of three new Seahawks who made big first impressions in the team’s offseason workouts. The offseason is over — except for a passing camp OTA Tuesday through Thursday this week for younger players.
The three haven’t proven a ton yet by running around in no-contact drills wearing shorts and T-shirts. Seattle’s new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt last month called the NFL’s offseason practices the “Underwear Olympics.”
But their first impressions this offseason set them up to impact this changed team beginning with the start of training camp the last days of July.
Mafe like...Cliff Avril?
Boye Mafe is who and what Carroll and Hurtt are seeking with the new defense changing from a base 4-3 scheme to more varied, 3-4 looks.
The team’s rookie second-round pick from Minnesota is a pass-rushing outside linebacker. That’s what Seattle will feature in 2022, Mafe, Darrell Taylor, imported Los Angeles Charger Uchenna Nwosu and outside linebackers as pass rushers, instead of defensive ends.
Former 4-3 ends Carlos Dunlap, the Seahawks’ sack leader the last two seasons, plus Benson Mayowa and Kerry Hyder are long gone.
How good did the 6-4, 261-pound Mafe look in his first Seahawks practices?
Carroll compared the rookie to a Seahawks Super Bowl-champion legend.
“He’s the closest-looking fit to Cliff Avril that we’ve seen,” Carroll said.
“The explosion and the flexibility. The bend that he has — and Cliff had a great career for us and in the league.
“If he can get anywhere near that, it would be a great plus for us. It looks like he’s got the chance to be that kind of a player.”
The most unique cornerback
The 70-year-old Carroll’s never seen a guy like Tariq Woolen.
He’s 6-4. He’s run the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds.
“There’s probably never been a guy that’s as tall as this guy, as fast as this guy, that’s ever run,” Carroll said.
The former college wide receiver the University of Texas-San Antonio turned into a cornerback had perhaps the most impressive single day of any Seahawk this offseason last Wednesday.
On the second day of the three-day minicamp, during an indoor session, the fifth-rouind pick stayed with Fant step for step on a long-developing, deep crossing route. It’s the type of pattern that if a quarterback gets that much time to wait then throw defenders usually can’t stay with receivers to defend.
Woolen was even better outside during that day’s main practice. Drew Lock, competing with Geno Smith to succeed Wilson as the team’s quarterback, rifled a pass far beyond intended receiver Freddie Swain, deep down the left sideline. Woolen zoomed past Swain and ran under the pass, about 10 yards past Swain. It looked like he was fielding a punt. No other Seahawk on the field likely could have reached that ball.
That includes former U.S. Olympic track team member Marquise Goodwin. On the play after Woolen wowed on the overthrow of Swain, the rookie cornerback stayed in step covering Goodwin on the same fly pattern down the opposite sideline. Woolen’s speed seemed to surprise Goodwin, the veteran Seattle signed this offseason as a free agent.
Then Woolen sprinted, leaped and batted away a pass to Goodwin in the end zone on yet another sideline go route.
It was long forgotten Woolen missed practices in rookie minicamp early last month with a hamstring issue. He was the second-team right cornerback behind Artie Burns.
Burns, the former Steelers’ first-round pick, was the fourth Seahawk who made a strong first impression this spring. He took advantage of his chance at right cornerback opposite Sidney Jones while Tre Brown missed these offseason workouts recovering from knee surgery.
Burns benefited this spring from knowing the new, varied coverages of defensive assistant coach Sean Desai. Burns played for Desai when the coach was the Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator last season.
“We really jumped in with Artie in our press stuff. Artie’s really fast. He’s really long, and he’s got a nice feel for it,” Carroll said.
“I was fired up about Artie. I didn’t realize he would look that good that early.”
Woolen remains a relatively raw project — in the mold Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner and Tre Flowers once were projects of Carroll’s as tall, long cornerbacks in Seattle’s secondary. Officials who were at the practices flagged Woolen at times for holding receivers coming out of their breaks.
Yet this latest project is off to a good start.
“Probably the flashiest guy was Tariq Woolen. He was the flashiest in camp,” Carroll said. “Shoot, you couldn’t miss him out there because he’s long and tall. And he is really fast. He’s fast, fast.”
Carroll likens Woolen’s style to Browner from a decade ago.
“He’s got a step on Brandon,” Carroll said. “Or four.
“No offense, BB.
“It was an impressive showing, and our guys noticed it — ‘our guys,’ meaning the players. They could tell. So we’ll see what happens. He hasn’t done nothing yet, but there’s a lot of potential there and it’s fun to see.”