“I think they are very happy,” Holmgren said of his players. “We had a good camp and they worked very hard. It will be good to get home. Eastern Washington University and the people up here are tremendous, and this has gotten better each year for us. They treat us so well, and it was good to have all our guys getting back onto the playing field. We’re only going to miss a couple guys in this game and we’re getting healthier. Now we got to continue building on what we built up here when we get back to Seattle.”
The injury situation has been a concern. The Seahawks welcomed defensive linemen Grant Wistrom, Rocky Bernard and Joe Tafoya back to the practice field this week. There was a rash of off-season surgeries that the team is still recovering from in several cases. DT Russell Davis and TE Jerramy Stevens were hit with injuries that will keep them out for a while. Guard Floyd Womack, who is expected to replace Steve Hutchinson, returned as well after straining his right hamstring in an early August practice.
Seattle Seahawks wide receivers Taco Wallace, right, and C.J. Jones (16) are all smiles as they walk with teammates Maurice Mann (17) and Bobby Engram (84), Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006, at the end of the final practice of their NFL football training camp in Cheney, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
“I’m happy they’re back,” the coach remarked when asked about the overall health of his squad. “We had good players that were on the injured list, but they seemed to be being good coming off their surgeries. It’s good now and now we got to get them a little playing time. The surgeries guys seem to be in great shape. Chop (Floyd Womack) is a key to our offensive line and he’s feeling good. You worry about pulls, that happens in this business and you hope it doesn’t happen.”
Did Holmgren ever think the season would be greatly affected by the preseason injuries? Was there a point where he said, “We’re in trouble”? “Yes, I probably have, maybe not dramatically that way. I don’t think I’d ever say that, but I’ve come away from camp worried about injury a little bit more, where all of a sudden maybe in your last game or two games - remember when Trent Dilfer got hurt, that year ended up being a funny year for us. Let’s just say I’m very optimistic about this group.”
When they return to their various western Washington homes, the Seahawks will barely have time to greet their families before it’s back on the plane and down to San Diego, for a Saturday night meeting with the Chargers. After an ugly loss to the Cowboys to open up the “Almost-Ready-For-Prime-Time” portion of the season, and a convincing win over the Colts to follow, the 1-1 Seahawks will look to push the winning attitude over the edge in the preseason contest that will feature the most playing time by starters. “Most of them will go the first half and then start the second half,” Holmgren said. “Not all of them, but most of them.”
Has he scouted San Diego and their tough 3-4 defense, a formation that has been a nemesis of the Seattle offense? “It’s good for us. The barometers in the preseason, everyone talks about it, but really you want to see little things. You’re looking at little things in players, an individual here, an individual there. The scores of preseason games are the most unbelievable things - if anyone ever studied that - you can possibly imagine. You could never figure it out, so it’s up to each organization on what they want to get out of the game.
“More often than not you’re not looking at the same things, so it comes out funky. Playing a team like San Diego, which is a 3-4 team, is good for us. Playing against that style of defense and then the fact they’re good. I’ve always thought winning the game is important. I’ve always felt that in the preseason, but you also know that we’re looking at getting the roster right.”
Those individual performances become more definitive, and the need to excel more pressing, as the first cuts come calling on Tuesday, August 29. For several young men, this will be their last game in a Seahawks uniform. One player of whom more has been expected than has been delivered is 2005 third-round draft pick David Greene, the backup quarterback out of Georgia. Greene has been pushed by NFL Europe star Gibran Hamdan all through camp, and Hamdan has looked to be the more polished and professional option. Holmgren has had a pointed comment or two regarding Greene’s development. How does he feel now? “He’s going to get a chance to play in this camp and we need to see progress,” the acknowledged ‘quarterback guru’ said of Greene. “We need to see him keep coming and taking the steps he needs to take. You don’t get as many opportunities in his position playing games. When you play in a game, you got to show. Even in the first game he got in some tough spots in there, but he did better. He was very much in control and I thought he threw the ball pretty well. As long as I see progress, I’m okay.”
When asked who has made the most progress in this camp, Holmgren began with another second-year player – the undrafted former tight end from Carson-Newman College, fan favorite FB/HB Leonard Weaver. “I kind of like the way Weaver has approached this thing. He’s one guy. I think (CB) Kelly Herndon has improved during camp as a veteran player. (QB) Seneca Wallace has had a very consistent, good camp. The idea is that they all improve during camp a little bit every day.”
How will Weaver be featured in the offense – backup halfback or fullback? Where is the fit for a 250-pound running back whose blocking is iffy at best, but whose agility is pretty special? “He’s going to be a swing guy, playing both fullback and halfback, predominantly fullback, and then he has to be a vital member of our special teams. Last year we wanted him to do that, and he struggled a little on special teams. He shouldn’t, he’s athletic enough, he’s strong enough, he should be a good special teams player he just hasn’t done it very much. This year the light has gone on and he’s doing much better, so I’m encouraged by that.”
Seattle Seahawks players listen as head coach Mike Holmgren addresses them one more time before releasing them from football training camp Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006 in Cheney, Wash. The Seahawks will play an exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers in San Diego on Saturday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The question of the Two Kellies in the secondary – rookie first-rounder Jennings and veteran nickel man Herndon – remains unresolved. The left cornerback position opposite Marcus Trufant is up for grabs, and though the Seahawks run enough nickel sets that both players will see a lot of time on the field, there’s an importance to the developmental curve for the one part of the defense that worries many observers. “It’s still a question,” Holmgren said. “I think we have players that can play the position - that’s not the question. It’s just that one’s very inexperienced, and one has to be a little more consistent, in my opinion. If they can do those things and if Kelly Jennings steps through, our cornerback situation isn’t bad at all.”
When the camp that began on July 29th ended today, what did Holmgren say to his team? How did he send them into the great unknown they will soon face? “I just touched again on when I opened camp, when I talked to them about teams that have been in the Super Bowl and then don’t do so well,” he said. “I started with the camp with that and I’m going to end with it, and talk to them about why I felt that happened and why I felt it shouldn’t happen to us … All the camps are the same, but when the season starts you have to be very focused and your team can’t forget what allowed them to get to the Super Bowl in the first place.
“Then the other thing is injury, and if your fortunate with injury and you can keep things in focus, there is no reason you shouldn’t have a good year again … I talked about leadership on the football team and I think we have really strong leadership. Leadership is not something that you switch on and off, it’s something you do all the time in meetings, in the dining hall, on the field, on the airplane. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and we have good leaders on this team now. It’s a very healthy situation … You can’t force-feed that, a guy usually is a leader or he isn’t, but I encourage the young guys here to emulate those guys that you respect on this football team.
“We are in a good place now that way, and the guys that would drag the other guys down because they thought being really diligent was uncool aren’t here anymore.”
On to San Diego – and the season of great hope.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. Feel free to e-mail him here