Below is a position-by-position look the Seattle Seahawks as get set to open their 2008 training camp. The numbers in () next to the positions indicate the number of players who were on the Seahawks active roster when the 2007 season started.
Locks: Matt Hasselbeck, Seneca Wallace
Looking good: Charlie Frye
Long shot: Dalton Bell
There’s little intrigue at the quarterback position. Matt Hasselbeck will be the starter and Seneca Wallace will be his backup. Charlie Frye appears poised for another season of carrying a clipboard whilst modeling the latest Seahawks hats the team’s Pro Shop will be selling this year.
Dalton Bell bounced between Carolina and Green Bay last year, and Ryan Leaf’s former protégé from West Texas A&M will likely be auditioning for a practice squad spot.
Running back (4)
Locks: Julius Jones, TJ Duckett, Maurice Morris, Leonard Weaver
Looking good: Owen Schmitt
Long shots: Justin Forsett, David Kirtman
The Seahawks will take a running back-by-committee approach to the ground game. Tim Ruskell invested $5M in bonus money on Duckett and Jones, so they appear safe. Weaver received a second-round RFA tender ($1.417M) and the team has shown interest in signing him for the long-term. Morris was the Seahawks most effective running back a year ago, and is entering the final year of his contract.
Fifth-round fullback Owen Schmitt is already a fan favorite and should make an immediate impact on special teams, as well as providing insurance should Weaver regress, or if the Seahawks decide to go smashmouth on third down.
Seventh-round running back Justin Forsett is the fastest of the backs, and could make a name for himself in the return game, but appears destined for the practice squad. Mercer Island, WA native David Kirtman hasn’t stood out in his two seasons bouncing between the Seahawks practice squad and active roster. He’ll need to show a big improvement to make the final 53-man roster, and even then, he might need additional help in order to stick around for a third season.
Wide Receiver (6)
Locks: Deion Branch, Nate Burleson, Bobby Engram
Looking good: Ben Obomanu, Courtney Taylor, Logan Payne
Longshots: Jordan Kent, Joel Filani, Trent Shelton, Michael Bumpus
Branch is recovering from a torn ACL and will begin training camp on the PUP list. Despite reports that his recovery is ahead of schedule, it is possible Branch won’t be available until November at the earliest. When Branch and D.J. Hackett were sidelined, Burleson stepped into the starting lineup. Although inconsistent, Burleson hauled in 50 receptions, including a team-high 10 touchdowns in 2007. Burleson will be one of the starting wide receivers this season, but he's better as a full-time returner. 35-year old Engram is coming off the best season of his 12-year career. His 94 receptions in 2007 were a franchise record and Engram was arguably deserving of more Pro Bowl consideration. He most certainly was robbed of the Comeback Player of the Year award. Engram missed much of 2006 with Graves' disease. Randy Moss, who overcame the debilitating condition commonly known as “boredom”, received more Comeback Player of the Year votes than Engram got.
One of the main storylines in Seahawks camp will be who among their quartet of young wide receivers will step up and seize the opportunity in front of them. Ben Obomanu is entering his third NFL season and is the most experienced and polished of the group. Obomanu can also contribute as a kick and punt returner. Taylor appeared in 9 games as a rookie in 2007, including the playoff win over Washington, working primarily on special teams. Payne and Kent spent 2007 on Seattle’s practice squad, and the duo could be vying for the final WR spot on the roster. Both have excellent size (Payne is 6-2, 205; Kent is 6-3, 209), with Kent having the edge in the athleticism. Payne has the edge in football experience and reportedly made quite the impression during the mini-camps. If Branch begins the season on PUP, both Payne and Kent could make the 53-man active roster.
Michael Bumpus, Joel Filani and Trent Shelton are auditioning for practice squad spots.
Tight End (3)
Locks; John Carlson, Jeb Putzier
Looking good: Will Heller
Long shots: Joe Newton, Zac Alcorn
Seattle has been long-starved for a good tight end, which is why they traded their third-round pick and swapped second-round choices with the Baltimore Ravens to select Carlson. They believe he was the most NFL-ready tight end available in this year’s draft and hope to have him in the starting lineup when they face Buffalo on Kickoff Weekend. Before the draft, the Seahawks signed veteran Jeb Putzier to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum. Putzier is more of a pass-catching tight end and could be used to stretch the field when Seattle goes with two tight-end sets. (Remember those?)
Despite leading all Seahawks tight ends in touchdowns in 2007 with 3, Heller is known more of a blocker than receiver. His spot on the roster appears safe, but second-year tight end Joe Newton could prove to be a cheaper alternative.
Alcorn, the pride of Black Hills State, isn’t likely to land on the team’s active roster or practice squad.
Offensive line (9)
Locks: Walter Jones, Mike Wahle, Chris Spencer, Rob Sims, Sean Locklear, Chris Gray, Mansfield Wrotto
Looking good: Ray Willis, Floyd Womack
Long shots: Steve Vallos, Kyle Williams, William Robinson, Pat Murray, Samuel Gutekunst
Jones, Wahle, Spencer, Sims and Locklear are penciled in as the starters for 2008. There are questions about the health and effectiveness of Spencer and Sims, and Gray returns for a 16th and likely final season as an insurance policy for the interior line. Wrotto, a fourth-round pick last year, could push Sims for the starting right guard job in training camp.
Willis and Womack, both thought to be future right tackles in Seattle, will be vying for reserve roles, along with Williams, who spent 2007 on the Seahawks practice squad.
Vallos, a tackle in college, has been working at center and could be a candidate for the practice squad, along with Murray, who is reported to be the strongest player on the team. Gutekunst is with the Seahawks as part of the NFL’s International Practice Squad program and does not count against the team’s 80-man roster.
Defensive ends (5)
Locks: Patrick Kerney, Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp
Looking good: Baraka Atkins
Long shots: Jason Babin, Nu’u Tafisi
Kerney is coming off an All-Pro season and will be the team’s starting left defensive end. On the right side, Tapp and first-round pick Lawrence Jackson will compete for the starting right defensive end job. Tapp is the incumbent, but Jackson will get plenty of playing time, including sliding inside to rush the quarterback on obvious passing downs.
Atkins appeared in 12 games as a rookie last year before an ankle injury landed him on IR last December.
Seattle traded for Babin on the eve of the 2007 season, and the former 1st round pick out of Western Michigan spent all but two games on the team’s game day inactive list. Babin will have to show some pass-rushing ability during the pre-season to stick around, as keeping five defensive ends in 2008 appears unlikely. Nu’u Tafisi spent 2007 on the Seahawks practice squad, and could head back there in 2008.
Defensive tackles (5)
Locks: Rocky Bernard, Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant
Looking good: Craig Terrill, Larry Tripplett,
Long shots: Marcus Tubbs, Chris Cooper, Howard Green, Kevin Brown
Bernard and Mebane will start, and if Bryant is as impressive in pads as he was without them, he’ll earn a spot in the rotation on Sundays. Tripplett and Terrill are reliable 4th and 5th defensive tackle types, capable of holding their own against the run and flashing occasional pass-rushing ability.
In a perfect world, the Seahawks would be wondering how the heck they are going to re-sign Marcus Tubbs next off-season. Instead, they’re just hoping he can remain healthy enough for 10-15 snaps a game. Tubbs has missed most of the last two seasons with knee injuries. He had microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2006 and tore the ACL in his right knee in the meaningless pre-season finale in 2007. The Seahawks are optimistic he can return, even citing the additional year off might help his left knee recover from a procedure that often ends an athlete’s career.
Green was a pleasant surprise when a season-ending injury to Chuck Darby pressed him into service as the Seahawks 4th defensive tackle. The additions of Bryant and Tripplett will make it harder for Green to stick around. Cooper is entering his second stint with the Seahawks, with his first ending in 2006 when he was let go in September to clear a roster spot for Deion Branch. Cooper’s versatility (he can play end and tackle) could factor into the team’s decision-making process on August 30th.
Brown is an undrafted free agent from UCLA. He required hip surgery after his senior season and missed the Combine. A good showing could land him on the practice squad.
Locks; Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson, Leroy Hill
Looking good: Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis, Will Herring
Long shots: Matt Castelo, David Hawthorne, Wesly Mallard
Tatupu, Peterson and Hill are Pro Bowl-caliber players and are arguably the NFL’s top 4-3 linebacker trio. Tatupu signed a 6-year, $42 million dollar contract extension in the off-season, and is signed through 2015. Peterson earned his second straight trip to the Pro Bowl and has 19.5 sacks since joining the Seahawks. Leroy Hill is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Re-signing Hill is a top priority for the Seahawks front office.
D.D. Lewis returns to Seattle, where he’ll be expected to fill the utility linebacker role vacated when Kevin Bentley signed with Houston. Lewis, Laury and Herring will comprise the core of the Seahawks’ special teams units.
Mallard has bounced around the league since 2005 and was out football in 2007. He will need to make an impact on special teams to stick around. Castelo and Hawthorne are undrafted free agents who will be jockeying for a spot on the practice squad.
Locks: Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings, Jordan Babineaux, Josh Wilson
Looking good: Kevin Hobbs
Long shot: DeMichael Dizer
Trufant is coming off a career year that ended with a trip to his first Pro Bowl and his name on a six-year, $50 million dollar contract extension. Jennings, Seattle’s first-round pick in 2006, started 15 games last year and is expected to start once again on the right side. Babineaux spent 2007 as the team’s nickel corner, but can also play safety and is a key contributor on special teams. Wilson was the Seahawks’ second-round draft choice in 2007 and appeared in 12 games, mostly as a kick returner and in the team’s dime packages. Wilson could get the first shot to return kicks as Nate Burleson focuses on his increased role in the offense.
Hobbs is an undrafted free agent from Auburn who has bounced between the Seahawks practice squad and active roster. Babineaux’s versatility could help the Seahawks hang onto Hobbs, who was reportedly impressive during the team’s mini-camps.
Locks: Deon Grant, Brian Russell
Looking good: CJ Wallace, Michael Green
Long shots: Jamar Adams, Kelin Johnson, Omare Lowe, Eric Wicks
Grant and Russell were brought in last March to stabilize the secondary. Grant was voted a team captain and his leadership helped the Seahawks’ secondary allow the fewest touchdown passes in the NFL last season. Russell wasn’t spectacular, but he rarely let receivers get behind him. Both will start again in 2008.
Wallace made the active roster as an undrafted free agent and appeared in 9 games as a rookie, primarily on special teams. Safeties Wallace, Green, Omare Lowe and cornerback Kevin Hobbs will be vying for the final two spots in Seattle’s secondary.
Adams, Johnson and Wicks are undrafted free agents and contenders for the practice squad.
Locks: Tyler Schmitt
Looking good: Brandon Coutu, Ryan Plackemeier
Long shots: Olindo Mare, Reggie Hodges
Tyler Schmitt is the rare long-snapper who entered the NFL as an actual draft choice. The sixth-round pick out of San Diego State is the only snapper in Seahawks’ camp.
After Josh Brown refused to be a slave to the businessman, Seattle needed to conduct a search for new place-kicker. Ruskell used a seventh-round draft pick on Coutu and Olindo Mare will provide veteran competition for the job.
After an acceptable rookie season, Plackemeier regressed in his second season as the Seahawks’ punter. Plackmeier’s 34.7-yard net average was one of the worst among qualifying punters in the NFL last season, and if he weren’t also the team’s holder on kicks, it’s entirely possible Seattle would have looked for a replacement. Seattle signed veteran Reggie Hodges to compete with Plackemeier. Hodges was a 6th round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2005, and has spent the last two training camps with the Indianapolis Colts. Hodges failed to make the team each year and hasn’t been on an active roster since 2005.
When he's not writing about the Seahawks and blogging about the NFL, Brian McIntyre enjoys that newfangled thing called HDTV, and channels his inner Papelbon at every opportunity. You can reach him here.