That 2008 is Holmgren's last year as Seattle's head coach is well-known, and this was the first of the inevitable countdowns -- the first day of his last training camp in Seattle. When asked about his first camp here in 1999, the coach remembered how it felt to move from Green Bay to Seattle and take over a team from a more total perspective. "I was (excited) to start a new adventure, you know," he told the media "It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. It has been honestly the same for me every year, the start of training camp. I was telling the coaches yesterday in our meeting that it’s this time of the year and getting all the players in here and getting going again and anticipating a great season, that’s always very exciting. And it has been for me and that’s why I’ve been able to do it for a long time, you know, so it’s good.”
In the here and now, it's about setting a tone, which Holmgren took care of in meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. "I had it yesterday with the players, and the day before with my staff," he said. "You have the normal administrative stuff that you go through every year, that they kind of nod through. But then when it comes to talking about them and our expectation level and what I expect from every facet of our football team, reminded them of a few things that happened last year that maybe hurt us and things that I think are very correctable. The hope that every team probably listens to in every building in the country prior to the season. Those types of things.
"And in a very realistic approach, we’ve been close the last couple years and haven’t been able to finish the deal, so I believe we have a good football team. And now, it’s up to all of us to really work very, very hard and do the best job we can do as coaches and players. And that’s really the speech. And without getting into other things I can’t really talk about, they’re a very responsive group. I like how they started practice today and they’ll work hard. They want to do well.”
The Seahawks haven't been able to repeat their great 2005-06 Super Bowl season, finding instead that early playoff exits and half-meaningful division wins are wholly unsatisfying. Several offensive personnel issues -- iffy receivers from a depth perspective, an indifferent running game and an offensive line that has lived up to the name -- have been dealt with in the offseason. Position coach Mike Solari and left guard Mike Wahle will try and set the line right. Former Cowboys running back Julius Jones, and the well-traveled T.J. Duckett, will endeavor to replace the singular production of the now-departed Shaun Alexander with a committee approach. And at least four young receivers are jostling for space at the top of the depth chart behind Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson.
The receiver corps is the most interesting problem at this point. Supposed #1 receiver Deion Branch is competing with guard Floyd Womack for the team's injury prize. Engram, the nonpareil possession receiver who set a team record with 94 catches in 2007, is unhappy with his current contract. He'd like an extension past this year, but he's forgoing the holdout role in favor of proving himself at age 35. Given the recent successes of Tim Brown, Jerry Rice and Joey Galloway at that age, the odds don't seem as long as they might have a decade ago.
“Well I think Bobby’s an outstanding person. I’ve said that before," Holmgren said. "He cares about the team. He had feelings, personal feelings, about what he needed, and I think it’s very indicative of how he plays the game that he was able to put those personal feelings aside and come in (and) participate. You know, he’s the ultimate team guy. And you don’t see it that much. I’m always encouraged by that. That’s what keeps me going actually—players like Bobby.”
Still, behind Engram and Burleson, and the hope that Branch can return from an ACL injury by Week 1, there's a lot of inexperience, as Holmgren noted. "If you said, okay, what’s your biggest question going into now? It’s what I said in the minicamp, there’s a little uncertainty there as to how this is going to work. We could be very good. I think we’re talented enough to be very good. But, when you really start playing games and stuff, experience means a lot. It really does, and so, we’ll see.
“The pressure is on that third guy. Or the fourth guy, in my opinion. Bobby and Nate will play—I expect them to do what they do. Until Branch comes back, well, even after Branch comes back, there’s a couple or three of those young guys that have to show. And they’ll be playing. Right now I just don’t know who that is.”
The running backs could be playing a part in a more traditional West Coast Offense, as opposed to the more run-dominant playcalling when Alexander was in his prime. The 2005 NFL MVP saw his receptions drop in each of his last five seasons in Seattle. Holmgren has had backs who can catch going back to his days as an assistant in San Francisco. Jones, Duckett, and veteran backup Maurice Morris have all displayed productivity in the passing game.
“Well I have high hopes for Julius," Holmgren said of his new marquee back. "I think he’s a good football player. He has grasped our offense very well. He’s got a great attitude. I kind of know what I’m asking Mo and Julius to do, in this day and age, you want to be the man, you know, and I’m going to play both of them. I think I’m trying to convince them, and so far they’ve understood it, that it will help both of them and it’ll certainly help our football team if I can keep them both fresh and somewhat healthy through the course of the season by doing it this way. The question will come up later I’m sure, how many snaps and this and that, I’m not going to count them. I’m just going to play it that way. I like Julius Jones and I’m glad we got him.”
In the larger view, it's about getting everyone on the same page. As much as training camp is for learning, it's also a pressure-filled environment in which players are constantly competing for jobs. Younger players in particular are looking for ways to fit in. "With a young player who you are counting on … I have in my mind how I’m going to use him, what in a perfect world would I like to see happen, and we have talked to every one of those players about what we expect that way, and now I watch those guys in practice. And if I don’t see it, I grab them and we’ll talk more about that. We’ll talk about it all during training camp. But yeah, I think you have to—the coaches are aware of it, the players are aware of it, and so if I’m not seeing the progression I need or the advancement I need at a position then we got to chat and get that done rather quickly.”
Time is of the essence. This is the last go-round for the Seahawks' main man.
NEWS AND NOTES
-- First-round draft pick Lawrence Jackson, a defensive end from USC, signed a five-year, $11.25 million contract on Friday. Second-round pick John Carlson, a tight end from Notre Dame who could see serious starting time this year, is the only Seahawks player who hasn’t agreed to terms with the team, and the only rookie to miss practice.
“Oh I think he’s good," Holmgren said of Jackson. "You know, he’s a really good player. We’re counting on him. He’s one of the young guys that we have a role for and we expect him to play right away. And so had he missed, had it been a prolonged thing, that would hurt him. It’s been my experience over the years and you guys know this, and you’ve seen it, that if a player doesn’t come into camp, with a prolonged hold-out of some kind, almost every single time, he gets hurt. Pulls something, does something, loses some more time, and really then, many times, that first season just doesn’t help anybody. So, it’s huge he came back in and I’m hoping Carlson gets in here quickly, too.”
Could a prolonged absence hurt Carlson's chances, or delay the inevitable? “Well, it’s a big deal. I mean, when he comes in. He’s a wonderful young guy, and he’s a bright guy, but this is important stuff. For any rookie, but then a rookie that, like Lawrence, or like Carlson, who we expect to play and to contribute, it’s important that he not miss too much time.”
-- Holmgren also talked about how important it is that third-string quarterback Charlie Frye develops into a reliable option. The coach has long wanted to use second-stringer Seneca Wallace, who may be the best athlete on the team, as receiver. However, Wallace knows the system and the team can't afford an injury to Matt Hasselbeck's only realistic backup.
“Charlie will get a chance to play a lot in the preseason games. The challenge there—I think Charlie’s a good football player. If Charlie can show me enough in the preseason where now he’s comfortable with what we do, then more than who was the second quarterback, it allows me to use Seneca in other roles. Because then I’m confident I can stick Charlie into the game if I had to and he could play. That will be the challenge for both of them. While they’re competing, it’s pretty much the way it is right now.”
-- Speaking of quarterbacks, Holmgren has very little to say about the ongoing drama between Brett Favre and Green Bay. Holmgren and Favre, of course, grew together through the 1990s and took the Packers to two straight Super Bowls. “I’m going to stay away from that one, okay? I know everybody, they’re friends of mine, I have a great fondness for everybody involved in that thing and we’re going to deal with the Seahawks.”