Happy June. The players and coaches are off this week, before returning Monday to continue the offseason conditioning program and OTA (organized team activities) practices on Tuesday and Thursday.
So let’s use this “down time” to dip into the mailbag.
Q: I was just wondering, what is going on with Walter Thurmond III? I’m hoping he will be our starting cornerback with Marcus Trufant. – Jeff, Olympia (Brian in Covington also asked about Thurmond)
A: Thurmond remains a sideline spectator, Jeff and Brian, while continuing his rehab from the serious knee injury that ended his 2009 season at the University of Oregon. He is scheduled to start practicing when training camp practices begin in late July, and then will be monitored closely.
Thurmond does have the skills to challenge for the starting job on the right side – opposite Trufant. In fact, the Seahawks considered him one of the top three or four cover corners in the draft before he tore the ACL, MCL and PCL in his right knee, and still felt fortunate to get him in the fourth round.
But Josh Wilson will not give up that spot without a fight. Last year, the club re-signed Ken Lucas, a former second-round pick, because they wanted to get bigger opposite Trufant. After starting five of the first seven games on the left side when Trufant was out, Wilson started eight of the last 10 games on the right side.
Q: I was curious about specials teams, because I haven’t seen much on that and I was wondering who would be returning kickoffs and punts? I’ve read that Golden Tate can do it along with Walter Thurmond. We had Justin Forsett do a good job at kickoff returns last year and our punt returner is gone. So who do you think will return punts and kickoffs? – Chris, Washington
A: There hasn’t been a lot of talk about the special teams units, Chris, because it’s still very early – even thought the players and coaches have spent a lot of time working on the kicking and return games.
The ability of Tate and Thurmond to return kickoffs and punts was a big plus when the Seahawks selected them – Tate in the second round, Thurmond in the fourth. And understandably so, because Tate averaged 11 yards on 26 punt returns and 20.7 yards on 44 kickoff returns in his three seasons at Notre Dame; while Thurmond averaged 15 yards on 41 punt returns and 25.8 yards on 41 kickoff returns at Oregon.
At the most recent OTA practices, Wilson, Forsett, Ben Obomanu, Deon Butler and Patrick Carter were returning kickoffs along with Tate. The line in the punt return drills included Forsett, Carter and Tate. Leon Washington, who was acquired in a draft day trade, also will factor into the mix once healthy. He was the AFC Pro Bowl kick returner in 2008 while playing for the Jets, but is recovering from a broken leg that ended his 2009 season.
Last season, Forsett averaged 24 yards on 18 kickoff returns and 5.8 yards on 16 punt returns – with the since-departed Nate Burleson averaging 8.5 yards on 30 punt returns.
Q: My question is, why haven’t the Hawks addressed their biggest need with what’s left of free agency? Obviously, the pass rush. Why haven’t we attempted to bring in John Henderson or Adewale Ogunleye? And have you heard anything about Chester Pitts? There is still talent out there. – Sean, Vancouver, Wash.
A: This isn’t the first time we’ve fielded this one, Sean. The simply answer is that GM John Schneider’s philosophy is to build through the draft and patch in free agency – and then only with the right player at the right price.
The longer version includes the fact that this was not a good year for free agents. The best of the bunch were 30-plus veterans looking for too much money. Instead, the Seahawks signed free agents who had a past with current members of the coaching staff to increase the competition at certain positions – tight end Chris Baker, who played for offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates when both were with the Jets; running back Quinton Ganther, who played for running backs coach Sherman Smith with the Redskins last season; wide receiver/Pro Bowl special teams performer Sean Morey, who played for Pete Carroll with the Patriots; and left guard Ben Hamilton, who played for O-line coach Alex Gibbs in Denver. The club also added some free agents after giving them tryouts at minicamps – wide receiver Mike Williams, who played for Carroll at USC; cornerback Kennard Cox and former University of Washington tackle Joe Toledo.
The club also added several players in trades – including Washington, defensive ends Chris Clemons and Robert Henderson and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson.
That’s throwing a lot of names at you, but it’s an indication that the club has been active in free agency, and already would have signed one the “big name” players available if he fit what the coaches are looking for.
Specifically, while Pitts did play for Gibbs in Houston, he is coming off microfracture surgery and the club opted to sign Hamilton; Ogunleye will be 33 by the time the regular season starts and had two sacks in the final 12 games last season; and Henderson is 31, plays D-tackle and hasn’t had more than four sacks in a season since 2004.
Q: How much time do the coaches spend in the preseason trying to formulate a plan to play their season opener? Seattle has a big game to open the season against San Francisco. A lot of people say preseason games don’t count for much. What do the coaches think? – Bobby, Salem
A: You’re right about the Seahawks opening the regular season with a statement game, Bobby. Knocking off the 49ers at Qwest Field on Sept. 12 would get the Pete Carroll era rolling in a positive direction – not to mention give them a win over a division opponent that many are tabbing as the preseason favorite to replace the Arizona Cardinals as NFC West champions.
Traditionally, however, coaches do not game plan in the preseason. At least that was the case for 10 seasons under Mike Holmgren. But everything has changed – and is changing – with the arrival of Carroll. We won’t really know how he’s going to approach preseason games until we get to that point, but don’t be surprised if Carroll and crew put more into the preseason games and especially preparation for the opener against the 49ers as they plant the seeds for success.