Bonjour. Just back from a trip to Montreal to visit our granddaughter – and her parents, too. What better way to wade back into it than dipping into the mailbag.
The most-asked question concerns the ability of fans to watch training camp practices, so we’ll start with that.
Q: When will the free tickets for training camp practices be available for sign-up?
I want to be in that Cougar chair watching. – Sally, Redmond (Lisa in Shoreline, Andrea in Kingston and Judy in Fircrest also asked about this – without the Cougar chair reference)
A: Yes Sally – and everyone else – selected training-camp practices will be open this summer. Like last year, fans must register at Seahawks.com and the process will begin soon. So check back for more details, so you don’t get left out.
Because parking is limited, fans will take a shuttle from the Renton Landing to the team’s facility and watch practice from the berm that is adjacent to the fields.
Q: I know that the team has great expectations for the upcoming year, but what are the realistic expectations? Defensive end, offensive tackle and running back still need to be addressed. Charlie Whitehurst is an unknown commodity and Matt Hasselbeck is not young anymore and has been hurt often. – Dave, Calgary
A: The reality is, Dave, that the Seahawks have won nine games the past two seasons. That unacceptable situation launched what has been an offseason of unprecedented change – from the general manager, to the head coach and most of his staff, to the long snapper. The lower end of the 80-man roster has been a revolving door.
While the obvious goal is returning to the playoffs after a two-season absence and again being a factor in the NFC West – a division the Seahawks dominated from 2004-07 – the first step is becoming competitive. That was not the case last season. So that’s where this one-step-at-a-time process must begin.
As for the positions you mentioned, the club addressed its problematic left tackle position by making Russell Okung the sixth pick in April’s NFL draft – and also signed veteran guard Ben Hamilton to start next to him, and mentor him. Adding Okung also allows Sean Locklear to move back to his natural spot at right tackle after starting on the left side last season. Ray Willis, a 16-game starter at right tackle last year, returns to his role as the primary backup – and is an upgrade over the players who were forced to start at left tackle last season because of injuries.
At defensive end, the move of tackle Red Bryant to the left side and the acquisition of Chris Clemons to play the Leo spot on the right side have helped what was a season-long problem last year. But improving a pass rush that generated 28 sacks in 2009 will involve more than Bryant, who will play mostly on mixed downs, and Clemons. That’s where linebacker Aaron Curry, last year’s first-round draft choice, comes into play. The plan is to unleash his athletic ability more as a pass rusher and he was able to hone those skills by getting some work with the defensive ends in the spring minicamps and OTA practices. The coaches will mix-and-match their linemen to come up with the best combinations according to down and distance.
At running back, the by-committee approach again will be the key to improving a running game that averaged 97.7 yards per game and 4 yards per carry last season. Julius Jones continues to head the group, but Justin Forsett will have an increased role and everyone is awaiting the return of Leon Washington, who was obtained in a draft day trade with the New York Jets after missing most of last season with a broken leg.
The situation at quarterback has been misrepresented since the club made the trade to acquire Whitehurst. Hasselbeck remains the starter, and his performance this spring has only cemented that status. He is healthier than he has been in two years and the improvements on the O-line should help insure that remains the case.
Q: Where do you see Earl Thomas fitting in on special teams? Will we utilize him on kickoff returns? Also, I said it last year and I was wrong, but with the position change and his development I am again feeling that this will be Red Bryant’s breakout year. I’ll be looking for him on the Pro Bowl roster in 2011. – Carlos, Lynnwood
A: The team’s other first-round draft choice definitely has the speed and athletic ability to excel on special teams, Carlos. But Thomas’ priority is learning the free safety position at this level so he can be the playmaking centerfielder that coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider envisioned when they selected him with the 14th pick. To this point, second-round pick Golden Tate and Forsett have been getting most of the work returning kickoffs, and Washington went to the Pro Bowl as the AFC kick returner in 2008.
Let’s hope you’re right about Bryant and that date with the Pro Bowl. That might be asking a bit too much, but if he can use his size and quickness to be a run-stuffing, disruptive presence that would be a needed step in the right direction.
Q: In the most recent article, “Getting Defensive,” I noticed that Ricky Foley was not mentioned. Have the Seahawks already released him without putting it on their recent transaction list? – Jeff, Olympia
A: No, Jeff, Foley remains on the roster and a factor at the Leo position. But he is working behind Clemons and Nick Reed, whose pass-rushing ability earned the seventh-round draft choice a spot on the 53-man roster last year.
The key for Foley will be to duplicate what Reed was able to do last year – open eyes every time he gets an opportunity. Foley, who led the CFL with 12 sacks for the B.C. Lions last season, is a willing student. Several times, he has been spotted in the hallway getting extra tutoring from an assistant coach after meetings. He’s also one of the first players on the field for each practice, and one of the last to leave.