Some leftover observations and opinions from the first 10 days – and 14 practices – at Seahawks training camp:
Best unit: Wide receivers
This group was a sore spot all of last season, when the Seahawks opened the regular season without Bobby Engram, Deion Branch and Ben Obomanu and then lost Nate Burleson and Logan Payne in the first two games.
End result: Rookie tight end John Carlson led the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches – and the since-departed trio of wide receivers Billy McMullen, Keary Colbert and Koren Robinson started a combined 18 games.
This summer, those painful images of ’08 have been replaced by one big play after another, one nice catch after another.
As offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said after Sunday’s practice, “It’s probably been, in my 15 years of training camps, the best competition at the receiving corps.”
The leaders of the pack have been the starters: Burleson, the split end, who appears fully recovered from tearing the ACL in his left knee in the ’08 opener; and flanker T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the team’s big free agent addition who has been as proficient and productive as advertised.
Then there’s Branch, who has missed only three practices in camp after having problems staying healthy since he was acquired in a 2006 trade with the Patriots; and Deon Butler, this year’s third-round draft choice who adds an element of speed to the mix.
Obomanu is back, after missing all of ’08 with a broken collarbone, and brimming with potential.
That’s five at a position where the team will carry five or six players on the 53-man roster. The competition for that potential other roster spot has been “unbelievable,” as Knapp put it, and includes Courtney Taylor, Payne, Jordan Kent, Michael Bumpus and Mike Hass.
Most improved unit: Defensive line
The additions of nose tackle Colin Cole (free agency) and versatile lineman Cory Redding (trade) have setoff a domino situation, and made this unit bigger – and better.
With Cole at the nose, Brandon Mebane has been able to slide from the nose to the three-technique tackle spot, where his disruptive style can be featured. With Redding at left end, Patrick Kerney has been able to move to right end, where he’ll face fewer double-team blocks.
As for the size issue, Cole (330 pounds) is bigger than Mebane, who in turn is bigger than Rocky Bernard, who played the three spot last season; and Redding (292) is bigger than Kerney, who is bigger than the ends who shared the right side last season.
As for the depth issue, Lawrence Jackson and Darryl Tapp, who competed for the starting spot on the right side last summer, are now the rotating ends; while Craig Terrill and Red Bryant will be used in rotation at tackle, with Redding also playing the three spot in the nickel line.
Biggest area of concern: Offensive line
The concerns about Walter Jones’ ability to bounce back – at 35 – from microfracture surgery on his left knee have been replaced by trepidation about the back spasms that are preventing the Pro Bowl left tackle from practicing.
With Jones out, Sean Locklear is playing left tackle, and being replaced by Ray Willis on the right side.
The release of left guard Mike Wahle on the first day of camp prompted the move of Rob Sims from right guard, with Mansfield Wrotto now on the right side – backed up by second-round draft choice Max Unger, who eventually will become a starter.
Bottom line: Line coach Mike Solari has yet to have his intended starting unit on the field together, and he’s in his second training camp with the team.