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Seattle Seahawks 2013 Season Preview
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - If there truly is an arms race going on between San Francisco and Seattle in the NFC West, it's currently at the height of Cold War levels because both the 49ers and Seahawks have amassed enough firepower to obliterate just about everyone else.
After trading for star slot receiver Percy Harvin, signing a pair of pass rushers in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, and inking perhaps the game's best nickel corner in Antoine Winfield, the Seahawks appeared to be entering training camp with few weaknesses.
Few plans are implemented without a hitch, however, and the Seahawks' vision of adding a dynamic playmaker like Harvin to an offense featuring second-year quarterback Russell Wilson and Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch will have to wait for now.
Harvin, who was acquired from Minnesota for a first-round pick in the offseason, was forced to undergo hip surgery in early August and will be sidelined for most, if not all, of the upcoming season.
"What we have heard so far is that the surgery went very well, and that there's a long rehab process coming up," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We don't have any dates or timelines, but we're going to be very optimistic and hope that he gets back as soon as possible."
The 25-year-old Harvin would have certainly added a big play element to both Seattle's passing and return games but before you cry poverty for Seattle, let's understand this is a core group which finished the 2012 season in second-place in the NFC West and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs for the second time in Carroll's three years as head coach.
The Seahawks posted an 11-5 record in 2012, the third most wins in franchise history and went undefeated at home for only the third time in franchise history.
After starting 4-4, Seattle won seven of its last eight games to close the season, leaning on the emergence of Wilson, who set numerous NFL and franchise records as a freshman NFL signal caller.
With Wilson at the helm, aided by the league's third-ranked rushing offense and fourth-ranked defense, Seattle was rarely out of any game, as its largest defeat all season was a seven-point loss at San Francisco.
The unflappable Wilson also nearly pulled off a brilliant comeback during the playoffs in Atlanta before the Seahawks eventually succumbed.
2012 RECORD: 11-5 (2nd, NFC West)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2012, lost to Atlanta in NFC divisional round.
HEAD COACH (RECORD): Pete Carroll (25-23 in three seasons with Seahawks, 58-54 in seven seasons overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Darrell Bevell (third season with Seahawks)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dan Quinn (first season back with Seahawks)
KEY ADDITIONS: DE Cliff Avril (from Lions), DE Michael Bennett (from Buccaneers), CB/KR Will Blackmon, WR Percy Harvin (from Vikings), QB Tarvaris Jackson (from Bills), DT Tony McDaniel (from Dolphins), QB Brady Quinn (from Chiefs), CB Antoine Winfield (from Vikings), RB Christine Michael (2nd round, Texas A&M), DT Jordan Hill (3rd round, Penn State)
KEY DEPARTURES: DT Alan Branch (to Bills), QB Matt Flynn (to Raiders), DE Jason Jones (to Lions), OG John Moffitt (to Broncos), CB Marcus Trufant (to Jaguars), RB/KR Leon Washington (to Patriots).
QB: Measured at under 5-foot-11 Wilson doesn't look like your prototypical NFL quarterback but he plays with an uncommon self-assuredness, rarely seen in veterans never mind second-year pros. The University of Wisconsin product has the requisite speed and elusiveness, along with the arm strength to be a dangerous dual-threat under center. Some think there will be a bit of a "market correction" when it comes to read-option types at quarterback this season but Wilson's feel and natural instincts for the game leave him well- prepared for any curve balls opposing defensive coordinators throw at him.
"I think that I've done a good job," Wilson said when discussing his preseason. "Obviously you want to improve on a couple of things here and there, but it's just that constant progression. As a football team, and personally it's, 'Can I be better that I was last week?' It's just miles of difference for me emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically compared to last year."
There is plenty of experience behind Wilson in former starter Tarvaris Jackson as well as ex-Golden Domer Brady Quinn.
"Our guys really like him here," Carroll said of Jackson. "I have tremendous respect for what he did when he was here. So to have him back in our locker room is a real positive for really the whole club."
RB: All-Pro Lynch is the bell cow of Seattle's offense, amassing a career-high 1,590 yards on 315 carries a season ago. The bruising Lynch can wear down any defense with his punishing running style and ability to break tackles but he also takes a ton of punishment and his potential longevity as a top back has to be a question in the back of nearly everyone's mind.
The depth is largely unproven with second-year man Robert Turbin, a big back in the mold of Lynch, trying to hold off Texas A&M rookie Christine Michael, one of the most naturally gifted runners in the 2013 draft,
Fullback Michael Robinson, an ex-QB in college at Penn State, was named a first-alternate to the Pro Bowl after helping Lynch become Seattle's first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher since Shaun Alexander in 2004-05.
WR: It would have been nice to add Harvin into the mix with the rangy Sidney Rice and versatile threat Golden Tate.
Harvin has always been high-maintenance and the upkeep finally became too steep for classy Vikings coach Leslie Frazier when Harvin blew up at him during a Minnesota loss at Seattle back on Nov. 4 of last year.
Interestingly enough, Pete Carroll was on the opposing sideline that day, piloting the Seahawks and watching Harvin's immaturity in living color. It obviously wasn't enough to dissuade the Seahawks' mentor from rubber-stamping Harvin's arrival in the Pacific Northwest, however.
If football were played in a vacuum, this would be a no-brainer. Harvin is a heck of a talent and one of the best playmakers in all of football, a YAC (yards after catch) machine and an absolute field-tilter as the game's best pure kickoff returner.
But the Seahawks not only acquired Harvin, they also got his reputation. They snared the moody, unpredictable man who is prone to migraine headaches. And they got the undersized, injury-prone guy who never takes his foot off the gas.
The payoff could be huge for Seattle, but the risk of upsetting the apple cart is just as high.
Rice has always had big play ability but hasn't been able to stay healthy save for one season in Minnesota, when he lit up opponents en route to a Pro Bowl berth. At 6-foot-4, Rice uses his size well and can high-point the football downfield with the best of them. That said, he spent two nights in Switzerland earlier this summer undergoing a procedure in his balky knee similar to Platelet-rich Plasma therapy.
"(It was) just to help the patella tendonitis die down a little bit," Rice said. "I've been having a sore knee for quite a while now, so I'm just working on it."
Tate tied Rice for the Seahawks team-lead with a career-high seven receiving touchdowns last year. The ex-running back excels in space and has the ability to break tackles like few other receivers, making him a serious threat on hitches and bubble screens.
"I think he's a tremendous football player," Carroll said when talking about Tate. "We have no hesitation to feature him and get him the football and all kinds of things with him. He is a very good football player. Right now it's all ahead of him. He is just kind of getting started in a sense. But I think we got a fine player."
Harvin's absence also gives undersized slot receiver Doug Baldwin more of a chance to contribute.
TE: Zach Miller was spectacular in the last game he played, catching eight passes for a career-high 142 yards and a touchdown in the divisional-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons back in January. Miller was hoping to improve on his rapport with Wilson during training camp but a foot injury kept him sidelined until last week.
"It adds that consistency, it adds that competitive nature for sure. Zach is so competitive," Wilson said of his tight end. "He's so physical, he's a playmaker, and he does the right thing. To have a guy at the tight end position who does the right thing every time, we want that, and that's what we have in Zach for sure."
The depth behind Miller is scarce although rookie Luke Wilson could add a consistent seam threat.
OL: Seattle's offensive line is headlined by All-Pro center Max Unger and big left tackle Russell Okung. Unger is a strong pass blocker, who mirrors well while Okung, although never living up to his position as the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft, is an athletic, consistent lineman in both phases who has reached his Pro Bowl potential.
The rest of the group is far more pedestrian with guards journeyman Paul McQuistan and converted defensive lineman J.R. Sweezy flanking Unger inside, and the somewhat steady but unspectacular Breno Giacomini playing opposite Okung at right tackle.
You have to believe former starter James Carpenter, a first-round pick in 2011 out of Alabama, could get back in the mix at guard if he proves he can stay healthy. Carpenter, though, has been limited to 16 games over his first two seasons due to two major knee injuries.
DL: In dire need of a consistent pass rush, especially with Chris Clemons expected to begin the year on the PUP list after tearing an ACL last season, the Seahawks brought in veterans Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to flank an inside group which includes newcomer Tony McDaniel and Brandon Mebane,
Avril was always a dynamic guy in Detroit but his motor ran hot and cold while Bennett will probably settle in as a nickel rusher. Veteran Red Bryant is a supreme run stuffer on the edge who rarely registers a blip on the pass rush.
Bruce Irvin remains the undersized but fast guy who is a tweener, handling a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end "Leo" role as a pass rusher.
"We wanted to make sure and take advantage of the kind of spectrum of play that he offers us," Carroll said of Irvin. "He looks very good in space. He looks really good coming off of the edge. He would be a feature to outside rush guys if continued to be that for us and we think we could do both of that by the way we are playing him and he is really taking to it."
Active nose tackle Mebane and McDaniel, a stop-gap-type, will handle the inside grunt work.
LB: Mike linebacker Bobby Wagner led the team with 140 tackles last season, setting the franchise record for tackles by a rookie, and matching Brandon Browner and Earl Thomas for second on the team with three interceptions. Wagner is an instinctive, downhill run defender that loves hearing the pads pop.
He's flanked by K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, two unproven players who need to step up.
Wright is another downhill player with good lateral quickness who plays balanced. Smith, meanwhile, toiled for Carroll at Southern Cal and knows the defensive scheme. The athleticism is there with these two but the instincts may not be.
DB: The strength of the Seahawks really lies in the defensive backfield. In fact this unit could rival San Francisco's linebackers as the best in all of football.
Aging but still productive slot cornerback Winfield turns a dominating group into an embarrassment of riches. Winfield joins with a pair of talented, lengthy corners in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, along with two difference-makers at safety in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
Winfield doesn't have great speed any longer but his short-area quickness remains top notch and he is a rare, fundamentally sound form tackler who can secure the edge in the running game.
Sherman was the best corner in all of football last season, being named first- team All-Pro after leading Seattle with a career-high eight interceptions and 24 passes defensed. That was the most interceptions by a Seahawks player since Darryl Williams led the AFC with eight in 1997.
At 6-foot-4 Browner is an inch taller than Sherman and while not quite as talented as his counterpart, can still make things happen in press coverage. The only real way to attack Seattle's corners is with quickness and superior route-running.
Thomas was also a first-team All-Pro and is one of the best two or three safeties in the game, adept in coverage or run support, while Chancellor is a big thumper who can get lost in coverage on occasion.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Journeyman Steven Hauschka is back from a calf injury to handle kicking duties. Hauschka was a solid 24-of-27 on field goals last season but missed a pair of extra points and is just 3-of-8 from 50 yards or more while with the Seahawks. Also, his 41.4 percent rate of touchbacks was 22nd in the NFL last year.
Punter Jon Ryan was a second-alternate to the Pro Bowl in 2012 after ranking fourth in the NFC with 30 punts landing inside the 20.
Harvin is the best kick returner in all of football and would have made Leon Washington's exit less impactful but now it's up to Will Blackmon, who did some nice things in Green Bay once upon a time. Tate will handle at least some punts and his lower body strength can give the first and second tacklers problems, a key for any punt returner.
COACHING: Carroll is an energetic guy who seems on the cutting edge of ongoing NFL trends thanks to his time in college where the up-tempo offensive game has its roots.
Bevell did a wonderful job mentoring Wilson last year and will try to navigate at potential sophomore slum pitfalls the diminutive one may face.
Innovative defensive mind Gus Bradley is now the head man in Jacksonville, leaving his core defense to Dan Quinn, who must mix and match correctly in the front seven to mask any deficiencies.
THE SKINNY: The Seahawks have some holes but they possess the game's best secondary in a league which is slanted heavily toward the pass.
The formula for this team shapes up pretty simply, capture the lead early and rely on Wilson's smarts and Lynch's road-grader mentality, while forcing the opposition to throw into the teeth of the game's most dangerous defensive backfield.
08/27 11:22:52 ET
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