Organized Team Activities got underway for the Seattle Seahawks last week, as Pete Carroll got a first look at his team in its near-entirety in preparation for the 2014 season.
Seattle has a number of position battles to sort out before opening the season on September 4 against the Green Bay Packers. OTAs, which run through June 12 before mandatory minicamp begins, will be the first chance for players to step up and separate themselves in the fight for a roster spot.
They also provide a chance for the Seahawks to think about how they will replace their losses in 2014 while also integrating new players. Three storylines dominated the first week of Seattle’s OTAs.
Who will return punts?
With Golden Tate departing to the Detroit Lions during free agency, the Seahawks will be looking for a new punt returner. Tate was underrated as a return man, bringing back 51 punts for 585 yards, including a game-changer in the Week 9 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Carroll wasted no time tossing out some interesting names to take over for Tate on the first day of OTAs. Per multiple media reports, including Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk, Carroll said Earl Thomas is first in line to take over punt returning duties with Richard Sherman, Percy Harvin and Bryan Walters also in the mix.
Thomas is the owner of a new $40 million contract extension and is probably the single most important player on the team other than Russell Wilson. While Thomas has the skill set to be a punt returner, it would be a major injury risk to have such a critical player in the role.
For similar reasons, it would be a surprise to see Sherman returning punts, and he probably isn’t as suited for the role as Thomas anyway. Harvin is the ideal option despite not having a punt return in his pro career due to his sheer explosiveness, but it depends on how healthy he is entering the season. Walters is in an uphill battle to make the team.
Who knows how truthful Carroll is being with that statement, but if any coach would be willing to use the unconventional strategy of using an All-Pro safety as a punt returner, it’s him. Expect some other names to enter the fray. Christine Michael is probably the most explosive runner on the team besides Harvin and Doug Baldwin showed some skill returning kickoffs last season, including in the NFC Championship Game.
Can James Carpenter finally break out?
This is a make-or-break season for the Seahawks’ 2011 first-round draft choice. The team did not pick up Carpenter’s fifth-year option earlier in the offseason, but is hopeful that Carpenter can live up to his potential and fill a massive need for the team.
Seattle’s clear weakness heading into the season is the offensive line, with guard being the biggest overall question mark. Carpenter is in line to fill one of the starting guard positions, with J.R. Sweezy taking the other.
Carpenter’s career has been marred by knee injuries, including a torn ACL in 2011, and he has been ineffective even when healthy. But Carroll is reportedly thrilled with how Carpenter looks early in OTAs, saying he is down 15 pounds and ready to finally avoid injury, via Seahawks.com.
Second-round pick Justin Britt could potentially make the move to guard and take over for Carpenter later this year or in the future. If Carpenter is going to stay on the team past this season, he will finally have to realize his full potential, but may finally be healthy enough to do so.
Will the Seahawks extend anyone else?
Baldwin signed a two-year extension worth up to just over $13 million last week, making him the third Seahawks player to receive an extension this offseason, joining Thomas and Sherman. While the Seahawks are going to need to be careful with cap room in the near future, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one more extension get done in the coming weeks.
Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner are the two players the Seahawks need to prioritize, but neither is eligible for an extension this offseason. Four key 2015 free agents could be Cliff Avril, Byron Maxwell, Malcolm Smith and K.J. Wright.
Of those, Avril might be the most likely. At 28-years-old, Avril is in his prime years but might be a little too old for a long extension. The Seahawks have done an excellent job of back-loading contracts, potentially freeing them to sign a player like Avril to a shorter, more expensive contract.
Avril was a key pass rushing force last season, particularly in the Super Bowl, and is only going to become more important to the team moving forward. With the roster construction this year, Avril is poised to slide into the primary LEO role, or move over to the strongside if the Seahawks like what they see out of Benson Mayowa and Jackson Jeffcoat.
Maxwell was outstanding late last year and will be in line for a big pay day if he can prove he can keep that level of play over an entire season, meaning he might want to wait and test free agency. Wright and Smith are great players as well but might be candidates to become cap casualties in 2015.
Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press
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