Newcomers steal the show at Seahawks scrimmage

Rashaad Penny (with ball) and Bradley McDougald were among Saturday's standoutsPhoto courtesy of Joe Nicholson of USA Today Sports Images

Longtime Seahawks analyst Rob Rang attended Saturday's scrimmage and shares his thoughts, with a focus on the newcomers

SEATTLE – The Seahawks’ official preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts Thursday, August 8 is still a few days away but the unofficial beginning to the 2018 campaign took place Saturday at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center where the club held its annual scrimmage.

Having attended each of the scrimmages since Pete Carroll and John Schneider joined forces in 2010, I’ve learned to trust my eyes during these events, recognizing that Russell Wilson was the most impressive quarterback on the team during his first scrimmage as a rookie, that Frank Clark was a future difference-maker well worth his then-controversial selection and that Germain Ifedi’s power could not compensate for inconsistent technique. (Corbin Smith writes more about the frustration with Ifedi here.)

The following are my observations of the 2018 scrimmage, with special attention paid to rookies and other newcomers to the roster.

10. Buy Your Brandon Marshall jersey now?

It isn’t often that a 34-year old player signed to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum already has his own personalized jerseys being sold in the official team shop but Marshall, a six-time Pro-Bowler with 82 career touchdowns, isn’t just some other player. As he’s done on multiple occasions already in camp, the physically imposing 6-foot-5, 232 pound Marshall got free in the end zone for a touchdown from Russell Wilson Saturday, already showing intriguing chemistry with a quarterback in search of a dependable red zone target with Doug Baldwin nursing a sore knee on the sideline and Jimmy Graham now in Green Bay. Marshall was covered well by flashy 6-3 corner Tre Flowers but a perfect ball (and route) beats good coverage every time. Marshall’s size and physicality also showed up as a blocker on quick screens to fellow receivers and in the running game. It is also worth noting that Marshall didn’t just play in the scrimmage, he started opposite Tyler Lockett.

9. Depth at running back is much improved

Chris Carson turned a blown coverage into a 60+ yard touchdown catch and run on the first snap of the scrimmage and first round pick Rashaad Penny showed off his big play ability on an off-tackle run to the right side about an hour later, covering at least as much ground. The often under-appreciated Mike Davis also made a couple of noteworthy runs, setting up and eluding defenders with his trademark low, physical running and good lateral agility.

8. Prosise’s chances may be slipping through his fingers

Davis’ steadiness was a sharp contrast to the unreliability C.J. Prosise yet again showed Saturday, dropping two passes, including one potential touchdown. Prosise, you may recall, was a former receiver at Notre Dame. He’s not yet proven durable in the NFL and if he cannot be counted on to catch passes, Prosise may not make the team.

7. Britt’s sore back gives sleeper an unexpected opportunity

Starting center Justin Britt initially warmed up before noticeably pulling up with some sort of back strain. The injury did not appear too serious – Britt was back on the sidelines laughing with teammates J.R. Sweezy and Tyler Lockett soon after – but his absence pushed incumbent backup Joey Hunt onto the field early and required undrafted free agent Skyler Phillips from Idaho State to slide from his normal guard spot to center. Hunt had a couple of high shotgun snaps, an issue that Phillips, one of my favorite sleepers this year, did not appear to have. Hunt, bigger and stronger than a year ago, is clearly the favorite to retain his roster spot but by proving some positional versatility, Phillips (perhaps unexpectedly) helped his cause Saturday.

6. Shaquem up to first team

With starting weakside linebacker K.J. Wright sitting out Saturday due to a slight groin strain, Shaquem Griffin got plenty of playing time, showing the instincts, change of direction and closing speed that Carroll noted in his post-practice press conference makes him a “fit” in Seattle. It should be noted that evaluating any defender – especially linebackers – is difficult during training camp because they are not allowed to tackle ball-carriers but Griffin’s awareness in coverage and athleticism are as obvious as his enthusiasm for the game.

5. Calitro creates collisions

The Seahawks spent considerable time evaluating inside linebackers in the 2018 draft to find a quality backup to star Bobby Wagner, surprising some (including me) when the team did not select one. Interestingly enough, the Seahawks may have the Cleveland Browns to thank for an intriguing candidate in Austin Calitro, who was released by the latter in May and picked up by Seattle a few weeks later. At first glance, it would seem ludicrous to suggest that a recent powerhouse like Seattle would be interested in the leavings of a team that finished with the worst record in the NFL the past two years running but inside linebacker is a real strength in Cleveland, where the team boasts the league’s reigning tackle king in Joe Schobert, an exciting rookie in Genard Avery and recently acquired Mychal Kendricks from the Philadelphia Eagles via trade, leaving Calitro vulnerable. While true tackling is forbidden, the rock-solid 6-1, 240 pound Calitro delivered a couple of big hits Saturday, making sure all observers learned his name.

4. Dickson punts like his foot is a pitching wedge

Generally-speaking, football players should not resemble golfers in any way. The accuracy to the sidelines and ability to draw back on the ball that rookie punter Michael Dickson showed Saturday (and previously on tape) continues to remind me of a golfer on his final approach to the hole. Veteran Jon Ryan is certainly not playing the caddy role and surrendering his job to the rookie but Dickson’s unique talent is obvious.

3. Poona is a player – and a tough one at that

At just 5-foot-11, Poona Ford is not your traditional NFL defensive linemen but Seahawks fans should know by now that Schneider and Carroll value playmaking ability and toughness over conventionality. Ford’s quickness and natural leverage advantage helped him make a couple of splashy plays near the line of scrimmage yesterday. One team official I spoke to following practice also commended Ford’s toughness, something the source wished others (including fellow undrafted free agents fighting for their NFL lives) did not show Saturday.

2. Flowers blooming but King rules the day

Carroll has publicly touted Flowers and others have privately shared similar excitement about the former Oklahoma State safety making the transition to cornerback for Seattle. It is easy to see why as Flowers, at least physically-speaking, looks a lot like former standout cornerback Brandon Browner with his rare height, wingspan and physical playing style. Though beaten by Marshall for the touchdown, Flowers had a solid day overall, seeing a lot of time as the second string cornerback on the right side. It was relatively unknown Akeem King, however, who had the best day among Seattle’s cornerbacks, making two very nice pass breakups. Drafted by Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons three years ago, King comes to Seattle already well-versed in the aggressive scheme that Carroll (and Quinn) preach.

1. Introducing your starting safeties - Tedric Thompson and Bradley McDougald

With Earl Thomas embroiled in a holdout that shows no sign of being resolved any time soon and Kam Chancellor officially on the Physically Unable to Perform list, the single biggest storyline of this year’s training camp is Seattle’s transition from the Legion of Boom to the Legion of Whom. Well, if Saturday was any indication, the future lies with Tedric Thompson at free safety and Bradley McDougald playing closer to the line of scrimmage. This suits both players well as Thompson possesses good range and ball-skills and McDougald is a terrific communicator and open-field tackler. Delano Hill, a second-year pro like Thompson who is expected to challenge at strong safety, appeared to be caught out of position on a long pass play late in the scrimmage, an issue during last year’s camp, as well. Veteran Maurice Alexander, who Carroll has expressed a great deal of interest in, did not participate in the scrimmage due to a hip flexor after previously missing time with a shoulder injury.

Rob Rang is best known for his NFL draft content for NFLDraftScout.com, which has been distributed by CBS Sports, USA Today, FOX, NFL.com, Scout.com and multiple others. He is a resident of the greater Seattle area and a frequent contributor to Seahawks content for multiple outlets, including Maven, KJR 950 AM, Q13 Fox TV and elsewhere.

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