Russell Wilson at Seahawks OTAs talking about his first practices without retiring top target Doug Baldwin
Good thing it’s only May.
The Seahawks are without seven starters during practices for organized team activities this week: Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Chris Carson, Jarran Reed, Ziggy Ansah, Bradley McDougald, Tre Flowers.
That meant second- and third-stringers were prominent players during 11-versus-11 scrimmage throughout Tuesday’s practice in helmets and without pads.
Wagner is at OTAs to show leadership but is not practicing, to preserve his health until the All-Pro linebacker gets his new contract.
Ansah is recovering from shoulder surgery that ended his final season with Detroit late in 2018. The one-time Pro Bowl defensive end for the Lions came to the Seahawks this month, signing a one-year contract with $6 million guaranteed.
Seattle is counting on Ansah returning to his 14 1’2-sack form of four years ago and 12-sack play from 2017, to replace traded Frank Clark as the team’s top pass rusher.
“It’s a huge get for us,” coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday. “Ziggy playing last year at the time when he got hurt, hurt his shoulder, he was as effective a rusher as there was in the league. After seven games, he had four sacks and 20 percent of the time he was causing problems for the quarterback. That’s as big a number as anybody had.
“He’s got a chance to be a big factor for us. He’ll play just like we played our ‘Leo’ (edge pass rusher) position in the past. He’s exactly that type of athlete. He has that makeup. We expect him to be a...we’re not going to play anybody the whole time, we’ll roll them through it and all. But he has exactly what we’re looking for. Speed. Size. Strength. Toughness. He’s got a great motor about the way he plays.
“We’re really fortunate to have him.”
But when will they have him on the field for the first time?
The Seahawks still don’t know that.
When Seattle signed Ansah, who turns 30 next week, many in the league thought the top remaining free agent two months after the market opened wouldn’t be ready to practice until at least mid-August. Ansah watched Tuesday’s drills without wearing a helmet. He told Seattle’s KIRO-AM radio after signing that he has no timetable on his return.
Will Ansah be ready for the start of Seattle’s season in early September?
“He’s got a chance,” Carroll said, vaguely.
“Where he is, he’s in the process. He’s got a long process to get back. His attitude is great. He’s working every day, involved in all phases of everything that’s going on in the training room and with strength and conditioning. It’s just going to take a while and we’ll see.
“We won’t know until we get back after the break (between veteran minicamp that ends June 13 and training camp that begins in late July), until we get to camp really to see how far along we are able to get him. And then we’ll see what camp tells us.
“I can’t tell you anything more than other than just got to wait and see. But he’s doing everything he can and we’re all on it, and really fired up about him being here.”
Reed is recovering from a recent sports-hernia surgery. The coach said the Seahawks plan to have their 10 1/2-sack defensive tackle from last season back on the field when training camp begins in late July, or soon after.
Wright was on a side field working with a trainer during the start of practice. He missed 11 of 16 games last regular season following knee surgery in August. He was a Seattle rookie in 2011 and is the longest-tenured Seahawk now that Doug Baldwin is retiring following three surgeries this offseason.
Carson and McDougald had knee surgeries this offseason. They could be back on the field in a few weeks, Carroll said.
Flowers was away for a family funeral.
Recently signed quarterback Geno Smith, the former starter with the Jets, will eventually battle Denver’s former first-round pick Paxton Lynch for the job to backup Russell Wilson in 2019. Smith is away during this week’s OTAs to tend to a family matter, Carroll said.
Here’s what I else I noticed on the field Tuesday:
1. Wilson is going to miss Doug Baldwin.
“There’s nobody like Doug Baldwin,” Wilson said of his top receiving target, especially on third down, the last six years.
“He was always open. He knew how to create separation. He had this fire that you didn’t see in anybody else...
“He’s going to be remembered forever here.”
2. Second-round pick DK Metcalf, the star of rookie minicamp early this month, was mostly with the second-team offense behind wide receivers Tyler Lockett and Jaron Brown. But Metcalf did get a handful of scrimmage plays with Wilson and the starting offense. He made catches over defenders who not allowed per the NFL collective bargaining agreement for this stage of the offseason to contest balls in the air in scrimmaging against the offense.
Metcalf also tried returning some of All-Pro Michael Dickson’s punts early in Tuesday’s practice. He dropped one of his first tries, then kicked the ball yards up the field while trying to pick it up.
Carroll joked Metcalf wasn’t picking up punt returning as well as he is the offense at wide receiver. At 6-3 1/2, 229 pounds and 4.33-second speed in the 40-yard dash, the Seahawks traded up to draft Metcalf from Mississippi to catch deep passes against overmatched defenders, not return punts.
“He’s a freak of nature,” Wilson said.
3. Lynch, wearing number 2 and running the second-team offense Tuesday, looked more than his listed eight inches taller than the 5-foot-11 Wilson.
4. While the Seahawks wait for Asah, where could more pass rush come from?
Martin was working with linebackers early in practice, then defensive ends later. The team’s sixth-round pick last year was a situational pass rusher at end during his rookie season. That was after he worked at linebacker in the 2018 preseason.
With Seattle still in need of pass rushers—recently brought-back Cassius Marsh was a first-team end Tuesday—Martin is going to get a chance at a larger role in 2019 than spot duty.
“I think he’s more serious about making a statement of where he fits in to this team, and all,” Carroll said.
“He’s embraced the opportunity last year. He had a nice season for us last year. We are counting on a lot more out of him. He basically has to work really hard at keeping his weight up (the team lists Martin at 6-2 and 242, and still, by the way, as a linebacker). He wound up the (2018) season at 220-something, by the end of the year...
“We’ve got to work hard to keep weight on him...He should be a big part of this.”
5. Shaquem Griffin was wearing gold Nike cleats. And he was blitzing off the edge.
Carroll keeps saying last year’s draft choice who got benched as the fill-in weakside linebacker for Wright 1 1/2 quarters into the job in September will fly in off the edge to pressure quarterbacks more this year and read blocks and plays as an every-down linebacker less. Running and finding the quarterback and ball carrier is what Griffin did to be conference player of the year at the University of Central Florida.
The Seahawks believe Griffin having a less-cluttered mind with fewer responsibilities may get him back to being the zooming hitter he was in college. We’ll see, beginning in training camp and throughout August.
6. With McDougald recovering from knee surgery, the starting safety pairing was Tedric Thompson at free and Marwin Evans at strong. Evans, a fourth-year veteran, was a free-agent pickup last year.
7. The nickel defensive back was Akeem King. He was next in line this offseason after he re-signed for one year at $1.4 million and Justin Coleman left for Detroit in free agency. Rookie fourth-round pick Ugo Amadi was second at nickel.
8. New kicker Jason Myers made all of his field goals during the special-teams interlude in the middle of practice. The last kick was good from 48 yards, with Dickson holding.
9. The players I noticed in uniform but not practicing, in addition to the list of the missing guys above: wide receivers Gary Jennings (hamstring from two weeks ago), Caleb Scott and Malik Turner, strong safety Delano Hill (cracked hip late last season), undrafted rookie strong safety Jalen Harvey, safety Shalom Luani, cornerback Kalan Reed, recently signed defensive tackle Al Woods, rookie linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven from the University of Washington and linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee.
10. The only group of starters that was intact and healthy during Tuesday’s OTA practice returning from last season was the offensive line.
Justin Britt was back at the center. New left guard Mike Iupati was paired with returning right guard D.J. Fluker. Left tackle Duane Brown and right tackle Germain Ifedi also fully participated with the starting offense.
Having Iupati and Fluker healthy and fully participating in May is a big plus. Iupati, signed this offseason, has played in just 11 games the last two years, for Arizona. Fluker has had injuries shorten his last two seasons, too.
Jordan Simmons, who had his promising debut season for Seattle end early because of a knee injury in November, was the second right guard behind Fluker in some drills. That’s a plus toward Simmons being ready by training camp to pick up from his three promising starts for Fluker in 2018.
That line paved the ways for the NFL’s top rushing game last season. The only difference from then to now is Iupati at left guard, for the departed J.R. Sweezy. Sweezy signed in March with the Cardinals after fulfilling his one-year contract with Seattle.
Wilson talked about how key this continuity on the line can be for the offense in 2019, if the starters can stay healthy.
Per man, that always a big, 300-plus-pound if.