Gregg Bell and Dave Boling offer first impressions of top Seahawks rookies
The rookies were doing it all wrong.
Which — given this was drill one, hour one, day one of their NFL lives — wasn’t all that surprising.
“Do it again!” new Seahawks defensive line coach Clint Hurtt bellowed to his even newer defensive linemen, summoning two of them back for a redo of slamming into a blocking sled.
Then it was Malik McDowell’s turn.
McDowell’s big hands — at the end of arms that appear as long as telephone poles — smacked into the sled’s pads. Seattle’s top rookie draft choice then lifted up the bulky, metal sled like it was a newborn baby, almost all the way to the top of his 6-foot-6 body.
“I like it, Malik! I LIKE IT!” Hurtt roared at his new defensive tackle. “Nice hands!”
The first day of Seahawks rookie minicamp didn’t reveal much. It was, after all, in helmets and shorts, four months before real games begin. The rest of the veterans aren’t even here to push most of these guys down the depth chart, or off the roster.
But Friday did reveal a few, initial things:
Why Seattle traded down nine spots and snared four additional draft choices and took McDowell at the top of the second round last month.
McDowell looks incredibly loooooooooong and not near his listed 299 pounds.
McDowell looks far more polished and savvy with his hands and feet than most rookie pass rushers — especially one 20 years old.
Fellow second-round pick Ethan Pocic, a center at LSU, is going to be a right tackle this weekend, then perhaps a guard later this preseason.
Third-round pick Shaquill Griffin looks the part of a Seahawks cornerback — and is likely to get a chance to be the starting one on the right side.
McDowell, though, made the biggest first impression. He looked so fluid for being so, well, big.
“I like it here,” he said. “I love it here, actually.”
Coach Pete Carroll noticed him right away.
It was tough not to.
“Instantly, almost, you can see how comfortable he is with his movements, his body control,” Carroll said. “He’s got an awareness already how to use his hands that you are surprised to see that much with that kind of background. ...
“He’s off to a great start. He looks great. Taller than a lot of guys that we’ve had at his position. And we’re excited to see how we are going to move forward with that.”
McDowell is going to get a lot of preseason time outside at end, which he rarely played in college. Then, in passing situations and nickel-defense packages, the Seahawks are planning on having McDowell as a fast, tall tackle, paired inside with two-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Michael Bennett.
Many thought McDowell would be a top-10 pick in this year’s draft, until a 2016 season in which he played through a high-ankle sprain, and was perceived to tank along with his 3-9 Michigan State team.
Carroll said the Seahawks are fine with his weight, and that McDowell may gain 10 to 15 pounds over the next year. That will come from getting stronger, maturing into a 21-year-old and working in an NFL weight room.
“We don’t want him to gain weight. We just want him to get stronger,” Carroll said. “We feel like he is big enough right now.”
That’s because the Seahawks don’t want McDowell to be an inside run stopper; they still have tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Jarran Reed for that. They want McDowell to be a uniquely tall, fast pass rusher who can blow past and between centers and guards, perhaps before they get out of their stances.
On offense, Pocic looks like a tackle. He is 6 feet 6 and 317 pounds. And that’s what he was Friday from the first snap of team drills: the right tackle.
Carroll said the Seahawks know Pocic can play center if need be. Right now, there is no need. Fourth-year veteran Justin Britt is coming off a strong 2016 as the starting center, and may soon earn an extension on his rookie contract, which ends after this year.
The coach said Pocic is getting a long look at right tackle in this minicamp, which finishes with practices Saturday and Sunday. That’s where the Seahawks are planning to move Germain Ifedi, the 2016 first-round pick who started last season at right guard.
Carroll said of Pocic’s position after this weekend, for organized team activities, a mandatory minicamp next month and training camp at the end of July: “We’ll see.”
Pocic, of course, would play on top of the 12th Man flag pole, if the Seahawks asked.
“It’s awesome. It’s a dream come true,” said the son of a longtime Chicago-area firefighter. “Playing football as a kid you wish to go to the NFL, and this is an amazing opportunity.”
Griffin couldn’t stop smiling after his 90-minute, first practice as a Seahawk. That may have been because he was the first-team right cornerback from the first snap. The 6-1 press-cover man from Central Florida showed off how smooth he was while running with receivers and leaping for passes thrown by quarterbacks Jake Heaps, Skyler Howard and Michael Birdsong.
Griffin playing on the right side from day one is noteworthy because that starting job is open. DeShawn Shead, the 2016 starter, is recovering from his torn anterior cruciate ligament. He may not be back until October, if then. And the cupboard of veterans returning with the potential to start in place of Shead is bare; that’s why Seattle selected Griffin on the draft’s second day.
Griffin said he’s learned about the Seahawks’ veteran secondary, led by Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
“They’re some mean jokers,” Griffin said, grinning again.
He then told the story of taking his big family to a local sporting-goods store in his hometown of Daytona Beach, Florida, the day the Seahawks drafted him with their first of four picks in last month’s third round.
“Right there in Daytona, there was a local mall right there,” Griffin said, smiling again. “We went there and the guy, I guess he recognized my face, and was like, ‘Oh, you got drafted! You’re from Central Florida!’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Oh man! Come in here, man! I can hook you up. Hook up your whole family.’
“I said, ‘Wow! This is new.’ So he gave everybody some hats. We started taking pictures.
“But that’s my support system. They’ll do anything for me. And that’s why we took that picture. I wanted everybody to get a chance to see who’s behind me and pretty much how I was raised. I’ve pretty much always had that group right behind me, looking out for me.”
Sixth-round pick Mike Tyson from Cincinnati showed off his versatility by lining up outside at left cornerback on the first plays of team scrimmages, alternating with snaps inside guard slot receivers. Tyson showed off his muscles, rolling up the sleeves and midriff of his jersey. … Jake Heaps and Kenny Lawler led all the drills and first scrimmage plays. They are the veterans here. Heaps, the former Skyline High School star, was Seattle’s No. 3 quarterback last preseason. Lawler was Seattle’s seventh-round pick last year. Both can participate in this rookie minicamp because they have yet to appear in regular-season games. … The Seahawks announced the signing of four of their 11 draft picks: S Tedric Thompson, OT Justin Senior, WR David Moore and RB Chris Carson. ... The team signed eight undrafted rookie free agents, all of whom also practiced: former BYU fullback Algernon Brown, ex-West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard, former Mississippi defensive tackle Jeremy Liggins, ex-Louisiana-Lafayette linebacker Otha Peters, former USC receiver Darreus Rogers, former Purdue guard Jordan Roos, ex-Texas tight end Tyrone Swoopes and former Texas-El Paso linebacker Nick Usher.