Former Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice was just 27 years old when he retired from the NFL in the middle of the week.
His departure took an already young receivers group and made it younger. Rice had the most NFL experience of any receiver on the roster last year. That distinction turns over to Percy Harvin, all of 26, this season. Harvin is entering his sixth year in the league, which makes him Old Man River in the receivers’ room.
It’s a look throughout the Seattle Seahawks’ roster. After becoming the youngest team to win a Super Bowl in NFL history, the Seahawks will defend that title while relying on young, and recently compensated, voices to lead them.
With the departure of Rice, defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, and fullback Michael Robinson, the Seahawks lost 31 seasons of NFL experience — for better or worse.
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The ongoing departure of veterans from what was the youngest team in history to win the Super Bowl is something that caught the eye of Robinson a bit ago. During a recent podcast with NFL.com, Robinson mentioned the “new money” that is throughout the lockerroom and wondered how that — and veterans moving on — would influence the team. That was before Rice — whom, it should be noted, missed half of last season though he remained around the team — departed.
In defensive tackle Kevin Williams, the Seahawks brought in a guy entering his 12th season. He and Heath Farwell are the only players on the roster who have double-digit years in the league. Farwell is going into his 10th season. Punter Jon Ryan joins Farwell and Williams as the only players older than 30.
All told, 82 percent of the training camp roster is 26 or younger.
That roster build fits into the young, rabid culture coach Pete Carroll wants. It’s similar to last season, plus, many of those guys get to add the ultimate experience from last year of winning the Super Bowl to counter the departure of other veterans. The younger players remain the crux of the team.
Though, as Robinson points out, there are a growing number of those young players on extended and lucrative contracts. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Doug Baldwin and Michael Bennett are all on new and improved deals. Kam Chancellor had previously signed his long-term deal.
“Tremendous leadership on the team, and it’s young leadership,” Carroll said. “Earl, Sherman and Doug are fantastic contributors and have been in the leadership position of this team. I don’t think we have ever been a team that relied on the older guys to give direction. It’s been a young thriving mentality since we have got here. Now those guys in their third and fourth years seems like seasoned vets to us. It feels like the locker room is strong. We will miss (the veterans) but we are strong.”
Asking around, much of that leadership will come from the less brash in addition to those spotlighted.
Linebacker K.J. Wright speaks in “yes, sirs” and “yes, ma’ams” with a gentle Mississippi drawl. He also threw his helmet when he was injured late last season at San Francisco and was told his season was over. Instead, he worked his way back from a fractured foot to play in the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl despite being well below 100 percent for the conference title game. Those actions portrayed the importance of playing to Wright.
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane would qualify as a veteran in any lockerroom, let alone one as youthful as the Seahawks’. Mebane is heading into his eighth season of grappling on the interior of the defensive line.
Then, there’s Chancellor. When the Seahawks had a bevy of performance-
enhancing drug (PED) violations, it was Chancellor who spoke up. He makes opposing tight ends run the other way and his teammates gather around.
“I think anybody that has been around Kam Chancellor knows that he’s someone you can count on completely,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “He’s a really powerful guy for our team, and I’m not talking about just the way he makes contact. He has a real presence and someone on our team we respect and regard as high as anyone.
“It’s not like there’s just one guy, and, ‘You lead us.’ They’re a tight group of guys who says, ‘Let’s do it together.’ ”
Thomas was just 20 years old when the Seahawks drafted him out of Texas in 2010, the same year they selected Chancellor.
Each has become a Pro Bowl player and know nothing other than Carroll’s fanaticism with the vibrance and play of younger players.
“We’ve been here so long, it’s our time to be great leaders,” Thomas said.