Russell Wilson is back from running and throwing a pass on the Great Wall of China, playing football with the people of Shanghai and conducting a camp in Alaska.
The Seahawks franchise quarterback was spotted with his family at the Mariners game against the New York Yankees on Sunday at Safeco Field.
Richard Sherman is in town, too. The three-time All-Pro cornerback and Los Angeles-area native was at Saturday’s WNBA All-Star Game at KeyArena.
Yes, players are starting to return to Seattle from six weeks off and away. The Seahawks are due to report to team headquarters on Saturday for the first day of training-camp practices there Sunday.
With five days between now and reporting day, here is the first of five issues the Seahawks would like to have settled following 22 practices and four exhibition games of this preseason, through the end of August.
(Presenting them in increasing order of significance all week):
5. Establishing trust in Blair Walsh.
The Minnesota Vikings lost theirs in the 2012 rookie All-Pro.
It began when he missed the infamous chip shot on that frozen Minneapolis Sunday, sealing the Seahawks’ wild-card playoff win over the Vikings in January 2016. When Walsh missed four field goals, four extra points and fouled up kickoffs in the first nine games of last season, Minnesota released him. He’d been a unsigned free agent from mid-November until early February. That’s when the Seahawks signed him to get five years younger and $2.15 million cheaper at kicker, compared to Steven Hauschka.
The Seahawks let Hauschka’s contract expire in January. The 32-year old is now with the Buffalo Bills.
Punter Jon Ryan, entering his 12th NFL season, is back as the Seahawks’ kick holder. Tyler Ott, the long snapper to end last season, is back. He will get some competition in training camp from two-year veteran Nolan Frese, as Ott did in 2016.
The kicking game is like the plumbing inside an NFL team. When it’s working properly, it’s an overlooked luxury of the relatively fortunate. When it’s broken, it’s an absolute mess. It wrecks the whole foundation. It absolutely ruins your day/week/year.
This will be the first season since coach Pete Carroll’s first one with Seattle, 2010, the Seahawks will have someone other than Hauschka kicking field goals.
How important will that change be?
Hauschka is the team’s career leader in made field goals; he passed Norm Johnson’s record of 159 in November. In December he became the first Seahawk to make a field goal in 15 consecutive games and score at least 100 points in six straight seasons.
Everyone remembers Hauschka missing six extra points at the longer distance last season. Some of those misses changed games, such as the opener against Miami that Seattle pulled out, 12-10, and the Christmas Eve home loss to Arizona. But even in his down year, Hauschka made 33 of 37 field goals. He had only one year with Seattle in which he missed more than five field goals -- in 2014 he was 31 for 37. In his Seahawks playoff career he was 19 for 20 on field goals, a 95-percent success rate in the biggest games.
From 2011-16 with Hauschka as kicker, Seattle went 11-10-1 in games decided by three points or fewer. That includes 1-4 in Hauschka’s first season with the Seahawks, Seattle’s last one in which it failed to reach the postseason. Hauschka made 35 of 41 field goals in those close games. That success rate of 85.4 percent was below his career field-goal percentage over all games of 87.9 percent.
For the last six years the Seahawks had a two-in-three chance of getting points once they moved the ball to at least the opponents’ 32-yard line. Hauschka was 16 for 24 (66.7 percent) making field goals of 50 yards or longer with Seattle (eight yards back from the line of scrimmage, plus 10 yards for the depth of the end zone before the goal post).
Walsh has yo-yo’d the last three seasons in his accuracy: a career-low 74 percent on field goals in 2014, up to 87 percent -- second-highest of his career -- in 2015, down to 12 for 16 last season. Then Minnesota let him go. But he’s 71 percent in his career from 50-plus yards out, so the Seahawks can keep their plans of scoring once around the foe’s 35-yard line or so.
Seattle signed him to a one-year, prove-it deal worth $1.1 million, including a roster bonus of $300,000. The idea is Walsh needs a change of scenery from Minnesota to revive his career.
The Seahawks are going to need Walsh to be revived this season. If history of the last half-dozen years holds, they are going to need him to win at least three close games, in fact.
That could be the difference between winning the NFC West again and playing in the second, divisional round of the playoffs at home, after postseason exits in that round the last two Januarys on the road.
That is what Carroll has said is the main goal of this coming regular season: to get a second home playoff game. That would give the Seahawks their best chance to return to the Super Bowl.
The sooner they feel they can trust Walsh -- before the Sept. 10 opener at Green Bay, perhaps? -- the more likely the Seahawks are to achieve that all-important goal for 2017.