RENTON — The Seahawks wrapped up their three-day minicamp Thursday afternoon under sunny skies and the customary splash of optimism for a successful 2021 season.
That season will truly begin when the Seahawks open training camp at the VMAC on July 31. Until then, players have the next six weeks off.
A year ago at this time, there was no minicamp for the Seahawks or any other NFL team due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And any optimism for Seattle was clouded by one big question — could the Seahawks re-sign Jadeveon Clowney to beef up the defensive line and the pass rush? The answer turned out to be no, as Clowney ended up signing the week the season began with Tennessee, which set off a domino effect that caused Seattle to eventually trade for Carlos Dunlap in October. Clowney is now in Cleveland.
But as the offseason closes this year, the defensive line looks like it could be one of the more stable, if not improved, areas on the team.
Dunlap re-signed, and the Seahawks also added free agent Kerry Hyder to solidify the two end spots.
Seattle also moved Darrell Taylor to a hybrid strongside linebacker/rush end role (the same Bruce Irvin filled a year ago). After missing last season with a leg injury, he looked healthy throughout the offseason, taking part fully in every practice open to the media. Coach Pete Carroll said after Thursday’s practice that Taylor had “the brightest camp’’ of any player on defense.
Seattle also re-signed Poona Ford to help make up for the loss of Jarran Reed inside while also adding veteran Al Woods to fill out the nose tackle spot.
There remains one intriguing question on the line, though — will the Seahawks get anything out of Aldon Smith, the former first-round pick of the 49ers and All-Pro end whom Seattle signed April 15?
That was impossible to answer during the offseason program since Smith was never on the field.
He was, however, in Seattle, as Carroll explained Thursday. He said that while Smith has been working out, the team felt he was not yet ready for on-field work.
“I didn’t feel like he was ready for this yet,” Carroll said. “But we’ll see how he handles himself through the summertime, the condition he gets into. But we’re looking forward to him making it and getting out here. I just felt it was best for him at this point to just work out on his own.’’
That is not apparently due to an injury but instead just a general conditioning and acclimatization decision. Smith did not play from the 2016-19 seasons while under league suspension, two of which were for violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Shortly after signing with Seattle, Smith was charged with second-degree battery in the New Orleans area. He has an arraignment July 14.
However, Smith being off the field during the offseason program is not a result of that issue, either, with the Seahawks saying they will make no decision on that until the legal process runs its course.
Carroll indicated that what the Seahawks have seen of Smith has been positive.
“He’s had a good impression that he’s made on us right now,’’ Carroll said. “He’s working hard at it.’’
Smith signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum worth a total of $1.275 million with a $990,000 base salary for 2021. The deal includes a dead cap hit of $137,500.
So, the Seahawks may feel they have little to lose with Smith other than maybe in perception from those who wonder why Seattle would bother with a player who has a long track record of off-field problems that includes pleading no contest to two misdemeanor charges resulting from a domestic-violence arrest in 2018.
Even doing what he did last year with Dallas — five sacks in 16 games, three coming against the Seahawks — could make that deal worth it. It’s not anywhere near the 19 1/2 sacks Smith recorded with the 49ers in 2012 when he was an All-Pro, but at 31 years old, that version of Smith may not return.
But even if relegated to a part-time role, Smith could prove a valuable piece of a Seahawks defensive line rotation that on paper looks to be far deeper than it appeared a year ago.
Consider that during minicamp, Seattle had on the field what could easily project as the opening-day rotation: Hyder, Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier at strongside end, Dunlap, Benson Mayowa and Alton Robinson at the LEO/rush end spot, as well as Taylor in nickel situations, and Ford, Woods and Bryan Mone as base down tackles with Robert Nkemdiche also making a strong run at a roster spot as a fourth tackle. All were healthy and full participants throughout camp other than Dunlap, who missed Wednesday’s with an illness but was back on Thursday.
So, the Seahawks don’t need Smith. But as Carroll always says, a team can never have enough pass rushers, so they’d sure like to have him. For now, the Seahawks would like Smith back on the field.