Hey, it’s July! And that means we are now officially in the month when NFL training camps begin — Seattle’s is set to start July 25.
It also means it’s time for another edition of Seahawks mailbag, with questions about the tight ends, offensive line, secondary and more.
A: You are right in that Bradley McDougald did come out near the end of minicamp and say he prefers to play strong safety.
But that’s really not new. McDougald has said that before and played strong safety often during his Seattle career — he started the first 14 games of last season at strong safety, first alongside Earl Thomas and then, when Thomas was hurt, alongside Tedric Thompson.
McDougald then started the final two games of the regular season at free safety when Thompson was injured and Lano Hill played strong safety. Then, when Hill was injured and Thompson returned, the Seahawks went back to McDougald at strong safety and Thompson at free for the playoff game against Dallas.
McDougald’s comments during minicamp were in answer to a question about Seattle drafting two safeties — Marquise Blair, listed as a strong safety, and Ugo Amadi, listed as a free safety — and how he thinks that could impact his role.
Because of his ability to play both strong and free, McDougald seems certain to start at one or the other, with the question being which player can rise out of the mix of the rest of the safeties to earn the other starting position.
“I was fully prepared to come in to play strong safety, willing to compete and battle with whoever,” McDougald said. “I can do both, but I prefer to play the box (because) that’s closer to the line of scrimmage, there’s just more for me to do there in the run game and the man-to-man coverages. I’m always willing to do whatever to make the team work and to be the best asset for the team. But, I definitely intend to play in the box.”
Ultimately, though, players play where the coaches want them to, and if the Seahawks view one of the other safeties — basically, Hill or Blair — as better fits at strong safety, then I would expect to see McDougald at free safety.
But if the Seahawks view Thompson as the second best of their safeties, then McDougald would shift to strong safety.
First, though, McDougald has to show he’s 100% after the patellar tendon surgery he had in the offseason. Hill, coming off hip surgery, also has to get back to 100%.
So there’s a lot still to sort out there.
As for McDougald, the team knows he likes playing strong safety. But if they need him at free, that’s where he’s going to play.
A: Oh man, you could hardly have picked a more interesting weekend for your first Seahawks game in Seattle.
The game you’re going to see — against the Baltimore Ravens — will obviously be a really interesting one because of the return of Earl Thomas to Seattle as well as a game against a team that made the playoffs last season and has one of the most entertaining young QBs in the NFL, Lamar Jackson.
The day before that game, Washington hosts Oregon at Husky Stadium in what shapes up as one of the Pac-12 games of the year, a contest that could decide who wins the North Division. It won’t be easy to get a ticket, but a Washington-Oregon game is always a must-see event, so if you have a chance …
If you can’t get a ticket to that, you could just head to Safe … er, T-Mobile Park, where some band called The Who will be playing Saturday night (there’s no worries a Mariners playoff game will get in the way). The Who supposedly retired in 1982 or so, but they just keep riding their Magic Bus and talking about their generation even now that they are well into their 70s, and T-Mobile has turned out to be a really good place to see concerts.
I’m sure there are lots of other things going on. But that feels like more than enough.
A: I’d agree the Seahawks are likely to keep just three tight ends because George Fant is essentially a tight end now. Seattle also has Nick Bellore at fullback — fullbacks can always fill some tight end-type roles — and he seems to have better-than-average odds to make the team.
So yeah, three tight ends would seem to be the max.
Seattle has six tight ends on its roster heading into camp — fewer than it usually has, which is likely in large part because of Fant. Those six are: Will Dissly, Ed Dickson, Jacob Hollister, Nick Vannett, Tyrone Swoopes and Justin Johnson, the latter an undrafted free agent from Mississippi State.
When I did a 53-man roster projection after minicamp, I kept three tight ends — Dissly, Vannett and Hollister.
As I wrote there, Hollister was maybe the surprise player of the offseason program, acquired from the New England Patriots for a seventh-round pick right after the draft and then impressing coaches throughout OTAs and minicamp with his speed.
“We’re really fired up that we got Jacob,” coach Pete Carroll said June 13. “He’s different. This is a different dimension receiver at the tight-end spot. He’s feisty and aggressive and sticks his head in there.”
Indeed, the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder doesn’t project to be a real punishing blocker, but could provide the kind of speed at tight end Luke Willson did during his Seattle career, and the Seahawks might want that as a complement to the styles of some of the others at that position.
Vannett is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so no doubt, this is a key season for him.
But he has shown just enough promise, and continues to still be relatively inexpensive — he’ll make $736,000 this year — that I think he’s got a good shot to make it.
Dissly is obviously a lock, assuming he fully recovers from a patellar tendon injury. All signs on that were positive as the offseason program ended. But he’s still got to get on the field and show it, and overall depth at tight end allows for the Seahawks to be patient with him — don’t be surprised if Dissly starts camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Nothing should be read into that, as players on the PUP list can be recalled at any time (teams often put players they expect to be back soon on the list as a hedge — you can’t go on the list after training camp starts, but going on the list when camp begins provides some potential roster flexibility down the road should a player experience any setbacks).
The odd man out, as I projected last month, could be Dickson.
Dickson will turn 32 the day training camp begins, and Seattle could save $3.55 million against the cap in 2019 releasing him. And while he did well when he played last season, he also missed six games due to injury.
Given his age and salary, he might have to show he’s significantly ahead of a Vannett or Hollister (who will make just $645,000 and can be a restricted free agent in 2020) to warrant keeping.
A: As for the line, any upgrade in play will largely just come from the same group getting better. If you include Fant, who again figures to play regularly, then five of the top six from last year return to their same roles — all but J.R. Sweezy, as the questioner noted. Sweezy will be replaced by veteran Mike Iupati, who is familiar with offensive-line coach Mike Solari, having played for him with the 49ers. So Iupati should be able to allow the offensive line to transition pretty seamlessly from 2018 to 2019.
The one rookie who could be a factor is guard Phil Haynes, who I think has a good shot to make the roster and be the backup swing guard on gamedays. But it’s worth remembering the Seahawks don’t really rotate offensive linemen on gamedays. For 2019, any impact from young players such as Haynes or Jamarco Jones will come in pushing the vets in camp, and then being able to play well if needed when injuries hit, as they inevitably will.
But the best-case scenario for 2019 is going to be if Seattle doesn’t need those guys a whole lot on Sundays.
As for the secondary, we know who the cornerbacks are going to be — Shaquill Griffin on the left side and Tre Flowers on the right. We have a pretty good idea who the nickel corner is going to be — Akeem King — though Amadi will be given a long look at the nickel in camp.
As mentioned in the earlier answer about the safeties, that’s the spot where everything hinges in terms of the secondary. It’s going to be hard to assess it until we know who is healthy and who is lining up where.
But undoubtedly, the uncertainty about the secondary is the greatest it has been since Carroll arrived in 2010 and Seattle drafted Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and begin assembling the Legion of Boom.
That’s an impossible act to live up to. The question instead is going to be how close can the new secondary get to playing at that level. This will be a key year for guys like Shaquill Griffin, Thompson and Hill to show if they can do it.