RENTON — The roughly 2,500 fans who attended Seahawks training camp Friday saw something almost no one has since 2012: the Seattle offense operating without Russell Wilson.
Wilson was absent Friday while attending the funeral for his grandfather, Harrison Wilson, who died on Sunday, in Norfolk, Virginia.
It was only the second practice Wilson has missed since coming to Seattle in 2012, the other being an organized team activity (OTA) in the spring of 2015, when he accompanied Jimmy Graham to a funeral for Graham’s surrogate mother.
That OTA, though, was closed to the public.
With Wilson gone, Friday’s practice turned instead into a de facto Backup Bowl, with reserves Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch handling all of the quarterback duties.
The practice was largely situational — there was a lot of red-zone and goal-line work, the latter inevitably also leading to a lot of running.
Smith, working almost solely with the No. 1 offense, appeared to make a few more good throws, particularly during a 7-on-7 session.
Lynch, meanwhile, again impressed with his legs. He took off sprinting on one zone read play that, even had tackling been allowed, likely would have gone for a long gain.
Seahawks coaches have already said, though, that practice won’t decide a whole lot.
“Ultimately, it’s going to come down to who can move the team and who can score points for us in the preseason,’’ said offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
A few other factors will also play into it that favor Smith: He has more experience, having started 31 games to Lynch’s four, something Pete Carroll has said might be nice to have after Seattle has had little experience at the backup spot the last few seasons; and he does not have practice-squad eligibility, while Lynch does.
In other words, the one way in which Seattle can keep both is to have Smith on the 53-man roster when the season begins and then hope they can re-sign Lynch to the practice squad, though he would first have to clear waivers.
That was essentially how Seattle made its backup QB decision in 2017, keeping veteran Austin Davis as the backup and Trevone Boykin on the practice squad when only Boykin had practice-squad eligibility remaining.
That would also fit what has been Seattle’s preference through the Wilson era, to have a backup on the active roster and then a third QB on the practice squad (B.J. Daniels filled the practice squad role for a few years behind Tarvaris Jackson, Boykin did in 2017 and Alex McGough last season).
But for now, each is competing as if each day could decide their fate — and determine if Seattle is where they can resurrect what once appeared to be bright NFL careers.
Smith was a Jets second-round pick in 2013 out of West Virginia, starting 29 games in the 2013 and 2014 seasons before his career was waylaid in August 2015 in about the most bizarre circumstance possible. He was sucker-punched by teammate IK Enemkpali and suffered a broken jaw (the two reportedly had a dispute over $600 Smith supposedly owed Enemkpali for a plane ticket). Smith, who went 11-18 as New York’s starter, lost his starting job to Ryan Fitzpatrick in the process and has started just two games since then, spending the 2016 season as a backup with the Giants and last year with the Chargers.
“I learned a ton of things in New York, on the field, off the field,’’ said Smith, who will turn 29 in October. “Just a bunch of things. Specifically just the maturation process. I came in, I was the starter as a young guy, I hit a rough patch early on but I kind of found myself in those moments. So I became a stronger man, a stronger person.’’
Lynch comes to Seattle with a similar story.
He was a Broncos first-round pick in 2016, the year after Denver won the Super Bowl (and with a pick Denver acquired from Seattle), with the Broncos looking for a successor to the retired Peyton Manning.
But Lynch’s career never got off the ground in the Mile High City. He started just four games in two seasons, with Denver going 1-3 in his starts before he was released last September.
Lynch then went unclaimed on waivers, which made him a free agent. But Lynch also was due $1.3 million in salary from Denver, money he wouldn’t get if he were to sign with another team. At that point, unless he signed with a team for more than the $1.3 million, he was going to lose out on money — and at that point, any team signing him was not likely to top that salary.
That resulted in Lynch sitting out the season, though he did take eight or nine visits to other NFL teams, largely with the thought of getting an early jump on signing with a team in 2019.
One of those visits was to Seattle, and Lynch said, “I really liked the culture here, the atmosphere here.’’
Lynch said he actually got an offer late in the year from Washington when starter Alex Smith was injured and Washington was still in the playoff hunt. But he said he turned it down after talking with agent Leigh Steinberg, in part with an eye on signing with the Seahawks.
“I was really hoping for an opportunity to come here, so I kind of wanted to hold off,’’ he said.
That offer came in January after Seattle learned McGough had signed with Jacksonville.
At the time, Lynch was the only other QB on the roster besides Wilson. Seattle then signed Smith in May after failing to find a QB among the undrafted college ranks the team felt was good enough to compete.
Lynch said it has so far been everything he hoped for.
“It feels like a family,’’ he said of Seattle in comparison to Denver. “I bring my fiancée out here, I bring my dad out here, and they even say it, too. They feel so much more welcome around everybody. They are so good to them, they treat the players good. So it feels good.’’
Each knows they aren’t competing to be a starter in Seattle. But even though Wilson has been exceedingly durable, missing only two plays due to injury in his career, each also knows that any player is always just a play away from being needed.
“I just want to show them that they can trust me and I can have that accountability and that I can do whatever needs to be done to help the team whenever my number is called upon,’’ Lynch said. “So that’s what I’m focusing on now is growing as a player myself and doing everything I can so the guys in the locker room and the coaches and everybody else can trust me if my number is called.’’