D.K. Metcalf (14) grabs all the attention on the field for first day of Seahawks rookie minicamp
His first time on a Seahawks field, DK Metcalf was a man among rookie boys.
What will he look like among other men?
That is one of the most prominent things to watch as Seattle enters the third and final phase of its official offseason workout program, organized team activities (OTAs) beginning Monday at team headquarters in Renton. The first OTAs open to the media are Tuesday (the others are May 29, June 4 and June 6).
OTAs are 10 offseason, no-contact practices in helmets and shorts held over the next three weeks. The NFL collective bargaining agreement states no live contact is permitted in OTAs, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills of offense versus defense are allowed.
League rules prohibit one-on-one, offense-vs.-defense drills in OTAs, such as linemen squaring off in pass-rush competitions and wide receivers versus defensive backs in press-coverage, bump-and-run drills.
Those restrictions also applied to the rookie minicamp. That was one reason among many Metcalf was the star of that weekend early this month.
Here are five things to watch in these OTAs:
1. How does Metcalf fit?
Wide receivers has joined edge pass rushers as the team’s neediest position groups.
That leaves Tyler Lockett and a bunch of guys as Seattle’s top returning receivers for 2019.
And that’s why the team drafted three wide receivers last month, their most in 38 years. They traded up to get Metcalf at the end of round two. They selected Gary Jennings from West Virginia in round four and John Ursua of Hawaii in the seventh round.
Metcalf showed impressive route running, footwork and quickness in cutting in Seattle’s rookie minicamp. That made him even more enticing to coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, on top of Metcalf being a hulking, 6-feet-3 1/2 and 229 pounds with 4.33 speed in the 40-yard dash.
“It’s almost like, what doesn’t excite you,” Carroll said this month after his first look at Metcalf at a Seahawks practice.
“(He’s) maybe even more unique than we thought coming in.”
It will be interesting to see where Metcalf fits in the offense when he has Jaron Brown, a mostly quiet veteran in his Seattle debut season after signing from Arizona last year, and David Moore practicing with him. Moore, the Seahawks’ seventh-round pick in 2017 from Division-II East Central University, appeared to be emerging last October as the big, and big-play, receiver Carroll likes to have outside.
Moore had four touchdowns for the Seahawks in a three-game stretch in the middle of last season. Then he disappeared over the final two months.
The Seahawks didn’t draft Metcalf to have him watch Brown and Moore.
They drafted Metcalf and Jennings, who missed rookie minicamp with a hamstring strain that may not be healed for the start of OTAs, to be those big, downfield threats. Carroll said the team’s first priority in this year’s draft was to get bigger and faster at wide receiver, to better use the unique accuracy Russell Wilson has throwing deep passes.
Lockett figures to step into Baldwin’s role as the primary slot receiver. Lockett caught 89.7 percent of Wilson’s targets of him when he lined up in the slot last season, according to Pro Football Focus. That ranked first in the NFL among 72 qualifying wide receivers. Lockett got targeted on just 12.4 percent of his snaps in the slot, the seventh-lowest rate in the NFL. But he ranked 15th in the league in yards per route (1.95) from the slot inside, according to PFF.
Ursua led major-college football with 16 TDs last season as Hawaii’s slot receiver. He also missed rookie minicamp with a hamstring injury that Carroll indicated may heal by OTAs.
2. Looking for pass rushers
Trading top sack man Frank Clark last month to Kansas City for first- and second-round draft choices leaves Seattle with a mammoth need to find guys who can effectively pressure quarterbacks off the edge.
The team signed former Detroit Lions Pro Bowl rush defensive end Ziggy Ansah last week to address that. But he’s not going to be on the field for these OTAs, or any offseason work. Ansah, who turns 30 this month, had his shoulder surgically repaired after a season-ending injury with the Lions last winter.
He told Seattle’s KIRO-AM radio last week: “I’m just going to take it a day at a time. I don’t have no timeline as of right now. I’m just waiting to see what the doctor is going to say. But until then I’m putting in the work every day to get the body right.”
The Seahawks drafted end L.J. Collier in the first round last month. But he’s more of an inside strength pass rusher.
Seattle brought back their 2014 draft pick Cassius Marsh on a one-year contract last month. Marsh played nine games for the Patriots and six for San Francisco in 2017, then all 16 games last season for the 49ers. He had a career-high 5 1/2 sacks last year with the Niners.
When he and the Seahawks had Marsh for his first three seasons in the NFL, Carroll repeatedly remarked how he loved Marsh’s “motor.”
The Seahawks will be looking for evidence in OTAs and into training camp that Marsh’s motor can still run at age 26 like it hummed when he was 21.
3. Who are the first safeties?
All-Pro Earl Thomas left in March; he signed with Baltimore. The Seahawks are not fully convinced 2017 draft choice Tedric Thompson is their long-term answer at free safety after Thomas.
Thompson filled in for Thomas the final three months of last season, after Thomas broke his leg. Thompson has yet to play a full season in the NFL.
Blair played both strong and free safety in college, but Seattle drafted him for his hard-hitting at strong safety.
“Really intense tempo setter. Tough, tough dude,” general manager John Schneider said after he drafted Blair last month. “He’s really quick. Like a silent assassin.”
Amadi was more a free safety who also played nickel defensive back inside at Oregon.
Bradley McDougald was brilliant last season taking retired Kam Chancellor’s place as Seattle’s starting strong safety. He has said he likes that position more and feels he is better there than at free safety. But McDougald also impressed the Seahawks’ coaches with his coverage skills at free safety in 2017 playing when Thomas was injured then. McDougald’s ability to play both safety spots well is why Seattle re-signed him to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million before last season.
The mixing and matching of rookies with the veterans begins this week.
4. A nickel for their thoughts
An overlooked hole in Seattle’s defense is at the fifth, “nickel” defensive-back spot.
Justin Coleman excelled there for two seasons. He was so good he got $9 million per year from Detroit in free agency this March, a record for NFL nickel backs.
How important is the nickel? Seattle has been in five defensive backs about two-thirds of the time the last few seasons, and in base defense (with three linebackers) just one-third of the time. So the nickel is essentially a starter in today’s pass-happy NFL.
The Seahawks re-signed restricted free agent Akeem King for this year at $1.4 million to compete at nickel DB. Amadi was the nickel in rookie minicamp. Those two are likely to be the first two through OTAs and into training camp.
5. Fluker’s and Iupati’s health
This time last year Fluker was coming off a season-ending knee injury with the New York Giants. Then he got hurt again in 2018. Yet he wowed the Seahawks with his attitude and play as the starting right guard for the NFL’s top rushing offense.
Iupati turned 32 last weekend. He came cheaply to Seattle from Arizona in free agency this spring (one year, $1 million base salary, $2.56 million salary-cap charge) because he has played in just 11 games over the previous two seasons for the Cardinals.
If Iupati isn’t healthy enough to win the left-guard job in 2019 with Seattle vacated when J.R. Sweezy signed in March with Arizona, the Seahawks believe they have a young option.
Jordan Simmons impressed them in three starts last season when Fluker was injured. Simmons, Seattle’s waiver pickup from Oakland in September, made his first pro start in November at the Rams. He was part of the Seahawks’ 273 yards rushing through Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and the Rams’ star-packed defensive front that day.
But Simmons is returning from a season-ending knee injury in December. Carroll said at the league’s scouting combine this offseason Simmons was progressing well in his rehabilitation. The team expects Simmons back for the start of the season in September, if not the start of training camp in late July.
The Seahawks’ health concerns at guard is partly why they drafted Phil Haynes, a road-grading guard from Wake Forest in the physical, Fluker mode.
After the OTAs, the Seahawks will hold their one, mandatory minicamp for veteran players. That is June 11-13.