Sure, this is May. Six months remain before any games are real. The Seahawks weren’t even in helmets, let alone pads.
Heck, they weren’t even in practice. This was an organized team activity — before warmups for those drills, at that.
Yet Jimmy Graham jogging down Seattle’s practice field nearest Lake Washington on Thursday, big number 88 reaching out and grabbing throw after throw, catching passes from Russell Wilson again, was the best thing to happen to the Seahawks this offseason.
“He’s going to be back sooner, I think, than people think,” Wilson said after the franchise quarterback and his team completed their third OTA practice of the week at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
Pete Carroll went further. The coach said the Seahawks are “kind of counting on” Graham and recovering running back Thomas Rawls being back before the season opener Sept. 11 against Miami.
“We’re thinking that’s real possible. That’s kind of what we’re thinkin’, yeah,” Carroll said. “We have to avoid setbacks, obviously — but we’re kind of counting on that.”
These are the first days Graham’s been on the field running in six months. On Nov. 29 he fell in a heap in an end zone at CenturyLink Field trying to catch one of Wilson’s passes in a game against Pittsburgh.
The $40 million tight end was back on the field Thursday looking far from patellar-tendon knee surgery. After 10 minutes or so of running and catching, Graham watched practice along with Rawls.
Marshawn Lynch’s replacement as Seattle’s lead running back was also in his blue practice jersey and shorts without his helmet, five-plus months after his 2015 ended with a broken ankle and torn ligaments. Rawls did a couple shuffle-dance moves on the sidelines while watching drills.
Though Carroll cautioned Graham and Rawls still have a long way to go, the coach said the Seahawks are planning to have both starters back from their injuries in time for the regular season.
“Those guys are both making really good progress,” Carroll said, adding Rawls was ahead of Graham right now. “Thomas is running. And Jimmy is back to running on the field for the first time the last couple days, which is great. He’s made terrific progress. His attitude — both those guys’ attitudes have been really good, really positive on making it.
“It’s a long haul for those guys, and we feel for them because they want to be a part like everyone else. But they are doing a great job...”
Yes, the biggest news of these OTAs are that Graham and Rawls weren’t on crutches or in walking boots within six months of their major injuries, and that Rawls is ahead of Graham. That’s another Seahawks positive, given Graham is running again after tricky patellar-tendon surgery and months of rehabilitation near his Miami home.
Other prominent items and scenes from the first OTA practice of the offseason the media was permitted to cover:
▪ Defensive end Michael Bennett remains away. This is his second annual spring protest of his contract that has two years remaining. Carroll confirmed he doesn’t expect to see Bennett for any sessions other than the mandatory ones of this Seahawks offseason. The team’s only mandatory minicamp is June 14-16.
Bennett told Seattle’s 710-AM radio this month he will be participating in the training camp that begins in late July on time, as he did last summer, though unhappy with his deal.
“We’d love to have him here,” Carroll said Thursday. “His choice.”
▪ The starting offensive line Thursday wasn’t exactly a who’s who of blocking legends: Bradley Sowell at left tackle, Mark Glowinski at left guard, Justin Britt at center, Graham Ifedi at right guard and Terry Poole at right tackle.
New starting left tackle Garry Gilliam had surgery Wednesday to remove a cyst in his knee, Carroll said. The coach added last year’s starting right tackle will be out “a couple of weeks.” J’Marcus Webb, the free agent signed in March from Oakland to be the new right tackle, missed practice with a calf injury.
But suffice to say this offensive line will remain an issue and story well past training camp.
Britt was the clear leader ahead of 2015 starter Patrick Lewis at center, at least for Thursday. Then again, the team knows what it has in Lewis at that position. Carroll said Britt was rapidly catching on to the center position, and that line coach Tom Cable has also been working him at tackle; Britt started as a rookie at right tackle in 2014, including in Super Bowl 49.
For those asking how Ifedi looks: The first-round pick, listed at 6 feet 5 and 325, looks BIG.
▪ Wilson said he again spent the offseason focused on training his legs, adding his needs his leg strength for throwing as much or more than his running. He is coming off a 2015 in which he became the first Seahawk to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.
▪ Wide receiver Paul Richardson was zooming around the field catching passes and fully participating. He spent much of the late winter and early spring working out in the Los Angeles area with Wilson. Richardson missed the first three months of last season recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, made one long catch Nov. 15 against Arizona, and then missed the rest of the season with a hamstring injury.
▪ Recently signed defensive end Chris Clemons is not at these OTAs. Carroll said that was the veteran’s choice and that “he really knows the definition of voluntary.” The coach didn’t seem particularly pleased about that.
▪ Kasen Williams leaped, rolled and caught just about everything thrown near him. The wide receiver and former standout at the University of Washington and Skyline High School east of Seattle signed last year as a rookie free agent. He made his NFL debut Dec. 27 against St. Louis. He looks far more integrated in the offense and in synch with Wilson than at any time last year.
Williams also connected with Trevone Boykin, the undrafted rookie from TCU bidding to be Wilson’s backup. He made a leaping catch of Boykin’s deep throw while the receiver jumped over cornerback Tye Smith.
▪ Safety Brandon Browner, whom the Seahawks are using as a matchup defender inside and out, short and deep in his second go-around with the team, said he chose to return to Seattle this offseason over a contract offer from Washington. He called that choice “a no-brainer” and said “I’m happy to have a job.”
EXTRA POINTS: Rookie third-round draft choice C.J. Prosise watched practice. Carroll said the running back has a hip flexor that “heated up.” … LB K.J. Wright missed because of the birth of his baby. … UW coach Chris Petersen watched practice and talked to Carroll on the field after it.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle