Seattle Seahawks

Dave Boling: Even in OTAs, players fighting for roster spots

Seahawks coaches encourage players Wednesday during agility drills at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, the Seattle Seahawks training facility, in Renton during practice.
Seahawks coaches encourage players Wednesday during agility drills at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, the Seattle Seahawks training facility, in Renton during practice.

Coach Tom Cable added a disclaimer to his answers about the development of young players during the Seahawks’ organized training activities.

There’s only so much that can be learned at this phase, going without contact, often without helmets.

This isn’t “real” football, the offensive line/assistant head coach said. This is preparing for training camp. The time to really see what they have is once it gets “combative” in training camp, he said.

I’d say it seems pretty combative already, just not as chronically violent.

True, the veterans are getting into shape and tuned up for the late summer training camp.

But it’s much more to the young guys, and those who haven’t yet secured solid purchase on the roster. Those players already are battling for attention.

The reason is simple: Do you know what they call the players who occupy the lower rungs of the depth chart?

Pro football players.

The guy who becomes No. 53 on the roster collects NFL checks. The guy who gets cut as No. 54 might be coaching at his old high school the next week.

That makes the OTA and minicamp season a lot more than just guys running around in shorts and jerseys. Particularly on the Seahawks, there’s a steadily roiling competition that tends to go unnoticed at the level below the proven starters.

It’s not just rookies and free agents.

Veteran guys who are entering their third or fourth year and haven’t secured a niche by now are extremely vulnerable to replacement. So are the players who have shown promise but an inability to stay healthy, and those guys who haven’t quite ripened as expected.

These aren’t scholarships, they’re jobs.

Last season, eight rookies saw action during the regular season for the Seahawks. Could be even more than that this season. And there’s another group of recent draftees who are coming off “redshirt” years.

On the offensive line, alone, Cable is sorting among three newly drafted rookies and three players who were drafted last season. He pointed to strides made by second-year Seahawks Terry Poole and Kristjan Sokoli in the off-season.

Rookie tight end Nick Vannett out of Ohio State could turn into the whole package for his position, Cable said, which means he’s got promise as a blocker as well as receiver.

What, then, does that mean for a five-year veteran like Cooper Helfet, who backed up Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson last season?

The Hawks keep waiting for promising cornerback Tharold Simon to stay healthy. It’s been a struggle. They’ve seen defensive tackle Jordan Hill make big play after big play … and then get hurt.

Defensive end Cassius Marsh and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis are a couple third-year draft picks who still have a lot to prove.

Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have brought in another pack of young, hungry guys looking for work. That makes every practice interesting.

The theory is that it makes everybody better, makes everyone play harder, all the time, even in the spring.

Some coaches like to say that the bench is a great motivator. The waiver wire is even more of an attention-getter.

Players are foolish if they think they’ve got it made around here.

Last year, even before training camp, Carroll occasionally tossed out the name of an undrafted rookie who was catching the eyes of the staff — running back Thomas Rawls.

When the season started, Rawls was on the roster and would turn into a surprise star, while veterans Christine Michael and Robert Turbin were elsewhere.

The message is obvious: If you earn a chance, you’ll get one.

Tenure is for college professors. Seniority may come into play in some union jobs.

But life in the NFL is about who can help you win now, and it’s never too early to make your mark.