MHR: The Seahawks were banged up a bit at the end of last year -- how is the overall health of the top contributors looking heading into the preseason?
DK: Well, things are looking fine for the regular season opener as far as it pertains to the Seahawks' major contributors, more or less, but as a whole the team has been fairly banged up all offseason. Starting LT Russell Okung, safety Kam Chancellor, and OLB Bruce Irvin are all still recovering from surgeries, and there are a bushel of nicked up guys sprinkled in at just about every spot for good measure. It does look like quite a few starters will sit for Thursday's game, making this "Super Bowl rematch" less exciting, even for a preseason game.
On a bigger scale, the only major injury blow thus far is projected starting right tackle Michael Bowie, who recently injured his shoulder, was waived/injured, and picked up by the Browns. DT Jesse Williams and TE Anthony McCoy, both depth players, also sustained season ending injuries already. The Hawks have had to sign a couple of older veteran types on their offensive line in Eric Winston and Wade Smith over the past couple weeks, so the offensive line is probably the most concerning at this point.
2. How is the 2014 rookie class looking so far? Any guys to keep an eye on this Thursday?
The rookie class as a group has been hit with some injuries during training camp that may limit what they can do this preseason - WR Kevin Norwood has a hurt foot, DT/DE Cassius Marsh has missed some time with a few bumps and bruises, Justin Britt has missed some time with a shoulder injury, CB/S Eric Pinkins has an injured foot, DT Jimmy Staten has an injured something-or-other, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis has some muscle or something flare up, and Paul Richardson has missed a few practices with pain blah blah blah blah. It's been silly, almost, how many guys have had stuff come up. FB Kiero Small is just about the only rookie that has stayed healthy throughout.
On a more serious, and somber note though, tackle Garrett Scott unfortunately had to be waived prior to even showing up for mini-camps because of a heart condition that went undiagnosed in the pre-Draft process (he may play again at some point, but probably not this season).
So yeah, this rookie class has struggled to make much noise in camp. If anyone has been the ‘star' though, it's been WR Paul Richardson, who has made some big plays down the field when he's out there, including this amazing catchin OTAs (it's the second play of the gif). I imagine people in Denver are pretty familiar with Preach/P-Rich/Prich (we're still trying to work out what we wanna call him), but Seahawk fans are excited. (Editor's note: Richardson played for Colorado).
All that said, the injury spate hasn't been overly concerning because the Seahawks are very careful with injuries just in general, and haven't tried to push guys back too quickly. They do have a deep roster and have signed some veteran free agents this offseason to boost depth, so it was almost a given that a good chunk of their draftees would "redshirt" their first season anyway, if possible. Seattle did this last season with a few rookies.
To actually answer your question, though, right now, it's looking like RT Justin Britt, WR Paul Richardson, and DT/DE Cassius Marsh will be the impact guys to pay attention to this week and this season, and I believe all may see some snaps in Denver on Thursday (not sure about Marsh yet).
3. Have there been any surprise breakout players in training camp (non-rookies)? If so, who, and what kind of impact could they have this year?
I wouldn't call Percy Harvin a surprise or a "breakout" type of guy, but after seeing him in only three games last year, Seahawks fans are finally getting a glimpse of what the dude can do on the field (obviously he helped a lot in the Super Bowl, which is what people hope for for a full season). He's been electrifying and has made a big play just about every day in camp. The Seahawks gave up a first round pick for him and gave him $67M and change, and it's starting to become more apparent why.
Past Harvin, all eyes are on Christine Michael, Seattle's 2nd round pick from last year, who like Harvin, has electrifying athleticism. Michael is still likely third on the depth chart, but most Seahawk fans are hoping he plays well enough to earn some snaps in 2014. He's looked solid in practice thus far, but with running backs it's always tough to tell before the pads all go on.
On defense, CB Tharold Simon is one to watch. It's assumed that Byron Maxwell will hold down the starting spot opposite Richard Sherman, but Simon has been getting a lot of praise in camp this year and physically he compares very well to his potential counterpart in Sherman. Simon will have the chance to put some pressure on Maxwell if he plays well during the preseason.
4. What free agent players did the Seahawks add over the offseason and what will their roles be this year?
The main free agents that the Hawks added were DT Kevin Williams and OT Eric Winston. Both are role players, but should be fairly important. Seattle did not make a splash in free agency after wooing a few big names like Jared Allen and Jason Hatcher, but instead focused on retaining their free agents in Micheal Bennett and Tony McDaniel, while extending Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Doug Baldwin, and Head Coach Pete Carroll.
Williams comes in to fortify the Seahawks' defensive line after they released Red Bryant and lost Clinton McDonald in free agency, and his experience and savvy will help Seattle maintain their strong run defense. Williams is a five-time All Pro that has slowed with age, but should still be a force while playing fewer snaps this year in Seattle's rotation.
Winston provides depth or even possibly could win the starting job at right tackle, a role that's become much more important with the loss of Michael Bowie, who started eight games last year at that spot. Winston has spent time in Houston, Kansas City, and Arizona, and has started 119 straight games.
5. Are you happy with the Seahawks' mentality heading into 2014 (as far as you can tell)? Any concerns about a Super Bowl hangover?
I am happy with the team's apparent mentality, actually. Pete Carroll takes a lot of pride in preparing his players mentally to always compete (ha) and to take the "day-to-day" approach to practice and maintain focus on the goals of that given day. He developed his messaging and specific coaching methods while at USC and he was able to repeat and keep his teams playing at a high level for several years there, so he'll see how that system will do in the NFL, I guess.
Carroll does a good job of getting his players to sit there right on the edge - super intense and competitive and brash and confident and full-tilt - but also disciplined and under control. All this is actually a part of his coaching style that I find very fascinating. It's not rah rah like the mainstream media liked to paint for him prior to coming back to the NFL - it's calculated manipulation of the team's psyche that attempts to get each player as focused and intense as possible, while giving as much effort as possible, for as much of the time as possible. (Hence Always Compete). He's a master manipulator - and that has a negative connotation, but I mean it as a compliment. He does a really good job of getting great effort and great intensity out of his players.
As for the Super Bowl Hangover, I don't think there will be any complacency or lack of effort, but everyone knows it's extremely difficult to repeat. It's not going to be a cake walk with Seattle's absurdly difficult schedule, and with the amount that this team talks and the unapologetic confidence they like to play with, teams will be gunning to shut them up. Injuries will be a major factor, as with every season, but I think Seattle is built to make a run at it -- their defense is strong and the offense should only improve with more experience under Russell Wilson's belt. There are probably a dozen or so teams that could screw up their title defense though. That's parity in the NFL.