NFL training camps tend to be optimistic places. Woes of the season before are buried, there are no blemishes on the record and title hopes remain high, even if it’s unrealistic.
However, in Renton, Wash. this summer, there was a buzz and feel unlike in most training camps. Based in perhaps the NFL’s most beautiful setting, on the edge of Lake Washington, the Seattle Seahawks weren’t just experiencing typical and predictable training camp happy thoughts.
The Seahawks weren’t just feeling the part. They were looking the part. This is a team that has won a lot and has a roster full of stars. There is a reason why Seattle is confident. The Seahawks are a legitimate Super Bowl contender again. The Seahawks, of course, won the Super Bowl following the 2013 season and then lost the next year to New England in the final seconds on a strange interception at the goal line. The Seahawks took a detour from the Super Bowl last season, losing in the NFC divisional playoffs at Carolina, 31-24, in a game they stormed back after going down, 31-0.
Now, the Seahawks have returned, starving to get back to the Super Bowl, knowing they may have fallen off the collective NFL radar with an early playoff exit.
“We know both sides now,” defensive end Cliff Avril said. “We know how we got to the Super Bowl and how we didn’t get there. That’s important going into this season.”
There was a major buzz in Seattle’s training camp about its defense. It is a mixture of players in their prime, young talent, great speed and cohesion. Get this, many observers in Seattle think this group could actually be better than the 2013 Seattle defense.
Yes, that one. Pump the brakes a tad, you’re probably thinking.
Fair reaction, as the 2013 Seattle Seahawks had one of the most memorable defenses in recent history. The Seahawks had the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL, allowing 273.6 yards per game in the regular season. It was nearly 28 yards fewer a game allowed than Carolina, which had the second-ranked defense in the league. Seattle also allowed a league-low 231 points in 2013.
The Seahawks, of course, capped the 2013 season by paralyzing Peyton Manning and the record-breaking Denver Broncos offense. Denver scored an NFL record 606 points that season. From the first play of the game, Seattle suffocated and confused Manning and the Broncos offense.
There’s no doubt the 2013 Seattle defense will long be remembered and difficult to top. But the Seahawks themselves, as confident as any group in the league, have heard the talk. They’re not shying away from the chatter the 2016 Seahawks defense can be better than their 2013 counterparts.
“We’ve heard that,” Avril said. “We have that potential. A lot of our guys are here. We feel pretty good about what’s happening here.”
Here are some reasons why the Seahawks could make a run at matching or bettering their defensive effort of 2013:
Stars in prime: This defense is loaded with stars and they are all in their prime years. Seattle’s defense starts with star cornerback Richard Sherman, an elite defensive player. Yet, so are safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. The stars of the Legion of Boom are all playing great football. The same can be said about star middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and defensive ends Michael Bennett and Avril. Few defenses have had so many stars as the Seahawks do.
Moving fast: Most NFL teams don’t move at full speed in many training camp practices. Pete Carroll’s team flies around the field. That is going to be a real identity, as many in Seattle think this will be a faster group than in 2013.
“Speed still kills in this league,” former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist said. “Seattle swarms to the ball. They can take over offenses with their speed.”
Everyone is happy: Seattle’s success resulted in many players getting paid. Those caused some locker-room angst. Last year, Chancellor held out into the season and it affected the team and him when he returned. This season, Bennett reportedly toyed with the idea of holding out, but he didn’t miss any time. There is a collective peace around this unit.
“We’re all good, we’re all together,” Avril said. “There’s no business stuff going on. We’re very close-knit. We all know what we want.”
Youth is ready to help: The Seahawks feel like they have several young players who are now ready to contribute and supplement the stars who are in their prime. The Seahawks have raved about defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who was taken in the second round out of Alabama. Reed is expected to be an instant contributor. Second-year defensive end Frank Clark flashed in a limited role and Seattle thinks he’s ready to become a factor as a consistent pass-rusher. He replaces Bruce Irvin, who went to Oakland as a free agent.
Many in camp think Clark can be a better finisher than Irvin, and be a terrific complement to Bennett and Avril. Other young Seattle defensive players to watch are defensive tackle Jordan Hill and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis. Thus, the Seahawks are in a unique position where they have several players in their prime and they also have a youth movement.
Scheme doesn’t matter: The Seahawks are unique because they don’t subscribe to a specific scheme. They don’t care if a player is a 4-3 defensive tackle or if he’s a 3-4 middle linebacker.
“The Seahawks just want good defensive players,” longtime NFL scout Matt Williamson said. “This approach stacks their deck during the draft. They have a bigger selection of players to choose from and it seems to get them better players. … For many reasons, this defense has a chance to be awesome. They could easily be the best in the league and be as good as they were three years ago.”