Neil Reynolds’ NFL diary: Day five

And that’s a wrap!

Monday was spent in training camp with the Seattle Seahawks and now it’s time to drag our weary tails home after conducting 21 interviews during a country-crossing tour that took us to New York, Stamford, Nashville, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Napa Valley and the Pacific North-West.

Along the way, we have been fortunate to chat with some of the big stars of the league and today was no different as we got time with quarterback Russell Wilson, receiver Doug Baldwin, linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright and head coach Pete Carroll.

The faces are significantly different in Seattle. During a tumultuous offseason, the Seahawks parted ways for one reason or another with Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson on offense and Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor, Jeremy Lane, Sheldon Richardson and Richard Sherman on defense.

But the message remains the same. Compete and win. The expectations have not been lowered one iota inside the building in Seattle. That was one of the big takeaways from our day with the Seahawks in one of America’s most beautiful sporting facilities, hugged up tight against the shores of Lake Washington.

Five observations from Seattle Seahawks training camp

  • The Seahawks compete in everything they do. On every play during this training camp practice and, according to the players we interviewed on Monday, that is something that carries over into the regular season and it definitely translates into a more positive performance every Sunday. I’ll give you one example of that competition. Wilson threw a pass into the corner of the end zone that was caught by wide receiver Marcus Johnson. But the official ruled the toe-tapping receiver to be out of bounds, which prompted a good-natured back and forth between Bobby Wagner and Doug Baldwin over the validity of the play. Their debate went on quite a while and highlighted how the offense and defense want to win on every play… even in July
  • The Seahawks are missing one of their defensive stalwarts in All-Pro and Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who is holding out until he gets a new deal or gets traded. Seattle don’t seem in any rush to extend the 29-year-old defensive back so the two sides have hit a stalemate of sorts. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said something interesting to me on Monday when we talked about veteran leadership on his team. He said: “When you have Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, you don’t need any more on the other side of the ball.” Not a mention of Thomas, which was quite telling.

  • Russell Wilson is a true superstar who always cuts a positive figure. Given his elite status, Wilson legitimately gives the Seahawks a chance to win whenever he steps on the field. But even Wilson himself might admit that he is going to have even more on his shoulders in 2018. Doug Baldwin was missing from practice on Monday and some of Wilson’s completions had me reaching for the Seattle roster. During the course of a morning practice that played out under an unforgiving sun and in 95-degree heat, Wilson completed passes to Damore’ea Stringfellow, Marvin Bracy, Tyrone Swoopes and Kyle Carter. Those guys are not exactly household names, but neither was Baldwin when he first arrived in Seattle.
  • In a spirited and highly competitive practice, there were several young players who caught the eye – notably first-round running back Rashaad Penny, free-agent wide receiver Jaron Brown (who caught a beauty of a 40-yard touchdown pass from Wilson in team drills) and rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin. Pete Carroll spoke very highly indeed of Penny and while it is hard to judge runners in camp, he certainly moves well and looks set to be a factor in the passing game as well as the ground attack. Griffin made arguably the play of the day in the red zone as he jumped Wilson’s slant pass at the goal-line and made a spectacular diving interception. Any worries about his ball skills should have disappeared with that incredible play and he is developing a habit for making game-changing plays having forced a fumble in practice the day before.
  • Pete Carroll spoke eloquently and at length about the culture he has created in Seattle. I found it fascinating because, by the coach’s own admission, it might not be for everybody. He empowers his players to be individuals willing to express themselves and to not be afraid of having opinions. He rightly pointed out the Seahawks have fielded some outspoken alpha males in recent years, but here is the key – they were all very well aware that no one is bigger than the team. As Carroll stressed, every player on Seattle’s roster “belongs to something bigger than yourself.” He also explained the players police themselves and are under no illusions of what is and isn’t acceptable in Seattle. So beyond the hollering and whooping sits a line that even the most controversial players on the roster know must not be crossed.

Quote of the Day I

“We have a good feeling about the players we have – it feels new and it feels fresh. It feels like it did four or five years ago.” – Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll on the new look and feel of his 2018 Seahawks.

Quote of the Day II

“When I was undrafted, I wanted to be a starter. When I was a starter, I wanted to be an impact player. Then I wanted to be an all-star and All-Pro player. I keep pushing myself and I keep finding motivation, whether it be external or internal.” – Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin explaining the drive that took him from being an undrafted free agent to one of the best in the business.

Quote of the Day III

“I’m super-excited to come to London and play a regular season game. I’m excited about what the future is going to be like in London in terms of growing American football and expanding globally around the world.” – Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson when asked about his interest in helping to promote the NFL in the UK.

Training camp finish that sentence

Huge thanks to… Oliver Luck at the XFL; Mike Vrabel, Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry, Malcolm Butler, Kevin Byard and Taylor Lewan at the Tennessee Titans; Anthony Lynn, Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa and Casey Hayward at the Los Angeles Chargers; Jon Gruden, Jordy Nelson, Obi Melifonwu and Jared Cook at the Oakland Raiders; and Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright at the Seattle Seahawks. That’s not a bad haul over five interview days. Not too shabby at all.

Final Thought

As I sit and write this final paragraph in the departure lounge of Seattle-Tacoma Airport, I reflect on another fun training camp trip to the United States. It really is, for an NFL fan, one of the most wonderful times of the year. From Jon Gruden’s scowling face to Philip Rivers’ side arms… from Pete Carroll’s infectious enthusiasm to Mike Vrabel’s desire to get his hands dirty on the practice field… it has been an amazing opportunity to see four London-bound teams up close and personal. I feel very fortunate to have been on the road witnessing their preseason preparations and hope you have enjoyed some of what I have shared with you. To producer Alex and cameraman Scott… thanks for the laughs! Until the start of the new season on Sky Sports in September… Reynolds out (drops boarding pass in lieu of a microphone).