NFC West training camp preview: Seattle

Everything you want to know about the Niners' NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks entering 2006 training camp, including camp calendar, team and personnel notes and unit-by-unit analysis at each position.

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp opens with the first full practice on July 29 and camp breaks Aug. 24. The Seahawks have a scrimmage scheduled for Aug. 5.

--- The Seahawks' starting right tackle heads into camp having largely shed the legal troubles that have hung over him since officials charged him with domestic-violence assault in January. Sean Locklear reached agreement with prosecutors to dismiss the charge contingent on his fulfillment of several conditions during a two-year probationary period. Locklear must perform community service, obtain an evaluation and pay court costs. Locklear emerged last season as a pleasant surprise for the Seahawks. He went through most of training camp as a backup, only to assume the starting role when Floyd Womack suffered a triceps injury late in the preseason. Locklear played well enough to keep the job even after Womack returned to health. Locklear's arrest was another surprise. He had previously experienced no known run-ins with the law. Details in the case were a bit sketchy. Witnesses said Locklear grabbed his girlfriend by the neck during a dispute outside a nightclub. Locklear denied grabbing her by the neck. His girlfriend did not substantiate witness accounts. Instead she helped Locklear lift a no-contact order, allowing the two to continue living together. "Although I felt that Sean's case should be heard by a jury, Sean did not want to put his girlfriend through a public trial, and he was also concerned that the trial would be a distraction to his team on the eve of camp," attorney Jon Scott Fox said in a statement. The statement also included an apology from the defendant. "I apologize to all involved for what happened that night," Locklear said. "I take full responsibility for my own actions and I look forward to putting this behind me in a positive manner." Locklear probably will not discuss the matter in greater detail once training camp begins.
--- Coach Mike Holmgren has always said his best players must enjoy good seasons for his teams to realize their potential. He hasn't changed his opinion, but he has also acknowledged the importance of role players in Seattle's run to Super Bowl XL. "This team wouldn't have been where we are if it hadn't been for the Sean Locklears, the Marquand Manuels, Joe Jurevicius and the guys that have come in and substituted for a guy that has been injured," Holmgren said. "We had some injuries. Fortunately the young men that came in and played have exceeded our expectations." Seattle needs additional role players to emerge this season. Manuel and Jurevicius are gone. Locklear is a starter.
--- MLB Lofa Tatupu has better range than people seemed to realize when the Seahawks drafted him out of USC in 2005. There were several times last season when Tatupu made big plays well downfield. During a playoff game against Washington last season, Tatupu batted away a Mark Brunell pass that traveled 63 yards in the air. "It made me a little nervous to see our middle linebacker 40 yards down the field covering a wide receiver," Holmgren quipped, "so I politely buzzed (defensive coordinator) John Marshall and I said, "John, is that what you wanted?' "
--- MVP running back Shaun Alexander implied only half-jokingly during Super Bowl week that he might need an $80 million contract to stay in Seattle. He signed for $62 million. That would be a record haul for a running back, but only if Alexander fulfills all eight years of the deal, which would take him well into his mid-30s.The deal pays him $23 million over the first three years and $28.5 million over the first four. Alexander turns 29 before this season. He'll be 32 in the fourth year of the deal.
--- Alexander recently walked away with two ESPY awards, one as the NFL's best player and another for having the best record-setting performance. Alexander didn't really need the validation after claiming league MVP honors, but he'll take it. So will ESPN. As USA Today put it: "Things worked out for ESPN with Reggie Bush getting Best Male College Athlete and Shaun Alexander getting Best NFL Athlete. Both happen to be in new TV ads for ESPN cell phones."
--- Maurice Morris has only 171 carries during his four-year career. "I haven't taken a beating," Morris said. "I'm just like an experienced rookie." Morris is stuck behind Alexander. He re-signed with Seattle during the offseason after encountering a flooded market for running backs in free agency. He has 806 yards and one touchdown, plus 21 catches for 158 yards and another score.
--- Holmgren impressed colleagues with the way he handled his resignation from the competition committee this offseason. Holmgren made no mention of frustrations that lingered from controversial officiating in the Super Bowl. "We've been with Mike for three days and not once did he bring up the Super Bowl or anything that had to do with the Super Bowl," committee co-chair Jeff Fisher said at the time of Holmgren's resignation. "All he talked about was what was good for the game. Mike epitomizes what is important as far as the committee is concerned."
--- The organization has downplayed the impact of losing Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson in free agency. Their confidence might take a hit, however, if Floyd Womack can't stay healthy. "Obviously we've got a real good guy that would be starting on most teams backing up in the name of Womack," team president Tim Ruskell said earlier in the offseason. "And so the key will be where do we put him and then where do we put (Tom) Ashworth as we go forward. "I think whatever mix comes out of the chute, it's going to be a good line. It's been a good line, even when 'Hutch' was not in there. This team has always been a good offense whether it was Jerry Wunsch or Floyd Wedderburn or whatever. They were able to continue going forward."
--- The Seahawks have huge expectations for former 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson. They see him as the kind of difference maker the defense has lacked during Mike Holmgren's tenure as coach. The key for Peterson will be regaining top form after suffering a torn Achilles in 2004. "If everything happens OK as far as health-wise, anything is possible," Peterson said. "I can tell you one thing, you will get a player who is going to be playing 100 percent and giving it his all no matter what the circumstances are. I just play the game the way it is supposed to be."
--- The release of veteran punter Tom Rouen – who subsequently was signed by the 49ers to compete in training camp with incumbent Andy Lee – signals another change at the position for Seattle. The team has gone from Jeff Feagles to Rouen to Ken Walter to Donnie Jones to Leo Araguz and back to Rouen in recent seasons. None of those players is with the team, leaving rookie seventh-round choice Ryan Plackemeier to compete with NFL Europe veteran Gabe Lindstrom this summer. Plackemeier looks like the favorite. He has the backing of team president Tim Ruskell, who drafted him, and it was clear from minicamps that Plackemeier has plenty of leg.

--- "When you get a lot of guys like we have and you put them together, you like that because you don't have to teach one guy to go hard every play. They all know their job and they know what they're supposed to do, to play hard. If you get guys to play hard, you have a chance to win." – Defensive line coach Dwaine Board, a former 49ers coach and player.
--- "Mike Holmgren is smart enough to know that, 'Hey, we have a system and we have an offense, this is what we've done since the Bill Walsh days, but it's OK to have someone come in and say, 'Hey, what about doing this another way? Have you thought about this?' What that does is it prompts conversation and discussions with Mike as well as the offensive staff. It's good for our offense and healthy for us as coaches." -- Offensive line coach Bill Laveroni on the addition of offensive consultant Keith Gilbertson last season.


QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Matt Hasselbeck. Backups -- Seneca Wallace, David Greene, Gibran Hamdan, Travis Lulay.
Hasselbeck is a two-time Pro Bowl passer in the prime of his career. He has full command of the offense and the full confidence of teammates and coaches. He makes the offense go. The team is keeping an eye on the free-agent market in case an experienced veteran backup comes available. Wallace would probably remain in the No. 2 role. Adding a veteran might free up Wallace to dabble at receiver or punt returner, something Wallace did briefly during the playoffs last season. Greene needs a strong training camp to stay with the team. He hasn't been particularly impressive in minicamps. Hamdan flashed potential in Europe this spring, but a broken ankle could keep him out of training camp. Seattle is strong at the position unless something happens to Hasselbeck.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Shaun Alexander and Mack Strong. Backups -- Maurice Morris, Leonard Weaver, David Kirtman, Ran Carthon, Jimmy Dixon, Josh Scobey, Marquis Weeks.
All Alexander does is produce. Critics like to pick apart his running style. They say he isn't tough enough and doesn't run hard enough. Too bad nobody can stop him. Alexander has five consecutive seasons with at least 15 touchdowns. His yardage numbers are on the rise. Working behind a veteran line and a veteran fullback helps quite a bit. Strong probably has one more good year in his soon-to-be-35-year-old body. Weaver is a beast waiting in the wings. The former undrafted free agent is big and athletic, with a flair for running the ball. Seattle needs him to continue developing as a blocker, something that doesn't come naturally to him. Kirtman might one day become a perfect fit for the offense, but he'll have a hard time earning a roster spot as a rookie.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jerramy Stevens. Backups -- Itula Mili, Will Heller, Mike Gomez, Brock Edwards, Keith Willis.
Stevens can't be stopped unless he stops himself the way he did with all those drops in the Super Bowl. People forget that Stevens scored Seattle's only TD in the game, and that the Steelers had no clue how to deal with him. The question now is whether the dropped passes become a recurring theme in clutch situations. Stevens is also recovering from knee surgery that might keep him out until deep into training camp. This is a contract year for Stevens, so he needs to step up. Mili was once a quality starter. Health problems hurt him last season. Seattle needs him to revive his career after management decided not to invest in Ryan Hannam, who signed with Dallas in free agency. Heller was signed to replace Hannam, but he isn't the same player.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Darrell Jackson and Nate Burleson. Backups -- Bobby Engram, Peter Warrick, D.J. Hackett, Skyler Fulton, Keenan Howry, C.J. Jones, Maurice Mann, Ben Obomanu, Taco Wallace.
Seattle has good depth at the position now that Warrick looks like he's on the way back from knee surgery. Warrick caught 79 passes for the Bengals in 2003. He has a chance to catch 40 or 50 balls in this offense particularly now that Jackson's health is a concern. Burleson has good yards-after-catch ability. He'll have a chance to supplant Jackson as the primary receiver on this team. Engram proved last season he can flourish as a starter. He'll probably return to the No. 3 role, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Engram was one of the league's best third-down targets a few years ago. He can become that again.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- Walter Jones, Floyd Womack, Robbie Tobeck, Chris Gray, Sean Locklear. Backups -- Chris Spencer, Ray Willis, Tom Ashworth, William Henry, Rob Sims, Jeff Bolton, Lance Reynolds, Pat Ross.
The line probably peaked last season with Jones, Steve Hutchinson and Tobeck all representing Seattle in the Pro Bowl. Hutchinson is gone to the Vikings. Tobeck is 36 and fighting off the inevitable ascension of Spencer, a first-round pick in 2005. He probably has one more good season left, as does Gray, the 36-year-old right guard. Locklear has the skills to hold down the right-tackle spot for years to come. He can also slide into a guard spot if Womack can't stay healthy. This should still be one of the league's better lines, but it won't be the same without Hutchinson. And if this is the year they switch to Spencer at center, Hasselbeck will have to carry more of the burden in making sure Seattle gets into the right protections.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- Bryce Fisher, Chuck Darby, Marcus Tubbs, Grant Wistrom. Backups -- Chris Cooper, Jeb Huckeba, Robert Pollard, Kemp Rasmussen, John Syptak, Joe Tafoya, Darryl Tapp, Darrell Wright, Rocky Bernard, Russell Davis, Craig Terrill.
Injuries will test the depth on the inside. Tubbs and Bernard are coming off surgeries. Neither will be ready for the start of training camp. Both will be counted on for the regular season. Adding Davis was huge for the defense. He's a big-time interior defender and a potential starter even if Tubbs and Bernard are healthy. Not that the starters matter so much at tackle. Seattle rotates four men at the position. The end position is one injury away from having problems. Wistrom and Fisher are more than adequate as starters, but Wistrom is coming off shoulder surgery. If he misses games, Seattle will need second-round choice Tapp to play before he's ready. The Seahawks need Wistrom and Fisher to stay healthy if their defense is finally going to crack the top 10.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- Julian Peterson, Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill. Backups -- Niko Koutouvides, Cornelius Wortham, Evan Benjamin, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Lance Laury, Kevin Bentley, D.D. Lewis.
The starting three have a chance to form the best combination in the league. Tatupu was a Pro Bowl player as a rookie. Hill had 7 1/2 sacks in limited work. Both must avoid sophomore slumps. Tatupu should be fine; he's already the leader of the defense through his strong personality and top-notch play. Adding Peterson could put the defense over the top. Seattle already led the league in sacks last season. Tatupu is a very good blitzer in doses. Hill and Peterson have top-shelf pass-rush skills. Lewis is the odd man out, not a bad thing given his injury problems. Depth behind those four is spotty at best. Kacyvenski can play all three positions, but none at a starting level. He'll make the team on the strength of his special-teams play and because he's the kind of guy teams want in their locker rooms.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- Kelly Jennings, Ken Hamlin, Michael Boulware, Marcus Trufant. Backups -- Mike Green, Kelly Herndon, Jordan Babineaux, Reggie Austin, Lance Frazier, Brandon Haw, Kevin Hobbs, Gerard Ross, Jimmy Williams, Etric Pruitt, Oliver Celestin, Shaunard Harts.
There was a lot of talk about whether Seattle should do what it takes to sign Ty Law before Law signed with Kansas City. Adding the veteran corner would have made a lot of sense after Seattle released Andre Dyson. But then again, the Seahawks have proven that youthful enthusiasm goes a long ways on defense as long as the talent is there too. Jennings will be asked to start. If he's another Tatupu or Hill, Seattle could be set on the corners for years to come. Trufant has first-round ability and this might finally be the year it shows on the field. He participated in all offseason conditioning and minicamps for the first time in his career. In the past he was always rehabilitating an injury, forcing him to enter the season at less than full strength. Safety is a bit of a question mark because Hamlin and Boulware are coming off injuries. Hamlin thinks he'll be OK after missing most of last season with a fractured skull. Boulware has missed time after ankle surgery, a bad thing for Seattle given that Boulware needs all the reps he can get after making the conversion to safety from linebacker. Don't be surprised if Green makes some starts in his first season with the team. Babineaux provides security at corner and safety. He was a play-making force in spot duty last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Josh Brown, Ryan Killeen, J.P. Darche, Gabe Lindstrom, Ryan Plackemeier. Brown is the kicker almost no matter what. That's not a bad thing, either. He has proven mostly reliable on field goals while improving his kickoffs despite tough conditions at Qwest Field. Darche will probably stick around again because he's a reliable snapper and Seattle isn't holding a roster spot for a return specialist. The punting job will probably go to Plackemeier, the rookie. He's unproven, but that isn't always a bad thing; last year the team went with Leo Araguz, who had proven to be mediocre over the course of his career. At least Plackemeier has some upside.

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