"I'm really optimistic as a rule," he said as his team opened training camp on the campus of Eastern Washington University. "I try to be honest with my feelings about the ball club. Even last year, coming into camp, I was feeling really good about things. I'm usually pretty optimistic early, but we're deeper now, and the cuts will certainly be more difficult at the end. We have, throughout the roster, a little more depth and better players now."
The biggest question, after a late surge of offensive competence last season, is whether the Seahawks can finally learn to stop opponents.
The Hawks have rebuilt their defense with a new coordinator (Ray Rhodes), a new staff, and potentially four new starters. The focus on this camp will have to be the installation of the new defensive schemes and the assimilation of new players into them.
"They've caught on pretty well," Holmgren said. "In my conversations with Ray, in setting the thing up this season, we want to try and eliminate the mistakes that we made last year. Maybe not have the volume of defense, but make sure everyone knows what they're doing and cut it loose."
The early impressions? "They seem to be doing fine," Holmgren said. "They listen and are very attentive in meetings. The thing is to rebuild a defense and get our confidence level up and continue our offense where we were at the end of the season. Those are our challenges."
There are other challenges, of course, such as staying healthy, a shortcoming that, in part, doomed the Seahawks to their 1-5 start in 2002.
"The biggest thing is injury," Holmgren said. "After last year I don't want to think about it that much. You need to get banging a little (in practice) so they get used to it, but then there's a thin line there so you don't get anyone hurt. That's the number one thing."
Offensively, two prime concerns exist. One, simply, is to sustain the late success that made quarterback Matt Hasselbeck one of the more promising young quarterbacks in the league. And the second, once again, is trying to get Pro Bowl tackle Walter Jones signed and onto the field.
Hasselbeck spent the off-season in a rigid training and nutrition regimen that has made him bigger and stronger. And he's already met with the receivers and stressed the importance of quickly regaining the form that helped the Hawks win four of their final six games.
Jones' case is more problematic, as he and the team continue to be at odds over a long-term contract. The tackle missed all of last year's training camp and the first two games in a contract dispute. Once again, he has been assigned the team's franchise designation and has not agreed to sign the franchise tender.
Jones' early absence crippled the Hawks' offense last year, and the month of training camp this year will be needed to prepare a replacement from among candidates Michael Thompson, Floyd Womack and rookie Wayne Hunter.
CAMP CALENDAR: Aug. 2: Intrasquad scrimmage at Seahawks Stadium; Aug. 21: Camp breaks.
Team Report: Seattle Seahawks
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