Holmgren Takes Stock as Preseason Looms

With Saturday's scrimmage at Cheney's Woodward Field behind him, and this Saturday's preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys ahead, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren took stock after a weekend in which he finally saw his team in front of a big crowd for the first time since Super Bowl XL.

About 12,000 people attended the scrimmage, indicating how popular the newly resurgent Seahawks have become. Fans both new and old are delighted to see the first inklings of the 2006 Big Picture. For Holmgren, however, it’s all about the little details at this point. When asked about the practices since then, Holmgren spoke to the need to get specific when it comes to the details at this time.

“What we really are working on is cleaning things up more than anything else,” Holmgren said. "Nothing dramatic as far as scheme, but just being a little more precise, being a little more disciplined, being sharper, making sure our depths on offense are enough and our angles on defense are what they should be. The coaches and players, just (need to) tighten this thing up just a little bit. That’s what we’re doing now.”

With the season looming ever larger in Holmgren’s sightline, the coach had position battles on his mind when he spoke to the media after Monday’s practice. He also welcomed back DB Jordan Babineaux, who had not participated in camp due to a shoulder injury. “Babs” is now ready to go, and Holmgren likes his ability to spell different positions in the defensive backfield. “He’s going to start out at corner, but he has played safety, he’s been the nickel and dime defenses. He’s going to start out at corner and we’re going to ease him into it. His legs are good and his shoulder has come back, so he’s ready to go now.”

Does Babineaux have a chance to supplant either Kelly Herndon or Kelly Jennings and start at left corner or in the nickel? “He’s lost a lot of practice time, so it is hard, but I’m not discounting or throwing anything out now. It’s too early, we’ll see,” Holmgren said.

Holmgren also spoke to the ability of first-round pick Jennings to grab hold of the scheme. “His retention and how he handles meetings and what we’re doing on the field is good. I think that is a strength of his.” During camp, Jennings has seen his share and more of action in unit-on-unit drills, often staying on the field as the defense moves between first and second team. For a man who started 41 games at Miami, Jennings seems up to any challenge.

On the other side. Holmgren’s arsenal of receivers is a few bullets short, as Darrell Jackson, D.J. Hackett and Jerramy Stevens all recover from injuries. The Seahawks will have Stevens back for practice as early as Wednesday (“I talked to him today and he’s a little uncertain, but he’s uncertain because he hasn’t done anything….he’s ready to come back.”), while Jackson and Hackett have slightly longer prognoses. This allows young players like seventh-round pick Ben Obomanu to soak up more reps than they would ordinarily get, and you never know when such practice time will decide a roster spot.

“I think when you talk about wide receivers, or any position at this particular point, some of the injured fellows are known quantities for us. They come in and we know what they can do and they’re roster positions, they just have to get ready to play. The competition remains the same. What it has allowed us to do, and the player to do, is get a lot more looks and if we didn’t know enough about a player we’re learning a lot about them now.”

New #2 receiver Nate Burleson, a hometown kid imported from the Vikings’ roster, has had Holmgren’s eye – but only enough to confirm what Coach already suspected. The 24-year old could be a huge presence in Seattle’s precision offense this season. Because Jackson and Hackett have been out, Burleson has taken reps as the #1 man. “I think we know who Nate is and what he can do; I don’t think there’s ever been a question about that. This is good for him because he’s been able to play a couple positions. He’s been able to have a couple more reps then he would have had before and that’s all good for him.”

“It’s good - the bigger the pile, the better it is for us. We just have to make intelligent decisions at the end,” Holmgren said, when asked about the depth at the receiver position.

Another roster position up for grabs is the third quarterback slot behind Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace. 2005 third-round pick David Greene has faced serious (possibly overwhelming) competition from NFL Europe star Gibran Hamdan. Hamdan has set records across the pond, but he’s also suffered a series of frustrating injuries. He’s looked great this camp, throwing scud missiles between defenders in the scrimmage, and displaying the kind of acumen Holmgren’s offense requires. “I don’t to minimize the position - you need (a third quarterback). They don’t get a lot of reps so my message to them is make them count. They’ll play in the preseason games and that will be a big test for them.”

RB Shaun Alexander, the 2005 NFL Most Valuable Player, will get a few snaps against the Cowboys this Saturday at Qwest Field. But for the most part, expect to see the starters get a quick hook – preseason is for the sub-strata and their desperate fights to hang on. “(Alexander’s) going to play in the games and get ready and get hit around a little bit, but I don’t have to see him do a lot of things, I’ve seen him do a lot of things. With running backs in particular, he needs to get banged around a little bit, but we’re going to keep him fresh for the season.”

The Seahawks will have their list together by Wednesday of who should play, and for how long. “We’ll have that meeting. I asked the coaches to put together a list for me by (then),” Holmgren said.

Alexander and the other running backs have been experiencing a new phenomenon in practice – nearly every stretch play, every power sweep, every former “gimme” trap play, has been sussed out almost immediately by Seattle’s new and improved defense.

With the addition of Julian Peterson, and the further experience of 2005 rookies Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill, the Seahawks’ linebacker corps appears set to make life miserable for opposing offenses. Combine that with an ever-improving DT rotation, and team president Tim Ruskell’s insistence that the front seven would need to experience a near-miraculous turnaround looks like the immediate truth.

For Holmgren. It’s been a mixed blessing. He hasn’t had a Top Ten defense since his days in Green Bay, but he’s also not used to a Seattle defense stopping a Seattle offense like this. According to Holmgren, speed is at the root of the equation. “Anytime you have great team speed on defense you have a chance to be much better. Defense is very much about speed. Reaction and speed. We have good speed on defense.”

The team will get defensive ends Grant Wistrom and Joe Tafoya back by the third preseason game, according to Holmgren’s estimation, making that front line even stronger. Today, DT Chuck Darby found out that practice is getting more physical by the day. “Darby’s okay, he got (accidentally) kicked,” Holmgren said. “I told him when his football career is over, I have a guy in Hollywood that can help him. I don’t want to minimize it, but he said ‘Coach, it hurt,’ I said, “I know it hurt, but don’t make me nervous.”

Holmgren’s good humor speaks to the state of the team – a determined, ferociously talented squad. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and they’re never when I want them to be. But that is what training camp is all about. You get them ready to play the games and then do the best you can in the games.

While he did bark at his tight ends for missing blocking assignments today, Hollmgren seems as content as any coach will be before live action happens and the real evaluations begin. “I’m very pleased with how the guys are practicing. We had one day (last Friday, when he kicked the team off the field half an hour early) where I thought they were not into it the way I would like them to be into it.

“Today I was just enjoying practice and getting competitive myself. That’s okay - I have to get the blood circulating a little bit.”

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. Feel free to e-mail him here.

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