Wednesday, November 27, 2013 @ 4:45pm
By Danny O'Neil
"Person of Interest" is a weekly feature in which we put the microscope on one player from the Seahawks' upcoming opponent. This week, it's New Orleans' Jimmy Graham.
With 946 receiving yards in 11 games, Jimmy Graham is on pace for the most prolific season by a tight end in NFL history. (AP)
• Position: Tight end, two-sport stud
• Height: 6-7
• Weight: 265
• Age: 27
• Experience: Fourth season
Graham has replaced Antonio Gates as the NFL's patron saint for converted basketball players, and he paved the way for a prospect like Julius Thomas, whom the Broncos drafted out of Portland State.
Graham played one season of college football at Miami before he was drafted in the third round by New Orleans, and halfway through his rookie season, quarterback Drew Brees could tell the Saints had something special.
"He was doing some freakishly athletic things," Brees said.
He was just getting started. Graham has led the Saints in receiving yards each of the past two years, and he has a chance to have one of the best receiving seasons for any tight end in NFL history.
Through 11 games, he has caught 65 passes for 946 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. That puts him on pace to break Rob Gronkowski's record for single-season receiving yardage by a tight end, which was 1,327 yards in 2011.
Graham has more touchdown catches this season than two different teams in the NFL, and he ranks ninth in the league in receiving yardage, the only player at his position in the top 20. He presents, quite simply, one of the most unique strategic challenges the Seahawks will face this season.
"He's a tremendous talent," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Graham. "He's a ball-control catcher and he's a downfield threat that causes problems. They use him in numerous ways. They use him inside and outside. He plays as a wide receiver."
Seattle has a similarly wide array of options for defending Graham.
Do the Seahawks stick with their standard defensive playbook and trust a linebacker like K.J. Wright or a safety like Kam Chancellor to be able to stay with Graham or do they utilize their rare size at cornerback to put Richard Sherman on Graham the same way he was assigned San Francisco's Anquan Boldin in Week 2?
Carroll – understandably – wasn't all that eager to provide the details of his defensive plans.
"We have to cover him in multiple ways," Carroll said. "It takes everything that we have to slow a guy down like this."
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 @ 8:22am
By Danny O'Neil
League rules prohibit the Seahawks from discussing the pending suspensions of their pair of cornerbacks.
That doesn't mean they can't respond, though. In fact, they must have an answer both in the short term without Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner, and perhaps more importantly in the long term.
Brandon Browner (39) and Walter Thurmond (28), each facing NFL suspensions stemming from alleged substance abuse, are the latest Seahawks to run afoul of league policy. (AP)
This is not a call for the Seahawks to cut ties with either Thurmond and/or Browner. It's not a demand for a pound of flesh for two soon-to-be free agents who've already cost themselves millions of dollars. This is about spelling out the team's expectations for the players, which means this is one case where words will matter as much as actions. Seattle and its coach have to make it clear what is acceptable and what is not.
The NFL prohibits teams from talking about the details of the respective cases, but there's nothing to prevent Carroll from using words like "disappointed" and "responsibility" to spell out what is expected from his players.
These suspensions are not the franchise's fault. They are not Carroll's fault. They are not something that could have been prevented by another team meeting. These are grown men we're talking about, two professionals in their 20s who were in the league's substance-abuse program and therefore absolutely had to know both the scrutiny they would face with up to eight random tests per month and the stakes of another mistake.
Now that they're about to be suspended, the Seahawks are a punchline for the second consecutive year. That will fade with time, however. The bigger issue is about what this franchise will tolerate, and for the first time Seattle is dealing with repeat offenders, so to speak.
Thurmond had to test positive for what the league classifies as a substance of abuse at least twice to receive a four-game ban. Browner was previously suspended four games for PEDs, and now faces a year-long ban under the substance-abuse policy. He will be 30 by the time he's eligible to play in the NFL again, and already there are reports he won't be back with the Seahawks.
Thurmond is more than three years younger than Browner, and his suspension doesn't necessarily spell the end of his career with Seattle nor should it. That doesn't change the need for the Seahawks to make a clear statement regarding the incident.
In the past, Carroll has erred on the side of discretion when it comes to discussing the mistakes his players made, both on the field and off it. He needs to be more blunt this time to make the team's expectations of its employees clear.
Monday, November 25, 2013 @ 9:56am
Coach Pete Carroll says the Seahawks could reach out to veteran Antoine Winfield given the team's sudden need for cornerbacks.
"That's a possibility," Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny" on Monday, a day after news broke that cornerback Walter Thurmond is facing a four-game suspension for an alleged violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
Released at the end of training camp, cornerback Antoine Winfield (21) is an option for Seattle with Brandon Browner injured and Walter Thurmond facing a suspension. (AP)
Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane are next up on Seattle's depth chart. Tharold Simon and DeShawn Shead are other in-house options, though neither are on Seattle's 53-man roster. Lane is the only player among those four who has stared an NFL game, which makes Winfield a seemingly intriguing option even though he's 36 years old and hasn't played since he was released by Seattle at the end of training camp.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network – who broke the story about Thurmond's suspension – reported via Twitter Monday that Winfield's potential return has been discussed and that the cornerback is still physically in football shape.
Winfield's signing in free agency was a coup for the Seahawks, who were adding a three-time Pro Bowl selection that would give them even more firepower in their star-studded secondary. His release was a reflection of Thurmond's emergence and the depth the Seahawks had accumulated elsewhere in their defensive backfield.
Now, Browner is sidelined indefinitely because of a groin injury and Thurmond is facing a suspension as the Seahawks prepare to face the league's second-ranked passing offense in a game that could help determine home-field advantage in the playoffs.
It's another reminder of how quickly fortunes can change in the NFL, the Seahawks finding themselves in need of a cornerback and possibly reaching out to a player they once released only because they had so many capable alternatives.
"He's a really good football player," Carroll said. "With the news that we may have here going in to this game, that's a possibility. We'll figure that out when the time comes. But he's a great kid. Really quality kid to bring in to your team at a time like this. He knows his way around. Everybody knows him and respects the heck out of him."
Simon, a rookie who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, has the size and physicality that are distinguishing traits of Seattle's cornerbacks. He's on the Physically Unable to Perform List because of a foot injury but is expected to begin practicing week.
"That's really important to us to see what he looks like and see how he does. We really don't have any information on him as one of our guys. He's just a big, tall, good-looking guy," Carroll said of Simon, a fifth-round pick out of Louisiana State. "He looks like one of our guys, but he hasn't practiced yet."
Shead, meanwhile, is a former undrafted rookie out of Portland State who has the versatility to play cornerback and safety. He's on Seattle's practice squad, but Carroll indicated that he's working his way toward a promotion to the active roster.
"DeShawn Shead has done a great job with us. He's very close to being a part of this club, and on the regular roster and all that," Carroll said. "He's been practicing beautifully throughout the season so far, and we really trust him."
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.
Monday, November 25, 2013 @ 7:57am
By Danny O'Neil
Sometimes there's no need for analysis or interpretation.
Sometimes all you can do is shake your head. Or grit your teeth. Or grunt in exasperation.
All three of those responses would be understandable, even appropriate, when it comes to the looming suspension of cornerback Walter Thurmond.
Not just because he plays a position where the Seahawks are already missing starter Brandon Browner, and not just because it mirrors the situation Seattle faced a year ago right down to the timing of the report. What makes this so very maddening is just how avoidable this was, because if Thurmond is going to be suspended under the NFL's policy regarding substances of abuse as the league's own TV network reported, well, then it almost certainly wasn't his first slip-up. But we'll get to the specifics of league protocol in a second.
Right now, there's not all that much to say. At least not for the Seahawks. The team is forbidden from discussing the issue by the collective-bargaining agreement, which threatens a fine of $500,000. So coach Pete Carroll will say he can't discuss it, the team will prep Byron Maxwell to step into the starting role outside with Jeremy Lane as the nickelback and perhaps reach out to Antoine Winfield, who was let go at the end of training camp.
So we're left to wrestle with Thurmond's situation, a reminder of how much the trajectory of an NFL season can fluctuate based on the judgment of men in their 20s, or more accurately, the lack of judgment. But before you go comparing Thurmond's situation with the four-game suspensions of Browner and Bruce Irvin, not to mention the one against Richard Sherman that was overturned on appeal, it's important to note a critical difference.
Those suspensions were levied under the policy against performance-enhancing substances, a program that stipulates a four-game suspension for a first violation.
Thurmond, according to the NFL Network, will be suspended under the league's substance-abuse policy, which is entirely different. The details are important because a positive test for substances of abuse doesn't call for a suspension. Instead, the first offense puts a player into the league's substance-abuse program.
Once in the program, the player is subjected to as many as eight random urine tests a month, and he must notify the league before he leaves town and provide an address of where he's going and must be available to provide a urine sample within four hours of being notified.
The scrutiny – and the stakes – could not be any clearer for the player. Once in the program, there's no margin for error, and the fact four-game suspensions for substance abuse are rarer than they are for PEDs speaks to the effectiveness of the program.
It is also the reason that Thurmond's suspension – if accurate – is nothing short of shocking. After three seasons overshadowed by injuries, Thurmond was just this year coming into his own. In training camp, he beat out Winfield for the job as Seattle's third cornerback. He started the first two regular-season games when Browner was out with a hamstring injury, and Thurmond is the reason that Browner's potentially season-ending groin injury wasn't inspiring hand wringing.
Last week, Thurmond returned an interception for the first touchdown of his NFL career, and now he may miss most of the final month of this season because of a mistake. Well, probably more than one.
This wasn't about the culture of Seattle's team or its leadership or the lack of understanding about NFL rules. The nature of the league's substance-abuse program makes it certain that Thurmond had ample warning and understanding.
And at this point, there's nothing left to say. You just shake your head. Or grit your teeth. Or grunt. This is a mistake that's tougher to understand than it is to explain.
Friday, November 22, 2013 @ 8:03am
By Danny O'Neil
The Washington Huskies are at a crossroads.
Saturday's game in Corvallis, Ore., is being cast as one more referendum on the coaching tenure of Steve Sarkisian, a chance for his Huskies to show the program is continuing to make progress with him at the helm.
Kind of like that road game at Stanford earlier this season. Or the home game against Oregon a week later or any of another half a dozen games over the past three seasons that were deemed an opportunity for the Huskies to make a statement and move up the Pac-12 pecking order.
The fact that we're two games from the end of Sarkisian's fifth year and still having this conversation says everything you need to know about this program's ability to take that next step: I don't think it can. Not under Sarkisian, which is why I'm hoping the Huskies have a new coach next season.
I'm not happy about that conclusion. I even hope that I'll be proven wrong over the remainder of this season, but I know that a victory at Oregon State for the Huskies' first conference road win in 2013 won't be enough to change my mind.
We have five years of history under Sarkisian, more than 60 games, and while his resuscitation of the program should be commended, the inability to get the Huskies beyond conference mediocrity is not only undeniable, but indicative of what the future holds under him.
This team's inability to develop across the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball and a dumbfounding insistence on committing penalty after penalty has left it high-centered in the Pac-12. Not only is it looking up at Oregon, but this season Arizona State and UCLA – two programs in their second season under new coaches – beat the Huskies decisively.
Washington's inability to keep quarterback Keith Price upright is an indictment of the coaching staff's failure to recruit and/or develop talent on the offensive line. (AP)
Sarkisian deserves a ton of credit for bringing a pulse back to this program that had flatlined before his arrival. He showed that it could again be a destination and that beautiful new stadium is due in part to the enthusiasm Sarkisian brought back to a program that had all the hope of a condemned building when Tyrone Willingham was fired.
Sarkisian brought Washington from a winless season in 2008 to a bowl game in 2010 and helped Jake Locker become a first-round pick and kept Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams from leaving the state, all of which were so incredibly important for this program.
But Sarkisian has had five years now, and while there have been memorable moments like that home upset of USC in 2009, the closest the Huskies have come to a win that would vault the program into an era of contention was that 2010 Holiday Bowl victory against a decidedly disinterested Nebraska team that had a less-than-healthy quarterback and had beaten Washington by 35 points in Seattle earlier that season.
More than anything, Washington's record has not improved even as its schedule has gotten easier. Not only is this program no longer playing at LSU or hosting Nebraska, it's facing lesser-division college football programs like Eastern Washington and Idaho State for the first time in the program's history.
The Huskies even changed the offense this season, going to an up-tempo approach despite the fact that Sarkisian is one of the better pro-style playcallers in the college game. But Washington wasn't able to keep pace with teams like Oregon and Arizona State – who already played at that place – and was decisively outmuscled at UCLA a week ago.
Which brings us back to this weekend's game, the Huskies sitting at 6-4 for the third successive season and everyone pointing to this game at Oregon State as a chance for Washington to show it is making progress.
Trouble is that I've been down this road too many times already. I'm ready to turn back.
Thursday, November 21, 2013 @ 6:03pm
ESPN.com columnist Jeffri Chadiha no longer considers Russell Wilson a game manager, the term he used to describe Seattle's quarterback during a conversation with 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny" back in June.
While he's seen more improvement from Wilson than the other NFL's other star quarterbacks who are in their second seasons as starters, Chadiha hasn't come around on Wilson so far as to consider him an MVP candidate.
Russell Wilson has garnered some MVP consideration for the job he's done leading the Seahawks to an NFL-best 10-1 record. (AP)
It's a discussion that only figures to pick up steam with Wilson and the Seahawks owning the NFL's best record and seemingly poised for a Super Bowl run. Wilson has thrown 19 touchdowns to six interceptions, he's completing 64 percent of his passes and has a 105.1 passer rating that is fifth best in the NFL.
That should be good enough to land Wilson on the shortlist of MVP candidates, though he'll face stiff competition. Quarterbacks Peyton Manning (especially), Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford are all putting up tremendous numbers for division-leading teams, and there's a case to be made that Wilson isn't even the MVP of his own team.
Chadiha said his vote would go to running back Marshawn Lynch if he was choosing between the two Seahawks. His reasoning is based on how much of Seattle's offense goes through Lynch, who's second in the NFL in rushing with 925 yards and is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with nine. Nearly 56 percent of Seattle's offensive plays have been rushes (though that total includes designed passing plays that resulted in Wilson scrambles).
While those who believe Wilson should be in the MVP discussion would note that he's played behind a makeshift offensive line for much of the season, Chadiha thinks Lynch's contributions lessen Wilson's MVP credentials.
"I don't think he'll ever get that kind of respect or that kind of adulation until he's doing it the way Tom Brady is or Drew Brees is or Peyton Manning is or even Aaron Rodgers has done it in recent seasons where you clearly don't have a dominant running back on your team and the offense is clearly built around your skillset," Chadiha said.
"That's not a knock on him; you've got to play the way they want you to play. That's not just my opinion, either. That's other coaches I've talked to around the league, quarterbacks coaches, who have said he's a really talented kid, but when you have a great defense and you have great special teams and you have a great running back, you can succeed a lot easier, you can call plays differently. He hasn't had to face that kind of pressure that those guys have faced."
While Chadiha may not be buying Wilson's MVP candidacy, he lauded the quarterback for what he did to avoid the second-year struggles that some of his peers have fallen victim to.
"I think he's just shown that he's ready to handle that challenge that comes with being a star in this league. I remember talking to Warren Moon ... earlier this year for a story that involves Russell and he talked about how he had told Russell, 'Look, just don't work on the things you're not doing well; work on the things you do well for this coming season,' because too many quarterbacks in this league, once you take away what they do well, they don't have a plan B or a plan C, and it seems that Russell was ready for that challenge. I don't know how ready Robert Griffin was for that, I don't know how ready Colin Kaepernick was for that, we're seeing how Andrew Luck is responding without Reggie Wayne.
"... I think it's very easy especially in these times with Twitter and Facebook and around-the-clock coverage to fall in love with yourself. And to me, the most impressive thing about Russell Wilson is that he's not caught up in who he is; he's still trying to get better as a player."
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.
Thursday, November 21, 2013 @ 9:00am
By Brady Henderson
The 19-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin helped Seattle take an 11-point lead into halftime Sunday against Minnesota, and it's the subject of this week's edition of "Chalk Talk" with Brock Huard.
|• Recap | Stats | Photos | Postgame interviews||• O'Neil: What We Learned||• O'Neil: Less is more for Wilson, Seahawks||• Henderson: Harvin shines in Seahawks debut||• Wyman: The Percy Harvin Effect||• Pete Carroll: 10-1 Seahawks only getting better|
The play: Harvin lined up on the right side in the slot, flanked by Zach Miller to his left and Doug Baldwin to his right. All three players ran go-routes, leaving Minnesota's free safety responsible for the area Harvin and Baldwin were running into. Wilson threw an impeccably accurate throw to Baldwin in the end zone before Minnesota's Andrew Sendejo could get there.
The statement: "He's got elite speed, so any time you look at him in the slot or maybe outside, the safety's got to cheat to his side in case he beats the guy off the line of scrimmage," Baldwin said of Harvin, "because if he doesn't get there, then there's nobody in this league that's going to catch up with Percy."
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 @ 8:13am
By Brady Henderson
The Seahawks are relatively healthy heading into their bye week, though one of the two injuriues they're dealing with is a big one.
Cornerback Brandon Browner missed Seattle's last game after hurting his groin in Week 10. The injury could be season ending, but the fact that Seattle has not placed Browner on injured reserve means there's at least some hope he could return at some point.
Cornerback Brandon Browner is out indefinitely with a groin injury that could cut his contract season short. (AP)
Browner is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, so the possibility that his contract season could be cut short is significant from his standpoint.
Browner's injury and future in Seattle were among the topics discussed in the latest edition of "Hawk Talk" with Danny O'Neil. The full transcript can be read here. Highlights are below.
Beast, noting that Carroll mentioned this week a four-to-six-week recovery period for Browner, asked whether that timeframe is based on when the injury occurred or from now.
Danny O'Neil: I've had this question in several places, but let's stop and consider this. The Seahawks don't now about the specifics of the injury just yet. Carroll has said they hope to know more by the end of last week or the end of this week. It's a hazy estimate to begin with and the idea of narrowing it down to when it applies is getting overly analytical in that it won't give you a better idea of when (or even whether) he'll be back.
Chris Moody asked whether Browner or receiver Sidney Rice has a better chance of playing for Seattle next season. Rice is under contract, scheduled to count $9.7 million against Seattle's salary cap.
Danny O'Neil: Browner by a significant margin. My opinion -- without knowing the market or number of potential suitors for Browner -- is that it's more likely than not Browner is back next year. That's based on two things: 1) Less than half of the teams in the league would even consider Browner as a starter because the defense needs to play press man to have him be effective. 2) The free-agent market for cornerbacks last year was brutal.
Bootin Tuten asked whether the raise Seattle gave Browner before the season would factor into his decision on whether or not to return.
Danny O'Neil: Well, maybe it's a coincidence that the raise corresponded with the money he lost in salary due to suspension last year. But yes, that raise would make it more likely for Browner to return. Not to take less money necessarily, but certainly increase the likelihood that all thins being equal in terms of a contract, he would choose to stay.
Evil Penguin said Russell Wilson's flip to Marshawn Lynch that resulted in a Seahawks touchdown against Minnesota was reminiscent of Brett Favre.
Danny O'Neil: Totally agree. It was imaginative and almost impossible to defend. I don't often quote Jerome James in this space, but when I do, it's worth it. After Shaquille O'Neal had a great free-throw shooting night, James remarked that it wasn't fair. That poor free-throw shooting was the one thing that made Shaq relatively mortal. And if he made free throws, it was patently unfair. If you let a quarterback play with Brett Favre's flair and unorthodox effectiveness and eliminate the boneheaded gunslinger. It's not fair.
MikeH asked whether Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell or offensive-line coach Tom Cable will get a head-coaching job first.
Danny O'Neil: Bevell. I think with the crop of quarterbacks in the draft this year, as many as half a dozen head-coaching jobs opening up and Bevell's success in developing Russell Wilson that he's going to get a gig.
Tony (Hawaii) asked whether Gus Bradley, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator who's now the head coach of the 1-9 Jaguars, is in danger of losing his job.
Danny O'Neil: I don't think so. And to be clear, he shouldn't be. It seems that team was prepping for a tank job in this year when the draft is rich with quarterbacks. That said, you have a new owner in Jacksonville so you never know.
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