Saturday, August 10, 2013

Glass Jaws and See Saws: The Ups and Downs of Thurm & Maxwell

A knick here, a bruise there, broken bone, pulled hammy, you name it, they've seen it. It seems like every year for the past couple years, we have been waiting for Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond III to fulfill their potential, only to have their season hampered by a long string of injuries. They are finally both healthy heading into this preseason, and the San Diego game showed what healthy versions of the two are capable of.

Walter Thurmond #28

Thurmond has arguably been the more frustrating of the two. He was all PAC-10/12 honorable mention on more than one occasion, and was brimming with talent before suffering a devastating knee injury his senior year. Because of this, he lasted til the 4th round of the 2010, and has been fighting injuries ever since.

Throughout the San Diego game, Thurmond looked like a guy that hadn't seen live action since last fall. He showed good overall technique, but seemed timid in coverage at points. He got beat on a go route and a crossing route because he didn't step up and get his hands on the receiver, instead letting them go free. Lucky for him, neither resulted in completions. He showed some promise in the slot, but guessed wrong on a couple rub and option routes. When Walt did give up completions, like on a quick out late in the 2nd quarter, he closed quickly and made the tackle. He was a plus in run support as well, stoning a running back on a power left for little gain.

Despite showing certain amounts of uncertainty in his first game in ages, Thurmond showed many promising attributes. He brings something to the table that the starters in Browner and Sherman don't, elite speed and quickness. He can make up any gap a receiver creates in a mere few steps, which is invaluable for a corner. Thurm kept everything in front of him as well, only getting beat by Keenan Allen once out of the slot in the 2nd quarter. The next two games will be key for Thurmond, as he should continue to acclimate to full game speed.

Byron Maxwell #41

Maxwell wasn't quite as heralded coming out of Clemson a year after Thurmond, but his career has been just as injury riddled. A lower round pick like Thurmond, Maxwell has never quite been right health wise since being in the NFL, and can benefit from a strong showing throughout training camp and the preseason.

Maxwell did plenty to help his standing after his performance against San Diego. He hasn't gotten as much hype this training camp as Thurmond, but seemed the more comfortable one out there on Thursday night. He took more gambles on balls, with one of them turning into an interception of a Clipboard Jesus deep out. He got to the ball and receiver at the perfect time, showing that he was not going to let his injury plagued past affect his playing style.

 Maxwell worked exclusively on the outside against San Diego receivers, as he does not have the elite speed and quickness that Thurmond possesses to play inside. He has smooth enough hips, but sometimes gets too high when coming up to jam at the line. His aggressive mentality bit him on at least one occasion, as he held a receiver while jockeying for position and was flagged. He still made a great play on the ball, but wouldn't have been in that position had he not held.

Moving Forward to Preseason Week #2

Thurmond and Maxwell have followed very similar career paths thus far, and are in very similar positions heading into the next preseason game versus Denver. With Peyton Manning at the helm of a very potent offense that features Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and the newly acquired Wes Welker, the secondary should be tested in all facets. Thurmond may get a shot with the 1's at nickel corner, and he will need to show he is becoming more comfortable in the slot against Wes Welker, one of the games best slot receivers. Maxwell will need to show he can build off of last weeks success and be consistent. Ultimately, both Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond should make the final 53. Barring anymore injuries, they will demand more playing time in a secondary already rich with talent.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Takeaways from Seattle vs San Diego

The Seattle Seahawks went down to Qualcomm stadium last night and put on a show. They defeated the San Diego Chargers 31-10, and seemed to physically dominate almost the entire game. If you look at the box score, you'll see a 21 point win, and nothing more, but these preseason games are about much more than just W's and L's(unless you're Different Doug Baldwin). These games are where people make a name for themselves, seize opportunities, and don't look back, a la Russell Wilson. But for every Russell Wilson there are multiple Nick Reeds, players who flash with the 2's and 3's, making the team, and flaming out once we get to Sundays. Last night showed some potential Wilson's, some potential Reed's, and some team wide surprises.

 Knocking Off the Rust

2 plays for Marshawn Lynch with 0 carries, 2 completions for Russell Wilson for 23 yards, and 2 first team offensive drives that didn't make it into San Diego territory. After listening to 710 Seattle this morning, it sounded as if it was week 10 and we were playing offense like the 1976 Bucs. I understand that we all wanted to see the 50 burgers the Seahawks were throwing down against Buffalo and Arizona last year, and just see the offense pick up where it was in September, but that is frankly outlandish to expect, especially in the first pre season game. This offense is built to run the ball, control the clock, limit turnovers, and come from behind when it has to. This is also a time when teams are still trying to get in sync as a whole, and missing your number one receiver in Sidney Rice and number one tight end in Zach Miller certainly doesn't help that. It is much to early to be worrying about the first team O. If this continues the whole preseason, then panic, but for now, lets pump the brakes.

We Are Watching Future Jaguars

After watching the ones perform below their lofty standards, the two's and three's came in and just flat out took over. The two rookie backs in Christine Michael and Spencer Ware did not disappoint in their first NFL action. Michael had 89 yards on 16 carries, showing great burst, decisive cuts, and a flashy spin move. Surprisingly, 89 yards surpassed an of Michael's game totals from his senior year at Texas A&M. Spencer Ware didn't sit back and let Michael steal the show either. He showed tough running inside and decent pass pro for a rookie, even setting up a T Jack TD by chipping just enough on a SD LB. The secondary looks like the single deepest unit in all of football. The LOB is as advertised, but the second teamers are what were the most impressing. Byron Maxwell had a great break on a Clipboard Jesus deep out and got the pick. Walter Thurmond was seeing his first action in a while, giving up some completions, but quickly making the tackle and never really getting beat. There are going to be some difficult decisions when the first roster cuts come, which will have coaches like Gus Bradley down in Jacksonville circling like a vulture, waiting for much needed secondary talent.

New Look Defense?

Upon the re-hiring of Dan Quinn from the Florida Gators to take over the defense, some changes were to be expected up and down the defense. He is more aggressive than Bradley, but a disciple of Gus nonetheless, which is why the look of the Seattle D on 1st, 2nd, and obvious run situations was surprising. The Hawks went almost exclusively 3-4 in these situations while switching to a base 4-3 on 3rd downs. While in the 3-4 hybrid, Big Red, Mebane, and rookie 5th round pick Jesse Williams had their hands in the dirt, providing a formidable mass of girth for an opposing o-line to move. I expect to see Tony McDaniel to be starting over Williams at that spot when he is fully healthy and ready to go. Aside from the Leo (Mike Morgan in this case) standing up, it didn't operate much different than the 4-3, but it was a very different look for the Hawks.

UDFA's Paving Their Ways To Roster Spots

Alvin. Friggin. Bailey. Wow. A right guard, A RIGHT GUARD, during his RS Junior year at Arkansas, Bailey just dominated during his time at left tackle last night. If you go back and watch the drives in the 3rd and 4th quarter, you can see why that's where Christine Michael gained most of his yards. Granted it was against 2's and 3's of a rebuilding San Diego team, but it was still exciting to watching another PC/JS UDFA gem start to shine. If he duplicates his performance and remains consistent, he should get a look with the first team somewhere along the line. Carroll and Schneider have not shied away from throwing a rookie into the fire, and Bailey looks like he could be up to the challenge. The ultimate test would be against the Green Bay OLB Clay Matthews in week 3 of the preseason, but lets see how he does next week first.

Benson Mayowa was the defensive equivalent of Bailey last night. He gave plenty of examples of why he received the moniker "Baby Clem" from some of his peers on the D-line. He has a good enough get off, but used his hands well for the most part, which is difficult for most rookies to grasp coming from college to the NFL. Mayowa was credited for 1.5 sacks (He should have a full 2), and pressured Clipboard Jesus on multiple other occasions. With how thin the Leo position suddenly has become with Avril & Clem hurt, Mayowa shows promising signs of being able to lock down a spot on the D-line. Like Bailey, Mayowa should get a look with the 1's at some point if Carroll continues to like what he sees from the Idaho product.

Other Notes:

-If you had any doubts about T Jack when Quinn was put in the game first after Wilson, Jackson put those to bed with a stellar performance

-Steven Williams benefited form Jackson's lights out passing show, hauling in two deep balls of 40+ yards to make up for a drop earlier in the game.

-John Lotulelei played like a cliche; he moved literally like his hair was on fire. He flew all over the place, sometimes over pursuing the play, but mostly showing good instincts and a nose for the ball.

-Nobody separated themselves in the return game, but Thurmond had a nice long return and Will Blackmon showed some great moves on a return in the second half.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Preseason Names to Know: Seattle vs. San Diego 8/8/13

It's finally here. The wait is over. We made it. The long off-season of Mariner highs, Mariner lows, and getting our hearts ripped out by David Stern's pompous ass is over. The 2013 Seahawks are upon us. The sexy pick of all the four-letter network shows have big expectations to live up to for the first time in years, and frankly, it's weird as hell being the hunted. It's going to be quite a roller coaster ride, one we can only hope keeps rolling all the way to New York in February. Now as much as we all want to flash forward and see Wilson holding up the Lombardi, the fun is just beginning, starting with the preseason.

The training camp leading up to this first preseason game with San Diego has been one unlike any other I've witnessed. There is youth in many places, and just the right amount of veteran presence. 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year players fill prominent positions across the board, and they have a head coach that has the stones to trust them. Although most would be completely content with rolling out the same starting 22 as we did last year, there are still some question marks on this team. The question marks may not be huge, may not be vital, and there may not be a wrong answer, but they are there. Going into this game with San Diego, there a few numbers to keep an eye out for on Thursday:

 Benson Mayowa #95/Pos: Leo End/Exp: Rookie/Height: 6'3"/Weight: 252

Mayowa has been more than a pleasant surprise this training camp. After winning the staff over during mini-camp, he has done nothing but seize the opportunity he created. Looking at just the numbers, you can see why Mayowa was undrafted coming out of Idaho. He barely achieved double digit sacks during his four years in Moscow, and frankly, playing in the Kibbie dome doesn't get you much exposure either. Mayowa looks the part of a player who can blossom at the right time, not having a stellar college career, only to make the most of his talents in the NFL. Benson is definitely benefiting from extra reps with Avril and Clem being sidelined and the move of Irvin to LB. He should get plenty of playing time against the Chargers, and should open a lot of eyes to what he is capable of.

Walter Thurmond III #28/Pos: Cornerback/Exp: 4th year/Height: 5'11"/Weight: 190

Seeing Thurm dominate the way he has this training camp proves what most people that follow the Hawks already know: the dude can flat out ball. An elite talent coming out of Oregon, he lasted til the 4th round in 2010 only because he was coming off a devastating knee injury that tore 3 ligaments. He has the skill set and physical talent of a first-rounder, and has flashed that potential in regular season games. He is not a question mark, he is a known quantity, and he is ready to make the jump this year. He has great size for a corner at 5'11" 190, even though he may seem small next to the twin towers of Sherm and Browner. However, Thurm has traits that set him apart from his behemoth CB brethren: he has elite speed, extremely fluid hips, and can play inside and out. This will be the year that Walter seizes opportunity by the throat, and takes it all the way back to the house.
Jermaine Kearse #15/Pos: Receiver/Exp: 2nd year/Height: 6'1"/Weight: 209

Any one who has watched Husky football at all during the past 5 years knows who Jermaine Kearse is. The top target for the likes of Jake Locker and Keith Price, Kearse had a very productive career at Montlake. He racked up over 150 receptions, 2000 yards, and 20 touchdowns in his four years there, and many, including myself, saw him as a late round talent. Kearse went undrafted last year, but caught on with the Seahawks and won a roster spot for the regular season. He saw limited action, hauling in only 3 receptions for 31 yards. Kearse has created alot of hype so far this year with his performance in camp. He is more consistent, has a better grasp on the offense, and isn't dropping balls anymore. Kearse is a name to watch for the 4th receiver spot that became available when heralded off-season acquisition Percy Harvin underwent hip surgery. He has performed well thus far, and it should transfer over to the San Diego game.

There are many more story lines that will branch off as the pre-season progresses, but Kearse, Mayowa, and Thurmond seem to be the winners of training camp thus far. The San Diego game is a big step, as things often change when the bullets start flying. These three have a lot on the line, but seemed poised to meet the challenge this year. They are definitely more than capable of making the coaching staff pay attention to them, and will do some head turning tomorrow night.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How the Mariners Ruined Shark Week

The beginning of August.

The unbearably hot days here in the Tri-Cities, slightly bearable nights, family trips to Oregon, Warped Tour at the Gorge, Seahawks camp, one more month before school, and at least two more months of Mariners baseball. The start of August was something I marked on the calendar and waited for, year after year. Coming and going like a flash in the 106 degree pan that is my car at 8 AM, this month was kicked off every year by one pinnacle event: Shark Week.

Shark Week had become a beacon on the horizon, a glimmer of hope that the best of summer was yet to come. The best week of the year was a hell of a way to kick off the best month of the year. Sitting my ass on the couch, grabbing a drink, and watching a 17 foot Great White toss a seal out of the water like it was a beach ball at a graduation ceremony. Yes Shark Week was a symbol of everything good in life, everything great ahead, and nothing I thought nothing could take that away.

I was wrong.

What had once been something anticipated and sought after became a harbinger of anguish and despair. The meaning of Shark Week had turned on me like a pissed off Tiger Shark on an old truck tire, and there was nothing I could do about it. Even if I turned off Discovery and ignored the promos for the greatest programming week known to man, I still couldn't escape what it foretold: the inevitable letdown that is my beloved Seattle Mariners.

You see up to a point, the Mariners were a bright spot of my childhood. I was lucky enough to see Junior, the Big Unit, Edgar, A-Rod and many other Mariner greats in their heyday. I got my head buzzed on Buhner buzz cut night on multiple occasions. I was at the opening home stand at Safeco the inaugural season. I remember the 2001 season, the anticipation and anxiety leading up to win 116, and the letdown in the post season. All of these things were signaled by the start of my favorite week on cable TV.

The meaning of that week began to change for me. Junior, Lou, Buhner, Edgar, Johnson, and many others all left. Ichiro carried the flag, but reluctantly, never truly comfortable being a leader on teams that desperately needed one. The rotating door at manager kept spinning faster and faster, veterans band aids were signed, and Niehaus went to the big broadcast booth in the sky.  Prospects that were supposed to pan out for us were traded away, and became stalwarts on other teams. Prospects we dealt for did the opposite. August turned from a month of promise to a month of disdain.

The weight Shark Week carried continued to grow. It took away post season aspirations and replaced them with hopes for next year, then turning those hopes for next year into doubts. With Shark Week came more questions than answers. Who would lead the team? Who would manage it? Does anybody know how to hit? Does anybody know how to scout? What is Jack Z smoking? What the #@&* is this plan?!

It became hard to love the Mariners, they wouldn't let me. I instead focused on the NFL off season, college recruiting, and counting down the days until training camp. I went from hearing Rick Rizz daily on my commute to turning the dial. The Seahawks became all I cared about, and the Mariners were an ex-girlfriend I hoped I didn't run into.

As much as Shark Week is now the bell that tolls when the Mariners season becomes worthless, this year seemed different. Right from the get go, it seemed harder to ignore the siren call off Rick Rizz when I hit 1340AM on the scanner. I had a harder time ignoring when I would hear the play backs of Dave yelling his signature phrases. Hell, I even started to warm up to Aaron Goldsmith. There was something about the beginning of this year that I just couldn't ignore, and I couldn't put my finger on it.

Maybe it was the early homers of Mike Morse, the 1st half age-defiance of Raul, or the jolt of youth with Miller, Franklin and Zunino. Maybe it was the continued growth of Seager, the addition of a veteran in Morales actually working out, or Smoak showing signs of life. Maybe it was Felix actually getting some damn run support. For some reason I hung on for a lot longer than usual. I was waiting for a let down all along, but began to ignore the possibility as the 8 game win streak commenced. Right as I was ready to float off the ground, the bottom fell out.

Zunino got hurt, Raul realized he's closer in age to Henry Blanco than he would like to be, the Bartender got bounced, and Franklin forgot how to hit. On top of all of that, Wedge is missing significant time with recovering from a stroke. Everything that could go wrong has, right as the grim reaper of weeks approached. Shark Week held true to form, clamping its jaws down on whatever hope I had left for the post season. It squeezed the life out of this year with a suspect performance from the King and no run support yet again. The season is bleeding out, and Shark Week is circling in for the kill.

This Shark week is different from the others. While this one killed its prey as efficiently as a Mako, it left something behind, genuine hope. There is hope for next year. The youth movement shows that the cupboard is not bare, and there is more to come in the likes of Tai Walker and Danny Hultzen. Veterans like Morse and Morales want to stay, and the front office wants to make it happen. The Mariners even seem to have found their own Russel Wilson in Mike Zunino. Yes this year maybe dead in the water, but next year is just starting to kick.

The promos are going, Mike Rowe is narrating, and the sharks are circling in. The 2013 Mariners are done for. The ship is sinking, and not much can be saved in the ways of competitiveness this season. It seems like all the other Shark Weeks, but it isn't. This year I'll still probably be watching way too many slo-mo's of a Shark treating a seagull like a McNugget, but only after I watch the M's let another one slip through there fingers. Maybe I've become used to it, a glutton for punishment, or maybe, just maybe, there is something building in Seattle. Something that will make August meaningful, make it worth watching, and a little less depressing.

So here's to hope, youth, the Plan, and that Wedge gets well. To Zunino's wrist, Raul's age, Franklin's swing, and Miller's fielding. To the past 11 years of playoff drought, the prayers for some rain, and taking Shark Week back for good!