Russell Wilson threw a check-down pass to Robert Turbin during a seven-on-seven drill at Seahawks training camp on August 19. Turbin escaped a linebacker and blew past corner Richard Sherman. Sherman didn’t give up on the play, though. Before being forced out of bounds, he poked the ball from Turbin’s grasp. Safety Earl Thomas immediately went up to praise Sherman for delivering the message that can be heard echoing from every Seahawks facility: Earn everything.
After their narrow defeat in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks are looking for a third straight NFC title. Thanks to a highly productive off-season of locking up current stars as well as adding new threats, the franchise may have its deepest and most talented roster yet. The road to Super Bowl 50 will again run right through Seattle.
The Seahawks began their off-season with arguably the biggest move in the league: General Manager John Schneider traded center Max Unger and the team's first-round draft pick (No. 31 overall) to the Saints, who sent three-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham to the Pacific Northwest.
Schneider didn't stop there. In the draft, he added defensive end Frank Clark and receiver Tyler Lockett, two rookies who are expected to make an immediate impact in the pass rush and return game, respectively.
Next, the Hawks ensured their current leaders would stay in Seattle for years to come. After months of discussions, Schneider signed Wilson to a four-year, $87 million contract extension, making him the second-highest paid quarterback in the league behind Aaron Rodgers.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner signed a four-year extension as well, meaning that the core of the team — Wilson, Wagner, Thomas, Graham, and Sherman, along with defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, safety Kam Chancellor, and running back Marshawn Lynch — should be in Seattle through at least 2017.
Perhaps the Seahawks' biggest question mark this season will be their offensive line. With Unger now in New Orleans and left guard James Carpenter signing with the Jets in free agency, the Hawks are missing two of the better players from a unit that incurred the most false-start penalties last season.
Factoring out the O-line though, the Seahawks have one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL. Wilson has shown that he can slice through defenses by passing from the pocket or while scrambling, or by moving the ball himself. Aided by the powerful running of Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks ranked first in rushing yards last year (172.6 yards per game). Plus, Seattle now has a big, vertical receiving threat at tight end in Graham.
The Seahawks defensive line is shaping up to be as good as the line that won the Super Bowl in 2013. Ends Bennett and Avril, both starters, return, and they’ll have solid backups in the rookie Clark and second-year pro Cassius Marsh, who was out for most of last season with a broken foot. Run-stuffing defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, who missed time last year with a pulled hamstring, is also healthy.
This will be a pivotal season for Bruce Irvin, at strong-side linebacker, and Seattle newcomer Cary Williams, at right corner.
Irvin, entering his fourth year in the league, is supported by K.J. Wright on the weak side and Wagner in the middle. While a threat in the pass rush, Irvin has previously struggled to tackle in the run game, recording just 24 total tackles in 2014. By comparison, the Seahawks’ other two linebackers, Wagner and K.J. Wright, combined for 140 total tackles. With Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith now with the Raiders, Irvin can no longer be just a role player.
In the secondary, the Hawks will welcome back three of the four members of the Legion of Boom after losing corner Byron Maxwell to Philadelphia in free agency. Williams, an eighth-year veteran who signed in free agency, will try to fill the large gap left by Maxwell opposite All-Pro corner Sherman and join a long line of shutdown defensive backs in Seattle.
If the Seahawks solidify their offensive line, Irvin steps up his game, and Williams fills the hole in the secondary, Seattle should finish the season in a very familiar place: at the Super Bowl.
Photos: Elaine Thompson/AP (Wilson, Graham), Stephen Brashear/AP (Lynch, Bennett)