Positioning

Seahawks OTA takeaways: Noah Fant stands out; 2019 draft picks get more opportunities – The Athletic

future-dyanmics

The Seahawks held their second organized team activity open to the media on Tuesday, and watching these two practices is a reminder of how much this team is banking on significant contributions from its 2019 draft class.
DK Metcalf, the last pick of the second round that year, has obviously been a stud from the beginning and should be one of the highest-paid receivers in the league soon. Everyone else in Seattle’s class is fighting for the right to sign a second contract.
Seattle declined to pick up defensive tackle L.J. Collier’s $11.5 million fifth-year option for the 2023 season, meaning the 2019 first-round pick is on an expiring deal (with a $3.4 million cap hit). Collier is someone coach Pete Carroll spotlighted on May 23, saying he wants to see the fourth-year lineman emerge as a pass rusher. Defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said Tuesday he wants to see “continued growth” from Collier this season.
Collier’s rookie year was hampered by an ankle injury. He played just 11 games, was inactive three times as a healthy scratch and didn’t register a quarterback hit. Collier started all 16 games in 2020 and was more productive, registering three sacks and seven quarterback hits. He was a healthy scratch on seven occasions last season.
Re-signing Quinton Jefferson and acquiring Shelby Harris via trade is an indication Collier still needs to grind his way back into the rotation. But because Harris, Jefferson and defensive tackle Poona Ford aren’t taking any reps right now, Collier is getting an opportunity to show whether he can be trusted with a legitimate role in the defense.
“Sometimes for young guys, particularly with defensive linemen, it’s such a technical position,” Hurtt said. “It takes time for those guys to learn things and figure it out, to come into this league and for things to kind of slow down for them. Out of the entire group of guys on defense, he’s had one of the better springs out of everyone. Really excited for him and where he’s going. Continue to be strong in the run game. He’s come in bigger, stronger and faster than what he has been in previous years. Been rushing the passer really well. Just want to continue to see him stack days.”
Cody Barton is in a similar situation. He’s never had a full-time inside linebacker role in Seattle’s defense. The 2019 third-round pick is finally getting that opportunity.
“Oh my god, that dude flies around,” third-year edge rusher Darrell Taylor said Tuesday. “That’s what I’ve seen from the first day I got here. Him stepping up and everything now, it’s exciting to see.”
Seattle had one of the best run defenses in the league last season and it obviously wants to continue that success with Barton starting beside Jordyn Brooks. It also needs to see Barton thrive in the passing game. The Seahawks’ split-safety defense leaves the middle of the field vulnerable, meaning offenses will often attack that space in passing situations. The inside linebackers need to be adept at route recognition while possessing the speed and athleticism to run with tight ends up the seam, drive on underneath routes and deny crossing patterns over the middle.
Barton has played just 143 coverage snaps over the past two seasons and registered one pass breakup. The Seahawks this year want to see if he can be productive on the ball in an expanded role. It’s no coincidence that Hurtt mentioned that element of Barton’s game on Tuesday.
“He’s always had a great awareness for that,” Hurtt said. “He’s got a background being a safety growing up and is obviously working his way down into the box. You see some of those things with his awareness picking up pass routes, the communication with guys on the back end. Really excited for him for the opportunity. The effort, the attention to detail for Cody has always been a part of it, but now he has the opportunity and he’s had a really nice spring so far.”
Ugo Amadi has essentially been a starter for the past two seasons. Seattle would have liked to see Amadi and his fellow 2019 draft classmate Marquise Blair compete for that starting nickel job, but the latter hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Seattle wasn’t comfortable not having anyone to compete with Amadi this offseason, so it reunited with Justin Coleman, who in 2018 was one of the best nickel corners in the league.
As Blair recovers from yet another season-ending knee injury, Amadi and Coleman — both on one-year deals — are battling to be the No. 1 nickel. Coleman has taken most of the first-team reps that I’ve seen but that may not mean he’s ahead in the competition. With Quandre Diggs not practicing, Amadi has had to run with the ones at safety while also running with the twos at nickel.
How often Seattle has five defensive backs on the field will largely be determined by down-and-distance, matchups and offensive personnel, but it’s an essential position nonetheless. Amadi has been effective in that role the past two seasons, but bringing Coleman back is a reminder of how impactful that position can be. Coleman in two seasons with the Seahawks (2017-2018) had 19 passes defensed, three interceptions and three defensive touchdowns (two pick-sixes, one scoop-and-score). That’s the type of production Seattle wants from its fifth defensive back.
If Amadi develops into that sort of player, he’ll elevate the secondary and play his way into a new contract. Hurtt on Tuesday complimented Amadi’s ability to disguise his assignment before the snap, making it difficult for the quarterback to determine whether he’s coming on a blitz or dropping into coverage. Hurtt also noted that Amadi has some background in Seattle’s Vic Fangio-inspired defensive scheme. At Oregon, Amadi played for assistant coach Jim Leavitt, who spent four seasons with Fangio in San Francisco.
“A lot of these things that we’re doing are familiar to him schematically,” Hurtt said. “His awareness with routes, seeing the ball and communicating with guys and the pickups is where he’s strong at.”
Gabe Jackson’s decision to skip these voluntary practices has led to Phil Haynes being inserted into the starting lineup at right guard. Haynes was a fourth-round pick in 2019 and has hardly been on the field in three seasons. He didn’t make his first regular-season start until Week 17 of last season, filling in for Damien Lewis at left guard. He filled in for Jackson at right guard the following week. Haynes is on a one-year, $2.5 million contract this season. He’s not slated to be a starter this season but he’s effectively replacing Jamarco Jones as one of the team’s primary swingmen on the interior offensive line. That’s a fairly important role considering how difficult it is to keep players healthy for an entire 17-game season.
The other member of the 2019 class on an expiring deal is running back Travis Homer, whose role as the primary pass-blocking back in obvious passing situations hasn’t changed. He led all Seattle running backs in third-down snaps last season and will likely do the same in 2022.
The long-term question with Homer is whether Seattle values his pass protection enough to keep him around beyond this season. In the short term, though, the Seahawks will once again rely on Homer to keep the quarterback’s jersey clean on the most important down of the game. Because Seattle figures to be a run-heavy team on early downs this season, there’s even more pressure on the pass-protection group on third downs. Even though the offensive line is what often comes to mind when talking about protection, Homer is a big part of that as well.
Other notes/quotes from the second open practice:
These players did not attend Tuesday’s practice: Diggs, Metcalf, Jackson, Blair, strong safety Jamal Adams, cornerback Tre Brown, defensive tackles Al Woods, Harris and Jefferson, edge defender Alton Robinson and running back Chris Carson. Rookie cornerback Coby Bryant and tight end Noah Fant have rejoined the action since missing practice on May 23.
Tuesday was the first opportunity to see Fant practice with his new teammates and he made a nice early impression. He scored a pair of touchdowns in seven-on-seven drills, first on a pass from Geno Smith, then another from Drew Lock.
The defensive backs can’t challenge pass catchers because of the league’s offseason rules but that likely wouldn’t have made a difference on Fant’s two touchdowns. On the first one, there appeared to be a breakdown in communication between Barton and cornerback Artie Burns, allowing the tight end to slip between the defenders and catch a nice touch pass from Smith. The second touchdown was a fade ball from Lock in the red zone. Fant just jumped over Burns for that one. You can tell that’s a ball Lock is comfortable throwing to Fant because of all the reps they’ve had together while playing for the Broncos.
Keep getting better 📶#GoHawks x @nrfant pic.twitter.com/hVd1sqsCZC
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) May 31, 2022

Burns got a bit of revenge later in practice. He ended the day with a pass breakup in the red zone during seven-on-seven. Smith tried to squeeze a ball to receiver Cade Johnson in a tight window but the defensive back flew in and swatted it away. Burns is familiar with Seattle’s defensive scheme after playing for assistant coach Sean Desai last year in Chicago.
“In talking with Sean, what he’s impressed about with Artie is how much more comfortable Artie is in Year 2 of the system,” Hurtt said. “He’s really grabbed that and ran with it.”
Speaking of Desai, safety Ryan Neal gave a glowing review of his new coach Tuesday. Neal spoke highly of new secondary coach Karl Scott as well.
“I love them both,” Neal said. “I think Sean Desai is a freakin’ professor. He sits in the lab watching film all day. The things he says in meetings is like, ‘Dude, I never thought about it like that before.’ A real football nerd. Then K-Scott is just energy, he’s the enthusiasm, he’s on you. He’s intense. We can be talking and he can be writing something on the board and call your name and not look at you. He catches you off guard. The one-two punch with them two, I think, is going to be awesome. I think it’s going to be dope.”
(Top photo of Noah Fant: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

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