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As NFL combine starts, Seahawks already 'have what we need'

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Pete Carroll thinks the Seahawks are poised to stay in the title hunt with the players they have, so consider it a bonus that they will bring back some of their 19 pending free agents and that they get to draft a new class of college players.

"We have what we need," the coach said a few days after his team won the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. "We just need to get back to work when the time comes – with the right attitude and the right focus -- and that’s all I’m concerned about.

"We’ll have the opportunity to add some players to our team through the draft and all; we’ll take a good look at free agency," Carroll added. "There are some very difficult decisions and things that we’ll have to make, as you always do at this time of year. (But) I don’t see anything that we need to add. We just need to get better."

That might seem like a little bit of Super Bowl champion bravado, but everyone knows the Hawks can win it again next season with the core they have returning.

As they prepare to check out a new crop of rookies at the NFL combine this week in preparation for the May 8-10 draft, the fact is the Hawks already have a draft class waiting to contribute. Most of the 2013 rookies did not help much last season because the Hawks had veterans at their spots.

The Hawks are now in the mode where they are drafting ahead for many positions, creating contingencies in the case of free-agent losses.

In the worst scenario this year, they will lose five starters in free agency. But they have potential replacements for all of them: Percy Harvin for wide receiver Golden Tate; 2013 rookie Michael Bowie for right tackle Breno Giacomini; Bowie, James Carpenter or 2013 rookie Alvin Bailey for left guard Paul McQuistan; Bruce Irvin or 2013 rookie Benson Mayowa for defensive end Chris Clemons; 2013 rookie Jordan Hill for defensive tackle Tony McDaniel.

The one guy they might not be able to easily replace is versatile sack leader Michael Bennett. If they lose him in free agency, it will perhaps make them look a little harder at defensive linemen in the draft.

Otherwise, they will depend largely on their mostly inactive 2013 class to fill in the blanks in 2014.

Of the 17 first-year players who finished last season with Seattle in some capacity (roster, practice squad, injured reserve, etc.), only Bowie and tight end Luke Willson got much action.

Second-round pick Christine Michael languished on the bench almost all season while Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin carried the load. Unless he simply cannot grasp concepts such as blitz pickup, the mercurial Michael figures to get involved in 2014.

Third-round pick Hill had some injury issues and was otherwise not really needed on a deep D-line in 2013. He should play a much bigger role in 2014.

Fifth-round pick Willson had a typical rookie season, but he showed he is good enough to be the No. 2 tight end behind Zach Miller. He should improve in 2014.

The other fifth-rounders, defensive tackle Jesse Williams (knee) and cornerback Tharold Simon (foot), missed the season with injuries. Carroll said Williams "is doing really well" in his recovery from a knee issue, but Simon apparently will have surgery on his other foot. Their availability for 2014 is still in question, so either will be a bonus if he makes it back.

Sixth-round running back Spencer Ware played in two games before an ankle injury sidelined him for the rest of the season in October. He is facing a DUI charge, which could negatively affect his standing on the roster.

Bowie, a seventh-rounder, started eight games at right tackle and started at left guard in the playoff game against New Orleans. If Giacomini is not brought back, Bowie is the favorite to start at right tackle. If Giacomini is back, Bowie could compete at left guard. Either way, Bowie seems to have a shot at a starting spot in 2014.

Fellow seventh-rounder Jared Smith, the converted defensive lineman, spent the season on the practice squad learning how to play center and guard. It remains to be seen whether he learned enough to make the 53-man roster this year.

Mayowa, who was undrafted, played in the first two games and then – once Cliff Avril and Clemons returned -- was inactive for the rest of the season. Clemons is likely to be released, which means Mayowa will have a chance to earn playing time at the LEO spot.

In addition to those guys, the Hawks have a dozen other young players who will compete for roster spots and playing time. Carroll's staff has spent most of the past year working with many of them, which is why Carroll is not too concerned about losing free agents.

And then there are this year's rookies.

The Hawks have seven picks but probably will end up with about 10, based on general manager John Schneider's MO of moving down to acquire extra late-rounders (they have yet to make fewer than nine picks in any of his four drafts).

They have plenty of positions to use them on, with current and future needs on both lines, at receiver, at linebacker and at cornerback.

Even if they are able to bring back Bennett, Giacomini and Tate, they still need to improve their offensive line and draft reinforcements at the other positions.

Recent mock drafts have projected the Seahawks taking linemen or receivers with the 32nd overall pick. Of course, that means they probably will take a cornerback, tight end or kicker, right?

It's quite obvious that the Seahawks' No. 1 need is along the offensive line. Two starters will be free agents and -- beyond center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung -- most of the rest have very little experience and questionable starting ability.

Carroll's central theme is competition, and in that spirit the Hawks seem likely to add a couple of linemen.

Tennessee tackle Antonio Richardson, UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, Stanford guard David Yankey and Virginia tackle Morgan Moses are among the blockers the Hawks could see at pick No. 32.

At defensive tackle, where the Hawks could lose three key players, they have been mocked in the first round with Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt and Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald.

At receiver, the Hawks' first pick has been linked to Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin and Penn State's Allen Robinson, among others.

Just like last year, few of the draft picks will be expected to contribute right away. The Hawks have established a young core of reserves they have been teaching their systems and preparing to replace expensive free agents and overpriced vets.

Of course, this draft is considered one of the best in a decade, so it is quite possible the Hawks get contributions out of more rookies in 2014 – and not because they are forced into action too early (like Bowie was).

But, like last year, the Hawks are mainly drafting ahead again – looking to build depth and create successors in case players end up leaving.

The positions with the biggest possible turnover via free agency/cuts this year and next are defensive line (six), linebacker (five), secondary (five, not counting extension priorities Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman), wide receiver (five) and offensive line (four).

You have to think the Hawks will try to add to each of those five areas in this draft – perhaps doubling up at spots where they could use more competition this year (ahem, O-line). And many think they will try to draft a tight end again as well.

If they get contributions out of any of the rookies this year, it will be a nice bonus, because the Hawks have an entire draft class from 2013 that is poised to step up and help put together another Super Bowl run in 2014.

Carroll said it himself: "We have what we need."

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