As the Seahawks prepare to start training camp this week, they are a better team than they were a year ago.
That's scary news for any team that thought it might be able to prevent the Seahawks from winning back-to-back Super Bowls. It's also why we project them to go 13-3 and win the Super Bowl again.
Last year at this time, the Seahawks were Super Bowl favorites. They followed through on that expectation, and they are in the same spot again -- with a better team.
"Right now I definitely believe we’re way further ahead. It’s exciting," Wilson said last month after the Hawks finished their minicamp. "You have an itch because you know how to do it at a very high level, and the best part about it is we can continue to do it better. There are a lot more ways that we can be better. There are a lot more ways that I can be better. And that’s the great part about it."
Asked if the team was better now than it was last June, Carroll said, "Yeah," and then listed off six position groups and reasons they are better. The only spots he did not call out were quarterback (no need), the kickers (why?) and the offensive line (everyone knows it's still the weak link).
With returning stars, so-called redshirts and new additions, Seattle's roster is busting at the seams with talent, and competition for spots will be intense over the next six weeks.
The competition is toughest along the defensive line and at receiver, and Carroll and his staff will have to make some hard choices.
It sure seems as though they might end up keeping six wide receivers this year.
They typically have gone with five full-time pass catchers -- bumping to six only when injuries have left them short.
Percy Harvin and Doug Baldwin are the projected starters, with Jermaine Kearse the favorite for the No. 3 role. Second-rounder Paul Richardson has to be a lock as well, and fourth-rounder Kevin Norwood seems like a strong favorite after showing well in minicamps.
So, already we are at five, and that does not even take into consideration Sidney Rice, young vets Ricardo Lockette and Bryan Walters or CFL import Chris Matthews.
Six receivers would seem a luxury for a team that throws the ball less than almost every team in the NFL. And if they do keep six receivers, can they even consider keeping Terrelle Pryor as their third quarterback? It would mean keeping just four running backs (a near impossibility for this team) or eight offensive linemen (at least one too few).
It seems unlikely they would take a spot from the even more talented defense, where every position group has great battles among the backups and the defensive line is loaded after the addition of veteran All-Pro Kevin Williams.
So there you have it: The competition for roster spots is going to be fierce.
Here's a position-by-position look:
Lock: Russell Wilson
Top contenders: Tarvaris Jackson, Terrelle Pryor
Other contender: B.J. Daniels
Situation: The last time Carroll carried three quarterbacks for a full season was in 2011, when Josh Portis was inactive behind Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst for almost the entire year. Last season, the Hawks claimed Daniels off waivers on Oct. 2 and moved him to the practice squad on Nov. 18. They might go with three again, if they feel Pryor (pictured) is worth keeping. It is hard to imagine him beating out Jackson for the No. 2 job, but his upside could be too great for him to not make the roster -- unless he just completely fouls it up in August. A third QB is a bit of a luxury on NFL rosters these days, and it doesn't sound like Pryor is willing to work at tight end or receiver to turn it into a flex roster spot, so the Hawks could face a tough call here.
Locks: Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael
Contenders: Derrick Coleman, Spencer Ware, Kiero Small, Demitrius Bronson
Situation: Lynch reportedly wants a raise and there still is a chance he does not report to training camp on time. But that situation seems very likely to be resolved one way or another, and Lynch surely will carry the ball for Seattle again in 2014. Meanwhile, the overall position has improved. Michael (pictured) seems ready to contribute this year and push Turbin for playing time. The Hawks went with five backs last season, although Michael was inactive for almost the entire season. Assuming Lynch decides to play, it appears Coleman, Ware and Small will battle for the final two spots. The Hawks could end up keeping just four, but that seems unlikely considering how much they prefer to run the ball and their need for at least one dual-threat fullback.
Locks: Zach Miller, Luke Willson
Contenders: Anthony McCoy, Cooper Helfet, Chase Dixon, RaShaun Allen
Situation: The Hawks typically keep three, which means McCoy (pictured) will try to hold off the younger players and reclaim his spot after missing 2013 with an Achilles injury.
Locks: Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse
Top contenders: Paul Richardson, Kevin Norwood, Sidney Rice, Ricardo Lockette, Bryan Walters
Other contenders: Phil Bates, Arceto Clark, Chris Matthews, Taylor Price, Kevin Smith
Situation: Even though Golden Tate is gone, this is probably the most talented receiving corps the Hawks have had under Carroll. Richardson and Norwood have to be favorites to make the team, which means Rice (pictured, coming off an ACL) could be the odd man out unless the Hawks go with six receivers -- something they almost never do. If the Hawks do keep six, special-teams ability will factor in big -- another knock against Rice. OC Darrell Bevell continually mentions Lockette's speed, and Lockette plays special teams, so he could have the edge for the sixth spot -- if there is a sixth spot.
Carroll said: "I love the competition at receiver and the speed at receiver right now – it’s a really exciting group for us. It’s going to be a great group to watch in camp."
Locks: LT Russell Okung, LG James Carpenter, C Max Unger, RG J.R. Sweezy
Top contenders: OT Justin Britt, OT Michael Bowie, OL Alvin Bailey, C Lemuel Jeanpierre
Other contenders: OG/C Jared Smith, OL Caylin Hauptmann, OL Greg Van Roten, OG Stephen Schilling, OT Garry Gilliam, OT Bronson Irwin, OG Nate Isles
Situation: The top eight seem set -- assuming Bowie and Bailey come ready to play. Line coach Tom Cable expressed mild disappointment in their conditioning for minicamps and made it clear they needed to learn how to be professionals. On the other hand, the coaches raved about Carpenter, who might finally be past the injuries and ready to start every game at left guard as he plays his contract season. Okung (pictured) is still recovering from toe surgery and faces a tenuous future on the team if he cannot get healthy and stay on the field. The battle for the backup spot behind him will be key. As for the one or two backup spots, Smith and Hauptmann have the advantage of a year in Seattle's system, and both have been trained at multiple positions. Gilliam seems like a very strong candidate to land on the practice squad -- assuming he doesn't somehow make the 53-man roster (possibly if Okung ends up on PUP).
Locks: Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams
Top contenders: Greg Scruggs, Jordan Hill, Benson Mayowa, Jesse Williams, Cassius Marsh
Other contenders: Jimmy Staten, Michael Brooks, D'Anthony Smith, Dewayne Cherrington, Jackson Jeffcoat
Situation: The recent addition of Kevin Williams (pictured) amped up the competition at this spot and further illustrated the Hawks' preference for veteran linemen. They have 15 players in this group, and that does not include linebacker/LEO guys such as Bruce Irvin and O'Brien Schofield. With five veteran locks, it looks like all of the young guys are going to be fighting hard for probably four spots. It will be interesting to see whether the three tackles who were on the practice squad last year -- Brooks, Smith and Cherrington -- force their way into the "top contenders" category. Everyone was concerned about the losses of Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald, but the Hawks knew they were poised to be even better by letting those guys go.
Carroll said: "I think the defensive line, depth-wise, is really good. I’m really excited about that."
Locks: K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith, Bruce Irvin
Top contenders: Mike Morgan, O'Brien Schofield, Heath Farwell, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Korey Toomer
Other contenders: Mike Taylor, Brock Coyle, Horace Miller
Situation: Toomer (pictured), who spent his first two seasons injured, was the talk of minicamps and Carroll already has penciled him in on the No. 1 coverage teams. Assuming he proves it in the preseason and stays healthy, he should finally make the roster. Pierre-Louis is a speed merchant who also figures to stick -- and possibly supplant Smith next year. It won’t be a surprise if the Hawks keep Irvin on PUP to create a roster spot for someone else they like. They could just stow Irvin for the first six games to see how things go. That would leave Morgan, Schofield and Farwell fighting for two spots.
Carroll said: "I think with Korey Toomer coming back and really looking fit to compete and Kevin Pierre-Louis coming out and showing some really cool stuff, too, that position seems good."
Locks: Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane
Contenders: Tharold Simon, Akeem Auguste, A.J. Jefferson, Phillip Adams, Chandler Fenner
Situation: Carroll loves his defensive backs, and he is counting on Simon (pictured) -- a fifth-round pick in 2013 who was injured his rookie year -- to help replace Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond. Auguste was a standout in practice late last season, and Jefferson and Adams have experience with other teams. The Hawks have been creating some versatility, too, with Auguste, DeShawn Shead and Terrance Parks. As usual, they will have five good corners. And the battle for those last two spots should be a doozy.
Carroll said: "We’ve got some really cool guys to compete on the DB end. Tharold Simon has been a really good return to us and A.J. Jefferson has looked really good, too."
Locks: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Jeron Johnson
Contenders: DeShawn Shead, Terrance Parks, Dion Bailey, Eric Pinkins
Situation: The Hawks are a little weak at the reserve safety spots, which explains why they paid Johnson (pictured) so much even though he was injured for most of last season. Shead seems a strong option considering his ability to play corner as well. With Chancellor recovering from hip surgery, the backups will see a lot of action in the preseason and perhaps beyond.
Locks: P Jon Ryan, K Steven Hauschka, LS Clint Gresham
Situation: The Hawks re-signed Hauschka and will return their excellent kicking troika.