The rookies were doing it all wrong.
Which, given this was drill one, hour one, day one of their NFL lives wasn’t all that surprising.
“Do it again!” new Seahawks defensive line coach Clint Hurtt bellowed to his even newer defensive linemen, summoning two of them back for a re-do of slamming into a blocking sled.
Then it was Malik McDowell’s turn.
McDowell’s big hands at the end of arms — arms that appear as long as telephone poles — smacked into the sled’s pads. Seattle’s top rookie draft choice and new defensive tackle then lifted up the bulky, metal sled like it was a newborn baby, almost all the way to the top of his 6-foot-6 body.
“I like it, Mailk! I LIKE IT!” Hurtt roared. “Nice hands!”
The first day of Seahawks rookie minicamp didn’t reveal much. It is, after all, in helmets and shorts, four months before real games begin. The rest of the veterans aren’t even here to push most of these guys down the depth chart, or off the roster.
But Friday did reveal a few, initial things:
- Why Seattle traded down nine spots and snared four additional draft choices and took McDowell at the top of the second round last month
- McDowell looks incredibly loooooooooong and nowhere near his listed 299 pounds
- McDowell looks far more polished and savvy with his hands and feet than most rookie pass pass rushers — especially one still 20 years old.
- Fellow second-round pick Ethan Pocic, a center at LSU, is going to be a right tackle this weekend, then perhaps a guard later this preseason
- Third-round pick Shaquill Griffin looks the part of a Seahawks cornerback — and is likely to get a chance to be the starting one on the right side
McDowell, though, made the biggest first impression. He looked so fluid for being so, well, big.
No wonder he said Friday: “I like it here. I love it here, actually.”
Coach Pete Carroll noticed him right away. It was tough not to.
“Instantly, almost, you can see how comfortable he is with his movements, his body control,” Carroll said. “He’s got an awareness already how to use his hands that you are surprised to see that much with that kind of background...
“He’s off to a great start. He looks great. Taller than a lot of guys that we’ve had at his position. And we’re excited to see how we are going to move forward with that.”
McDowell is going to get a lot of preseason time outside at end, which he rarely played in college. Then in passing situations and nickel-defense packages the Seahawks are planning on having McDowell as a fast, tall tackle paired inside with two-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Michael Bennett.
“I’m playing a whole different position. That’s basically it. I played nose guard at Michigan State, I play D-end here,” said McDowell, who many thought was going to be a top-10 pick in this year’s draft until a 2016 in which he played through a high-ankle sprain then was perceived to tank along with his 3-9 Michigan State team. “So that’s just moving outside and going from taking double teams and going to taking single blocks, mostly. I like it.”
Carroll said the Seahawks are fine with his weight, but that McDowell may gain 10, 15 pounds over the next year. That will come from just getting stronger, maturing into a 21-year old and working in an NFL weight room.
“We aren’t going to rush that. We don’t want him to gain weight. We just want him to get stronger,” Carroll said. “We feel like he is big enough right now.”
The Seahawks don’t want him to be an inside run stopper; they still have tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Jarran Reed for that. They want McDowell to be a uniquely tall, fast pass rusher who can blow past and between centers and guards, perhaps before they get out of their stances.
On offense, Pocic just looks like a tackle. He is 6 feet 6 and 317 pounds.
And that’s what he was Friday from the first snap of team drills, the right tackle.
Carroll said the Seahawks know Pocic can play center if need be. Right now, there is no need, other than to stay sharp snapping. Fourth-year veteran Justin Britt is coming off a strong 2016 as the starting center; Britt may soon earn an extension on his rookie contract that ends after this year.
The coach said Pocic is getting a long look in this minicamp that finishes with practices Saturday and Sunday at right tackle. That’s where the Seahawks are planning to move Germain Ifedi, the 2016 first-round pick who started last season at right guard. Carroll said of Pocic’s position after this weekend, for organized team activities, a mandatory minicamp next month and training camp at the end of July: “We’ll see.”
Pocic knows he’s here not because he can play center, but because he can play guard and tackle, too.
“That’s definitely an important trait of mine, definitely. Just to know what everyone’s doing. I just started in college playing at center, getting to know the whole offensive line, so it kind of grew on me over the years.”
Pocic, of course, would play on top of the 12th Man flag pole, if the Seahawks asked.
“It’s awesome. It’s a dream come true,” the son of a long-time firefighter outside Chicago said. “Playing football as a kid you wish to go to the NFL and this is an amazing opportunity.”
Griffin couldn’t stop smiling after the 90-minute first practice as a Seahawk. That may have been because he was the first-team right cornerback from the first snap of the first team drill. Or maybe it was because the 6-1 press-cover man from Central Florida showed off how smooth he was running with receivers and leaping for passes thrown by quarterbacks Jake Heaps, Skyler Howard and Michael Birdsong.
Then again, maybe Griffin was smiling because he is an affable, engaging guy.
Griffin playing exclusively on the right side in the drills I saw is noteworthy because that job is open while DeShawn Shead, the 2016 starter there, recovers from his torn anterior cruciate ligament in January. Shead may not be back until October, if then. And the cupboard of veterans returning with the potential to start in place of Shead is bare; that’s why Seattle selected Griffin on the draft’s second day.
Griffin said he’s already learned about the Seahawks’ veteran secondary led by Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
“They’re some mean jokers,” Griffin said, grinning yet again.
He then told the story of taking his big family to a local sporting-goods store in his hometown of Daytona Beach, Florida, the day the Seahawks drafted him with their first of four picks in last month’s third round.
“Right there in Daytona, there was a local mall right there,” Griffin said, smiling again. “We went there and the guy, I guess he recognized my face, and was like, ‘Oh, you got drafted! You’re from Central Florida!’ I said yeah. He said, ‘Oh man! Come in here, man! I can hook you up. Hook up your whole family.’
“I said, ‘Wow! This is new.’ So he gave everybody some hats. We started taking pictures.
“But that’s my support system,” Griffin said, proudly. “They’ll do anything for me. And that’s why we took that picture. I wanted everybody to get a chance to see who’s behind me and pretty much how I was raised. I’ve pretty much always had that group right behind me, looking out for me.”
By the way, was there any Seahawks gear left in that store after the Griffins got done in there?
“Good thing the whole family wasn’t there,” he said, “we might have cleaned them out. We left them probably two or three hats.”
I mean, Griffin is SO into being a Seahawk. He’s even got his dog, “ALL IN!” — just as Carroll’s signs throughout the team’s headquarters demand.