RENTON — Pete Carroll is used to the glare. It was part of the deal coaching at USC.
When his Seattle Seahawks begin training camp this week, they’ll feel the glare of a spotlight that’s never shined through the clouds this bright in the Pacific Northwest.
They aren’t just plucky upstarts with little regard on a national scale. These Seahawks begin camp knowing they are a popular choice not just to win the NFC West, but to reach the Super Bowl.
Carroll basked in the glow of such expectations when he was at USC and the Trojans were the dominant power in college football. But this is Seattle, where expectations are usually met with disappointment. And with a team that relies so much on youth, the Seahawks will have to watch from becoming overwhelmed by the attention
“I make my own expectations so I don’t really worry about what the media says or what other people say to be honest with you,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “My only expectation is to work as hard as I can, to be consistent, for our football team to be consistent, and for our football team, to play as hard as we can every Sunday, every practice and then we’ll see what happens.”
Five things to watch as Seattle opens training camp:
1. RW3: THE SEQUEL: A year ago, Wilson wasn’t even the starter when camp began and fans were still worried if he was too short to be an NFL quarterback. Now fans are angry when he’s not considered among the top 10 QBs in the NFL and ranked behind San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick by one organization. Wilson is the clear-cut leader of the Seahawks entering camp. Will it be more of the Wilson the league saw the final five weeks of last season and again in the playoffs when he put up dizzying numbers running and throwing? Or will Seattle rely more on Marshawn Lynch, putting Wilson less at risk?
2. SECONDARY TO NONE: All-Pro safety Earl Thomas is the reason Seattle’s secondary works. You might not know that with all the attention All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman gets. Thomas and Sherman are deserving of the accolades, but most of the attention has fallen to Sherman for his confident, borderline cocky attitude, his willingness to jaw with any opponent — on and off the field — and his overturned PED suspension from last season. Throw in safety Kam Chancellor, cornerback Brandon Browner and new arrival Antoine Winfield, and it’s hard to argue against Seattle having the league’s best secondary.
3. HIT THE QUARTERBACK: If there was a weakness defensively a year ago it was the inability to consistently pressure the quarterback. Seattle finished the regular season tied for 18th with 36 sacks, but eight of those came against Green Bay in Week 3. Outside of Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, no Seattle defender had more than three sacks. Clemons’ value became even more apparent in the NFC playoffs against Atlanta. With Clemons out due to a knee injury, the Seahawks had no sacks on Matt Ryan. The solution was a major revamp of its defensive front. Seattle signed Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel, and drafted Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill. Once back from his four-game suspension for using banned substances, Irvin is likely to transition to outside linebacker, but still rush from that position. The lingering question is where Clemons is at in his recovery from ACL surgery.
4. SUSPENSION CENTRAL: Irvin became the latest to be caught by the NFL for using a banned substance. The Seahawks have seen five players get suspended for using PEDs since 2011. It’s created a stigma for the team and even San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh made mention of Seattle’s problems in June. The Seahawks need a preseason without off-field issues to quiet some of the murmurs.
5. HANDLE THE HYPE: Seattle will be a very popular place for every national publication during training camp, looking to swoop in and document what could be an unprecedented season. Carroll’s ability to demand focus and avoid distraction over the next six weeks could be just as important as solving any on-field questions before the opener in Carolina.