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Seattle heads into offseason with core intact

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Seattle heads into offseason with core intact

RENTON, Wash. (AP) As belongings were packed up, the phrase became a popular refrain coming from all corners of the Seattle Seahawks locker room.

``We have a really good core group here.''

Whether it was safety Earl Thomas or rookie quarterback Russell Wilson or veteran fullback Michael Robinson uttering those words, they resonated with substance because the Seahawks went from a young team with potential to a team on the cusp of being an NFL power this season with most of its key components returning next season.

The expectations will be different in 2013 and everyone already understands that fact. No longer will the Seahawks be a pleasant surprise, but instead hold the title of contender.

``There is nobody in our building that doesn't think that this is going to be an extraordinary offseason for this club,'' Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. ``Knowing that all of the kids that made the team last year that get to come back, and played a lot and they come back. It's such a big jump that happens from year one to year two.''

The biggest reason for Seattle's optimism going forward is that core group that has been solidly constructed in three seasons by Carroll and general manager John Schneider and is mostly locked up for the 2013 season. Among their starting 22 on offense and defense, the Seahawks have just two players who are unrestricted free agents - defensive tackle Alan Branch and outside linebacker Leroy Hill. They have only eight unrestricted free agents total and another three who are restricted and can have any offers from other teams matched by the Seahawks.

Unlike last offseason when Seattle was tasked with trying to lock up running back Marshawn Lynch and find an answer to its quarterbacking situation, the Seahawks enter this offseason with the ability to supplement through free agency and the draft while also trying to solidify their roster long-term.

``It is unfinished business,'' Robinson said. ``We are a good team right now but we've got to go from good to being a championship football team. We need to take that next step. We thought we had it this year but hopefully we've got to take this offseason, use it to compete to keep our jobs, compete against other teams ... and draw on this experience next year if the opportunity presents itself.''

Branch and Hill said they would like to return, but defensive line and linebacker could be an area where Seattle looks for upgrades. Carroll was blunt in his season-ending news conference that the Seahawks needed at least two defensive linemen in the hopes of trying to solve a pass rush that floundered for most of the season aside from one memorable night against Green Bay.

``It's kind of hard just sitting on your hands waiting for interest to be brought in your direction or whatever,'' Branch said. ``Hopefully, they want me here and the whole money situation gets settled. But if not there won't be a better group of guys than this, I'm sure.''

Seattle currently has 10 draft picks come April and that is where Schneider and Carroll have found the most success. It's not so much the early-round selections that have paid off - although Thomas and Russell Okung in the first-round in 2010 created a sturdy foundation - but the picks in the later rounds that have proved valuable.

The Seahawks grabbed starting strong safety Kam Chancellor and all-pro cornerback Richard Sherman in the fifth round; outside linebacker K.J. Wright in the third round; right guard J.R. Sweezy in the seventh round; and of course, what turned out to be Seattle's greatest steal, Wilson in the third round last April.

Carroll said with the depth already on the roster, it will be difficult for some of those draft picks to make the team.

``What's going to be hard is for the 10 guys that get drafted to make this team,'' he said. ``That's what I think the challenge is, and that's how much I believe in these guys. I think they're going to come back ready to go.''

Because there are so few free agents to deal with this offseason, the Seahawks may start looking ahead to the next offseason - 2014 - when a number of key players can become free agents. Among those whose contracts expire after next season: Chancellor, Robinson, receiver Doug Baldwin, cornerback Brandon Browner, right tackle Breno Giacomini, guard Paul McQuistan and receiver Golden Tate.

But being in that position of looking head is a luxury for Seattle thanks to the work already done.

``The key is the guys that are the nucleus of our football team always growing and us always developing and seeing how we can all get better individually, but also collectively,'' Wilson said.

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Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

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USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

Ravens football is back and so is Joe Cool.

The team’s first training camp practice took place Thursday afternoon, and Joe Flacco’s teammates – from offensive to defensive players – mentioned how laser focused the 10-year veteran is.

"Joe always has a lot of personality,” running back Alex Collins said via SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown.

“He is a good guy. He’s a real funny guy, but definitely coming into this year, he has a lot of fire behind him. And it does a lot motivating us especially early when we first reported back. Just seeing him work hard and just seeing him get better every day. He’s definitely got a lot of fire behind him this year.”

Flacco is entering the final year of his contract with a lot on the line following a disappointing start to the 2017 season. But a huge factor that is different for the 33-year old coming into this preseason opposed to last is his health.

“Most definitely,” Collins said on whether he can tell if Flacco is healthier this year. “He’s a lot faster as well, by the way, guys.”

And when it comes to the “Is Joe Flacco elite” debate, linebacker C.J. Mosley knows the consensus within the Under Armour Performance Center.

“I think every year [Joe Flacco] comes in with his mindset that he wants to be great,” Mosley said.

“Mainly because everybody outside of this building does not think he is elite and inside the building, everybody does think that way. Since Joe has been here, you know he is one of those players that never gets rattled. You never see his emotions too high, too low. He’s been our quarterback that kinda stays in the middle to make sure everything goes smooth. That’s kinda how he has been this offseason too. He’s come in looking strong, body looking good.”

Flacco’s health is up to speed as well as his mentality. Flacco organized private workouts with his wide receivers and tight ends at a local park across from the Ravens’ facility last week. This is the first time he has done so since 2011. When asked if he initiated the session, Michael Crabtree gave all the credit to his new quarterback.

“No, that’s all Flac [Flacco], man,” Crabtree said. “That’s the leader. We’re just the wideouts. [We] do whatever he says. If we’ve got something we bring to the table, then we make it work.”

 

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10 Questions in 10 days: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

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10 Questions in 10 days: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

Right or wrong, fans blamed Shawn Lauvao for much of the Redskins struggles on the offensive line last season. Pro Football Focus backs up the fans, as Lauvao landed a -19.1 grade, among the worst in the NFL at the guard spot. 

It's worth pointing out that Lauvao was playing hurt during much of his nine starts before getting shut down for the season just before Thanksgiving. In fact, injuries have probably been the biggest issue for Lauvao in his four seasons with the Redskins. 

In four seasons in Washington, Lauvao has never played a full 16-game slate. Last year he played just nine games, and in 2015 he only played three games. 

That points to what may be the bigger issue for the Redskins: offensive line depth. Last season was wild with the amount of injuries Washington sustained up front. It seems almost impossible for the team to have that many injuries again.

Still, the Redskins lost Arie Kouandjio for the year in the offseason. Kouandjio played better last year than Lauvao, and having both men in Richmond would have provided real competition. 

And that might be the biggest question: Neither Lauvao or Kouandjio represent a difference maker at left guard, yet the team did little to address the position. 

All offseason, the Washington brass walked a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The organization believes strongly in the players they already have, and outside of signing Paul Richardson and re-signing Zach Brown, the team had a quiet offseason. The Redskins struggled to run the ball the last few years, and still, the team did not look to upgrade at LG. 

It's important to note that the Redskins have two All-Pro caliber offensive linemen in Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff. Morgan Moses is a plus at the right tackle spot too. The team likes Chase Roullier at center too, and they tried to add depth in drafting Geron Christian in the third round and bringing back swing tackle backup Ty Nsekhe as a restricted free agent. 

Left guard will be a question, and it's hard not to think that it will be the weakest position on the O-line. Should that submarine the group? It shouldn't. What if Lauvao gets hurt?  Then things get quite tricky.

For the Redskins, however, the expectation might be that the line needs to perform as a unit, and with talent like Williams and Scherff, that should cover up any weaknesses.

Time, and health, will tell if that plan works. 

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