By Dan Egan
Yes, it's that time of year again. Without even the slightest hint of autumn in the air, it's still not too early for sports fans to utter the most beautiful words in all of sport. No, it's not the WNBA playoffs. We're talking NFL football. The Seattle Seahawks return to Cheney for their annual sweatfest, also known as training camp, starting on Sunday. The two-a-day practices are free and open to the public.
After signing a three-year deal with Eastern Washington University, the Seahawks return to the Cheney campus for the fifth straight year; it's also the 15th season overall that they've spent their summer east of the mountains.
"I'm excited that we're able to return to Eastern," Seahawks Head Coach and Executive Vice President Mike Holmgren said in an April statement. "It's a great community, they treat us well and are easy to work with. They have a first-class athletic facility that provides us with a good opportunity to prepare for the season."
The fan-friendly camp is perfect chance to get players' autographs, as well as get an up-close appreciation of the pain-producing potential of a 300-pound lineman. It's also the time of year when fans can watch rookies with names like "Pork Chop," Womack and Josh Booty as they try for a roster spot. Whether it's watching punters work on their hang time, receivers on their routes or chatting with the Seagals, there's something for every fan. Kids can participate in the NFL Experience, where they can practice some of the same drills as the players. The EWU-Seahawks Extravaganza and Scrimmage is on August 5. In the EWU central mall, it features games for kids, a barbecue ($5.50), the Seagals, DJ music and a talk by Coach Holmgren. At 1:45, the Seahawks will conduct a full scrimmage at Woodward Stadium on campus.
Holmgren, who enters his third year as coach, brings a team with a lot of new faces that he hopes can improve on last year's 6-10 record. His first priority was to find a new quarterback-of-the-future to run his version of the West Coast offense. Holmgren looked no further than his old team to pick up Matt Hasslebeck. Although he's only thrown a total of 29 regular season passes, Hasslebeck knows how the offense works after two years studying behind Brett Favre in Green Bay. Helping Hasslebeck transition from backup to starter is new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, who spent many a hot August day in Cheney back in the 1980s. Longtime Seahawk fans who remember him (usually running for his life) and his ability to improvise and create big plays out of near-disasters can hope a little Zorn magic will rub off on Hasslebeck.
So here is a brief synopsis of the Seahawks quarterback position. With ex-quarterback-of-the-future, Jon Kitna, in Cincinnati, that leaves last year's quarterback-of-the-future, Brock Huard, to hold the clipboard behind the new quarterback-of-the-future, Matt Hasslebeck. Got it?
The other off-season priority was to improve a porous defense that was the worst in the league last year. So bad was the defense last year that only two teams in the history of the league have ever given up more total yards in one year. That's not good. Eight-time Pro Bowl selection Cortez Kennedy is gone to be replaced by another thirtysomething D-lineman, John Randle from the Vikings. Other key defensive pick-ups include ex-Cougar Chad Eaton (New England), who, along with Randle should help improve the pass rush. Add 270-pound linebacker Levon Kirkland (Pittsburgh) in the middle against the run and free safety Marcus Robertson (Tennessee) to the list, and the Seahawks could have one of the better defenses in the league.
The rookie everyone will be watching is first round pick Koren Robinson. The wide receiver out of North Carolina State could be the Seahawks first big-play receiver since Joey Galloway. He should help out a receiving corps that released Derrick Mayes and lost Sean Dawkins to free agency. At the running back position, the only question is when Shaun Alexander will replace Ricky Watters, who had a great year last year as the featured halfback.
The 2001 season will be the last year the Seahawks play in the AFC West before they switch to the NFC West next year and join the 49ers, Cardinals and Rams. They will also play one more year in Husky Stadium before moving to their new $500 million home next year. Seahawk fans who are well versed in the seasons of a football year realize that August in Cheney is the time of hope and December the time of cruel reality. But maybe after a summer of sharing the city with the magical Mariners and breathing in that rarified air, there will be something different about this year's team. So put on some sunscreen and come out to Cheney and find out for yourself.
The Seahawks camp runs from July 29-Aug. 16 at Eastern
Washington University's Woodward Stadium in Cheney. Two-a-day practices are scheduled daily from 8:45-11:15 am and 2:45-4:30 pm. All times are subject to change. The Seahawks Extravaganza
and Barbecue is Sunday, Aug. 5, from 11 am-1:30 pm. The
scrimmage starts at 1:45 pm. Call: 359-2841.