The Seahawks travel a long way this COVID season — five East Coast games. But the defense figuratively has to go farther to get respectable. It’s up to two guys.
In the sports response to the pandemic, travel was a huge casualty. Several major leagues devised elaborate schemes that allowed teams to re-start or start seasons played in one or two spots, avoiding planes, airports, hotels, fans and other carriers of transmissible ickies.
One sport that eschewed the bubble was baseball. MLB has so far postponed 50 games to positive tests and subsequent quarantine requirements, partly because players are traveling, as well as living in their homes. It’s a small percentage of games lost, but a big nuisance in a season already cut to 60 games.
The other empire going bubble-free is the NFL, which gets underway in full force Sunday morning. The Seahawks, in Atlanta for the 10 a.m. PT opener against the Falcons, already lead the league in exposure to travel miles with 2,637.
If the season is completed, those will be part of a league-leading 28,878 miles. It’s not unusual for the Seahawks to travel more than any other team — this time thanks to five games in the Eastern time zone — but San Francisco is second with 25,485, a difference of almost 12 percent.
I don’t know if there’s a Covideer of the Year Award, but I know who would be a leading candidate.
Since the Seahawks had a 7-1 road mark last year, best in club history, they likely will yawn at the news of the travel burden they bear. But the anecdote allows me to take the metaphor of travel from the literal to the figurative — work with me here — to describe the unit that has to go a really long way to get the Seahawks where they want to go.
The defense’s 6,106 total yards given up in 2019 was 26th in the NFL and most in Pete Carroll’s Seattle coaching tenure. Only a plus-12 turnover differential, tied for third-best in the league, helped avert debacle, and half the credit for that goes to the offense.
So for the Seahawks to be taken seriously as a contender, the defense has to become middle of the pack or better. The offense, even with three new O-line starters, has a good chance to carry its weight, as do special teams.
Collier is the 2019 first-rounder who is returning from a serious ankle injury. Dunbar, acquired in a trade with Washington, has avoided being charged with four felony counts of armed robbery after his May arrest for an episode at a house party in Miramar, FL. He also has avoided explaining what happened.
Both have much to prove.
Collier will get his first career start at the five-technique spot to chase down venerable QB Matt Ryan. Carroll confirmed it after practice Friday, the day before Collier’s 25th birthday.
“He has had a good camp, he’s going to get a chance to start in this game,” he said. “There’ll be a good rotation there, but (the start is) because he’s earned it. He’s played really well. I’m anxious to get him out there.”
Out of shape before the training camp injury, he came back too soon and was ineffective in 152 snaps. But after the Seahawks failed to re-sign DE Jadeveon Clowney, the opportunity screams.
“He’s in better shape than he was a year ago,” Carroll said. “He’s just healthier and quicker and stronger in every way, and he made it through camp healthy as well. We’ve just seen him much more to his ability level.”
In a Zoom conference May 29, Collier talked a good game.
“I’m out there to prove that I’m one helluva football player, and I’m going to show them that this year,” he said. “I didn’t have the type of year that everybody wanted me to have. So it kind of shifts you off to the side. I felt very disrespected.
“It’s time to eat.”
The Seahawks want him for the role of Michael Bennett, who played early downs on the outside, then moved inside on third down.
“It’s inside and out — I’m excited for it,” Collier said. “I’m athletic guy and I know what I’ve been doing inside with my quickness and my strength. Whatever I can do to get on the field.”
Dunbar, 28, was acquired ostensibly to replace in the starting lineup Tre Flowers, who had a poor post-season and was deemed the defense’s weakest link. But because he was on the commissioner’s exempt list (suspension) prior to Broward County prosecutors dropping charges, Dunbar arrived late to camp, then missed more time for a funeral.
The missed practices may allow Flowers to hold the starting job Sunday — Carroll wouldn’t commit — but Carroll claimed Dunbar was ready.
“He’s really a bright kid,” he said. “Picking up the system has been nothing for him. It’s been really easy. He’s had good, competitive work. Not as much as some other guys. He’s missed enough days that he hasn’t got them all, and you can tell a little bit.
“But because of the savvy player that he is, the experience that he has, we would be comfortable if he’s on the field playing for us.”
If Collier and Dunbar play to an NFL-average level, the Seahawks defense may actually be able to look Wilson in the eye. Even if it has to bend down.
Last year at this time, I said the Seahawks were an 8-8 team, and I was right — they just got incredibly lucky behind Harry Pot . . . um, Wilson and finished 11-5 and won a playoff game over a broken Eagles team.
Feel free to offer the counterpoint that the Seahawks came an inch short of sweeping the San Francisco 49ers, who went on to become NFC champions. You would be correct too.
Somewhere in the fractured off-season, the Seahawks needed to make a substantial investment in both lines. They chose otherwise.
Pity. Nine and seven.