NFL 2016: Seattle believes edge is back to reach top of NFC
SEATTLE (AP) Somewhere between the disappointment of losing in Carolina and the start of training camp, the Seattle Seahawks rediscovered themselves and what they hope will become their place back atop the NFC.
This wasn't based around team building exercises or group gatherings as in the past. Starting individually and growing into a collective, the Seahawks believe the edge that made them the best team in the NFC for two straight seasons - only to dip a year ago - has returned.
''The maturation of our team, we know how to play and we know how to win,'' Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said.
Throughout training camp the discussion around the Seahawks has centered on a return to the feeling heading into the 2013 season. That year, the Seahawks were coming off an NFC divisional playoff loss to Atlanta when a late comeback was thwarted, but only after a late-season run that put Seattle into the playoffs.
And it was followed in 2013 by the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
That scenario played out in similar fashion last year: a late run to get into the postseason, a wild-card round road victory and a disappointing loss in the divisional round.
So, Super Bowl?
''You can see the energy difference from last year,'' cornerback Richard Sherman said. ''You can see the guys moving different, there's more chemistry, there's more unity, there's more continuity as you say it. Our guys are just ready.''
Here's what to watch this season with the Seahawks:
UP FRONT: Once again the offensive line is in the spotlight to begin the season. The Seahawks seem stable on the interior with Justin Britt moving to center, rookie Germain Ifedi at right guard and Mark Glowinski at left guard. It's on the edges where there's uncertainty. Bradley Sowell appears locked in at left tackle, and either J'Marcus Webb or Garry Gilliam will start at right tackle. It's not an ideal situation, but if the preseason is an indication the Seahawks should be better off than the start of last season, when the line was at the root of their offensive problems.
GROWTH POTENTIAL: Can Wilson match what he did the latter half of last season when he tore up the NFL at a record pace? The better question might be whether Seattle goes back to more of a power run game or uses the quick passing that led to Wilson's rise the end of last season. The answer is likely somewhere in the middle. Seattle always wants to be a run-first offense, but knows ways to be successful in the passing game without putting Wilson at undue risk of getting hit.
STAYING ON TOP: For each of the past four seasons no defense in the NFL has been tougher to score on than Seattle's. It's a run not seen in the NFL since the Cleveland Browns of the 1950s. If the Seahawks are to stay on top they'll need a pass-rush replacement for departed linebacker Bruce Irvin, and hope they can be better in the back end than a season ago. Seattle never fully overcame safety Kam Chancellor's 2015 holdout, but with everyone healthy and in camp from the start, the Seahawks believe they can remain the standard for the league.
''You know who's around you and where they're going to be and you trust them,'' Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. ''The more years you play with them, the more years you trust them, and it's exciting. I think we're fortunate.''
BEAST MODE 2.0: No one is going to adequately replace Marshawn Lynch. The style and attitude he brought the Seahawks was unique and separate from the way he ran. But Seattle can replace his production on the field. Thomas Rawls is back from the broken ankle that ended his strong 2015 early. Christine Michael continues to show maturation and promise as a legitimate NFL running back after three seasons of underachievement. Couple those two with rookies C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins and Seattle has plenty of options to remain a run-first team.
PAY THE MAN: Michael Bennett has made it known for more than a year he would like a reworked contract that pays him on par with comparable defensive linemen. Despite being unhappy with his deal, Bennett hasn't pouted when it comes to the field, remaining a disruptive presence lined up at both end and tackle. Another strong season will likely lead to a financial reward for Bennett.
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