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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 4: Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson passes against the Washington Redskins during their NFL NFC wildcard playoff game Reuters

The Seattle Seahawks were the most dominant team in the NFL over the final month of last season. They scored 50 points in consecutive weeks against Arizona and Buffalo and threw in a 42-13 beating of the division rival San Francisco 49ers for good measure. They fell 31 seconds shy of a trip to the NFC Championship game and look to take another step forward toward a second Super Bowl this fall.

Their secondary is as good as any team in football and Russell Wilson has given the Seahawks a quarterback they believe can take them to a championship. The Seahawks added some key veterans on defense to patch some minor holes and brought in Percy Harvin in a trade from Minnesota to add another dimension to an offense that hit its stride late last season.

Expectations are high in Seattle. It’s a position the franchise hasn’t been in very often. Can they deliver?

Strengths.

Seattle’s secondary was arguably the best in the NFL last year. Cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas were both named first-team All-Pro. Cornerback Brandon Browner and strong safety Kam Chancellor were both Pro Bowl selections as well in 2011 and continued to play at a high level last season. With the addition of Antoine Winfield to play the nickel role and Walter Thurmond finally healthy after two injury-plagued seasons, they could be even better this year.

Last year, the Seahawks entered training camp with three quarterbacks vying to be the team’s starter. Russell Wilson was the long-shot, third-round rookie that was “competing” for the job but realistically didn’t appear to have a shot to start over free agent addition Matt Flynn. But Wilson proved he was the best option in training camp and won the job. He never looked back. After some early growing pains, Wilson became incredibly efficient as the Seahawks starter. He completed 67-percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions over the final eight games of the regular season. He also had four rushing scores over that span. Coincidentally (or maybe not) there is no quarterback competition this year in Seattle.

The Seahawks’ receiving corps gelled together well by the end of last season with Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin all contributing to Seattle’s offensive explosion over the last half of the year. Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin provided a strong one-two punch for the Seahawks backfield as well. With the acquisition of Harvin from Minnesota and the selection of running back Christine Michael in the second round of the draft, both positions should be even more dangerous this season.

Weaknesses.

Behind starter Zach Miller – who will be the highest paid tight end in the league this season – the Seahawks have mostly unproven talent at the tight end position. Anthony McCoy tore his Achilles during OTAs and will miss the upcoming season. Seattle will need either fifth-round draft pick Luke Willson or 2012 undrafted free agent Sean McGrath to become a trustworthy second option.

It seems odd to say a team that rushed for nearly 2,600 yards as a team last season (third in the NFL) has concerns along the offensive line but it is an area of concern for the Seahawks. Both guard positions are unsettled. Right tackle Breno Giacomini was among the most penalized players in the league last season and depth at tackle behind Giacomini and left tackle Russell Okung is somewhat suspect.

Changes.

The Seahawks made some sizable additions to their roster over the offseason. The trade for Percy Harvin brings a versatile weapon to add to an offense that really hit stride the second half of last season. Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett were added to try and bolster a pass rush that was inconsistent last season. Cornerback Antoine Winfield signed after nine years in Minnesota to assume the nickel cornerback role after Marcus Trufant was picked on last season.

Seattle has seen significant turnover at the defensive tackle position. Alan Branch signed with the Buffalo Bills after spending the last two years with the Seahawks and Jason Jones signed with the Detroit Lions. Seattle brought in Tony McDaniel from Miami and drafted Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams to add to their interior line depth. Linebacker Leroy Hill was also not extended an offer after being arrested again in January. Trufant also has moved on signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Camp battles.

Backup quarterback. No, seriously. The Seahawks signed Brady Quinn and re-signed Tarvaris Jackson after he was released by the Buffalo Bills. The Seahawks will likely only carry one additional quarterback on the roster so Quinn and Jackson will have to battle for the job. Signs seem to point toward Jackson winning the job. Jackson was signed after Seattle saw Quinn in offseason workouts. Combined with his season as a starter in Seattle in 2011 and his familiarity with the team, he’s likely the favorite to win the job.

Outside linebacker will be a focus for the Seahawks as well. Seattle is converting Bruce Irvin to outside linebacker in a move that could indicate the Seahawks will have more of a 3-4 feel than previously seen. Irvin and Mike Morgan have worked as the rush linebackers in offseason workouts but Irvin was serve a four-game suspension to start the season. Meanwhile, Malcolm Smith has taken the majority of the first team work in Seattle’s more traditional base defensive looks and would appear the be the starter at that spot. How the Seahawks mix and match the groupings of players under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be something to keep an eye on.

Seattle also has several options at guard. James Carpenter is expected to be ready to go after knee surgery and will battle with Paul McQuistan at left guard. On the right side, John Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy will continue their battle for the starting job. If Carpenter settles back in on the left side, McQuistan could also move to the right side adding to the logjam there.

Prospects.

The Seattle Seahawks enter the 2013 season with perhaps more expectations placed upon them than any season in their 37-year franchise history. They were the most dominant team in the league over the final month of last season and won their first road playoff game since 1983. A tough division slate stands in their way and road trips to Houston, Indianapolis and Atlanta will be difficult tests as well as the Seahawks attempt to dethrone the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West. The Seahawks hope the additions of Harvin, Avril, Bennett and Winfield allow them to knock off the 49ers and take the next step toward getting back to the Super Bowl for the second time in team history.

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Report: Chris Chester signs with Falcons

Chester Getty Images

Free-agent guard Chris Chester had lined up visits with the Falcons and Eagles. And he won’t be taking those visits.

Via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Chester has signed with the Falcons. It’s a one-year, $2.8 million contract.

Washington released Chester earlier this week. In Atlanta, he’ll be reunited with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Chester signed with Washington in 2011, after five seasons with the Ravens. He started all 64 regular-season games in four seasons with D.C.

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Harbaugh “wouldn’t want any other quarterback” than “superstar” Flacco

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Is Joe Flacco elite? It’s a question that has become a punchline in some circles. And coach John Harbaugh seems to be ready to punch anyone who would ask that question.

Someone asked that question, with different and more words, during a Friday press conference. And Harbaugh defended Flacco aggressively.

Joe Flacco’s been a great quarterback from the day he got here,” Harbaugh said. “You wanna look back and say this has been the most talented offense in the NFL for the last seven years and they carried Joe Flacco, you can say that if you want, but it’s ridiculous. Joe Flacco is a great player, he’s only gonna get better. I think he’s hitting his stride, hitting the peak of his career. And I wouldn’t want any other quarterback in the National Football League. Period, end of story. So just write than and be done with it, because that’s the last I really want to hear about it.

“This guy is a superstar in the National Football League, and I’m thrilled to have him and I can’t wait to see what he does with all that young talent around him.”

They’ll need more young — and cheap — talent around Flacco in 2016, once his cap number shoots from $14.55 million to $28.55 million. With the head coach speaking of Flacco in such glowing terms, it’s going to be expensive to both knock down that cap number and to extend his stay indefinitely beyond the current season.

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NaVorro Bowman returns to team drills, doesn’t like knee brace

Bowman Getty Images

With multiple inside linebackers surprisingly retired, the 49ers need to get Navorro Bowman back. And they’re moving closer toward doing just that.

Bowman returned to team drills on Friday, joining the 49ers for an OTA practice session more than 16 months after tearing an ACL in the NFC title game at Seattle.

“It’s great having him back out on the field,” coach Jim Tomsula said regarding Bowman on Friday. “Then also the road he’s traveled here in the last year and a half. It’s just awesome to have him out there and I think he’s really enjoying himself.”

Bowman’s not enjoying one thing — wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired knee.

“He is not, they are not friends,” Tomsula said of Bowman and his brace. “But, we really want him to wear it. Just why not, that’s all. And you know what, he’s doing great with it, he is. But, you know Bo. He’s something else, just pushing, pushing, pushing.”

Patrick Willis and Chris Borland called it a career after the 2014 season, making Bowman a key component of a defense that is squarely in transition, especially with defensive lineman Justin Smith retired, too.

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Browns’ offense appears to be moving on from Manziel

Manziel AP

Josh McCown is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback in Cleveland, to the extent that Johnny Manziel, a first-round pick of the Browns last year, appears to be largely an afterthought at Organized Team Activities.

After reporting on the first week of OTAs, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland describes Manziel as “a fish out of water” in the offense the Browns are installing. Grossi writes that the Browns don’t seem to be developing Manziel so much as they’re moving on from him.

At the practice the media were allowed to watch, Manziel seemed to eager to run and not confident enough in his passing. And Grossi reports that one source who witnessed another practice says Manziel was actually even worse in a session that the media didn’t see.

The bottom line is that 13 months after he was drafted, Manziel still hasn’t done anything to make the Browns think he’s ever going to be their franchise quarterback. McCown is the starter for now, and someone else will probably need to be found to be the long-term answer in the future.

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Brady appeal hearing set for June 23

Getty Images Getty Images

The deadline for setting Tom Brady’s appeal hearing came and went on Wednesday without a date being set. A date has now been set.

PFT has confirmed that the appeal hearing will commence on June 23, and that it will continue if necessary on June 25. The news was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

On Thursday, a source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that the NFL and NFL Players Association had agreed to extend the Wednesday deadline, and that the NFL had offered a pair of dates that weren’t ideal for the union. The NFLPA had responded with a pair of weeks that worked, and the NFLPA was waiting for the league to respond.

Brady and the NFLPA wanted the hearing to be conducted in June, in order to ensure that sufficient time will be available to go to court and challenge the outcome of the internal appeal process.

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Browns unveil four-tiered variable pricing

Tickets Getty Images

With the blackout policy suspended for 2015 (i.e., dead as a doorknob . . . or is it doornail? I never know), teams need to find a way to attract customer to pay for tickets to game. The Browns are doing that by utilizing a four-tiered system of variable pricing.

The first tier consists of the Broncos and Titans. Yes, the Titans, because that’s the regular-season home opener.

Tier Two has the Ravens and Steelers. Tier Three consists of the Raiders, Cardinals, 49ers, and Bengals.

Tier Four has the two preseason games, against Washington and Buffalo.

The decision not to put the Ravens and Steelers in the top tier and the decision to put the Bengals in a tier lower than the other division rivals seem odd. But even in a league where coaches look for any ammunition to motivate players, it’s hard to envision Bengals coach Marvin Lewis firing up the troops by pointing out that the Browns saw fit to put the team that has made it to the playoffs four straight years in the third of four pricing tiers, only one click above games that don’t count at all.

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Falcons cut linebacker/alleged dog-killer Prince Shembo

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 21:  Prince Shembo #53 celebrates with Robert McClain #27 of the Atlanta Falcons following an interception against the New Orleans Saints during a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 21, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

That didn’t take long.

Within hours of charges being filed accusing him of kicking and killing his then-girlfriend’s small dog, the Falcons have released linebacker Prince Shembo, according to Zach Klein of WSB. The Falcons have since announced the move themselves.

“We are aware of the charges that have been filed against Prince Shembo,” the team said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed that one of our players is involved in something like this. Accordingly, we have decided to waive Prince Shembo.”

Shembo was charged with felony aggravated cruelty to animals, for allegedly kicking a Yorkshire terrier named Dior, causing massive internal injuries.

The Falcons were willing to stick up for Shembo after they chose him in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, despite an incident during his college years at Notre Dame. He was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at nearby St. Mary’s College, who later committed suicide.

No charges were filed in that case, and the Falcons said they were “very comfortable” with him in regards to it.

They’re apparently less comfortable now, and moved quickly to distance themselves.

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Bills claim quarterback Matt Simms off waivers from Jets

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Getty Images

The Bills decided to freshen up their four-headed quarterback competition, by grabbing a guy from their own division.

According to Howard Balzer of the Sports Xchange, the Bills claimed former Jets quarterback Matt Simms off waivers.

Simms was released yesterday, as the writing was on the wall for him with the Jets when Bryce Petty was drafted. But now he lands with former head coach Rex Ryan and quarterbacks coach David Lee, which can’t hurt his chances.

To make room for Simms on the roster, the Bills got rid of Jeff Tuel, who was rotating among Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor.

While Simms might not change the bottom line for the Bills, he at least adds more competition at the bottom of the depth chart

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Kiko Alonso surprised by how good his knee feels

kikoalonso AP

Ten months ago, Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2014 season with the Bills. In the time since then, Alonso has been traded to the Eagles — and has healed so fully that he surprises himself with how good he feels.

I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing this much,” Alonso told Philly.com at Eagles’ OTAs. “I’ve just been going on how I feel, and it’s feeling really good.”

Part of the reason Alonso feels good is that he’s running without a knee brace.

“I feel comfortable without it,” Alonso said. “I never really liked wearing the brace.”

Alonso played for Eagles coach Chip Kelly at Oregon and knew that Kelly does everything at a fast pace and has a demanding conditioning program. Still, Alsonso didn’t realize just how hard he’d be going this offseason.

“I knew what to expect, but I definitely thought I’d be more in shape, but I was wrong,” Alonso said. “I remember when I was in Buffalo, I was like I can’t imagine going against the Eagles and that pace. Because if you don’t practice like that and you go, it’s brutal.”

That brutal work in May will pay off for Alonso in September, when he finally gets back on the field after his knee injury cost him a season.

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Jason Kelce: Missing the playoffs “almost a good thing” in hindsight

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The roster turnover of the Eagles (and the opinions about the reasons for it) have been a major topic of the NFL offseason and another member of the team has weighed in with his opinion.

Center Jason Kelce didn’t cite race, egos or anything other than the simple fact that the Eagles weren’t talented enough last year. Kelce said that he thought the team’s locker room was strong last year, but that “we were lacking in talent at a couple positions” and that failing to make the playoffs could almost be spun as a positive because it made the team address those needs.

“This might [tick] off a few people, but when we started off 9-3 … [but] we got lucky quite a few times to win games that we probably shouldn’t have been in,” Kelce said, via the Philadelphia Daily News. “I think that ending the season the way we did — didn’t make the playoffs — in hindsight is almost a good thing because it forced the coaches and the organization to reevaluate what we had. Guys all of the sudden that were on the bubble, [coaches now knew] that we need to make an upgrade there. We need to do this. We need to do that to improve the team as a whole.”

Kelce didn’t specify the areas, but the list of positions that the Eagles addressed this offseason is pretty much the list of positions on their roster as well as Chip Kelly’s move to the top of the personnel hierarchy. For a team that’s won 10 games in each of the last two seasons, it’s a major overhaul and one that’s going to be placed on Kelly’s shoulders however it plays out.

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Falcons linebacker accused of killing very small dog

dead-dog

Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo didn’t just allegedy kick a dog and kill it, he allegedly found one of the smallest dogs possible to kick and kill.

According to Alexis Stevens of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, police documents say Shembo killed his then-girlfriend’s pet Yorkie named Dior.

Yorkshire terriers, which top out around 7 pounds, are no match for 254-pound linebackers, it seems.

The Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Michele Pihera said Shembo was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, following an April 15 incident.

According to the report, his then-girlfriend Denicia Williams told police she had taken Dior to Shembo’s apartment, and left the dog there. When she returned, the dog was unresponsive, and died a short time later at an animal hospital.

She said the next day, Shembo told her he killed the dog, at which point she broke up with him.

A necropsy was performed at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter, where the cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma.

According to the report, Dior had “a fractured rib, fractured liver, abdominal hemorrhage, thoracic hemorrhage, extensive bruising and hemorrhage in the muscles in her front leg and shoulders, head trauma, hemorrhage and edema in lungs, hemorrhage between the esophagus and trachea, and hemorrhage in the left eye with internal injuries.”

The Falcons drafted Shembo in the fourth round last year from Notre Dame.

Photo credit: Gwinnett Police.

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Trey Watts suspended four games by NFL

Watts Getty Images

Rams running back Trey Watts, an undrafted free agent who made the team in 2014 and who appeared in 14 games last season, has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

The NFL announced the suspension on Friday.

Watts, the son of former Oklahoma quarterback and Congressman J.C. Watts, played college football at Tulsa. He gained 30 yards on seven carries as a rookie.

Watts is eligible to continue to participate in all offseason activities, training camp, and the preseason. The suspension begins after the fourth preseason game.

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Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo charged with killing dog

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - MAY 16:  Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo #53 of the Atlanta Falcons runs drills during rookie minicamp at the Atlanta Falcons Training Facility on May 16, 2014 in Flowery Branch, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Falcons fans didn’t need this kind of deja vu.

According to Tony Thomas of WSB in Atlanta, Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo has been accused of killing his girlfriend’s dog.

Gwinnett Police have filed animal cruelty charges, alleging that Shembo kicked and killed the animal.

Shembo was last year’s fourth-round pick from Notre Dame, and this isn’t the first time his name has been linked to an unseemly situation.

When he was at Notre Dame, he was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at nearby St. Mary’s College, who committed suicide. No charges were ever filed in the case, and Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said last spring he was “very comfortable” with Shembo after their pre-draft research.

Of course, the Falcons own history with animal abuse dates back to former quarterback Michael Vick, who was imprisoned on felony charges for his role in a dog-fighting ring.

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Brandon Spikes on Belichick: We kissed and made up

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Linebacker Brandon Spikes’s first stint with the Patriots didn’t come to a happy end.

Spikes finished the 2013 season on injured reserve after he missed a practice and Spikes later said that the Patriots filed false injury reports while he was a member of the team. Spikes also referred to his time with the Patriots as “4 years a slave,” which only added to the surprise when Spikes wound up re-signing with the Patriots this month after spending last season with the Bills.

It’s less surprising that Spikes had nothing bad to say about coach Bill Belichick or the Patriots on Friday. Spikes referred to Belichick as a “genius” and described himself as “honestly in awe to be standing here talking” to the media as a member of the Patriots while sticking to the company line that the past will remain in the past.

“I don’t want to talk about that. You can clearly see me and The Hoodie kissed and made up. I’m here, that’s in the past. I’m moving on,” Spikes said, via WEEI.com.

Spikes said his only focus now is on making the team and his chances will be greatly improved if Belichick decides the team needs to shore up their run defense in 2015.

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Belichick doesn’t say much about #DeflateGate

Belichick Getty Images

Patriots coach Bill Belichick met with the media on Friday, an unexpected press conference during an OTA session. And Belichick didn’t have much to say about the #DeflateGate situation. Which isn’t much of a surprise, because he usually doesn’t have much to say about pretty much anything.

Asked whether the football-inflation controversy takes away from the joy of winning the Super Bowl, Belichick said this, via a transcript distributed by the team: “That was a long time ago. We’re on to next year. It’s 2015. You can forget about last year; that was last year.”

But last year spills into this year as it relates to the availability of quarterback Tom Brady to play in the first four games of the season. Asked whether Belichick is preparing Jimmy Garoppolo to be the starter as of Week One, Belichick said, “We’re just going day by day right now. Everybody’s working hard trying to get better. That’s what we’re all doing.”

Asked whether it’s been tough to watch the events of the past few months, Belichick said this: “We’re just working hard every day to come out here and get better. Coaches, players, everybody in the organization, each day we’re trying to make it a little bit better than the day before. That’s where we’re at. That’s what we’re going to keep doing.”

Asked whether he agrees with owner Robert Kraft’s decision to accept the punishment imposed on the team, Belichick said this:  “He made a statement on it last week.”

But Belichick wasn’t only characteristically mum about the #DeflateGate situation. He also didn’t have much to say about the use of a drone to film practice.

Q: “What does that do for you?”

A: “Oh, I don’t know.”

I personally don’t know why Belichick would talk to the media and say nothing. He wasn’t required to speak today. So why even do it?

Maybe the goal was to present Belichick on short notice was to give the local media a chance to grill him about the Ted Wells report and the team’s reaction to it with minimum time to put together the best possible questions.

Or maybe it’s just Belichick being Belichick, and he wouldn’t have said anything of value or interest, no matter what the questions were or how much time the reporters had to formulate them.

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