We’re on to day five of our Countdown to Camp — remember that training camp begins July 25.
Today, we’ll look at what is always one of the more fun topics to bat around this time of year — which undrafted rookie free agents have the best chance to make the team?
Under Pete Carroll, Seattle has become adept at unearthing some solid undrafted free agents who have gone on to make the team, and a couple who have then made significant contributions to the team. Most notable are Doug Baldwin and Mike Morgan in 2011, Jermaine Kearse and DeShawn Shead in 2012 and Benson Mayowa and Alvin Bailey a year ago.
The depth and stoutness of Seattle’s roster, though, means that it’s going to be more difficult than ever for a UDFA to make it this year. There aren’t a lot of obvious available slots at any position.
More likely is that a few impress enough to make it as a practice squad guy, which then puts them a step away from the real thing.
As camp nears, here are the five who may have the best shot at finding a way to stick around:
Safety Dion Bailey — The 6-0, 211-pound Bailey is a USC grad well-familiar with the Carroll way of operating, which won’t hurt things. He spent the spring playing a lot of backup free safety, a spot that is wide open with the departure of Chris Maragos, which also won’t hurt his chances. Free agent signee Terrance Parks, though, also made an impression at that spot, and draftee Eric Pinkins is now also apparently primarily a safety, so there’s no lack of competition for the backup spots at either free or strong safety. Bailey, recall, caught the deflection of a pass for an interception that ended rookie mini-camp, ala Malcolm Smith’s play in the NFC title game., and showed good instincts throughout the spring. As always, special teams will be critical.
Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat — Jeffcoat, who played at Texas, was one of the bigger surprises to go untaken in the 2014 draft, and the Seahawks waged a pretty stiff battle to get him to sign. In the spring, he seemed to take a little while to get comfortable with the pace of the NFL game — he worked largely at the LEO/rush end spot. But his play picked up as the spring ended, eliciting this comment from defensive coordinator Dan Quinn: “At Texas, we thought he had a good get-off and had speed to use that length. For him, he’s been one of those guys that we talked about earlier, the speed in the practices has really helped him get in good shape. He’s jumped out to me as a pass rusher first. We’re just trying to get all those guys acclimated as quick as we can. You know us, we like pass rushers.” LEO is another spot where there are no shortage of seemingly able bodies. But as Mayowa showed last year, if the Seahawks like what they see, they’ll find a way to keep a pass rusher around.
Linebacker Horace Miller — Miller, from UTEP, was signed following the team’s rookie mini-camp and impressed coaches with not only his play at outside linebacker but also with his potential on special teams. Recall the letter Miller shared on Instrgam from Seahawks GM John Schneider that called his play to that point “impressive.” With the Seahawks having some contract decisions to make with linebackers over the next few years, they’ll be looking for some young bodies there to add depth.
Offensive tackle Gary Gilliam — Gilliam, of Penn State, was a player the Seahawks seemed excited about even before the news hit that draft pick Garrett Scott would not be able to play for now due to a heart condition. Scott’s loss meant even more opportunities for Gilliam, who played tight end through most of his college career, and he spent most of the spring as the backup left tackle, at times working with the starting unit with Russell Okung out. Okung’s contract is another about which the team will have to make a decision in the near future, and Bailey is far from secure as the heir apparent at that spot, meaning there could be an opening there for Gilliam.
Offensive lineman Nate Isles — The four listed above seem to have the best shots. But to pick a fifth, and one who maybe could really surprise, I’ll go with Isles, a 6-5, 348-pounder from North Carolina A&T who was signed after participating in the team’s rookie mini-camp. While listed as a guard, he spent the spring playing tackle, primarily right tackle. His size alone makes him intriguing, and as the vast rise up the depth chart a year ago of Bailey and Michael Bowie showed, the Seahawks have no fear of going with younger players they think have potential.