The question marks for the Seahawks as they enter training camp don’t come accompanied with exclamation points.
Instead, the issues greeting the Seahawks as the season begins with the first practice Thursday are more subtle.
The Seahawks, recall, ended 2012 as one of the hottest teams in the NFL, finishing a last-second Atlanta drive and two points away from advancing to the NFC title game, allowing the fewest points in the league for the season (245) and scoring an astonishing average of 42.5 points the last four games.
Those are the kinds of numbers experts point to when they make the Seahawks one of the favorites to play in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 in New Jersey.
Still, while the Seahawks have Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the Legion of Boom as they enter camp, there are a few unresolved issues.
Here’s a look at some of the most pressing:
Will Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril be healthy enough to offset the loss of Bruce Irvin for the first four games?
The Seahawks’ biggest defensive flaw a year ago might have been a pass rush that recorded 36 sacks, just off the NFL average of 36½. It’s one of the few areas Seattle was below average statistically in 2012.
The pass rush might have been the difference in the playoff loss to Atlanta with Clemons — who led the team with 11½ sacks — out with a knee injury.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has said there is a chance that Clemons will be back for the start of the season, but also that he won’t be rushed back from an injury that usually requires nine to 10 months of recovery time. Clemons’ progress will be a key story line of camp.
Seattle signed free agents Avril and Michael Bennett to augment the pass rush, but Avril showed up to Offseason Training Activities with a case of plantar fasciitis. Avril participated some in minicamp, though, and should be good to go for training camp.
Seattle needs him back as Irvin — the team’s 2012 first-round pick — will miss the first four games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Both Avril and Irvin will be used some at linebacker, as well, as the Seahawks continue to experiment with a 3-4 alignment.
Who will win the backup quarterback job?
The big news of minicamp was the signing of 2011 Seahawks starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson after he was cut by Buffalo. Jackson wasn’t signed in time to participate in minicamp, but will start off training camp competing with Brady Quinn for the backup job behind Wilson. Given Jackson’s experience with the team, familiarity with the offense and the respect he has among players, the conventional wisdom is he will beat out Quinn for the job. The question then will become whether the Seahawks decide to keep just two quarterbacks, or hang on to both Jackson and Quinn.
Will the Seahawks have enough depth at tight end?
The biggest piece of bad news for the Seahawks from OTAs/minicamp was the loss of backup tight end Anthony McCoy for the year due to an Achilles tendon injury.
That leaves only starter Zach Miller as a tight end with any significant experience on the roster. Miller sat out minicamp with a foot injury. Carroll said it wasn’t serious, but the Seahawks will need to be careful with Miller through camp to get him to the season while continuing to develop second-year player Sean McGrath and rookie Luke Willson.
Who will win the weakside linebacker job?
Carroll pointed to this spot as one of the most open position battles at the end of minicamp. As the offseason ended, Malcolm Smith had a tenuous hold on the spot, which was held last year by K.J. Wright, who has moved to the strong side to take over for the departed Leroy Hill (with Bobby Wagner entrenched in the middle).
The use of Avril and Irvin at linebacker, however, could greatly change the complexion of this spot, making it possible the Seahawks often have just two players listed as linebackers — Wright and Wagner — actually on the field.
Can the Seahawks survive training camp without any more off-field issues?
The Seahawks are in an unaccustomed position as one of the Super Bowl favorites, which also brings with it an unfamiliar national spotlight. The Seahawks got a taste of the potential downside of that when Irvin was suspended, bringing with it a number of national stories questioning the team’s maturity and ability to handle the increased expectations of this season.
Making it through to the regular season without any more hiccups will help convince the skeptics the team truly is ready to make a legitimate run to the Super Bowl.