Seamless in Seattle
The Seahawks' pre-season exploits suggest they will be a force in the NFL this term, says Simon Veness.
Last Updated: 22/08/12 3:22pm
The Phony War is half-way through now and there are some distinct signs of positive life for a few NFL franchises that were hitherto thought to be in the dreaded 'rebuilding' phase.
And no, that's not the New York Jets, before New Jersey fans run off with the idea their team is actually fooling anyone so far. The Jets are the only team not to have scored a touchdown in the pre-season and there are all sorts of alarm bells ringing for Rex Ryan's men right now.
My regular readers will know I am not one to set much store or draw any heavyweight conclusions from the scrimmages that pass for warm-up games in these parts, where the first-string players put in roughly 15 minutes of work and then call it a day.
But there is a sense that this pre-season is a little different, at least for a handful of teams who have a far greater urgency to get in shape for The Real Thing next month.
Step forward Seattle, Cleveland and, possibly, Indianapolis as three teams that are showing distinct signs of overturning a mountain of media skepticism and, at least, being a lot more competitive in the weeks ahead than many people gave them credit for.
The Seahawks - possibly the most chilled out of all 32 teams in training camp right now - were last seen in genuine gridiron combat losing to the woeful Arizona Cardinals and finishing a meager 7-9 in the 2011 season.
However, they already look like a completely different team and that's mainly because they largely ARE a completely different team to the one that finished the last campaign in such dismal fashion, with plenty of new, eager faces on both sides of the ball.
Pay no attention to their gaudy 2-0 pre-season record or even the emphatic 30-10 defeat of Denver last weekend. But DO pay attention to the fact rookie quarterback Russell Wilson - fresh out of the University of Wisconsin - has quietly had a stellar start to his professional life and has already been anointed the team's starter-in-waiting, despite the fact they landed Green Bay's Matt Flynn in the off-season.
And also be aware of the sterling work being carried out by Pete Carroll's defence. In limiting the starting line-ups of Tennessee and Denver to a combined 17 points they have laid down a distinct marker that they could be a difference-maker in a division where most people expect San Francisco to sleep-walk their way to a second successive title.
Equally, the Browns are suddenly getting plenty of punditry respect as second-year coach Pat Shurmur has staked his colours to the quarterbacking mast of Brandon Weeden and been pleasantly surprised by the results so far.
Cleveland's 2-0 pre-season record is not the main reason for hope in north Ohio, but the way Weeden led a team short on talent but big on heart in their demolition job on Green Bay suggests the 'No stars' approach that Shurmur is preaching could pay dividends.
With none of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati looking at all in sync so far, the Browns could - whisper it softly - be one of the big surprise packages of 2012.
The last time we saw anything positive from the Colts they had a quarterback by the name of Manning at the helm and the only question-marks were along the lines of how far into the post-season they would go each year.
Four neck surgeries, three quarterbacks and two head coaches later, this team now belongs firmly to top draft pick Andrew Luck and, while Peyton's place is not forgotten, the team is most assuredly looking forwards, not back.
So far, Luck has had all the senior writers and talking heads positively salivating at the talent level he has shown in leading Indy to two impressive performances to date, with figures of 26 of 41 for 363 yards, 2TDs and 2 INTs (one of which was distinctly unlucky) in almost five quarters of action.
'Cool', 'unruffled,' 'mentally tough' are the words being bandied around next to the former Stanford signal caller and some are already even speculating that the Colts have their second 15-year Hall of Famer in a row.
It is a lot to dump in Luck's lap all at once - along with the little matter of re-building a team that won all of two games last year - but the lad does just look cool, unruffled and mentally tough enough to carry it off.
Not that Colts fans should run away with the idea that their team will be back to the glory days of Tony Dungy, but it shouldn't be another season of gloom in the heart of Indiana.
The success of the current crop of rookie quarterbacks is almost the sub-text of this year's pre-season, though. Almost everywhere you look there is a young whipper-snapper zipping passes around like a seasoned pro (while some of the seasoned pros look like rookies - yes, that would be you, Matt Hasselbeck, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer).
Philadelphia's Nick Foles was the main reason the Eagles were able to shrug off the loss of Michael Vick (again) and look good in winning (again), while Michigan State record-holder Kirk Cousins was almost revelatory for Washington in their narrow loss to Chicago.
There were not-so-good notices for Robert Griffin III in his second outing for the Redskins, though, but second-year pros Andy Dalton (Cincinnati), Christian Ponder (Minnesota) and Blaine Gabbert (Jacksonville) looked good in the handful of series they were allowed this past week.
As ever, I would caution that this is, still, the pre-season, and a LOT of weird stuff typically happens around this time of year.
We can take more notice this coming week, though, when coaches typically play their starters for at least half the game (before wrapping them in cotton wool for the big kick-off). Then we may really catch some serious glimpses of what to expect when the Phony War is finally over.