The countdown to training camp has begun

From Clare Farnsworth of

SEATTLE -- The calendar might tell you that the Seahawks’ 38th training camp won’t open for another 11 days. Just don’t listen.

Because the clock already is running – no racing – toward that first Thursday morning practice on July 25. The players will report the day before for physicals and meetings, where the installation of the defense under first-year coordinator Dan Quinn will continue and the imagination of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell can run wild as he reintroduces the nuances that come with adding a free agent with the diverse talents of Percy Harvin.

But Monday, players and coaches already were returning to Virginia Mason Athletic Center from their extended breaks to begin preparing for a season that carries heightened expectations for a Seahawks team that last season posted the third-best regular-season record in club history (11-5), won the franchise’s first road playoff game since 1983 and came within 32 seconds of advancing to the NFC Championship game.

Quinn was back, and busy as usual on his first day in the office since June 21. So were All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, Harvin and fellow pass-catchers Sidney Rice and Zach Miller, linebacker Mike Morgan and linemen BrenoGiacomini and Michael Bennett. Linebacker K.J. Wright, long snapper Clint Gresham and tight end Sean McGrath also were around, but then they’re always around – and “always competing,” as Gresham said through a smile at the end of a wind sprint he was running in the indoor practice facility.

And you just know that quarterback Russell Wilson was somewhere dissecting video because, as he is fond of saying, “the separation is in the preparation.”

Preparation also is well underway in the equipment room, where Erik Kennedy and his staff are preparing helmets and pads for 90 players, as well as making sure each player’s cubicle in the locker room has the appropriate gear.

And the activity will only increase as the days diminish, because it has been one of those offseasons where the time couldn’t move fast enough due to the anticipation of what lies ahead.

Just back from a three-week break myself, with two of those weeks spent hanging out with our soon-to-be 6-year-old granddaughter in Montreal. So in addition to all the expectations that have been building for the Seahawks comes another: What can they do to top that experience in what will be my 35th season covering the team?

I can’t wait to find out, and we’re all about to discover just how good this team can be in its fourth season under head coach Pete Carroll.

Carroll’s goal remains the same as it has been since he first walked into the building on Jan. 11, 2010: Winning the NFC West. The Seahawks did it in his first season, with a 7-9 record. They came close but didn’t quite do it last season despite winning 11 games.

Capturing the division is imperative for Carroll because of the rewards that come with it – a home playoff game, at the least; a first-round bye and then a home playoff game, at best. The Seahawks were 8-0 at CenturyLink Field last season, after going 4-4 at home in 2011 and 5-3 in 2010.

For that reason, the importance of the Seahawks’ home-and-home games against the 49ers is magnified, because San Francisco is the two-time defending NFC West champion – in a division where winning the title has been somewhat cyclical. The 49ers won the inaugural title after realignment for the 2002 season made then division mates with the Seahawks, St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals. In 2003, the Rams won the division. Then, it was the Seahawks for four consecutive seasons (2004-07) before the Cardinals won back-to-back titles (2008-09). Then it was the Seahawks again in 2010, before the 49ers went 13-3 and 11-4-1 in their first two seasons under head coach Jim Harbaugh.
“I think it is a great division,” 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said during a recent appearance on the NFL Network. “You have a team like Seattle who is coming up. They are building a dynasty over there. They have some good players over there who are eager to win. These guys are starving. We have to really keep that in mind because these guys are coming to take us out.
“I respect them, just like I respect my team, but we want to win too. We are in it to win. We don’t want to lose, especially after last year. We get all the way to the Super Bowl (and) lose the game. We have to really take it upon our responsibility and put it out there and play each game like it is our last game.”

The Seahawks’ last-second 30-28 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta in their divisional playoff game cost them a rematch with the 49ers in the NFC Championship game – a 49ers team they had beaten 42-13 at CenturyLink Field in December and lost to 13-6 in a Thursday night game at Candlestick Park in October.

It was the comeback in that game after trailing 20-0, coupled with the fact that the Seahawks had won eight of their previous nine games, that are the cornerstones for the heightened expectations that have been building through the offseason.

But I’m expecting the Seahawks to handle the heightened expectations, because Carroll knows how it must be done after his unprecedented nine-season run at USC where the Trojans won seven Pac-10 titles and two national championships.

“It’s really important that we handle it well,” he told the players in their first meeting when the offseason program began in April. “That reality, it’s really important to own that.

“We realize that all the hype and the build up really doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t amount to anything, because that’s based on what happened before. It’s what you do now that counts. The ability to discipline and focus that way, that’s what’s crucial.”

The bottom line, of course, is how the players handle those expectations. For that, we turn to something All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas told us after a Pro Bowl practice in February.

“It doesn’t matter what anyone else says about us, or what they might expect from us, because no one has higher expectations for us than the players on this team,” Thomas said. “If there’s any pressure, it comes from within. Our pressure comes from not wanting to let the guy next to you down.”