RENTON – The first practice after an NFL game is generally when you count up the absences as evidence of the physical toll that was taken.
On Monday, it was the players back on the field that was most significant as Seahawks linebackers Malcolm Smith and Korey Toomer returned to practice. Not only that, but Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin may not be too far behind in their returns as what has been one of the thinnest positions for Seattle during training camp could become one of the deepest.
"It's a really good group," coach Pete Carroll said. "We're really excited about these guys. It has been thin all throughout the camp."
Rookie Brock Coyle has started at middle linebacker the past two games and logged more playing time than anyone. Strong-side linebacker Mike Morgan hasn't been too far behind as Seattle's options at the position were limited.
That changed beginning Monday when Smith practiced for the first time since being named Super Bowl MVP. He underwent offseason ankle surgery, which kept him out of the conditioning program and the first three weeks of practice.
Korey Toomer is a former fifth-round pick who's in his third season, and while he has yet to play a down for Seattle, he was one of the team's more promising players in the offseason before suffering a hamstring injury.
Next up: Wagner, a two-year starter at middle linebacker who suffered a first-degree strain of his hamstring during the first week of training camp. He could be back next week.
Finally: Irvin, who is coming back from hip surgery. He is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which leaves Seattle some options if he's not ready for Week 1. Seattle could leave him on PUP entering the regular season, which would save a roster spot but would force Irvin to miss the first six games before becoming eligible to be activated.
It doesn't sound like that's Seattle's plan, though, as Carroll said that if Irvin continues progressing, the team is looking at a return following the preseason finale. Carroll said there's a chance Irvin could be back at practice as early as next week.
"He's doing great," Carroll said. "He's running and changing direction today for the first time. He really feels confident. He doesn't feel like he feels anything at all. This week is huge to allow him maybe to get some work even next week."
O'Brien gets O'Break
O'Brien Schofield had one of the better showings of any Seahawk in Friday's preseason victory over San Diego, logging one sack and a tackle for loss. Schofield sat out Monday's practice, which was nothing more than an extra bit of rest.
"We just thought it would be good for him to rest on his knee, so he took a day off," Carroll said.
Schofield is competing with Benson Mayowa for a roster spot, both players filling the role as edge pass rushers. While Mayowa had several impressive moments in Monday's practice, including two plays in which he got around offensive tackle Eric Winston in one-on-one pass-rush drills, Schofield has stood out in the two preseason games.
"He's shown two really solid games of being active," Carroll said of Schofield. "He's rushed tremendously for us in general. He had a couple plays in the backfield in both games. Special teams was active, so he's done really well. He's really on it. He's giving everything he's got to make the club and he's making a great statement about doing that."
Eric Winston spent time at left tackle during Monday's practice with Alvin Bailey – who started the past two games at that spot – switching to the right side.
"We're just doing it for versatility," Carroll said, "and we moved Alvin to right just to make these guys have to go on those sides just to get them some time there for the future."