By Danny O'Neil
RENTON – The Seahawks returned to the practice field Monday missing a few veterans and including a number of surprises.
The biggest one: Sixteen new players made the team. That's nearly one-third of the roster, a group that includes free agents like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and eight rookies.
And while there may still be questions about the decisions to release fullback Michael Robinson and cornerback Antoine Winfield, there's no doubt about Seattle's rationale for doing so.
Derrick Coleman (40) supplanted Michael Robinson, Seattle's starting fullback for the past three seasons. "That's a big accomplishment for Derrick," coach Pete Carroll said. (AP)
The Seahawks could have gone through the offseason without making a single addition to the roster and been expected to return to the playoffs. Now, Seattle enters the year believing it has improved that roster while remaining one of the youngest teams in the league.
That came at a cost. Robinson was a locker-room leader, and Carroll said it was a tough decision. The other side is what Derrick Coleman proved in competing for that spot.
"He just came through in a beautiful way and sent a big message about special teams," Carroll said of Coleman. "He has had a great camp in special teams. He's all over the place. He's a core guy there. We know he can carry the ball, too, if he needed to. He catches the ball, and he's learning the system as a fullback. He outlasted the competition in this one to go into the opener as the starter. That's a big accomplishment for Derrick. We're really excited about it."
Winfield faced a similar situation, a head-to-head competition with a younger player for a single role, and Carroll went out of his way to point out that Winfield was hardly a disappointment in his time with the team.
"What an extraordinary football player and a great kid," Carroll said. "He battled his tail off, and he's a terrific player still today. He ran up against Walter Thurmond, and Walter just had a great camp, did a fantastic job for us. He's at his very best he has been, versatile, all over the special-teams units. Versatile as well. We're really excited about him at the nickel spot. As much as I love Antoine, I'm really excited for Walter to come through like he did. We've all been waiting for him to get healthy. He finally is and it showed."
Clemons to practice
Seattle is going to get a number of defensive linemen back at practice on Wednesday, including defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel, who sat out the preseason finale because of strained groin muscles.
Defensive end Chris Clemons is going to be out there, too, practicing for the first time since he suffered a torn knee ligament in the playoff game at Washington in January.
"We're real excited about that," Carroll said. "He has had a great preparation to get back."
He won't be on the field for the season-opener, though, as Carroll was clear to state that Seattle isn't rushing things with Clemons.
"The tune we've been telling you hasn't changed," Carroll said. "We're going to take our time and make sure he's ready to go. He will not be in consideration for this weekend."
• DT Jordan Hill has no timeline for his return from a strained biceps, but Carroll said he is progressing in his recovery. "He's getting closer," Carroll said. "I don't know when it's going to be, but it's not going to be a long time before he has a chance to be out there."
• DE Cliff Avril worked out before the team practiced on Monday, and while Carroll did not state when he'll be back, the coach sounded encouraged after Avril missed all four preseason games because of an injured hamstring. "He was moving better than I would have thought and the trainers, so we'll see what happens," Carroll said. "We'll see how he takes to this workout today and gets another day off and we'll see what happens."
• WRs Stephen Williams (head) and Sidney Rice (knee) are expected to practice on Wednesday.
• Seattle's eight-man practice squad includes DTs Michael Brooks and Sealver Siliga, TE Cooper Helfet, LB Ty Powell, OL Ryan Seymour and Jared Smith, DB DeShawn Shead and WR Bryan Walters.