If there's any sense of pessimism surrounding the 2018 Seattle Seahawks, it's struggling to infiltrate their training camp.
The team conducted practice Monday at its resplendent facilities on the shores of Lake Washington under a cloudless sky in front of a legion of raucous fans. Quarterback Russell Wilson purposefully dashed from drill to drill, while middle linebacker Bobby Wagner exuded exuberance, regularly exhorting any teammate who made a play to thwart the offense during 11-on-11 drills.
The enthusiastic atmosphere aside, there are rampant questions about a club that missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2011. Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas remains MIA, holding out for a contract extension or trade. Another Pro Bowler, receiver Doug Baldwin, is nursing a mysterious knee injury, though the team expects him to be ready by Week 1. And the departures: Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Jimmy Graham, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor — the on- and off-the-field tone setter who remains on the roster (and delighted fans by appearing Monday to sign autographs) but won't play this season or likely ever again due to a neck injury.
Yet even though there's nary a trace of the Legion of Boom, there's hardly a sense of doom and gloom among the players, especially when confronted by a certain USA TODAY Sports "expert" who projected a last-place finish in the NFC West for the only team in the conference that's reached the Super Bowl twice in the last decade.
"You're the 4-12 guy," Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright said to me — it wasn't a question — while extending a handshake and smile even while citing my dire prediction for his team. He then initiated a few minutes of thoughtful debate about team-building, chemistry and philosophy before our interview began, acknowledging my beliefs and countering in areas where we differed.
Then it was down to brass tacks.
"Which is more dangerous, a fed lion or a lion who's hungry? This defense is hungry. There's so many guys that want to prove themselves, whether it's contracts, whether they want to prove they can be a starter in this league — so many guys are on a mission," Wright told me.
"I think that as we won a Super Bowl, had guys going to Pro Bowls — I won't say the hunger left, but we're just bringing it back to its former level."
That's one reason Wright, Wagner and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., who each spoke to me about the upcoming campaign, see the Seahawks' glass as closer to full than empty. Here are a few more.
The culture's just fine
Sherman, the loquacious Pro Bowl corner who's now a member of the division rival 49ers, said in an interview last month that the Seahawks have "lost their way." He's also opined that head coach Pete Carroll's messaging and philosophy have grown tired.
"I can tell you what Coach Carroll's going to say before he even says it," admitted Wright, 29, a fourth-round pick in 2011. "There's different ways you look at it. You can say, 'Here we go again,' or you can try to find something in that message to apply to you even if it's not specifically for you.
"Have I heard a lot of these messages? Yes. But I wouldn't call it stale."
Norton coached Seattle's linebackers, including Wright and Wagner, from 2010 to 2014 before leaving to run Oakland's defense. Now he's back in the Pacific Northwest, ready to nurture a new generation of 'Hawks.
"When we first got here, the Legion of Boom that everybody talks about — there was no Legion of Boom," said Norton, whom Carroll brought with him to Seattle from USC. "We had to teach them, we had to coach them, we had to really create an environment and culture which great players have grown out of. Now, this is the next group, and it's like we just got here and we're starting anew."
And Norton's hardly worried that defensive backs Shaquill Griffin, Bradley McDougald and Tedric Thompson aren't household names.
"No one knew who Richard Sherman was," said Norton, referring back to his first stint. "He was a late-round pick and fifth string."
The new guys might be pretty good
"It's understandable," Norton said of my 4-12 outlook. "It's a name league, and our names are leaving, so I can understand how you'd feel that way."
Then he points out that Sherman, Chancellor and Avril all missed significant time in 2017 even as I remind him that the defense didn't keep Seattle competitive down the stretch, including a 42-7 blowout by the Rams at CenturyLink Field in Week 15 when the Seahawks were still in contention.
"Youth is always a plus," said Norton, citing the effort, passion and inquisitiveness of his new charges. "A lot of these guys that are gone, they were gone last year.
"The turnover has already happened, and the guys have had really good experience — it's not as if they're just new guys to the situation."
He cites Griffin (and twin brother Shaquem, a rookie linebacker), McDougald and linemen Jarran Reed and Frank Clark as players to watch.
"I love my D-line right now — it's the best I've seen in a long time," added Wright, offering telling praise while touting this group's accountability and technique.
The old guys are recharged
Wagner hears the doubts. They simply fuel the three-time all-pro.
"Myself, Russell, K.J. — we've got a lot of guys out here who are more than capable to help us," said Wagner. "A lot of young guys ready to step in and make some plays. It's OK. You guys can write us off, we've been in this position before.
"I'm excited. There's a lot of questions about leadership, lot of questions about what the team's gonna look like. I think we're in great hands."
Drafted with Wilson in 2012, Wagner, 28, also senses déjà vu.
"You see everything come full circle," he said. "I remember when I first walked into the doors and guys like Kam were still considered the young guys — you watch them become the old guys. Now me and K.J. are the old guys. I think it's fun and an exciting challenge."
Norton is asking even more of Wagner and Wright in meeting rooms and may expand their roles on the field, too.
"Those guys are the strength, the heartbeat of the defense," he said. "Steadily amazing, steadily high level. Their temperament, their leadership is just going to be reflective of the whole group."
The offense ...
... isn't just about Wilson, who generated more than 80% of Seattle's yardage last year while pacing the NFL in TD passes (34) and his team with 586 rushing yards.
But Wagner and Wright now light up when talking about second-year back Chris Carson, who seems to be generating even more buzz than this year's first rounder, Rashaad Penny.
"If he plays all 16 games, there's no doubt he'll have 1,000 yards rushing," said Wright, who's also impressed by the offensive line's development under new assistant Mike Solari.
Wright even offered another sleeper.
"I really love Marcus Johnson," he said of the second-year receiver. "I really believe he'll be a tremendous asset to this team, showing his speed and what he can do down the field."
Wagner left me with one last thought.
"You'll be the first person I call when we kill it," he chuckled.
"You'll have to write a great story. You'll have to be like, 'I said this, but Bobby proved me wrong.' It's a bet."
You're on, Bobby.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis