'You Felt the Competitor': Seahawks Coach Mike Macdonald Details Impressions of New QB Sam Howell - Sport News

‘You Felt the Competitor’: Seahawks Coach Mike Macdonald Details Impressions of New QB Sam Howell

ORLANDO, Fl. – Coordinating the first defense in NFL history to rank first in points allowed, sacks, and turnovers in the same season, new Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Macdonald found great success harassing some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL last season with the Baltimore Ravens.

On the way to an AFC North division title and a first-round bye, Macdonald’s Ravens held serve against top signal callers such as Jared Goff, Justin Herbert, and Patrick Mahomes, holding the latter to just 17 points in a losing effort in the AFC Championship game in January. Even his new starting quarterback Geno Smith struggled mightily in Seattle’s 37-3 blowout loss at Baltimore, failing to lead a touchdown drive while completing under 50 percent of his pass attempts.

While Macdonald prepared for several top-tier quarterbacks over the course of the season, however, he had a unique opportunity to assess Sam Howell in a different setting. Set to be a first-time starter for Washington, the former North Carolina star shined throughout joint practices against Baltimore’s stingy defense, displaying the toughness, arm talent, and physical traits he coveted at the position, leaving a positive impression on the rising young coordinator.

Sam Howell

Sam Howell

Michael Owens/GettyImages

Fast forwarding to the present, after losing veteran backup Drew Lock in free agency, Macdonald and Seahawks general manager John Schneider pounced at the chance to acquire Howell from the Commanders earlier this month. Engaging in a pick swap sending a 2024 third-round pick and fifth-round pick to Washington in exchange for a fourth and sixth-round pick, Seattle landed an exciting developmental quarterback to groom behind Smith.

“I think it happened with John [Schneider’s] experience and my experience playing against Sam,” Macdonald told reporters at the annual NFL league meetings. “When you play quarterbacks, it’s different on tape than it is when you go against them in person and you felt the competitor. That was the biggest thing that stuck out in my mind and that’s someone you want on your football team, a guy that’s going to go to battle.”

As Macdonald noted, and Schneider himself discussed on a recent interview on Seattle Sports 710 shortly after the trade was announced by the team, Seattle’s president of football operations loved what he saw from Howell in a tight win over Washington last November. Throwing for 314 yards and three touchdowns, he nearly orchestrated a comeback win in a hostile road environment at Lumen Field, something that stuck out to him as he began to search for replacements for Lock on the trade market.

Though the Seahawks ultimately didn’t draft Howell with Smith and Lock on the roster at the time, Schneider held him in high regard coming out of North Carolina, meeting with him at the 2022 NFL combine as well as the Senior Bowl. Then-quarterbacks coach Dave Canales also built a strong connection with the prospect and with the team entering year one without long-time starter Russell Wilson, the Pacific Northwest seemed like a probable landing spot for him at the next level.

Instead, Howell plummeted into day three before finally hearing his name called in the fifth round when the Commanders selected him with the 144th overall pick. After sitting behind Carson Wentz and Taylor Heineike for most of his rookie season, he started all 17 games in 2023 and though he led the league with 21 interceptions on a league-high 612 pass attempts, he flashed promise throwing for 3,946 yards and 21 touchdowns while adding 263 rushing yards and five additional scores on the ground.

Two years later, with Washington expected to draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall selection in next month’s draft, Howell’s journey has taken him to Seattle after all. From Macdonald’s perspective, after watching him perform at a high level against his fine-tuned defense last August on the practice field, he’s the ideal candidate to mold as an apprentice and potential heir to Smith under center.

“Obviously the arm talent is there, but the escape ability, the ability to extend plays is just something that you respected going against him, that he was out there and battling,” Macdonald said of Howell. “You put that together and his performance up in Seattle, it’s something that I thought we made a pretty cool jump to go get him.”

In the aftermath of the trade to acquire him, both Macdonald and Schneider have confirmed publicly Smith will remain Seattle’s starter and Howell won’t be competing for the job from the outset as he settles into the backup role left vacant by Lock. In time, however, with Smith having one year left on his contract after this season and a cap hit north of $30 million, the 23-year old gunslinger may have a legitimate shot to eventually become the team’s starter down the road.

For now, with Howell having two years remaining on his rookie contract, the Seahawks will begin the evaluation process in earnest as he acclimates to offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb’s offense and see where he may fit into the franchise’s future plans. Macdonald expects Smith and his new backup to partake in a conventional split of reps during the offseason program with the starter receiving the majority of those opportunities, while a third quarterback could be added that would also receive a small portion of the reps as well.

Regardless of how those reps get divvied out, after seeing his competitive nature on full display last summer, Macdonald expects Howell to come in with a chip on his shoulder, ready to learn from and push Smith, even if it isn’t for a starting job right now.

“We’ll see what Ryan [Grubb] thinks and what’s the right split. Geno is going to go into camp, he’s the starter, really excited about that. But obviously Sam needs a lot of reps as well… We’ll figure out the right mix. We might not be competing for one and two, but those two guys are going to be getting after it every day to develop and bring the team along and compete with themselves to try to make them the best player they can be, and that’s what we expect.”

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