Preseason Game 1 Preview: Seahawks at Titans

Tonight, the spotlight will be on the quarterbacks.  Matt Flynn, who will play the entire first half, will get his first chance to sew up the starting quarterback position, and Russell Wilson will show us what he can do when he takes over thereafter.  Matt Hasselbeck will once again be playing in Seattle, albeit in a Titans uniform, and he’s currently waging a battle of his own for Tennessee’s starting gig against ex-Husky Jake Locker.  In short, no matter who has the ball there’s a season’s worth of playing time riding on every pass.

But QBs aside, there’s going to be someone interesting to watch everywhere you look on the field.  To that end, here’s a list of some of the more notable guys to keep an eye out for, broken down by position grouping for ease of reference (since most of these guys are new to the team, I’ve also included jersey numbers).

Offensive Line

T #73 Alex Barron
G #63 Rishaw Johnson
G #72 Deuce Lutui
G # 67 Paul McQuistan
G # 64 J.R. Sweezy

As you can see, the action on the o-line is at the guard positions.  The starting right guard, John Moffitt, is having surgery to remove some debris from his elbow and will miss the next 2-3 weeks, which gives everyone else that much more playing time.  McQuistan is penciled in at left guard, but he’s facing strong competition for the job from Deuce Lutui, who will likely be taking Moffitt’s place in the starting lineup. 

Behind them, the two most intriguing players are Johnson and Sweezy, an undrafted rookie and a late-round project player, respectively.  Sweezy is a defensive tackle Tom Cable is trying to convert to guard, and from all accounts he’s exceeded everyone’s expectations.  I can’t wait to see him in action.

And then there’s Barron, a guy I never expected or wanted to see in a Seahawks uniform.  On paper, he’s got all the size, power, and speed you could ever want in a franchise left tackle, but unfortunately the most consistent thing he’s ever done is commit two or three boneheaded, drive-killing holding penalties in nearly every game I’ve seen him play.  He may play well this preseason, perhaps even spectacularly so.  But come the regular season, don’t expect him to be the second coming of Walter Jones – expect the second coming of Tom Ashworth.

Wide Receiver

WR #13 Phil Bates
WR #16 Kris Durham
WR #17 Braylon Edwards
WR #81 Golden Tate
WR #19 Lavasier Tuinei

After quarterback, this is the biggest question mark on the team.  And just to muddy the waters a bit more, several of the most notable names at the position won’t even be suiting up tonight: Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockette are nursing hamstring injuries, Terrell Owens isn’t ready to go yet, and Sidney Rice is being held out to protect his surgically repaired shoulders.

On the plus side, their absence leaves plenty of room for other guys to show they belong on this team.  Tate and Durham are both mid-round picks who have disappointed so far, Tate due to inconsistency and Durham due to injury.  Durham needs to show up this preseason, but the important thing for Tate isn’t how well he performs – he’s always done well prior to the regular season – but what he does after making a decent catch.  Will he make a big celebration out of it, or will he play it down and show he’s finally starting to develop the maturity he needs to make those catches on a regular basis?

Edwards needs to prove not only that he still has the ability to get separation and fight for the ball, but also that he can hold on to the damn thing and not drop it as soon as it hits his hands.  Bates is this year’s Baldwin, an undrafted rookie who has drawn praise across the board for his route-running and good hands, and this will be his first opportunity to show that he’s too valuable for the team to risk sneaking him on to the practice squad.  Tuinei hasn’t wowed as many people as Bates, but he’s turned enough heads to warrant a glance or two tonight.

Tight Ends & Running Backs

TE #84 Cooper Helfet
RB #20 Kregg Lumpkin
TE #45 Sean McGrath
TE #88 Cameron Morrah
RB #22 Robert Turbin

The way things are going at tight end, keeping four on the final roster is a distinct possibility.  The names on the top of the depth chart, Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow, Jr., are pretty much set in stone, and for some reason the team is still high on Anthony McCoy.  Morrah routinely outplayed McCoy last year, but he appears to be the number four tight end.  He’s always been a decent receiving option, but if he can prove he can hold up as an in-line blocker he might still have a chance to unseat McCoy and his stone hands.  McGrath hasn’t done anything jaw-droppingly awesome, but his route running and hands have proven so reliable that he’s become the most-targeted receiver on the field regardless of who is behind center.  He may earn a roster spot yet.  Helfet is in the same boat as Tuinei, a decent player whose best bet to stick is earning a practice squad berth.

With Marshawn Lynch likely sitting out the game, Turbin will likely be getting the majority of the carries.  He’s been drawing favorable comparisons to Lynch with his hard running, but he’s also proven to be much faster and more agile than anyone expected him to be.  Lumpkin is kind of a forgotten man.  He was picked up in free agency as a possible backup to Lynch, but with the addition of Turbin there may no longer be a place for him on the roster, as Leon Washington’s return skills all but guarantee him the third running back spot.  Lumpkin would have to show up in a big way to stick in Seattle, but odds are he’s auditioning for a waiver claim.

Defensive Backs

CB #37 Coye Francies
SS #27 Winston Guy
SS #32 Jeron Johnson
CB #1 Jeremy Lane
FS #42 Chris Maragos
CB #41 Byron Maxwell

Francies was a special teamer his first three years in the NFL, but he’s shown marked improvement in his coverage abilities in camp this year and may be a prime backup candidate.  He’s also got the size that Carroll loves in his cornerbacks, but so do Maxwell and Lane.  Maxwell has performed well enough that he could be competing with Roy Lewis and Marcus Trufant for the nickel back spot, and Lane is a prime athletic specimen with boatloads of talent and immaturity.

The competition at safety is the more important battle.  With Atari Bigby now playing for San Diego, there’s no longer a clear backup for either Kam Chancellor or Earl Thomas.  Should either one get hurt and miss time, someone is going to have to step up, and Guy, Johnson, and Maragos look to be the likeliest candidates for the job.

Linebackers

MLB #55 Heath Farwell
OLB #59 Korey Toomer
MLB #54 Bobby Wagner
OLB #53 Malcolm Smith

Wagner was drafted to replace David Hawthorne at middle linebacker, and he’s looked pretty damn good doing it.  In fact, he’s done so well that Michael Robinson recently compared him to his former 49ers teammate, Patrick Willis.  Here’s hoping he lives up to that praise.  His presumed backup, Barrett Ruud, will likely be sitting out with a knee injury, and Matt McCoy is still rehabbing the knee that Aaron Curry destroyed in a special teams mishap last year.  That leaves things wide open for Farwell to prove he can be counted on as a backup Mike in addition to being the best special teams player on the team.

Toomer is a backup who was drafted to be Leroy Hill’s understudy, and Smith is an athletic freak of nature with a long history of injury problems.  If he can stay healthy, he has the speed to be an absolute nightmare as a blitzer on passing downs.

Defensive Line

DE #95 Pierre Allen
DT #94 Jaye Howard
DE #51 Bruce Irvin
DT #90 Jason Jones
DE #47 Cordarro Law
DT #69 Clinton McDonald

The name of the game here is rushing the passer.  With the exception of Chris Clemons, the Seahawks were terrible at getting to the quarterback last season, and all of the above guys have the potential to help the team improve in that category.  Irvin and Jones were this year’s top draft choice and free agent pickup, respectively, and the plan for both is to sub them in as situational pass rushers.

On the interior line, Howard has been knifing into the backfield with regularity all throughout camp, and McDonald has proven disruptive enough that he’s already earned himself a permanent spot in the team’s nickel package.

Allen you might remember from 2010 when he was a standout pass-rusher all through the offseason, then suffered a season-ending knee injury in the last game of the preseason.  He’s finally healthy enough to get a shot at making the team again, and so far it sounds like he’s playing like his old self.  However, he’s facing some stiff competition from Law, an undrafted rookie who’s also been making life difficult for the Hawks’ tackles all through training camp.  However, with Clemons, Red Bryant, and late-round pick Greg Scruggs already taking up roster spots, Allen and Law may end up having to beat out promising-but-oft-injured Dexter Davis for the last defensive end spot on the roster.

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