Preseason Game 3 Preview: Seahawks at Chiefs

As per usual, the main attraction in tonight’s game is the quarterback competition.  After great performances against Tennessee and Denver’s second and third string defenses, Russell Wilson has earned himself an opportunity to show what he can do versus Kansas City’s first string defense.

The Chiefs have a lukewarm defensive line, but their linebackers and secondary are pretty stout.  As a result, last year the Chiefs’ defense was average against the run (14th in yards allowed per carry, 20th in touchdowns allowed) and near the bottom of the league in sacks (27th), but they made up for all that with a great pass defense: 7th in completion percentage allowed, 2nd in interception percentage, 6th (tied) in total interceptions, 7th in QB passer rating allowed, and 6th in passing yards allowed per game. 

Granted, the team is no longer as intimidating as it once was at the cornerback position (Brandon Flowers is out with a heel injury and Brandon Carr signed with the Cowboys in free agency), but the safeties and linebacker corps are still solid.  Bottom line, Wilson won’t face much pressure and will have some room to scramble around, but completing passes is not going to be easy.  If he puts on another big show, he may very well end up beating out Matt Flynn for the starting job.

Not that QB is the only position where guys are competing for a job, mind you.  Monday is the first roster cutdown date, at which time NFL rosters will shrink from 90 players to 75.  Three days later, the Seahawks will play their final preseason game on Thursday, followed by the final cutdown to 53 players the following day.  Time is running out for everyone to prove they deserve a spot on this team, and with that in mind I thought I’d take a quick look at the roster to see who needs to start updating their résumés.

For each position grouping, I’ve broken things down into three tiers.  Tier one players are either starters or the most likely choices to stay on as backups.  As long as they keep doing what they’ve been doing, they should still be on the roster come September 1st.  Tier two players are guys who have a legitimate shot at surviving the final cutdown, but really need to show up in the last two preseason games to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.  Finally, tier three players are guys who are possible first cut casualties.  They still have an opportunity to make the team, but they need to really do something special tonight or they may not be around for next week’s game against the Raiders.

Quarterback

Tier # Name
1 15 Matt Flynn
1 3 Russell Wilson
2 7 Tarvaris Jackson
2 2 Josh Portis

While Flynn and Wilson are busy duking it out for the starting gig, Tarvaris Jackson and Josh Portis are left waiting to see who gets to be the third guy on the roster.  There’s a rumor that Jackson is on the trading block, so Portis may already be the choice to stay on, but without something more concrete it’s hard to know how much stock to put into those reports.

Offensive Line

Tier # Name Position
1 60 Max Unger C
1 74 John Moffitt G
1 64 J.R. Sweezy G
1 61 Lemuel Jeanpierre C/G
1 68 Breno Giacomini T
1 67 Paul McQuistan G
1 76 Russell Okung T
2 65 Frank Omiyale T
2 63 Rishaw Johnson G
3 62 Kris O’Dowd C
3 66 Paul Fanaika G
3 72 Deuce Lutui G
3 70 Edawn Coughman T
3 78 Allen Barbre T
3 73 Alex Barron bust

Thanks to Unger, Okung, and Giacomini, the starting center and tackle positions were already sewn up well ahead of training camp, and Moffitt will be starting at guard once he recovers from elbow surgery.  At the other guard spot, McQuistan appears to be the obvious choice, which is a pleasant surprise.  When he was filling in for Moffitt and Robert Gallery last season, he looked a whole lot like a tackle trying his best to play an unfamiliar position, but this year he really looks the part.  Tom Cable is a goddamn miracle worker.

Speaking of Cable’s miracles, Sweezy will be starting at Moffitt’s vacant guard spot tonight.  If no one had told me, there’s no way I would’ve guessed from watching him on film that he had never played anywhere on the offensive line before he was drafted by Seattle.  His blocking in space still leaves something to be desired, but he’s fast as hell for an o-lineman and his in-line blocking is showing steady improvement.

Jeanpierre looks to be the team’s primary backup at center and guard and Omiyale looks to be a solid veteran backup at tackle.  If they both stay on, that leaves probably one roster spot left for the rest to fight over.  Lutui is one of the best run blockers on the team, but his pass blocking is adequate at best and he really screwed up with that late hit penalty last week against the Broncos.  The coaches like Johnson, but he’s raw and may be better suited as a practice squad candidate.  Barron has looked good in practices, but in both preseason games he’s reminded everyone why the Rams and Cowboys gave up on him by racking up dumb penalties.  Fanaika, Coughman, and Barbre have all had their moments, but need to do more to make the team.  O’Dowd, who was brought in late as a camp body while Jeanpierre was out with a groin pull, is not going to make the team.

Running Back

Tier # Name Position
1 24 Marshawn Lynch RB
1 22 Robert Turbin RB
1 26 Michael Robinson FB
2 33 Leon Washington RB
2 20 Kregg Lumpkin RB
2 30 Tyrell Sutton RB
2 40 Vai Taua FB/RB

Robinson, Lynch, and Turbin’s jobs are all assured, and prior to the kickoff rule change last year so was Washington’s.  The ex-Jet is still a decent changeup option as a quick scatback with decent hands, but his $2 million salary for 2012 was based primarily on his ability as a return man.  That leaves a window open for one of the cheaper options on the roster to replace him.  Lumpkin and Sutton both have better hands than half the wideouts on the roster, with Sutton being the shiftier of the two.  Taua isn’t as accomplished as the other two as a runner or receiver, but he makes up for that by doubling as a fullback (his lead blocking against Denver was particularly impressive).

Tight End

Tier # Name
1 86 Zach Miller
1 82 Kellen Winslow, Jr.
1 85 Anthony McCoy
2 88 Cameron Morrah
2 45 Sean McGrath
3 84 Cooper Helfet

Miller and Winslow were always going to make the team, but I never expected to list McCoy in the top tier.  Last year, he was a decent blocker, but not consistently, and his receiving was terrible.  I’ve made no secret of how much I disliked his play.  That said, in last week’s game versus Denver he played lights-out awesome.  His blocking was ferocious, he caught everything thrown to him, and most importantly he didn’t have any of the boneheaded lapses in concentration that dogged him in 2011.  The McCoy I saw in that game is a player I could grow to love, so here’s hoping it wasn’t one of those one-week-only type deals.

So, with McCoy’s neck officially off the chopping block, that pretty much leaves Morrah and McGrath fighting for the last tight end spot, and Morrah being sidelined with an injury isn’t doing him any favors.  Of course, this assumes that the team will keep four tight ends once again, but I don’t see why they wouldn’t if they plan on making the most of Darrell Bevell’s two tight end sets.  Helfet has played well at times, and if McGrath weren’t on the team he might have a shot at the final roster, but as things stand now his best bet to make the team is the practice squad.

Wide Receiver

Tier # Name
1 89 Doug Baldwin
1 18 Sidney Rice
2 11 Deon Butler
2 17 Braylon Edwards
2 83 Ricardo Lockette
2 87 Ben Obomanu
2 81 Golden Tate
2 19 Lavasier Tuinei
3 13 Phil Bates
3 16 Kris Durham
3 8 Jermaine Kearse
3 14 Charly Martin
3 10 Terrell Owens

Rice and Baldwin are locks to make the team, but after those two the position is wide open.  Edwards has done a great job of filling the big receiving threat role vacated by Mike Williams, and Butler’s strong play has been one of the more pleasant surprises this offseason.  Lockette came on strong early in camp, but a hamstring injury and some bad drops have troubled him down the stretch.  Obomanu is the same as he’s always been, not the most exciting player but a decent special teamer and mostly dependable as a receiver.  Tate, unfortunately, is doing his usual stud-in-practices, shrinking-violet-on-game-day act.  Tuinei is a big, rangy guy with great hands who blocks well enough that he could almost pass for a tight end.  If any undrafted free agent deserves to make the team this year, it’s him.

The rest are a series of “well, he does X well, but…” cases.  Bates looked like he was going to be the big UFA success story this year, but so far he’s been invisible in preseason action.  Martin has shown up more with his blocking than his receiving, but he’s a big play or two away from jumping up a tier.  Kearse made some waves against Denver, but he’s been hurt most of camp and needs to show up tonight to stick around.  Owens looks like he’s still capable of playing at a high level, but he flopped badly in last week’s game and Edwards has almost certainly beaten him out for a roster spot already.  Durham has been a huge disappointment and would need to do something pretty spectacular to stick around at this point.

Defensive Line

Tier # Name Position
1 79 Red Bryant DE
1 91 Chris Clemons DE
1 51 Bruce Irvin DE
1 90 Jason Jones DT
1 98 Greg Scruggs DE
1 99 Alan Branch DT
1 94 Jaye Howard DT
1 69 Clinton McDonald DT
1 92 Brandon Mebane DT
2 95 Pierre Allen DE
2 93 Lazarius Levingston DT
3 47 Cordarro Law DE

First off, starters Bryant, Mebane, Branch, and Clemons aren’t going anywhere, and neither are the promising young pass-rushers the team brought in via the draft and free agency (Irvin, Jones, Scruggs, and Howard).  McDonald, who was picked up last year when the Seahawks traded Kelly Jennings to the Bengals, has shown great improvement in camp and looks to be a solid backup for both defensive tackle positions.

That’s nine players already ensconced in the first tier, which is exactly how many defensive linemen the team kept on the roster in 2011.  Allen and Levingston are both strong players with a lot of potential, but unless the team decides to keep ten DLs this year or one of the tier one guys stumbles badly or ends up on IR, both are going to end up getting cut.  Dexter Davis would have been in the mix too, but he was waived with a settlement after suffering a hip injury.  He was a favorite of Carroll’s, but it would seem that there are limits to his patience with chronically injured players.

It’s disappointing to have to put Law in the third tier.  He looked promising for much of training camp, but has yet to show up in the preseason and according to recent practice reports he’s been just going through the motions lately.

Linebacker

Tier # Name Position
1 55 Heath Farwell MLB
1 54 Bobby Wagner MLB
1 50 K.J. Wright OLB
1 56 Leroy Hill OLB
2 43 Kyle Knox OLB
2 48 Mike Morgan OLB
2 59 Korey Toomer OLB
3 44 Allen Bradford OLB
3 46 Jameson Konz OLB
3 52 Matt McCoy MLB
3 53 Malcolm Smith OLB

Beyond the three starters, Wright, Hill, and Wagner, only Farwell appears to have earned a roster spot.  Aside from being the best special teams player on the team (hell, he’s one of the best in the league), he’s also proven surprisingly adept at playing the Mike position.  That, along with Wagner earning the starting job, allowed the team to trade Barrett Ruud to the Saints for an undisclosed pick (probably 6th-7th round).

That still leaves room for at least three more players.  Toomer is a recent draft pick who has played decently enough, and both Knox and Morgan have shown off some above-average football instincts in both preseason games.

Smith was a seventh round pick last year and is a great athlete, but he’s had trouble staying healthy and has yet to do much of anything in games besides run really fast.  Konz is also a late round pick and an exceptional athlete, but so far he’s also hasn’t been able to avoid injuries and doesn’t appear to have a set position on the team (he’s currently listed as a linebacker on Seahawks.com).  Bradford was a running back when he was claimed off waivers from the Buccaneers last season, then became a linebacker when he was cut and re-signed to the practice squad.  I have no idea what to make of that, and so far he’s done nothing to show he belongs at that position, either.

McCoy’s status is tough to figure out.  Before Aaron Curry destroyed his knee last season, he was doing great things as the middle linebacker in Gus Bradley’s nickel packages.  If he had recovered fully from that injury, he would be a solid tier one player, but unfortunately he hasn’t.  It remains to be seen how long the Seahawks are willing to patiently wait for him to get healthy.

Defensive Back

Tier # Name Position
1 39 Brandon Browner CB
1 25 Richard Sherman CB
1 29 Earl Thomas FS
1 31 Kam Chancellor SS
1 32 Jeron Johnson S
2 37 Coye Francies CB
2 23 Marcus Trufant CB
2 41 Byron Maxwell CB
2 35 Phillip Adams DB
2 42 Chris Maragos S
3 1 Jeremy Lane CB
3 34 Roy Lewis CB
3 38 Donny Lisowski CB
3 36 Ron Parker CB
3 27 Winston Guy S
3 5 DeShawn Shead DB

Seeing as how Browner, Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor comprise one of the youngest, strongest, and most exciting secondaries in the NFL, I think it’s safe to say that they’re locks to make the team.  Behind them, Johnson and Adams have outplayed every last backup hopeful in camp this year.

That leaves roughly three remaining roster spots for the rest of the DBs to fight over. Trufant is playing great at the nickel back position and is pretty much the lone crafty veteran in the secondary, but a lot depends on him remaining healthy.  Maxwell, Francies, and Maragos have all done some great things in camp and in both preseason games, but they need to show up a bit more on film in the last two preseason games.

Like Matt McCoy, Lewis should be a solid tier one guy, but having to undergo knee surgery this week seriously hurts his chances of remaining a Seahawk.  Parker and Shead appear to be little more than special teams material.  Lisowski is a favorite of Carroll’s and is quite possibly the fastest DB on the team, but that didn’t stop him from being cut once already this offseason.

The last two are draft picks from this year, but both have been deeply disappointing so far.  Guy is an old school strong safety who can thump versus the run and seems to have little feel for making plays on the ball.  Lane is a lot like Golden Tate, but with less maturity: he looks awesome in practices, but disappears in games except when he’s doing something incredibly stupid (like, say, throwing a punch in the team scrimmage).  If there was a lesson to be learned from Mark LeGree’s short tenure in Seattle last season, it’s that Carroll is not too proud to cut his losses when a draft pick doesn’t pan out.

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