Training camp has been going strong for a while now, but for me it never feels like football season is truly back until the Seahawks take the field for their first preseason game. Well, as of 7:00 Pacific tonight, football will be officially back when the Seahawks’ square off against their old AFC West division opponents the Chargers. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m watching the clock today like an office drone ticking off the minutes ‘til quitting time on a slow Friday.
It’s been a long, strange offseason, and I mean that in a good way. I say that partly because the national media has spent the entire summer worshipping at the feet of Russell Wilson, and partly because all the offseason pieces I had planned on writing ended up getting tossed in the wastebin by the demands of caring for a newborn. So it goes. That newborn is now close to four months old and on a steady, predictable sleep schedule, so you can consider me back, relatively rested, and itching to write.
I’ll admit, having the spotlight permanently turned on our favorite team from South Alaska feels a bit weird and uncomfortable. There’s no flying under the radar as underdogs this year: everyone knows the Hawks are a team to be taken seriously, and coaches around the league will be working themselves harder than ever to gameplan against them.
And you know what? We’d better damn well get used to it. The 2012 season started with us just hoping for our little team from South Alaska to bust out of the 7-9 doldrums, but it ended with the certain knowledge that the Hawks’ Super Bowl window is wide open – and seeing as how Pete Carroll and John Schneider have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams in building this team around a young, talented core of players, that window is going to remain open for years to come. In short, life is looking pretty goddamn awesome right about now.
Anyway, when kickoff finally arrives tonight, here’s the main positions I’ll be watching, along with some jersey numbers for some of the newer and/or less well-known folks on the roster:
(To continue reading, please click on "Continue Reading" below.)
1) Kick & Punt Returner
We’ve been spoiled the last few years by having one of the greatest kick returners of all time in Leon Washington on the roster, but he was let got this offseason in a cost-cutting move (hey, you’ve got to pay for all those talented young players somehow, right?). CB Will Blackmon (#37) has some chops in the return game, but is also fairly injury-prone. WR Golden Tate would be interesting, but how often do you want to risk hurting one of your starting wideouts on special teams plays? WR Bryan Walters (#19) and CB Jeremy Lane are also listed on the team’s current depth chart as returners, so keep an eye out for them.
2) Pass Rusher
With double-digit sack artist Chris Clemons still recovering from knee surgery, someone is going to have to step up and harass the QB – ideally, several someones. High profile arrivals DE Cliff Avril (#56) and DL Michael Bennett (#72) are the main guys to watch here, assuming they see much playing time tonight. There’s a huge opportunity to shine here for all the other would-be Leo DEs and 3-tech DTs on the roster. Greg Scruggs and Bruce Irvin will hopefully make appearances on the stat sheet tonight, but some other guys to look out for are ex-Cardinals LB O’Brien Schofield (#93), second year DT Jaye Howard (#94), backup LB and special teamer Mike Morgan (#57), and rookie DE Benson Mayowa (#95).
When you get right down to it, I don’t care who shows up here so long as I get to see Seahawks jerseys converging on the Chargers’ QBs all night long. San Diego’s offensive line has more holes than a wire fence, and if the guy under center doesn’t spend a lot of time running for his life, well, that’ll tell us something, too.
One of the few open starting positions on the team is Leroy Hill’s old spot at outside linebacker. Malcolm Smith (#53) seems to be the frontrunner, but I expect Irvin, Kyle Knox (#43), and possibly even Allen Bradford (#52) to make a push for the job. Bradford will be getting a lot of reps at middle linebacker tonight in place of an injured Bobby Wagner, so although we likely won’t see him play OLB we’ll still be getting a good, long look at his skills as a ‘backer.
4) Tight End
With starter Zach Miller nursing an injury and last year’s backup TE Anthony McCoy long since departed on an injury waiver, it’s open season for all the other tight ends on the roster. Luke Willson (#82) has been getting most of the buzz throughout training camp, but Sean McGrath (#84) and Cooper Helfet (#48) both impressed in preseason action last year and I expect to see more of the same from them this time around.
Also on the roster are 6’7” ex-basketball player Darren Fells (#88), local product Andrei Lintz (#38), and perennial camp body Jameson “I play forty different positions” Konz (#47). I don't know enough to know what to expect from either Fells for Lintz, but I expect very little from Konz.
5) Offensive Guard
There’s a bit of a logjam at the guard position this year, but you’re already familiar with the major contenders: James Carpenter, John Moffitt, Paul McQuistan, and J.R. Sweezy. If Carpenter can stay healthy, his size and strength make him a virtual lock for the starting lineup, but seeing as how he’ll be missing tonight’s game with a foot injury he isn’t exactly off to a good start. McQuistan is bog standard: he isn’t horrible, but he isn’t great, either. If he ends up with one of the starting jobs, it’ll be because all the other guys failed to outperform his baseline play. Moffitt has been a disappointment so far, both in terms of durability and on-field competence, but he’s young and still has time to develop into a decent player. Sweezy has gotten a lot of attention, both for his DL-to-OL conversion story and his raw physical ability, but he still has yet to prove that he’s developed the savvy and technique he needs to capitalize on his potential.
Beyond those four, Rishaw Johnson (#63) is also a possibility. The team kept him around as a developmental player last year and the coaches seem to be fairly high on his potential, but I simply haven’t seen or heard enough about him to voice an opinion about him.