That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: Seahawks football is officially back! There’s plenty of reasons to watch tonight, and none of them have to do with the opponent being the Broncos (I have a feeling the match-up is far more meaningful for Denver’s players & fans than it is for Seattle’s).
The Preseason isn’t about winning or losing so much as it is about testing your entire roster to see how the depth chart should shake out at every position. And while there are more than a few starters that are pretty much locks to start week one, remember that we’re still talking about the same head coach who just two years ago elected to go with a 3rd round rookie over a high-priced free agent as his starting QB based in large part on preseason performance; in other words, if someone outplays the presumptive starter at his position, that starter won’t stay presumptive for long. Anyway, here’s who I’ll be watching tonight:
The Offensive Line
The biggest question mark on the the team is the o-line. It feels like I’ve been writing that same sentence every offseason for years now, and unfortunately it’s still true. Russell Okung and Max Unger are locks at left tackle and center, respectively, but right tackle and the two guard spots are up for grabs; 2013 starters Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan left in free agency, and the favorite to start at right tackle Michael Bowie was injured and then claimed off the injury waiver wire by Cleveland (he would’ve gone on Seattle’s IR list anyway if he had cleared). J.R. Sweezy and Paul Carpenter are both penciled in at the guard spots, but Carpenter is always hurt (he likely won’t play tonight due to injury) and consistency and power have been problems for Sweezy.
I would love for Sweezy to finally take that next step and start playing like a real live NFL guard, and how he plays tonight (especially in pass protection versus Denver’s pass rushers) should tell us a lot about what we can expect from him going forward. Alvin Bailey (#78) has been filling in at left tackle while Okung nurses an injury, and playing well against Demarcus Ware et al tonight would make a strong case for him taking over the right tackle job. Bailey’s main competition for RT are rookie Justin Britt (#68) and veteran free agent pickup Eric Winston (#73) , and both of them should see playing time at one or both tackle spots.
At guard, watch for Caylin Hauptmann (#74). Hauptmann looks to be a more natural fit at tackle, but that matters little if he shows he can hack it at guard. Beyond that, watch for anyone who looks like they know what they’re doing — at this point, the door is wide open for anyone who can separate themselves from the pack.
The Defensive Line
The starting lineup of Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Brandon Mebane, and Cliff Avril is pretty strong, but the depth behind them is a bit murkier. Leo DE Chris Clemons, 5-tech DE Red Bryant, and 3-tech pass rusher Clinton McDonald all left in free agency, and 2013 5th round DT Jesse Williams was recently put on IR for the second season in a row, so there’s plenty of holes to be filled in the rotation. Rookie DE Cassius Marsh (#91) is an intriguing possibility at Leo end, Greg Scruggs (#98) is the favorite to replace Bennett as the team’s go-to inside/outside pass rush joker (assuming he’s back to full health, but feel free to sit up and take note of anyone whose number shows up consistently in the vicinity of the opposing QB tonight.
The other worry here is that behind McDaniel and Mebane there are no clear choices who can be counted on to stonewall runners along the interior line. The likeliest candidates to do the job are second year man Jordan Hill (#97) and 12th year veteran Kevin Williams (#94), but I’ll settle for anyone who can show they’re the man for the job.
Yes, I know, no one ever cares about special teams as much as I do, but with the departure of Golden Tate in free agency the starting punt returner job is up for grabs. Look for several candidates to get a shot at the job tonight, including starters like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. Personally, I’d prefer not to put a starter in harm’s way as a returner, but I’m willing to settle for anyone who shows they have a feel for the return game. At this point the only one I can point to on the roster as a legitimate return TD threat is Percy Harvin.
With Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, and Jermaine Kearse already on board I’m not too terribly worried about the loss of Golden Tate, but it would be nice to see someone else on the roster show they can be a consistent threat in the passing game. Rookie Paul Richardson (#10) has the potential to be a game-breaking downfield burner, and at times Phil Bates (#88), Chris Matthews (#13), and Bryan Walters (#19) have made some flashy plays in practice, but they need to show they can do that on game day as well. Rookie Kevin Norwood (#81) is a favorite of mine, but he’s currently injured and will not be playing tonight.
With starting MLB Bobby Wagner and potential OLB starters Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith all sitting out with injuries, there’ll be plenty of fresh faces to watch for in the center of the defense. Brock Coyle (#45) has been turning heads with his playmaking ability and will be the starting Mike tonight, and longtime LB/DE backup Mike Morgan (#57) will also be getting a prime opportunity to show that he is starting material. Beyond those two, rookies Jackson Jeffcoat (#43) and Kevin Pierre-Louis (#58) both have the potential to do awesome things.
Mainly though, I’ll be looking for anyone who can prove that they’ve got some chops in coverage. K.J. Wright’s stellar play notwithstanding, the linebacking corps’ coverage in the middle of the field has left something to be desired over the past couple seasons.