After eight long months, the beginning of the Seahawks' 2012 season is finally upon us. For the fourth year in a row, Seattle faces a division rival to start the season—this time against the Arizona Cardinals.
In the final game of the 2011 season, these two teams faced off to see who would finish the year at .500. Some incredible catches by Larry Fitzgerald and a Cardinals field goal in overtime made the difference and sent the Seahawks to their second straight losing season under head coach Pete Carroll.
Despite the losing seasons, Seahawks fans have seen a steady improvement and influx of young talent under coach Carroll. Young players like Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor now make up the best safety duo in the NFL and part of what could be considered the best secondary in the league with Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman.
Rookies like Bobby Wagner, who will start at middle linebacker, and defensive end Bruce Irvin are expected to have an immediate impact on defense.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley talked about (via seahawks.com) how much he liked what he was seeing out of Irvin in his development during the preseason, in practice and against the Raiders in the final preseason game.
“It looked like the first couple games he was trying to figure out the tackles on his rush—while he was rushing—and the last game he just said, ‘I’m going, and then you deal with my speed.’”
While it took him until the Raiders game to record his first sack, Carroll said Irvin was the highest-ranked player in practice in terms of his productivity.
Of course, the most notable rookie to be starting for the Seahawks is quarterback Russell Wilson. Many expected Matt Flynn to come in from Green Bay and take over the job at quarterback, but Wilson’s play in practice and preseason earned him the starting job.
In what might be one of the most surprising stories in the league, rookie guard J.R. Sweezy will line up on the offensive line this Sunday as the team’s starting right guard. Sweezy played his entire college career on the defensive line for North Carolina State and was drafted by the Seahawks in the seventh round.
Before playing his senior year at Wisconsin, Wilson played with Sweezy at NC State and praised the amount of work he put in during his transition to the offensive side of the ball.
“J.R. has really made a huge, huge difference in our football team,” Wilson said during Seattle's Week 1 press conference.
A third rookie may make the start on offense, considering Marshawn Lynch may not be fully recovered from the back spasms he’s had this preseason. If he can’t go on Sunday, rookie running back Robert Turbin could get the start.
Carroll said Lynch is day-to-day, but he did well in practice and will be listed as questionable.
With the impact a lot of these rookies are having on the team and as fans have watched the team go 4-0 in the preseason, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the Seahawks. Not bad for a team who Mel Kiper Jr. picked as having the worst draft in the NFL.
But the Cardinals are another team in the division that has shown improvement, and Seattle now faces a significant challenge on the road against one of its division rivals. It needs to make up for last year’s losing effort.
“Being on the road right off the bat, it’s important for us to get started and play well,” said Carroll. “That was a game we should’ve won last year and we had plenty of chances to win.”
After months of preparation through OTAs, mini camps and preseason, Bradley said the defense is ready for its first big test and his No. 1 priority for the team is to “play fast.”
“It’s gonna be a real dog fight,” said Carroll.
Brandan Schulze is a Navy veteran and member of the Military Sea Hawkers, the military chapter of the official booster club for the Seattle Seahawks. For more information on the chapter, visit www.militaryseahawkers.com. Membership is free for all military service members and veterans.