Seahawks vs. Chargers: 7 Things to Watch in Preseason Week 1 Matchup
You know the sound.
One of your buddies calls you up offering to sell his ticket to the game for cheap. Or you found out that you won the office drawing for a free pair of those good corporate seats. Or you get an invite to watch the game on somebody's 50-inch plasma, free food included.
It's all good for a moment—even if it's just a half-second—until you're reminded that the big game is actually a preseason game.
Then there's the sound: something between a groan and the audible version of a shrug—the unmistakable clue that you're no longer dealing with a "real" pro football game.
That said, the opening week of the NFL exhibition schedule still holds intrigue all over the league. Rookies make their debuts, first-year coaches unveil some of their new plans, veterans who changed teams over the summer show their faces in new places and, most importantly, good ol' American football is back.
For the Seattle Seahawks, tonight's preseason opener at San Diego (ESPN, 5 p.m. Pacific) has its share of interesting story lines. Year 2 of the Pete Carroll era has been heavy in roster turnover and changes on the coaching staff, leaving the defending NFC West champs looking like almost a totally different team. Here are seven things to watch during the Seahawks-Chargers matchup.
Tarvaris Jackson: Take 1
So many questions surround the Seahawks' new starting quarterback.
Does he really have that good of a connection with longtime teammate WR Sidney Rice, Seattle's biggest free-agent acquisition? Does he really know offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's playbook like the back of his hand? Is he really a good QB who just fell into some unfortunate circumstances in Minnesota?
Jackson won't have his full arsenal during his first game with the Seahawks, however. Three of his wide receivers—Mike Williams (toe), Deon Butler (leg) and rookie Kris Durham (hamstring)—will be sitting this one out. And for however long Jackson sees San Diego's first-unit D, he'll be up against the NFL's top-ranked pass defense from last season.
Marcus Trufant vs. Vincent Jackson
It seems backwards that the only certified Pro Bowler in Seattle's secondary is the guy everybody is looking at to prove himself this season.
But that's how it goes when you're 30 years old playing a skill position, your contract has three years and more than $20 million remaining, you haven't exactly been a shut-down cornerback lately and there's a cast of young and hungry (and cheaper) lions snapping at your heels.
Marcus Trufant is still Seattle's No. 1 corner, though, after months of speculation that he might be released as a salary-cap casualty. His first test of the preseason will be against Chargers star wideout Vincent Jackson, who caught 68 passes for 1,167 yards and nine touchdowns in his last full season (2009).
Leon Washington's Next Highlight
Leon Washington has played against the Chargers twice in his career.
The first time, three years ago when he played for the Jets, he racked up 198 yards on five kickoff returns. The second time, in Week 3 last season, he ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns (101 yards, 99 yards) and basically won the game for Seattle by himself.
San Diego would be smart to kick away from Washington, but if he does touch the ball, he's a threat to put six on the board whenever he sees thunderbolts.
Carroll envisions big things as a returner and running back for Washington, who wasn't playing at 100 percent last season, one year removed from breaking his leg.
“He’s come back in great shape,” Carroll told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this week. “He’s going to get a lot of work in preseason now. I don’t feel like we got a great evaluation of Leon last year. He didn’t get enough chances and going into the offseason, I was really disappointed in that. We really didn’t know how far we could take it with Leon. So he’s going to get good work. He’s going to work early in the games and get a chance to play on first and second down and show us where he fits in.”
Not that he'll be hard to find.
Seattle signed the 6'6", 340-pound behemoth away from NFC West rival Arizona last month as part of its effort to strengthen the defensive front seven. Branch didn't start most of the time he was with the Cardinals—making 35 tackles and two sacks as a backup last season—but he can get significant snaps for the Seahawks as a run-stuffing defensive end and/or a gap-clogging defensive tackle.
Branch should get a lot of chances to impress the coaches during the preseason, as starting DE Red Bryant (knee) is still a few weeks away from seeing the field.
Seattle's Offensive Line vs. Shaun Phillips
Seattle gave its O-line a makeover this offseason. Tom Cable is in as the new position coach, rookie starters James Carpenter (tackle) and John Moffitt (guard) bring their combined zero games of pro experience to the right side, Raiders ex-phenom Robert Gallery is the new left guard and Max Unger is starting at center after missing all but one game last season with a toe injury.
The lone incumbent, second-year left tackle Russell Okung, missed six games last year with injuries and is still learning the pro game.
The new-look line will be blocking for a quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, who is more elusive than any starting signal caller Seattle has had in years. But they can only get so much work in practice.
Tonight's game pits Seattle's front five—plus new tight end Zach Miller—against Shaun Phillips, the Chargers' Pro Bowl outside linebacker who registered 11 sacks last season. No member of Seattle's defense can rush the passer like Phillips (56.5 career sacks), and Jackson and the rest of the QBs aren't wearing red jerseys anymore.
Not to mention that as a team, San Diego tied for second in the NFL in sacks last season. This is not a drill.
K.J. Wright's First Audition to Be Seattle's Rookie of the Year
The departure of veteran linebacker Lofa Tatupu opened a door for rookie K.J. Wright.
Seattle's fourth-round draft pick recorded 93 tackles and three sacks as a senior at Mississippi State, and he has been getting reps at outside and middle 'backer in practice. When the starters call it a night early in this preseason opener, Wright should get a lot of time on the field to show what he can do against real competition.
David Hawthorne is penciled in as Tatupu's replacement as starting MLB, but Wright can earn a starting job for the 'Hawks at OLB over veteran Leroy Hill with a strong performance over the next four exhibition games.
What Will Philip Rivers Do?
It will only be for a series or two tonight, but any time you have a chance to watch one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL go to work, you should take advantage—especially if you're a Seahawks fan and you don't expect big things out of Tarvaris Jackson and/or Charlie Whitehurst this season.
Philip Rivers shredded the Seahawks defense in their Week 3 meeting last season, piling up 455 yards and two touchdowns in a game San Diego could have won had its kickoff coverage team been able to locate Leon Washington.
Rivers won't have his favorite target in All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates (foot), his top running back in Ryan Mathews (leg) or his personal bodyguard in Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill (knee), but he's still liable to do something impressive against a Seattle defense that he likes to light up.