Seattle Seahawks: 7 Winners and Losers from Preseason Week 1
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The Seahawks’ 24-17 victory over the Chargers was a promising start to the second year of the Pete Carroll regime. As the team is down to 17 players from the Holmgren-Mora regime, re-creating continuity as soon as possible is a must.
The first preseason game showed two sides. Seattle was down 10-0 going into halftime, looking like a team in the raw stages of rebuilding. Then a solid second half and goal-line stand to win the game proved they may be finding their footing.
Though they won as a whole, some units and individuals played stronger than others, here are some “winners” and “losers” from last Thursday’s game.
Loser: Russell Okung and the First Team Offensive Line
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Russell Okung had an injury plagued rookie season, in which he battled dual high ankle sprains and managed to be a solid contributor despite playing in only 10 games.
This season, rumblings out of training camp had Okung tabbed as the young enforcer of the offensive line; not just a potential franchise left tackle but a player with an after-the-whistle attitude.
Naturally, one of the biggest questions for Okung headed into his second year is if he can shake the injury issues that plagued him in his first season—not issues that stemmed from his from college career—and mature into a near elite tackle?
A non-contact injury on the season’s first preseason drive raised the level of concern from an astrix of note into a legitimate worry.
Carroll noted during the 2010 season how the staff worked hard with Okung from a mental perspective, keeping him positive throughout his injury troubles.
And while adversity in Okung's first year may ultimately help him negotiate the wears of being an offensive lineman, the organization simply hoped he could have a healthy start to 2011.
Now, not just Okung's psyche is altered. The entire offensive line is now further behind the eight ball than they already were with the shortened offseason. His replacement Tyler Polumbus is solid and versatile depth, but he's not a player with the promise of Okung.
It's impossible to say whether or not Okung's injury had a direct effect on the offensive line. However, Tarvaris Jackon was sacked twice and drew an intentional grounding penalty (San Diego attacked Polumbus on his first play and successfully forced Jackson into the penalty).
As a unit, they struggled to find a rhythm in pass protection and the first team offense suffered.
Okung's injury is said to be less serious than what he dealt with last year. But as an offensive line with a new system and three new starters—Max Unger moving to center—they need all the preseason reps they can get.
The longer Okung is out, the more time the Seahawks are losing to gain continuity up front. With their brutal start to the regular season, it's time the offensive line can ill afford to lose.
Winner: The Quarterback Position
I didn't photoshop this. Seriously.
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The Seahawks' quarterback play improved as the game went on in San Diego, with Charlie Whitehurst and Josh Portis combining to engineer a second-half comeback. Their play raised questions about the status of the quarterback competition.
Carroll squashed the potential for rumors of change, saying over the weekend that Jackson needs more time to practice and gain a rapport with the first team and anointing him Week 1 starter and then flip flopping after one preseason game would be a rather illogical move in my opinion.
This is a game-by-game situation. If anything, we learned that Seattle's quarterback situation may not be as weak as initially believed. Competition for both the starting and backup spots could heat up if Whitehurst and Portis continue to play well.
The team failed to address the position in free agency with a big name signing. While Jackson showed his rust in the first game, the position as a whole was one of the more impressive aspects of the team in San Diego. And Jackson will get increased opportunities in the coming weeks.
One goal this week is to get Jackson up to speed and in rhythm with the first team. Carroll wanted Jackson to play within himself last week. Jackson gained most of his yards with his feet while scrambling out of a broken pocket. He didn't force any throws downfield.
The organization has seen through one game that the potential for competition exists. Pete Carroll was confident in this interview with Shelly Smith the quarterback play would be strong in 2011.
The Seahawks won in Week 1 because the bottom didn't fall out at the quarterback position.Now, they must focus on raising the ceiling.
Loser: Kickoff Coverage Team
The Seahawks' special teams were among the league's best in 2010. This was the first game the Seahawks had to play under the new kickoff rules, so while it's fair all teams could struggle while adjusting to the new rules, there was more to their struggles than just a change in ball placement.
Though the organization re-signed special teams specialists Matt McCoy and Michael Robinson, they are without captain Roy Lewis, on the PUP list. Special teams leader Will Herring is now in New Orleans and Jordan Babineaux is gone as well.
Yes, this is the preseason and not all starters would be on the coverage unit anyway, but the tenacity and leadership the unit had in 2010 appeared to be missing in the first week of the preseason.
The Seahawks kicked off five times versus San Diego and allowed 42.4 yards per return, the highest average among all teams that kicked off more than once.
Furthermore, they were the only team to allow a kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 1 of the preseason, a 103-yard return obviously effected the average, but their 27-plus average for the other four kicks was still a bottom-10, Week 1 figure.
On their first two covers, the Seahawks failed to be the aggressor. They appeared to be waiting on their heels for the Chargers to come to them, not flying towards the ball.
On the third cover, Chargers return man Brian Walters went untouched until about the 35-yardline when Josh Pinkard came flying in for the knee/ankle tackle, but Walters broke it with relative ease on his way to the end zone.
The Seahawks were mainly blocked or backpedaling as Walters burst through his blocking and into the clear.
On the fourth and fifth cover, the returner was dragged down from behind by Marcus Brown. Both tackles saved potentially large returns.
Will Herring was a main tone setter on that unit last season and Jordan Babineaux had been with the team even longer. It's still early, but special teams can be the difference between making the roster and being cut.
The Seahawks are getting back to the "ABC's" this week in practice; I'm hoping for a solid effort on kick coverage next week.
I do think the Seahawks can find replacements for the valuable special teams players they have lost. They need to find out who those replacements are, and how they fit with the mainstay special teams veterans in place.
Can this unit be on the winning side after a long week of practice?
Winner: Undrafted Free Agents
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This is supposed to be a year that undrafted guys are particularly behind the eight ball due to the lockout. If game one of the preseason is any indication for how 2011 will play out, the undrafted free-agent class could have an impact on this team.
Four players in particular stood out: safety Jeron Johnson, receiver Doug Baldwin, defensive lineman Pierre Allen and quarterback Josh Portis.
Johnson saw limited time but was around the ball in both run support and pass coverage. He gained ground on combination safety Josh Pinkard, who struggled at times in all phases—run support, pass coverage and special teams—versus San Diego.
If game one is any indication of what's to come, I wouldn't be surprised to see the competition for the fourth safety spot heat up considerably in the coming weeks.
Baldwin has been a player of note throughout the preseason, and he didn't disappoint in his first game. Baldwin showed his ability to get open with sudden separation, a constant factor in the short to intermediate passing game. He led the team in catches and is building a strong case for a roster spot.
Allen saw time with the second and third team, contributing one major play. Chargers' third stringer Scott Tolzien held onto the ball after a three step drop, allowing Allen to beat his man with a power move and register the strip-sack, one of the biggest plays of the night.
Portis led the team to two fourth quarter touchdowns, one of them coming on the series after Allen's sack. Though raw, Portis showed a strong arm, poise, athleticism and an ability to make something out of nothing. Portis started 0-3 but went 5-6 as he took the team 84 yards for the touchdown.
Three of the four play positions that the organization had major question marks about after the draft; defensive line, quarterback and safety. Baldwin brings a unique skill set to an already deep group.
It's not a given that any of these four make the final roster. Seattle has taken a bold but solid long-term approach in terms of looking for depth. They are balancing the big, "luxury" signings with cheap, young, competitive players to fill depth at major positions of need.
Loser: Kelly Jennings
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Kelly Jennings’ return to Seattle was somewhat surprising because his play in 2010 was consistently underwhelming, but his experience is valuable to a secondary filled with young players.
And he was brought back on a one-year deal, the expectation being that Walter Thurmond could step into Jennings' former starting spot. Ideally, Jennings would see the field as a sub package, slot corner. He doesnt have the prototypical length and size for a Carroll-press corner.
However, Thurmond was inactive last week, and Jennings started in his place, a chance to prove worthy of being higher on the depth chart than the competitive, young group below him.
Week 1 of the preseason didn’t help his backup stock. He proved, as he did in 2010, he is prone to being picked on. The Chargers constantly went at Jennings early. Vincent Jackson beat him early for a 48-yard gain on third-and-long, an error magnified by Josh Pinkard's failed attempt provide deep help.
Jennings also struggled tackling, the cherry on top being that runningback Mike Tolbert leapt over Jennings into the end zone for San Diego's only offensive touchdown.
His shabby play wouldn't have been as noticable if the younger players behind him didn't play as well as they did.
Jennings needed to have a strong performance to keep his spot as a No. 2 corner at worst. Now, it's worth wondering if he will move down the depth chart heading into the next preseason game.
Winner: The Youth Movement in the Secondary
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The Seahawks have rebuilt the defensive line with a combination of experience and younger talent. The secondary, on the other hand, is an extremely young and unproven group.
The Seahawks failed to sign any new defensive backs, leading many pundits to question their strategy. Beyond Marcus Trufant and to a lesser extent Earl Thomas, who would provide leadership for the secondary?
Through one game, it appears Seattle may be on the right track. The young players in the secondary were a bright spot for the Seahawks, especially in the second half. The Seahawks allowed rookie Scott Tolzien to throw for 64 yards, 60 of those coming on the Chargers' unsuccessful final drive.
Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor were highlighted in the post game recap as two players who made a sizable impact. Richard Sherman appeared to be solid in coverage on the outside and Byron Maxwell played physical coverage in the slot late in the game. Mark LeGree and Johnson proved capable as a second unit with upside.
While some may continue to question whether or not this group can hold up, there is reason to believe they can grow better together. The organization has created a diverse, aggressive, athletic group to mold to their scheme.
So far, so good.
Winner: The Seahawks' Depth
As this was the first preseason game after unusual offseason, the primary focus was on the team’s intensity, execution and overall mindset.
But this game still came with meaning. The night before, the team dedicated this game to the young guys. The veterans giving pearls of wisdom to ease some of the jitters, Carroll simply wanting his team to battle in their first game as a unit together.
Carroll to the media on Saturday, "It's fun to get a win. But better than that, it was fun to see our guys play hard and play the kind of football we needed to play to get started."
Now, if the Seahawks had lost, Pete Carroll would surely find the positives to build on. But the Seahawks were able to endure a legitimate situation in preseason game one. On the road, up seven with three minutes to go and defending your end zone, "always compete" says compete your hardest.
Here, it doesn't matter third string versus third string. The second and third string are who the veterans were playing this game for, at least in Seattle.
The win is secondary. The fourth-and-goal stop with the second and third unit on the field to win the game is what matters.
It's the kind of ball they "needed to play to get started" because the depth is competitive. As the game wore on, the Seahawks started to play better. In the third quarter, the Tom Cable mentality was kicking in for a veteran second unit offensive line. The defense closed it out.
The Seahawks won the time of possession battle by more than 11 minutes, had 43 rushing attempts compared to 18 for San Diego, won the first down battle 22 to 10 and the red-zone conversion battle.
They played a basic version of the new Seahawks football. A power running game, complemented by movement and play action passes, they took some unsuccessful shots downfield but hit the tight ends down the seams and in the red zone. The defense stopped the run, created opportunities and didn't break when it mattered most.
A grind it out win on the road to open the preseason may seem meaningless. But a program predicated on competition and "buying in" can only be as solid as the depth. The Seahawks' defense blanketed the field on the Chargers' final play. Not to mention, the depth is among the youngest in the league.
This is the type of win Pete Carroll can use with his young players. A muscle-memory to put into the tool box for a future Saturday night speech, regardless of the fact that it's the preseason and the wins don't count.
The Seahawks started 2011 as they hoped, heading into the preseason home opener after a competitive victory, already looking like a deeper and more athletic team than they did in 2010.