The 12th man will be heard, once again, as the Seahawks open their home schedule.
Now beyond the jitters of Week 1, Seattle hosts the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 of the preseason, providing an opportunity for the starters to gain a rhythm and a chance for the coaching staff to get a clearer look at the entire roster.
Training camp has ended and the Seahawks will get two more preseason games before they have to cut their roster to 80 players. Game 2 presents a clear opportunity for players on the bubble to distinguish themselves.
The organization is looking forward to having the program experience what it’s like to play at home, especially given the roster turnover. They are focused on setting the tone for the 2011 season. Here are 11 areas of the game to watch as a fresh batch of Seahawks make their home debut.
Are we all smiling about the same thing?
One of the main questions throughout this offseason was whether or not the Seahawks offense would be able to weather the transition to a new coaching staff on offense.
From the beginning, Pete Carroll made it a priority to make sure that Cable and Bevell were communicating on the same page—in terms of verbiage, terminology and general philosophy for how the offense should function.
I believe Carroll’s diligence towards making sure communication and philosophy were clear within the staff helped with the inherent discontinuity caused by the lockout. He commented this week that one of the things he was most pleased about to this point was the continuity of the offensive coaches, especially with the quarterbacks.
During a time when the offense is theoretically supposed to struggle, the background and lineage of this new staff could end up being an advantage for the Seahawks. Carroll noted how quarterback coach Carl Smith has worked with him at many stops. He praised Smith's game managing capabilities as a coach “up in the booth,” calling Smith "a real asset for me."
The coaching staff was able to use the lockout efficiently; creating a lesson plan that would allow for the players to come into camp, understand quickly and hit the ground running—one of the biggest offseason concerns for this organization, especially given the turnover.
Look for Seattle to focus on establishing continuity with their first unit, most notably Jackson with his first-team receivers and the pass protection on the offensive line. Seattle will still have to manage the varying conditioning levels of the players as they try and gain a rhythm—on both sides of the ball. Now that training camp is over, Seattle must take full advantage of their opportunities.
A veteran left side
The play on the offensive line of scrimmage is one of the areas that universally will suffer the most due to the lockout. As the offensive line is a group that needs reps to gain continuity, Seattle's young group has struggled throughout camp with false starts and an inability to play error-free in the trenches.
The primary focus this weekend is working out the kinks on the first unit.
The Seahawks are now without left tackle Russell Okung, who suffered his third ankle sprain of his young career. Versatile veteran offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus is stepping in to replace Okung.
Given Polumbus' solid play at multiple positions last season, there are reasonably high expectations that he can adequately fill in for Okung next to fellow veteran Robert Gallery.
After a successful but rushed training camp, it's clear the offensive line is one of the areas that still needs the most work
Now that the Seahawks are playing their first preseason home game, I expect the coaching staff to be less lenient with sloppy play along the offensive line, especially as crowd noise should be less of a factor. Timing, technique and toughness will be three aspects of this unit to watch.
With the additions of Zach Miller and Sidney Rice, the Seahawks now have two Pro-Bowl threats to integrate into an already talented group of receivers and tight ends.
Miller complements Carlson well. He is a capable in-line blocker and brings a complete skill set; because he knows Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme, his ability as a blocker is even more valuable to this transitioning offense. His presence allows the Seahawks to optimize Carlson's receiving abilities.
However, Carlson has been bothered by a labrum issue; we don't know much about the injury. Dominique Byrd had a good camp and Anthony McCoy is the candidate to replace Chris Baker as a blocking tight end. Cameron Morrah is on the PUP; though talented, where he fits remains to be seen.
Adding Miller gives Seattle one of the best one-two punches in the NFL at an already deep group; they have the flexibility to work the strengths of each player into the scheme and put pressure on the defense. As the preseason continues, presumably we’ll see more diversity with the way the Seahawks use the tight ends in all phases of the game.
Miller’s addition is key for continuity, but Sidney Rice’s addition adds the big play element to the offense; his large contract has created Pro-Bowl level expectations.
His upside is a Larry Fitzgerald type, a player who can command double teams and owns an absurd catching radius; the downside is that he's been healthy only one of his four years in the league. He is coming off a six-game season, shortened due to micro-fracture surgery.
A healthy Rice and Mike Williams—both players are injury prone and Williams has spent time out this camp with various injuries, including to his foot—on the field together will be a daunting task for opposing defenses to handle. Williams has become a more vocal leader and the two will be a tandem that leads a young group by example.
Miller and Rice represent the influence of the new additions to the coaching staff; Williams and Carlson are familiar to the organization. As a whole, they have a chance to step up and help create the continuity the Seahawks need from the receiving corps and the tight ends. They also have a chance for success in both the running and passing game.
The receiver competition has been unexpectedly fierce throughout training camp. With the addition of Sidney Rice, moving Ben Obomanu into the third receiver role—he will not play—the Seahawks have a deep and young group competing for playing time and roster spots.
The obvious note here is that Williams and Rice will be on the field for the first time—Rice and Jackson playing against their former team, but with the same guy still calling the plays.
This will be the first glimpse of how Rice’s presence can help open the field for Williams. Do we get to see Rice’s insane catching radius on display? For what it’s worth, Carroll tabbed him the most impressive player of camp.
Golden Tate is a player that’s been focused on throughout the offseason, having a major opportunity to step up this season. Tate is a player I expect to see used extensively this weekend, as the Seahawks try and find a role where he fits as a unique receiver; his unique skill set as a runner is something the Seahawks want to feature as a secondary weapon.
Beyond the top four, things are getting very hazy. Doug Baldwin has impressed all camp and is a player I expect to make the roster if he continues to produce at this clip; he was the team’s leading receiver in San Diego.
Fellow rookie Kris Durham is now healthy, a player that Carroll is really looking forward to seeing on Saturday. Carroll said he would've seen about 50 snaps in the first game if healthy. Durham has played well in camp and will be given an opportunity to show his abilities this weekend.
Isaiah Stanback almost made a highlight reel, over-the-shoulder catch in Game 1; a catch that would have kept him near the top of the depth chart for this weekend. It’s now-or-never time for him to re-emerge in the receiver conversation.
The group of Durham, Patrick Williams, Ricardo Lockette, Brandon Smith (signed this week), Chris Carter and Stanback will be competing for potentially one or two spots. In general, expect to see the bottom of a talented group remain in flux until first cuts.
Throughout the offseason, I have focused mostly on Justin Forsett and Leon Washington as two players that need to be featured more often in the Seahawks backfield; thus, Marshawn Lynch has gotten less attention.
Lynch is a unique, tough runner with an attitude that permeates throughout the offense—an attitude that fits with the Tom Cable mindset.
However, he proved to fumble at very inopportune times in 2010 and at times struggled with Seattle’s zone-blocking scheme. Lynch is a more instinctual runner who is prone to trying to make things happen on his own—his fumbles usually occurring in an effort to gain extra yards after contact, while risking possession.
In listening to Lynch's comments earlier this week, he sounds like a player who is currently working hard, focused on keeping 2010’s poor rushing performance—as a team—in the rear view.
It seems he's in better shape and has been making explosive plays throughout training camp as a result. Lynch sounds excited and anxious to get on the field with a big offensive line and a historically effective scheme.
Though Lynch has a reputation as a power runner, he is elusive and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. Expect the Seahawks to begin experimenting with him, Justin Forsett—a player Carroll praised highly during an interview this week—and Leon Washington to determine the best roles for each three. Washington in particular will continue to see increased time this weekend; last week was a good start towards using him properly.
With returning fullback Michael Robinson bulked up to about 240 pounds—a player Carroll noted this week as a leader on special teams in particular—the Seahawks are not lacking attitude as a backfield. If Lynch continues to show improved drive to succeed in the league, the Seahawks’ "beast-mode" backfield will consistently be a force to be reckoned with.
As discussed earlier this offseason, a sound plan for moving on from Matt Hasselbeck would include acquiring a quarterback that has the ability to command the huddle and understand the offense from Day 1.
In listening to Carroll's comments on Wednesday, it sounds like he believes Jackson has the ability to be a game-changing quarterback, not just a game manager.
Arm strength, athleticism, competitiveness and leadership—qualities Carroll was surprised and pleased by, as mentioned in multiple interviews this week—are all parts of Jackson's game that Carroll clearly is impressed with.
And the fact that Jackson has been in the system for five years is clearly a major factor for this organization, as Carroll believes Jackson puts the team in the best position to compete right away.
The goal was to have Jackson simply get his feet wet against San Diego; Carroll alluded to the importance of not having anything go wrong, unnecessarily, before the season truly began.
To put the players on the field after only five days of practice in a regular offseason would be unheard of. Against Minnesota, Jackson should see the field for the first half and his play this week will serve as a more accurate barometer of his abilities.
One more note worth mentioning: It's clear that Josh Portis will be a factor in this program as soon as he gains the experience he needs commanding the huddle and understanding the system.
In talking about Portis, Carroll mentioned that it's not necessarily most important to focus on which “stringers” are playing. If a player executes, understands his responsibilities and shows the necessary energy and toughness, he will attract the staff's attention.
Where we stand now is that Jackson is the starter and will be Week 1, barring injury or any unforeseen change to the quarterback situation. Whitehurst will continue to compete and Portis will continue to learn—ideally, at an increasingly higher level. Game 2 will provide valuable information for the "competition" going forward.
Former Packers safety Atari Bigby was signed by Seattle earlier in the week. He's a competitive, hard-hitting safety that plays well around the line of scrimmage and can make plays on the ball, but his downfall is being prone to injury—he’s missed 24 games the past three years and recorded six tackles in 2010. It's worth noting that John Schneider was particularly fond of him in Green Bay.
Signing an experienced safety for the right price is not an opportunity I expected Seattle to shy away from, especially given the fact that Seattle only has one player with starting experience currently on the depth chart at safety, Earl Thomas.
If he can stay healthy, Bigby’s physicality could be a factor that puts him on the roster. As a special teams player and athletic safety—potentially seeing time in the nickel package—he brings experience and the right skill set for a good price.
I don't see Bigby finding himself in a starting role, unless Kam Chancellor unexpectedly struggles through the first part of the season. Bigby is a solid depth signing that could round out a young safety group, and also doesn't force them to put an inexperienced player—Pinkard, Johnson and LeGree are the younger players presumed to be competing for the final safety spots—on the 53-man roster if they aren’t ready. I'm watching Johnson in particular this week, as he was the most impressive against San Diego.
The goal is to get Bigby on the field to see where he fits; the Seahawks must learn his skill set and place him within the scheme. Though a late addition to the Seahawks free-agent class, he's another small boost to an already strong, newly acquired group of talent.
Thats one BIG dude...
One of the most anticipated areas of change to watch, at least for me, is the new, massive defensive front Seattle has created.
A healthier Red Bryant returns at the 5-technique end spot; Brandon Mebane has been moved to nose tackle; and the 330-pound, light-footed Alan Branch will play primarily the 3-technique—Mebane’s old spot—to create a potentially devastating trio to build around up front. These are a trio of massive players that can play multiple positions along the line.
In the first preseason game we saw that Seattle has acquired some decent depth. Jimmy Wilkerson played both inside and outside as a pass rusher, registering a sack from the end spot. Junior Siavii, at 340 pounds, played and proved he could again be solid depth inside.
Seattle also got contributions from a variety of young players across the defensive line—Pierre Allen, Jameson Konz, Pep Levingston, A.J. Schable—and may have a young, deeper-than-expected group to compete behind the veterans. (Update: With Schable and Allen not expected to play, keep your eye on Dexter Davis)
Mebane saw limited action last week, but was disruptive; Branch showed explosiveness off the ball, also breaking up the pass—his 6’6” frame causing the ball to hit him in the armpit. Now that Bryant has fully come back (the coaching staff realized he was "back" after he tackled Dominique Byrd and a full run downfield during practice) we should see more of the defensive scheme in action.
Seattle didn't run much of their 4-3 under versus San Diego. This is because the team wanted to install the base defense and simply worry about getting players on the field.
Also, without Bryant and Clemons, Seattle doesn’t have the right personnel to run the 4-3 under with full effectiveness. Bryant’s presence at the 5-technique tackle is one of the main reasons the 4-3 under was successful.
Now with all three big guys playing up front, the Seahawks can install more complex parts of the scheme. Expect to see a little more of what a versatile front line will have to offer versus Minnesota—and a fuller package as the preseason progresses.
Without the leadership of Lofa Tatupu, David Hawthorne steps in to make the calls and organize the defense. On the outside, veteran Leroy Hill returns with a chip on his shoulder. Seattle is hoping those two can bring solidarity to the defense; a strong showing versus Adrian Peterson would be a big step in the right direction.
Of course, there is Aaron Curry. Now heading into his third season, Curry has yet to live up to his top-five-pick expectation. However, based on comments this week by Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, it sounds as though Curry is finally coming along as everyone has hoped.
Curry is no longer going to be forced into multiple roles; rather, the team is focused on dialing back his responsibilities and simply allowing him to play outside linebacker and potentially in nickel situations. Both Bradley and Carroll feel there's something different about Curry this preseason; Bradley in particular noted Curry’s consistency is the biggest change from the past two seasons.
Hill and Curry can play both outside linebacker spots. Additionally, rookies K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith have made enough of an impact during training camp to be considered legitimate contenders for the 53-man roster.
One of Bradley's most intriguing comments from his radio interview this week was when he talked about drafting Wright simply because they thought he was the best linebacker available.
He wasn't drafted with a particular position in mind, but more with the intention to fit his skill set into their defensive scheme. He impressed in the middle last week, at his new position leading the team in tackles, and will again be under the microscope in his first home game.
If this unit can come together throughout the preseason, Seattle could receive unexpectedly solid play from this group—don’t forget that Hill was once applied with the franchise tag.
The main storyline is the youth of this unit and the expectations that lie on Hawthorne and Curry to take the next step this season. This weekend will provide a good test for this group; does the 12th man feed the re-awakening of Leroy Hill?
A very physical player his entire career.
The change in the secondary is one of the most popular topics of conversation surrounding the Seahawks this preseason. After last week's game, I was one of many who noted that Brandon Browner looked strong enough in his debut to potentially see time over Kelly Jennings with the first unit, opposite Marcus Trufant.
Jennings spent a couple days out of practice with a head injury this past week, giving Browner another opportunity to play with the first unit. According to Gus Bradley, Browner will play with that unit starting Saturday versus Minnesota. One thing to watch for is if he is less "handsy" in coverage than he was last week.
Marcus Trufant had a strong camp and placing Browner across from Trufant is a move that intrigues me. Browner was praised by both Carroll and Bradley on the radio this week, and it's clear his impact during training camp has led the Seahawks to believe Browner can be a factor this season.
Beyond Browner, I'm watching Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell as the two corners to step up and make the roster. The lanky Sherman is a player many expect to make the roster; Maxwell was solid in limited coverage last week and is a player who can step up and make the team because of special teams. Bradley singled Maxwell out as a player on the rise.
Walter Thurmond will eventually return from his ankle sprain, but Browner has an opportunity to gain some ground on the second starting cornerback spot. If Sherman and Maxwell can continue to progress as the preseason wears on, Seattle will have a trio of talented newcomers to complement their experience at the position.
Heading into last weekend, I noted the kicker competition was potentially one of the more intriguing and important competitions to watch throughout the preseason.
On the radio Tuesday morning, Carroll listed the kicker competition as a main one the fans should be watching—along with the battle at cornerback. The intrigue of this competition stems from the fact that it’s the only mono-y-mono battle in camp.
Coutu has kicked as a member of the 12th man before and Reed has kicked his way to a Super Bowl, versus the Seahawks. I’ll be curious to see if the crowd picks favorites—assuming they both get a chance to kick—and the resulting pressure faced by both players.
In addition to field goals, the kickoff team is another area to watch. I noted earlier in the week the kickoff coverage team was particularly poor, but also that the organization will focus on rotating players to find their best options; this is far from a finished unit. I'm simply hoping for a more high-energy effort on special teams, but also watching closely to see which kicker has the better all-around game.
UPDATE: Coutu has been released, per the Seattle Seahawks official twitter account. Did Reed win this mano-y-mano battle in camp this week, is this simply a move for another roster spot, or will another kicker enter the equation? These questions could be answered based on how Reed kicks tonight.