Seahawks vs. Raiders: 6 Things to Watch as 'Hawks Finish Preseason at Home
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While the fourth preseason game is usually a chance to rest the starters, all bets are off this week. Coming off of two straight defeats, the Seahawks have a lot of work to do as they try and keep up with the "race" that is preparing after an abbreviated offseason.
Here are six things to watch as the 'Hawks host the Raiders in the preseason finale.
Starters Will Play and Schemes Will Be Evaluated in Preparation for Opening Day
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The Seahawks are not concerned with "tradition" when it comes to not playing starters in the final preseason game. The first unit offense has struggled and needs more time on the field before the regular season; the first unit defense has been more consistent, but still needs time to gel.
We don't know how much time the starters will see, the usually cryptic Carroll implying it will be a wait-and-see scenario depending on how the game goes. The concern is keeping players healthy, but also finding a balance so that the Seahawks have some continuity as they prepare for week one.
Tarvaris Jackson will start. One important aspect of the first team play–on both sides of the ball–will be evaluating how the schemes are developing and where adjustments need to be made heading into the season.
The Seahawks gave Jackson a game plan with slow developing passes and rollouts versus Minnesota. Against Denver, the constant pressure hindered Seattle from learning much about the quarterbacking until late in the third quarter. The goal this week, the same as last week, is to put points on the board; this time, they wont have until the fourth quarter to get it done.
On the offensive line; Russell Okung and has been practicing with the second team, so whether or not he sees the field and with which team remains an unanswered question. Also, do James Carpenter and Breno Giacomini split reps with the first-team?
On defense, the Seahawks need to continue figuring which defensive fronts—"under" four man, "over" four man, "base" alignment, three man—are most effective with their new personnel. Also, which players fit in certain sub packages such as Nickel, Dime, Bandit and anything else Seattle conjures up for 2011.
We haven't seen the first-team offensive line give the quarterback time to move the ball against an opposing first unit and the first team defense needs to be more consistent stopping the run and creating pressure. The first units need a strong start to help set the tone for a long week of practice before the regular season.
Four Competitions to Watch
The spotlight is on
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The offensive line competition was discussed here; four more competitions to watch on Friday:
Wide Receiver: The microscope is on Golden Tate. Ben Obomanu took some snaps coming back from injury, but the organization still likes Tate and wants him in this offense. This is a big game for him, and their expectations will remain high.
Doug Baldwin has done anything he can to make sure he doesn't get cut. Kris Durham has been inconsistent and Ricardo Lockette was credited with the best practice catch of all time—he dropped the next pass. For now; Baldwin should be a near lock, Durham is on the bubble and Lockette is going to the practice squad.
Safety: Atari Bigby, Josh Pinkard, Jeron Johnson and Mark LeGree are all in the competition for the final two or three safety spots. Pinkard and Johnson have flashed all preseason, Bigby was a late-add veteran; expectations are still high for LeGree, who hasn't made as many plays—he was instrumental on Baldwin's 105-yard kickoff return.
LeGree will see a lot of time versus the Raiders, perhaps to judge his value against Bigby—Pinkard and Johnson both listed as strong safeties. LeGree could be going to the practice squad, and whether or not Seattle keeps two or three of these players on the roster will depend on whether or not they keep five or six cornerbacks.
Cornerback: With the Kelly Jennings trade, the battle for the final cornerback spots comes down to Byron Maxwell, Richard Sherman, and Kennard Cox. Maxwell has been the most impressive, Sherman is showing promise, and Cox is the veteran, valuable on special teams.
Sherman is listed over Cox on the depth chart but could use a solid game. Maxwell has come on too strong and showed too much improvement; his attitude and energy are needed on the 53-man unit. The only way all three make the roster is if Seattle keeps four safeties, two of the guys above.
Defensive Line: The Seahawks have an established top seven, and Pep Levingston has potentially made it a group of eight. Otherwise, there are a lot of guys fighting for one or two spots; Maurice Fountain and A.J. Schable have been unexpectedly disruptive; Pierre Allen remains hurt, Dexter Davis has been on and off the field. Seattle also traded for three-tech rusher Clinton McDonald, who has one game to prove he belongs.
I think McDonald will be hit or miss, Allen could see the practice squad and how tied the organization feels to Davis will affect the entire situation, particularly for Fountain and Schable.
The Quarterback Quandary and the 12th Man
Not surprisingly, Tarvaris Jackson played longer than expected in Denver. The additional play was a move aimed at creating momentum for a group and player that has been bombarded by negatives from the outside.
Had Charlie Whitehurst completed the third down pass to Golden Tate late in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead touchdown, the quarterback quandary would have been a hot topic of conversation again this week.
Heading into week three the majority of the 12th man began calling for Whitehurst to start.
At the time, I questioned what would happen if the first team offense went to Denver, continued to perform at a sub par level and Whitehurst had another solid game, albeit with a limited playbook; setting up a scenario where the Seahawks come back for the final week of the preseason, the fans yet to see Whitehurst with the first team and Jackson yet to gain the approval of 12th man.
If the opinion of the Original Pancake House is any indication of greater opinion, the atmosphere will be charged when Jackson takes the field with the first team.
As noted after game three, it appears Carroll is trying to pass the leadership baton to Jackson, when in fact Whitehurst is intent on vying for that same position; against Oakland, what happens if Jackson exits to a white hot Whitehurst?
While the team is publicly positive about Jackson's potential, we don't know what the feelings are inside the locker room. Because this transition isn't going as smoothly as the coaching staff hoped, there is potentially more ambiguity than expected.
Does Carroll give Jackson the chance to "win" over the fans, or simply stick with the plan, whatever he predetermines? The organization has high hopes for 2011 and openly rely upon the 12th man to provide an unmatched home-field advantage; will that advantage be affected if the Seahawks go into the regular season without the fans' choice at quarterback?
Does Youth or Experience Prevail When Creating the Final Roster?
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The Seahawks have quickly become one of the youngest rosters in the league given the rapid turnover the past two seasons. They have built a deep group and now have stronger competition as a result. Carroll on Thursday:
“There’s guys that are fighting for the roster spots, there’s guys that are fighting for practice squad spots as well. It’s deep. The competition has been stepped up in practice this week."
Despite the confusion and negativity of pundits surrounding the Seahawks' 2011 draft, the organization was pleased with who they acquired. Furthermore, they were extremely excited about the undrafted free agent class.
To this point, the Seahawks have gotten unexpected contributions from the group; some of the "unexpected" not necessarily for the better, but as a whole, the organization should be pleased.
Surprisingly, all nine draft picks could potentially make the roster; the worst case scenario appears to be six, which is still more than many expected after the draft. First round pick James Carpenter has struggled a bit, but the majority of the players Seattle took on day three are in position to make the opening roster.
The undrafted free agent class is making their mark as well. Carroll mentioned Josh Portis, Doug Baldwin, Ricardo Lockette and Mike Morgan as players who stood out and will present tough decisions; Jeron Johnson has played well this preseason too.
Seattle's added depth presents a welcome challenge when cutting the roster. The fate of veterans such as Matt McCoy, Kennard Cox, Atari Bigby, Isaiah Stanback, A.J. Schable and David Vobora could be tied to the play of Seattle's youth.
It will be interesting to see which areas of the roster the organization feels comfortable letting youth learn on the fly, and where Seattle chooses to fill depth with hard-working veterans.
Following Up a Special Performance; Can Seattle Create a Strong Unit?
Special teams play has been a theme of note throughout the entire preseason, as this is a unit that lost a few long-time playmakers.
After struggling in the first two games, last week was the best performance of the preseason. A 105 yard kickoff return for touchdown, two 50+ yard field goals and generally aggressive play highlighted a strong performance.
Even though they were in the thin air of Denver, Jeff Reed's field goals were impressive. I'm curious to see how he kicks at home now that he has a game like Denver under his belt. Fans are hoping that he can be a solid replacement for Olindo Mare, who more than adequately held down the kicker position for the past three seasons.
Doug Baldwin has received a lot of attention for his big play over the course of the week, especially given that before they got on the field, the unit was focused on making that play count. In various interviews, he's remained humble and focused, having a "let's take care of business" attitude into the final week of the preseason.
Now that the Seahawks have trimmed the players who were taking up special teams snaps, those who have performed well could get more opportunities. Byron Maxwell was a menace last week, and Johnson has registered both penalties and big plays. Mark LeGree was responsible for downfield blocking that sprung the return.
Michael Morgan should be given the chance to earn a roster or practice squad spot with special teams play; Jameson Konz is facing a similar fate. Kennard Cox and Isaiah Stanback are both veterans that have to shine on special teams in order to be considered for the roster.
Given the production from the return units and the generally strong special teams play last season, there are expectations they will be able to perform with similar success. This will be the most informative game thus far in learning if they have the personnel needed to rebuild this group.
An Important Week for the Coaching Staff to Get It Right
Carroll's penalty face?
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While most of the attention is being placed on the players, the final week of the preseason is big for the coaching staff. Starting with a promising win in San Diego followed by three losses is not how the organization wants to head into the regular season, regardless of the irrelevancy of preseason records.
The Seahawks have a lot of areas to fix; the coaching staff needs to step up and make sure the players are confident against Oakland.
How the coaching staff balances the need for continuity and evaluation for roster cuts is something to note. The implications of this game are understood and the goal is for everyone to be competing. Carroll on Thursday: "...Guys realize their window of opportunity is closing, so we’ve had a very good week of preparation..."
This is a week were the message "everything counts"—one of Carroll's core football beliefs—should be stressed to the players; the importance of playing tough, penalty-free football is off added importance given their inconsistent, penalty ridden preseason. Also, the necessity of forcing turnovers—"it's all about the ball"—could carry added emphasis.
An important aspect of Pete Carroll's coaching philosophy involves having a coaching staff that displays great effort and enthusiasm, a means of providing leadership for the players—Carroll believes his always upbeat, "rah rah" attitude is the best method for him, not necessarily all coaches, to pass along his vision. Carroll relies on his coaches to provide leadership; for the coaching staff, "everything counts" this week.
There needs to be a sense of urgency that starts with the coaching staff; the team needs to be prepared and ready to execute, not thinking about what they need to do to execute—a "quieted mind."
The Seahawks will aim to temper the rumbles of a losing season being on the horizon. Even if the results don't the matter, the organization thinks that every opportunity counts given the lost offseason; they need to play that way and hopefully convince the fans that everything counts, even when the games don't matter.
The coaching staff will be put to the test as their "finished" preseason product will be on display for the home fans to see. Can Carroll and company ignite the entire 80-man roster and inject some optimism into the fan base before the home opener in week three, when both the results of the game and tone of the 12th man matter?