The key to understanding the preseason is, one, to be aware that almost all the information is too incomplete and too distorted to be conclusive and, two, to ask the right questions. With those two factors in mind, I present some questions tomorrow's contest should at least clue us in on.
What to do about Sean Locklear?
Locklear becomes an unrestricted free agent this off-season. The Hawks have three possible ways to deal with this: Let Locklear Go, Sign Locklear or Franchise Him.
If the Hawks let Locklear go, they're faced with Ray Willis or Tom Ashworth as in house replacements. That's a pretty sizable downgrade. Further troubling is that it will leave Seattle with no viable replacement for Walter Jones, who will be 34 in 2008. This option only becomes palatable if the Hawks absolutely tank this season and therefore are thrust into a rebuilding phase. Even then, the talent lost will be one more hole to fill on a team that because of age may have many.
Locklear is going to demand an exorbitant sum on the open market, so much so that unless he can assume the duties of left tackle in the next few years, his price will exceed his value. That, in part, is what Saturday's contest will hopefully elucidate: Can Sean Locklear grow into an upper-level left tackle. As Ashworth made painfully clear last Saturday, the duties of a left tackle and that of right tackle are quite different. Ever since the days of Lawrence Taylor teams have concentrated their pass rush on a quarterback's blind side. Containing that rush defines a left tackle, well above his ability to run block, and those who cannot are routinely moved to the right, inside to a guard position or right off the roster.
Lock gets a mini-audition this Saturday. Kenechi Udeze may not look like a great challenge on paper (he failed to record a sack in 2006) but don't underestimate him. Udeze is former first round pick; he entered the NFL at 21 and recorded 5 sacks. He suffered cartilage damage in his left knee in 2005 and missed most of the season. Healing from that damage may have had much to do with his down 2006. Udeze has yet to show life in the preseason and may be unseated by Brian Robinson (who has two sacks) or Ray Edwards (Who Gonzo over at the Daily Norseman has reported looks good.) Whoever the Vikes send, Locklear must be able to dominate his man for me to be confidant that he merits left tackle money. Otherwise...
Option three likely makes the most sense: Franchise him. The downside is that he'll be paid like Oprah's left tit, the upside is that the Hawks will have some semblance of depth at left tackle. Even adequate left tackles can be damn near impossible to find on the open market, and Holmgren's offense (which employs five blockers more than any other offense in football) demands a competent, even dominant left tackle.