The Seahawks open preseason action this Friday in Seattle, playing host to Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Seattle's star players and main starters will get a handful of snaps over the first few series before turning things over to the back-end roster battles. Sloppy play shall commence.
Some people say the preseason is boring, and for some that may be true, but I actually enjoy these games because it finally gives us a real chance to try to evaluate some depth players sitting right there on the roster bubble. There's real hitting. There's real blocking. It's real football, sort of.
That said, it can be hard to decide on where to focus when the coaching staff is putting close to 90 players out there to "put something on tape." For the Seahawks, there are a few things in particular to watch this week.
The battle at running back
Marshawn Lynch will not play, in all likelihood. This means that we get to see what Robert Turbin and his two surgically-repaired magic hips can do when running against portions of a first-team defensive line. We'll get to see whether or not Christine Michael can carry the ball in his left hand when running to the left side of the field. We'll get to see Will Tukuafu truck a foo' or two. Hopefully.
For Turbin, pay close attention to his balance and lateral agility, two areas in which he's struggled over the last two years. Were his hip issues to blame? Perhaps. For Michael -- look, we all know he can run, but the thing keeping him in third place on the depth chart is mastery of the little things. I'll be looking at his blitz pickups, his ball security, his pass catching -- these are the areas that he must improve in to make a dent this year.
Past those three relatively known commodities, I'm particularly excited to see what the highly-lauded Thomas Rawls can do. He's a powerful and violent runner, but does he have the lateral agility and explosiveness to catch on to this roster? I think it will be interesting to see Rod Smith too. Smith is a different type of runner than Rawls -- he's 6'3 and 230 pounds and looks more like an h-back than a running back, but he runs with authority and is deceptively fast. He's also a good receiver out of the backfield, from what I've heard.
My impression of Rawls based on his college tape is that he likes to bounce plays outside -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing if the opening is there -- but with NFL defenders' speed, sometimes the best thing to do is to read your blocks, make your cut upfield, shift your weight forward and pick up an extra yard rather than try to get outside and end up losing a few. That said, I don't think Rawls fears contact remotely, so that bodes well. With Smith, his leverage will be something to watch. He's 6'3, much taller than most running backs, so he's a little more upright -- when he's hitting the hole, does he have good forward lean and deliver a punch? Or, does he get stood up easily and pushed backwards at contact. Smith was Ohio State's goal-line back so my guess is that he knows how to adjust his pad-level when he needs to, but that's something to confirm.
Good things have been written about both players in camp, and this game gives them their shot at showing coaches and fans whether the hype has been warranted.
Who separates at wide receiver?
See what I did there?
I've said this a few times this offseason that while the Seahawks' receiver corps isn't necessarily one of the best in the NFL, there are some really strong battles going on for the fifth, sixth, and maybe seventh spots on the roster. My locks right now are Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Chris Matthews, and Tyler Lockett. Of those four, it's obviously going to be very interesting to see Matthews and Lockett in action.
Matthews has a shot at becoming Seattle's de facto "#1" receiver on the outside, supplanting Jermaine Kearse as the "X" while moving him over to more of a "Z" role. As Hugh Millen explained, traditionally, the X "is tethered to the line of scrimmage. He's on the line of scrimmage, he cannot go in motion, and so, when he's facing a cornerback, as he almost always is, the cornerback can jam him at the line. So, your X receiver, he better have the profile of a guy that has the speed to get down the sideline, he better have the quickness to get away from the corner, and he better be good coming off a press."
Matthews used his size and body control to win at the line, even against press-monster and cornerback enforcer Brandon Browner. Example from the Super Bowl:
Now, obviously, that's not the only skill necessary, but Matthews has some of the tools you really look for as an outside X receiver. His height-weight-speed ratio is intriguing, and the hope is that the Super Bowl performance he put on is only a jump off point.
As for Lockett, I imagine the Seahawks will play him in different spots around the formation (as they do with many of their receivers). Primarily he's probably a slot guy, but I think with his speed and reported route running prowess, he could play both the X and Z spots when called upon. Obviously, I'll be watching for this on Friday. How does he beat press? How does he set up defenders in his route? How are his hands? How is his command of the offense?
Past those obvious two, it will be interesting to see if Kevin Norwood will stand out at all in games. We haven't heard a ton about him during training camp and he's facing some pretty stiff competition from Ricardo Lockette and Kasen Williams for a roster spot in 2015. Can he separate? How does he do at the line? I'll be paying attention to his blocking as well.
Kasen Williams has been putting on a show in camp, per all reports, and appears to be a red-zone nightmare for smaller defensive backs. The former blue chip recruit and top receiver in the country coming out of high school appears to have shed some weight -- that was what Zach Whitman I thought when watching him at practice -- and perhaps that is making an impact as he continues to come back from a terrible lower-leg injury. One thing I'll be looking for in this game is if the Seahawks go to Williams in the endzone this week -- give him that shot, considering he scored three touchdowns in practice on Monday -- and he may be out to prove to Pete Carroll that he's one of those coveted touchdown makers.
Not for nothing, B.J. Daniels has gotten some praise from Pete Carroll recently and at 5'11, 218 pounds, is a different type of receiver than most of the players in that group. He's almost Golden Tate shaped, if you will, and the former South Florida quarterback (who scored 77 touchdowns passing and rushing in four years there) has some definite playmaking ability. When Carroll was asked about Daniels in a presser on Monday, "Versatility," is the first thing he brought up. "He's doing it," said Carroll. "In just an offseason he's transferred to the receiver spot. He's competitive, he's really good with the ball after the catch. He's 218 pounds so he runs physical and with a good, stout nature, more so than some of the receivers do. Very aggressive, catches the ball really well, and he can throw it if he has to."
He'll be an interesting player to watch this week -- and he should factor in on returns as well.
Here's the Seahawks receivers group:
Pass rush productivity:
In the preseason, most teams do not run anything exotic, so you're not going to see elaborate twists and stunts on the defensive line, you're not going to see many zone blitzes, and it's most going to be just straight forward schemes. Thus, it's not always easy to evaluate defensive line play.
That said, it will be interesting to see how players like Frank Clark and Cassius Marsh look in rushing the passer, and you can still observe characteristics. Are they explosive off the snap? How do they use their hands to disengage from blocks and to get blockers off balance? How well do they convert speed to power? Do they use more than one move? Moreover, how do the Seahawks use them? I am guessing Clark will see snaps on the inside as well as on the end, and that Marsh may get a rep or two at strongside linebacker.
These two guys -- Clark and Marsh -- will be the most interesting to me, but I'll be keeping an eye D'Anthony Smith, Jimmy Staten, and the handful of Demarcus Dobbs, Greg Scruggs, David King, and Julius Warmsley.
The safety dance:
With Kam Chancellor still holding out and Earl Thomas taking his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery slowly, DeShawn Shead and Steven Terrell are bound to get a ton of reps in Friday's game. First of all, it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks use them -- will they change up their single-high style that Earl Thomas runs so well or will they switch to more cover-2 and cover-4 quarters coverages that will help spread the responsibilities around? Secondly, it will be interesting to see who gets the majority of the time as the strong safety and who plays the free safety spot.
In practice, it's been said that Shead gets time at both, but I think in general he's looked at as the Kam Chancellor fill in while Terrell would be the Earl Thomas replacement. Avoiding getting beat deep will be priority number one for Terrell, while fitting in the right run gaps will be the job Shead must take over.
Dion Bailey's made a late charge as the star of training camp so he will be near the top of my list of players to watch this week as well.
Ronald Martin, Triston Wade, and Ryan Murphy are worth keying in on as well.
Offensive line play:
This is a no brainer. Who will be starting at left guard and at center? What does the backup depth chart look like? There are many things to watch when it comes to the offensive line, but Alvin Bailey and Drew Nowack top my list.