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Seahawks-Vikings: What to watch for in the second game of the preseason

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BRONCOS VS SEAHAWKS Photo by Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

After a triumphant opener to the preseason, the Seahawks resume their August schedule on Sunday in Minnesota against the Vikings. For Seattle, the second week of the preseason will see Russell Wilson and a handful of other starters get their first game action of 2019. As exciting as it’ll be to see the starters get a handful of possessions, there’s plenty more to watch for as the Seahawks roster continues to take shape.

Will Gary Jennings’ big week of practice translate

Jennings, the second wide receiver taken by Seattle in this year’s draft, was at risk of falling behind in a crowded receiver depth chart. Fellow draft picks D.K. Metcalf and John Ursua had drawn praise throughout camp, and both had moments in the Seahawks’ victory over the Broncos, too. Meanwhile, undrafted free agent Jazz Ferguson was one of the stars of last week. It was time for Jennings to begin to impress, and it seems like he has.

On Tuesday, Brian Schottenheimer glowed about Jennings’ performance in practice—a day that saw him haul in a pair of touchdowns and a long, one-handed grab—calling it “near dominant.” Russell Wilson joined the chorus of compliments, recognizing how necessary Jennings’ big day was, saying, “He really needed it, I think, just being honest with you, just to make some plays and get the ball in his hands. One, to show to himself that he can be great in this league, hopefully. And two, I think ultimately just to (show) the team and everything else.’’

For all the praise, Jennings’ impressive practice will be long forgotten if he fails to replicate it against Minnesota. With Tyler Lockett, Metcalf, Jaron Brown and David Moore almost certain for the 53-man roster, that leaves (most likely) two spots for Jennings, Ferguson, Ursua and Keenan Reynolds, among others, to battle it out for. Jennings will have the most room for error, if only for his draft status, but he must show something in the preseason.

Who will get mixed in as a blitzer on defense

One way for Seattle to make up for an utter lack of bite up front on defense—particularly early in the season, without Jarran Reed, and Ezekiel Ansah still possibly on the mend—will be to blitz more than they have previously. In 2018, the Seahawks brought five or more rushers just 20.3% of the time, which was 21st in the league.

We saw the early returns of that added wrinkle last week, when at different times throughout the game Cody Barton, Ugo Amadi, Akeem King, Marquise Blair (unplanned) and DeShawn Shead (which resulted in a safety) brought extra pressure. Pete Carroll acknowledged the plan to bring blitzers after the game, saying, “We want to see who the blitzers are and we trying to figure that out. He (defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.) gave them a lot of shots and it was good.”

There isn’t a lot to be gleaned from preseason games outside of individual evaluations, but Seattle mixing in more pressure looks seems to be a legitimate change they’re making. The next three games (really just the next two, though) will give us a chance to see who will add to the Seahawks’ pass rush when the regular season begins.

Will Kalan Reed heat up the nickel competition

Since training camp opened in late July, the general consensus has been that the competition to replace Justin Coleman was a two man battle, between Akeem King and Jamar Taylor. The snap counts from Seattle’s win over Denver backed that up, with King (31%) and Taylor (34%) out-snapping Kalan Reed (23%) by a fair margin—though all three played heavily on special teams. (It’s worth noting Ugo Amadi played more than all three, at 36%, but his snaps came all over the defense.)

This week, however, Reed got his first action with the starting defense at the nickel spot, with King shifting outside. Whether it was just Carroll and Norton mixing things up—Shaquill Griffin’s run with the second team would seem to back up this notion—or Reed making a push to start inside, is something we should learn on Sunday. Publicly, Carroll isn’t downplaying Reed’s chances of winning the job, saying, “Kalan Reed has done a really nice overall job right now, pass coverage-wise. He’s done all that stuff well enough that he can hold his spot going into the week, but it’s up for grabs, and those guys will be rotating evenly throughout.”

King, Taylor and Reed will likely all see around a third of the snaps in the slot again versus the Vikings; when they come, whether it’s with the starters or into the fourth quarter, will give us a better indication of where the competition stands heading into the biggest week of preseason.

Can Paxton Lynch build upon his performance against the Broncos

By far the biggest surprise of last week was Lynch blowing the backup quarterback competition wide open with an impressive performance that saw him go 11-of-15 for 109 yards and a touchdown, plus another 38 yards and a score on the ground. Compared to Geno Smith’s lackluster game, Lynch looked lights out. At the very least, he firmly put himself in the conversation to backup Wilson in 2019.

The most encouraging part of Lynch’s performance was the throws he was making; he was a first round pick because of physical traits, but last Thursday, he was throwing with timing, touch and anticipation. It looked like there had been real growth in his game, and that’s exciting.

Lynch will now have a great opportunity to build upon his performance. Smith is set to miss the Seahawks’ game in Minnesota after getting a cyst removed from his knee, with the newly signed J.T. Barrett the only other healthy quarterback behind Wilson. Practice reports from the week have told us Lynch had carried his strong play into team sessions. Depending on how the first quarter plays out, there’s a strong chance Lynch could see action with the starters. (It is worth noting that Wilson played the entire first half in the second game of the preseason last year, but he also played in the first game. If last week was any indication, it seems like the coaching staff is being more conservative with Wilson this year.)

If Lynch can replicate or build upon his first game in a Seattle uniform, he may not only stay in the backup conversation, but become the favorite.

Which EDGE(s) will take advantage of a favorable matchup

Though the Seahawks will likely aid their pass rush with extra pressure, as previously noted, almost all of Seattle’s healthy EDGEs are of interest heading into Sunday. And they’ll get a chance to impress in a very favorable matchup. The much-maligned Riley Reiff should start on the left, with Rashod Hill starting opposite. Neither are particularly impressive, and behind them on either side is Aviante Collins and Brian O’Neill, both of whom are better athletes than players at this stage.

Jacob Martin, who got a sack last week, has drawn praise for his physique entering his sophomore year. After being unable to maintain his weight as a rookie—ending 2018 at 226 pounds—Martin sits at 248 pounds. Martin keeping on that weight, without losing his dynamic get off, will be key to him developing from rotational rusher into a future starter. He was the best pass rusher on the field for the Seahawks last week, and should replicate that performance.

Rasheem Green, one of the stars of preseason in 2018 for Seattle, must step up for the Seahawks in year two—particularly if L.J. Collier is slow to return from injury. Though Green’s performance against the Broncos wasn’t as flashy as his play last August, he drew praise from Carroll on Sunday, who said of Green, “He’s popping out now, his quickness is there, he’s more powerful than he was (last year), obviously his awareness and his timing is better because he’s more experienced.” Green will see snaps against the Vikings outside and in, with a great chance to make an impact.

Beyond the two sophomores, there’s Cassius Marsh and Barkevious Mingo, both very much on the roster bubble and not helped by the versatility of the EDGEs around them on the depth chart. Marsh is likely the favorite of the two to land on the 53, and had a strong practice this week, but neither are close to locks. Despite getting a sack late, Mingo was unimpressive against Denver, often failing to win 1-on-1 against third string tackles. The converted linebacker has to show something to justify Seattle keeping his $5.2M cap hit for 2019, and this is the week to do it.

Can the two standout UDFAs continue their roster push

It would not be the Pete Carroll and John Schneider Seahawks if an undrafted free agent didn’t crack the 53-man roster. Two of this year’s group stood out in a positive way against the Broncos, and both have legitimate chances to make the final roster. Repeat performances against Minnesota will go a long way.

On the defensive side, hulking nose tackle Bryan Mone was terrific against Denver, clogging up the middle and keeping linebackers Barton and Austin Calitro clean to make plays in the backfield. Seattle’s defensive tackle group is thin—it’ll be made even thinner when Reed’s suspension begins—and Mone has a clear path to the roster. If he can again play disciplined (read: no freelancing) and stout defense inside for the Seahawks, he should feel great about his roster chances.

On offense, everyone will be looking for Jazz Ferguson to repeat his big game that saw him somehow overshadow the impossibly hyped Metcalf. Ferguson made three terrific catches, and played as well above the rim as we’ve seen any receiver play in Seattle in recent years.

Though Carroll tried to cool the hype surrounding Ferguson this week, there’s reason for optimism, even in a loaded position group. Ferguson is a UDFA because of situation, not talent. He was a legitimate day two or three prospect who fell victim to circumstance (partly self created). Ferguson is certainly good enough to land on a 53-man roster as a rookie, he just needs to continue to display the physical traits that make him so appealing.

The Seahawks have questions across the roster, some that are exciting, such as the progression of young players, and some worrying, such as the pass rush. Against the Vikings, we’ll continue to get our answers.