RENTON, Wash. – Tonight, for the first time in more than 10 years, Pete Carroll will coach an NFL game.
Sure, it doesn’t count, and no, we can’t begin to judge Carroll’s return to professional football based off of one preseason game, but that doesn’t mean this game isn’t significant to the new Seahawks head coach.
“These are huge,” said Carroll, who last coached an NFL game in January 2000 before New England fired him. “It is what it is, it’s the first game in preseason, but to us this is the first major test and it’s our first opportunity to make major assessments in what’s going on and see where we have to go.”
Carroll wouldn’t say how much the starters will play, but it’s safe to assume that won’t most play past the first quarter. But even if the game is decided in the fourth quarter by a bunch of guys who won’t make the team, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to be learned from tonight’s game against Tennessee.
How will the Alex Gibbs-coached offensive line perform? Gibbs, the guru of zone blocking, was one of Carroll’s biggest hires, and after more than a decade of producing 1,000-yard rushers with dominant blocking, he’ll try to do the same in Seattle. Teams can only simulate run blocking so much in practice without risking injury to the defense, so this will be the first good measuring stick for the line.
“Really, this is blocking and tackling time is what it is,” Carroll said. “We’re going to play full speed for the first time on Saturday night.”
In particular, it will interesting to see how left tackle Russell Okung, the No. 6 overall pick who missed the first week of training camp, will do in his first game setting.
How will Matt Hasselbeck look in the new passing scheme? After spending most of his career learning from Mike Holmgren, Hasselbeck is learning his third offense in as many years, and at 34 he is coming off of back-to-back subpar seasons. Hasselbeck has stood out in training camp, but it will be interesting to see how he does in his first game situation running offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ offense.
Just how good are the new receivers? Mike Williams went from top-10 pick to NFL washout, but after two years out of the NFL, the former USC standout is getting a second chance with his former coach. At 6-5, Williams gives Seattle a size element at the position that it didn’t have before. Now he has a chance to show if he can translate a promising training camp into results.
Second-round pick Golden Tate seems to come up with a big play every day in training camp, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show what he can do tonight.
“We’re going to play him a lot on Saturday night and give him a lot of opportunities,” Carroll said.
The new-look line. Seattle replaced both of its starting defensive ends, and both are departures from the traditional mold. Red Bryant, a converted tackle, is far bigger than most ends, while Chris Clemmons plays a position known as “Leo,” which is something of a hybrid between a linebacker and end.
“This will be a very good indication of how we’re doing at the line of scrimmage,” Carroll said.
Safeties young and old. As of now, the Seahawks’ starting safeties are a 21-year-old rookie, Earl Thomas, and Lawyer Milloy, a 36-year-old entering his 15th season. For Thomas, Seattle’s other first-round pick, this is his first look at NFL action, and for Milloy it’s a return to the starting lineup after playing in a limited role in his first season with Seattle. Both have plenty to prove this season.
The return game hasn’t been particularly explosive for the Seahawks in recent years, but the hope is that the addition of players like Tate and Leon Washington can change that.
The kicking and punting jobs are secure with Olindo Mare and John Ryan returning, though Ryan could be pressed into double duty if Mare’s sore calf isn’t ready.
How will Carroll handle his first NFL game in a decade?
“There are a lot of situations that come up and we’ve been grilling ourselves as a staff to get prepared, and the players, that need to know,” Carroll said. “It’s important for me to transition. … In the college game we might have had four or five really critical two-minute situations in nine years, so that’s different.”