Take NFL preseason with spoonful of salt

MONDAY, AUG. 22, 2011, 11:33 P.M.

It’s a warning label that you refuse to read: Do not draw strong conclusions from NFL exhibition games.

The urge is always there to ignore the instructions, overdose and overreact. It’s especially difficult this year because the lockout left people hungrier than ever for football, but the teams are frighteningly unprepared to impress. There were no minicamps, no organized team activities, no news on how your favorite squad was coming together. No time for a meticulous, gradual process. And now, no time for patience, either.

Just throw it together and throw it out there. And judge – quickly and decisively. The season is only 19 days away. It feels like 19 hours away, but the quality of play suggests these teams are 119 days away.

What to do? Relax.

Yeah, right.

Everybody is kicking up dust about the Seahawks through two glorified practices.  There are calls for a quarterback controversy between Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. There are major concerns about the offensive line’s youth movement, about struggling wide receiver Golden Tate’s mental state and about cornerback Kelly Jennings’ affinity for giving up the big play. Just the same, there are major crushes developing: third-string quarterback Josh Portis, safety Jeron Johnson and wide receiver Doug Baldwin, to name a few.

There’s nothing wrong with reacting to what you see, of course. If the NFL was concerned with tempering expectations, it would swallow the $1 billion it makes off the exhibition season and close those scrimmages to the public. But that’s definitely not happening, so you watch these meaningless exhibition games, hoping they provide something insightful. Or incite-ful. And even if they don’t, you figure out something to focus on, anyway. Just be careful not to put too much into it.

Take your advice and divide by two because, honestly, these games are only revealing half-truths because they include little or no game-planning. For instance, let’s look at the quarterback situation.

Jackson, coach Pete Carroll’s preordained starter, looks awful right now (QB rating: 45.0) and, well, you’d look awful, too, if the offensive line kept you running for your life. Meanwhile, backup Charlie Whitehurst has posted a 93.1 rating while playing with and against reserves. He’s only averaging 5.4 yards per pass attempt, so it’s not like he’s shredding defenses. The check down has been his best friend, but overall, in this small sample size, Whitehurst appears more decisive and confident.

Clearly, Whitehurst is a better quarterback than we saw at this time last season. And Jackson is struggling, but he’s also playing against first-team defenses and playing with a starting offensive line that features two rookies, an injured second-year left tackle and a third-year center coming off injury.

Quarterback controversy? Not yet. It’s merely something to take note of, something to refer back to in, say, mid-October. I get the feeling this preseason is foreshadowing that the Seahawks will have an unsettled quarterback situation this season, but that’s something you should’ve already known. Jackson has never been an unquestioned starter.

Whitehurst is embracing this opportunity and gaining ground quickly, but the Seahawks signed Jackson partly because his familiarity with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s system gives them the best chance to be competitive.

I’m only willing to declare one absolute about the Seahawks after two exhibition games: They have more depth.

Even then, I’m inclined to divide that optimism about depth by two. It’s only preseason. Read the warning label for once, please.


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