RENTON, Wash. – The NFL exhibition season for the Seahawks has its own rhythm.
Week one usually consists of one series for the starters and then the rest of the game devoted to the reserves.
In week two, things ramp up a little bit with the starters often playing into the second quarter. In week three, the starters generally play for one series into the second half to get the feel of coming out after halftime. Then in week four, it’s cameo appearances for many key players, at best.
Saturday is Seattle’s week two against the Los Angeles Chargers at the bandbox that is the StubHub Center in Carson, California, meaning a bit more time for Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and the rest of the front-line players.
Here are five questions we’re eager to get answerd when the game kicks off at 7 p.m.
1. Can the first-team offense keep its momentum?
The highlight of the week one defeat against the Colts was the offense efficiently driving for a touchdown on its first and only series. The running game looked better than a year ago, the pass protection looked better than a year ago and Wilson looked as good as ever.
But that was one series against a team with low expectations that was playing its exhibition opener under a new coach on the road.
Even without standout end Joey Bosa, who won’t play, the Chargers will present a tougher defensive test – especially for the Seahawks’ offensive line. Seattle appears to have settled on a starting five: from left to right, Duane Brown, Ethan Pocic, Justin Britt, D.J. Fluker and Germain Ifedi. A good performance would all but ensure those will be the five heading into the season. Struggles might show there’s more work for that group to jell.
But the Seahawks love the continuity they have been able to keep with the offensive line so far and would love a good performance to allow them to solidify it further.
“For the first time in, I don’t know, a while in my opinion, really since we won the Super Bowl, we’ve had a consistent offensive line in practice,” Wilson said. “That consistency is huge. Obviously, guys fill in every once in a while, but I mean from obviously all the way from the left side to the right side, we’re really solidified in our line and what we’re doing and the calls and everything else. It makes a difference. It makes a big difference in terms of communication and how guys step up and how they play.”
2. Will the safety tandem of Bradley McDougald and Tedric Thompson hold up against Philip Rivers?
With Earl Thomas holding out and Maurice Alexander still coming off an injury, the Seahawks again will go with a Bradley McDougald (strong) and Tedric Thompson (free) safety tandem. However, it’ll be interesting to see if Alexander sees his first Seahawks action. He still was limited in practice this week, which opened the door for recent free-agent signee Lorenzo Jerome to impress the coaches and spend most of the week working as the second free safety.
Philip Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. After not playing in the Chargers’ exhibition opener, he is expected to get on the field for a few series today and likely won’t be shy about testing Seattle downfield with the likes of Keenan Allen, who had 102 receptions last season. What’s not in question is that McDougald will be a starter. And he prefers to play strong, where he has been for most of camp. But the Seahawks still need to see some things from Thompson to feel confident he’s ready to step in for Thomas for as long as Thomas might be out. If not, the Seahawks could begin more seriously considering a McDougald-Alexander pairing.
3. Who will emerge at right cornerback?
Speaking of Rivers and Allen, they’ll be an equally solid test for what remains maybe the most intriguing position battle on Seattle’s defense – right cornerback (Shaquill Griffin is set on the left side and Justin Coleman at nickel).
Veteran Byron Maxwell has been the usual starter there but missed last week with a groin issue. He returned this week and might play today – Carroll said he has to make it through the pregame warmup without any issues to get cleared – and a good performance might help cement his role with the starting unit. But former 49ers starter Dontae Johnson – who missed most of the offseason program and has been limited much of camp following foot surgery – also returned this week and Carroll said he will play against the Chargers, but like Alexander will be on a pitch count.
4. Will Brandon Marshall prove once and for all he’s going to be on the roster?
Seattle has little invested in the 34-year-old, 12-year vet, with just $90,000 guaranteed on a one-year deal worth just more than $1 million total. Brandon Marshall even admitted last spring he had little real market because of his age and how he’s coming off ankle and toe surgeries.
That Seattle doesn’t have much at risk in Marshall has made it far from a slam dunk that he will be on the final roster, despite an impressive pedigree that includes six Pro Bowl selections.
But Marshall has impressed in camp doing what the team would like out of him most – producing in the red zone. Marshall has seen increasing work with the starting unit this past week, turning in a highlight of practice Thursday with a touchdown catch in which he boxed out Johnson and then added another touchdown later in the day.
His training camp performance appears to show the team what it needs to feel confident that he can still produce. Still, they’d probably like to see Marshall have some good moments in a game – and do so without any health setbacks – because keeping Marshall will mean potentially losing one of the younger receivers who might loom as a bigger part of the team’s long-term future.
As of today, though, consider Marshall as on the team, with a chance against the Chargers to show that maybe he can make more of an impact than the complementary role the team has envisioned all along.
5. Can C.J. Prosise take advantage of his opportunity to prove himself anew?
First-round choice Rashaad Penny won’t play after having surgery on his left pointer finger to repair an injury suffered in practice Monday.
Not only does that spoil something of a homecoming for Penny, who played at San Diego State (OK, maybe that’s a little of a stretch, but still), but it also means more playing time for Seattle’s other tailbacks and specifically C.J. Prosise, a third-year player out of Notre Dame who has played in just 11 of 32 regular-season games and who also sat out last week with a hip flexor issue.
Prosise pronounced himself fit this week and practiced fully Thursday, appearing ready for as many plays as the team wants to hand him.
The thought all along has been that Prosise’s status as a third-round choice in 2016 and the potential he has shown when he has played means he’s likely to make the roster if he shows anything at all in the preseason.
But with Chris Carson and Penny slam dunks to make the roster and Mike Davis and J.D. McKissic having had strong camps – and with a history of more durability – the onus is on Prosise to prove anew the team’s faith in him.
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