SEATTLE – The Seahawks will play the Chicago Bears Monday night at Solider Field in what looms as much of a must-win game as there can be this early in the season without three of their most veteran players – linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright and receiver Doug Baldwin.
All were declared out by the Seahawks on Saturday because of injury.
Three other key players were listed as doubtful for the game after not taking part in practice Saturday, and all may also sit out – starting right cornerback Tre Flowers (hamstring), right guard D.J. Fluker (hamstring) and safety Delano Hill (hamstring).
Cornerback Shaquill Griffin was declared as questionable with a thigh injury. But Griffin took part in practice on a limited basis Saturday and coach Pete Carroll said after practice Griffin he will play against the Bears.
Still, the losses of Baldwin, Wright and Wagner will leave the Seahawks particularly short-handed as they head to Chicago hoping to avoid a 0-2 start that would make for a pretty steep uphill climb to get to the playoffs – just nine of 120 teams to make the playoffs since 2008 started 0-2.
Carroll characteristically expressed confidence that the Seahawks can get the job done without their leading receiver, two of their three most experienced defensive players as well as possibly Flowers, who emerged as the team’s starting right corner after injuries to veterans Bryon Maxwell and Dontae Johnson.
“The focus really goes to the guys who are stepping in,” Carroll said. “And we ask them to elevate and play to the same level of the guy before him without exception, and everybody around those guys realizes that, too. So we embrace the new opportunity that is there at hand. It’s always been something that has not been an issue for us.”
Still, the absences of Baldwin, Wagner and Wright mean the Seahawks will play the Bears looking almost nothing like the teams that won one Super Bowl and advanced to another. Seattle will play Monday with just three players from the team that won the Super Bowl following the 2013 season – QB Russell Wilson, OL J.R. Sweezy and free safety Earl Thomas – and just another who was part of the 2014 team that lost to the Patriots, center Justin Britt.
For Baldwin, who suffered an MCL sprain last week against Denver that could sideline him for a few games, sitting out will snap a streak of 89 straight games played dating to the 2012 season, the fourth-longest active streak among receivers in the NFL.
Wagner, who has made 42 straight starts dating to a game against Carolina in 2015, showed up on the injury report this week with a groin issue after having played all 74 snaps against the Broncos on Sunday.
Carroll said Wagner felt the injury late in the game against Denver but thought initially it was just a cramp. Carroll said the injury was then diagnosed a couple of days later. Carroll said he thinks Wagner can play next Sunday against Dallas in Seattle’s home opener.
“He’s running already, working hard,” Carroll said. “But he’s not quite ready so we’ll get him probably next week.”
Wright will now miss a second straight game after having arthroscopic knee surgery 2 1/2 weeks ago. Carroll said Wright has also been running all week and that he also has a chance to return against Dallas.
“I can’t imagine him not competing to play next week,” Carroll said. “He looked great today. … He looks like he’ll be ready to go.”
Seattle signed free-agent linebacker Mychal Kendricks to a one-year contract earlier this week as depth at linebacker. Kendricks, who was released by Cleveland earlier this month after pleading guilty to insider trading, could start at one of the linebacker spots, likely for Wright at weakside linebacker with Austin Calitro likely playing at MLB in place of Wagner. Shaquem Griffin started last week at weakside linebacker but was replaced by Calitro on running downs in the second half against Denver with Griffin playing on third downs. Kendricks has largely played at weakside linebacker while Calitro has been Wagner’s backup throughout the preseason, which would seem to point to those two starting inside against the Bears.
Carroll, though, said he would keep a secret for now exactly how the Seahawks will align at linebacker other than to say that Kendricks will play against the Bears.
“The background that he has and the instincts that he has, he has been coached really well,” said Carroll of Kendricks, who has 74 career starts in a career that dates to 2012 when he was drafted in the second round by the Eagles, one spot ahead of Wagner, after being the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year at Cal in 2011. “He really has a chance to pick it up really quick and get in there and help us. He had three really good days and studied like crazy with the coaches and he’s ready to help us out.”
As for Baldwin, the Seahawks are likely to use Tyler Lockett more in the slot to replace many of his snaps, while Seattle also signed Keenan Reynolds to the active roster this week to add a fifth receiver.
If Flowers can’t play, the Seahawks could start Akeem King at right cornerback or possibly go with Justin Coleman there and then move Coleman inside in the nickel. Neiko Thorpe could also be an option at right corner. King, though, replaced Flowers when he briefly left last Sunday’s game at Denver.
Fluker has been out since being injured in the third preseason game at Minnesota and will again be replaced by Sweezy if he can’t play Monday. Carroll said Flowers and Fluker would each make the trip to Chicago.
The Seahawks also confirmed that they released veteran defensive tackle Tom Johnson to make room on the roster for safety Shalom Luani, who was promoted off the practice squad. The team’s press released said Luani was needed to add depth at safety and special teams with Hill doubtful – Carroll said Hill “felt something yesterday” in practice. Hill played 23 special teams snaps against Denver. For Luani, who played at Washington State, the promotion caps a rather crazy few weeks. He was acquired by Seattle from Oakland for a 2019 seventh-round pick on Sept. 1. He was inactive against Denver and then waived early in the week to make room for Reynolds. He was then re-signed to the practice squad and now is back on the active roster and seems certain to make his Seahawks debut against the Bears.
Johnson started against Denver and played 39 snaps on defense and the Seahawks hope they can re-sign him next week.
“What happened with the numbers, we had to do something and make a move and had to figure out which was the best way for us over the long haul of this,” Carroll said of releasing Johnson. “Tom did a great job for us. Hated to have to separate like that.”
Asked if Johnson could be back, Carroll said, “Yeah there definitely could be a chance for that.”
Johnson’s $900,000 salary for this season is guaranteed and he also received a $250,00 signing bonus from the Seahawks. As a vested vet Johnson does not go through waivers and immediately becomes a free agent. Seattle likely wanted to take its chances that it can more easily re-sign Johnson instead of waiving a younger player who could be claimed on waivers.
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