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Analysis: Five things to watch in the Seahawks’ first preseason game Thursday vs. the Denver Broncos

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 7, 2019, 7:43 p.m.

In this photo taken July 25,  Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf makes a catch during  training camp in Renton, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
In this photo taken July 25, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf makes a catch during training camp in Renton, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash – Seahawks fans won’t be able to watch Russell Wilson Thursday night against Denver – for the first time in his NFL career, Wilson will not play in a preseason opener as Geno Smith will get the start at quarterback.

Many other starters will also sit out, and those who do play won’t play much. Head coach Pete Carroll said the team is emphasizing getting young players a lot of snaps early in the preseason (while also further protecting their veterans, something becoming a growing trend around the NFL).

So what will be worth watching?

Here are five things that stand out, in no particular order.

1. The backup QB battle

The decision to start Smith is an early official sign of what has been thought all along – the backup job is Smith’s to lose.

But Carroll insists that Smith could indeed lose it to Paxton Lynch, even if his experience (31 career starts) and roster construction logistics make sense for Smith to be the guy.

The Seahawks have made surprise decisions before.

Smith will need to show something in the time he gets – likely the first half or so before giving way to Lynch – or it could become a legitimate battle.

Smith threw just four passes last season as a backup with the Chargers, and Lynch was not on a roster in the regular season. For both, this is also simply the first time to play significant time in a game in a while. For Lynch, it’s also a chance to begin reviving his career against the only other team for which he has played. Lynch was Denver’s first-round pick in 2016, but was released heading into last season after going just 1-3 in four starts in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

2. DK Metcalf’s NFL debut

OK, so a preseason game maybe isn’t a true NFL debut.

But the first glimpse in game action of the player who has been as highly hyped as any rookie in team history is enough reason to tune in – though you may want to make sure you tune in early.

Metcalf isn’t battling for a roster spot. While the Seahawks will want to get him some work and acclimation to the NFL, they also may not want to take any unnecessary risks with a player who will have a big role this season.

But they may also want to make sure they see enough from Metcalf to validate the high expectations he has engendered through regular starring performances in practice.

3. Bo leading a banged-up backfield?

Due to injuries to three backups, the Seahawks suddenly have some depth issues at tailback – enough so that on Wednesday they signed free-agent tailback Xavier Turner, who may well get some carries on Thursday.

Seattle is healthy at the top with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. But the Seahawks don’t need to see much out of either of them in the preseason. Bo Scarbrough is healthy, and can be expected to get a ton of work in what will be his first Seahawks action since being signed last December. Scarbrough, a former star at Alabama who helped knock UW out of the college football playoffs in 2016, has impressed with his tough, between-the-tackles running in practice. As with what they see out of a lot of young players in practice, the Seahawks will be looking to see that he can replicate that in games.

But everyone after those three on the current depth chart is hurt – C.J. Prosise (hip) and Travis Homer (quad) won’t play and J.D. McKissic (foot) is a game-day decision.

For Prosise, this is obviously a big setback as he attempts to show he can stay healthy after missing 32 of a possible 48 regular-season games in his first three seasons. It’s probably too early to say it’s a death knell to his chances to stay around. But missing the first preseason game after having been healthy through the offseason program and first 10 days of training camp only revives all the old concerns about his durability as he enters the final year of his rookie contract – and what is undoubtedly a make-or-break season for the 2016 third-round pick out of Notre Dame.

The injuries to Homer and McKissic also mean the team’s two other main candidates for the third-down, 2-minute back role may not be able to take advantage of Prosise’s absence – while also further muddying the outlook at that spot.

4. The rest of the rookies

Aside from Metcalf, the game will also be the debut for a number of other rookies the Seahawks hope will have a big impact this season.

Linebacker Cody Barton, though, has been dealing with a groin strain and may sit out. Homer also won’t play, nor will DL Demarcus Christmas and OL Phil Haynes, who each remain on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.

The rest of the 11-man class figures to see action, with Carroll sounding particularly excited to see Marquise Blair, a second-round pick out of Utah.

Blair has a chance to contend for the starting strong safety spot. With Delano Hill still sidelined, he has a chance to make a potentially lasting impression. But Hill, who started the final two regular-season games of last year at strong safety before suffering a hip injury that required surgery, may be back for the second preseason game at Minnesota on Aug. 18, meaning Blair will have some added competition for reps in practice and snaps in games pretty soon.

“Probably as much as anybody out there, I’m excited to see him,” Carrroll said of Blair. “To see him run and hit, because he hasn’t had the chance to show what he’s so unique at – he was really a physical football player (at Utah). We’d love to see how that fits in. He’ll get a chance on special teams and he’ll play a lot of plays in this game.”

Receivers Gary Jennings and John Ursua also should get a lot of snaps, as well as linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven and defensive back Ugo Amadi.

5. The battle at nickel back

Speaking of Amadi, a fourth-round pick from Oregon, he fits in to what remains one of the team’s more intriguing competitions – the battle for the nickel corner spot.

Akeem King has consistently worked as the starter there, with Kalan Reed as the backup. But King has also been getting some work on the outside working behind Shaquill Griffin at left cornerback. The Seahawks seem more willing to mix and match personnel on defense, meaning there could be opportunities for more than one nickel to see regular playing time (the 6-1, 215-pound King against bigger receivers, the shorter Reed and Amadi against smaller, quicker types).

Amadi has also been used extensively at safety, but has received more work at nickel following the signing of DeShawn Shead to add depth at safety.

“The competition at that (nickel) spot is really keen, and he’s going to get a shot,” Carroll said of Amadi. “He’ll play quite a bit at the nickel spot in the game.”

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