The whistle blows. The beer flows. You know. Seahawks football is back. The team plays the AFC West in the pre-season, as they always do, but there is a little something extra in this game between the Super Bowl opponents. Denver fans, players, and possibly even coaches, will be approaching this game like it means something. Pete Carroll properly framed things yesterday when he said, "This game has nothing to do with our opponent. It's all about us, and learning about our young guys." Where most abhor pre-season football because of the poor play and meaningless outcomes, I love them. It is pure popcorn entertainment to see dozens of micro-battles play out, as well as getting early signs about how the team may be different than a year ago.
RT Justin Britt (#68) and RT Eric Winston (#73)
I have not been able to attend practice recently, but this battle is not close from what I have seen. It would be amazing to see Britt somehow hold up against the likes of Von Miller or DeMarcus Ware. More likely, there will many Seahawks fans losing their patience watching the rookie get beat badly in pass protection and keeping the Seahawks offense from functioning. The hope is to see Winston against the same competition to get a fair assessment. He should have trouble with Miller as well (everyone does), but how much trouble he has will be telling. No other competition on the Seahawks roster comes close to this one in terms of importance.
RB Robert Turbin (#22), RB Christine Michael (#33), RB Spencer Ware (#44)
Seahawks players and coaches swear by Turbin. There is absolutely no sign that Michael is close to overtaking Turbin in terms of reps or public statements from coaches. There is no explanation for this except that Michael really struggles at the details that differentiate a college player from a pro. I enter tonight hoping to see that Turbin either shows a greater ability to break tackles and push the pile or more wiggle to avoid defenders. I fully expect Michael to tantalize as he does with nearly every carry, and continue to force the coaches to explain why he is languishing as a third string back. Ware is a guy to keep an eye on that some may have lost track of. He is a very good special teams player and a punishing back who showed recent signs of gaining steam. He will be the closest thing to a Marshawn Lynch style of runner in the Seahawks backfield tonight.
Red Bryant is gone. Michael Bennett steps into his spot, and Kevin Williams has been added to the mix. Chris Clemons is gone and Cliff Avril steps into his spot. It is crucial that the defensive line proves it can still be stout against the run. People assume Bryant was the superior run defender to Bennett because of the size disparity, but those people might be surprised by how many plays Bennett makes in the backfield, and his ability to chase down plays from the backside. It will be interesting to see how Williams and Tony McDaniel are utilized. We may even get to see the jumbo package that features McDaniel at 5-tech defensive end, Brandon Mebane and Williams at tackle, and Bennett at LEO. That would be fun. I remain concerned about Avril's ability to hold up versus the run. That is probably the biggest question from a run defense perspective on the line.
Avril has been a career strongside rusher who is being asked to move to weakside this year. We will see how the Seahawks line him up and how he performs. He needs to be a significant threat off the edge for the defense to dominate. Bennett is a massive upgrade over Bryant in pass rush, and Williams should be as well over a very good Clinton McDonald last year.
LT Alvin Bailey (#78), RG J.R. Sweezy (#64)
James Carpenter would be on this list as well if he ends up playing. Bailey has quietly been playing a solid left tackle with Russell Okung out. It would speak volumes if the Seahawks backup left tackle could block a guy like Ware. I fully expect him to. Sweezy looks far thicker this year, and I'm eager to see how he hold up in pass protection.
CB Tharold Simon (#27), CB Akeem Auguste (#36)
Both young corners are having solid camps. Auguste is lesser known, but can play inside or outside. A silent battle that could develop is if Simon plays extremely well, the team may consider a nickel configuration that features Byron Maxwell shifting inside to slot with Simon playing the edge, which would leave Jeremy Lane out. Lane has been good so far this camp, but that is Simon's best chance to find the field. Auguste absolutely belongs in the conversation with those guys.
LB Brock Coyle (#45)
You heard it here first! Coyle showed up in my practice notes the third day of camp. He is a physical player that fans are going to love against the run. I have heard good things about his pass coverage skills, but have not had the chance to watch him in those situations yet. Denver will surely test that aspect of his game. Expect at least one crunching hit in the hole by Coyle.
SS Jeron Johnson (#23)
Johnson has been playing opposite Earl Thomas with Kam Chancellor on the sidelines, and he has been playing extremely well. He is not the intimidator that Chancellor is, but he has a knack for making plays. Chancellor was a huge part of disrupting the Broncos game plan in February, so you can expect Johnson to be tested early and often.
WR Percy Harvin (#11), WR Doug Baldwin (#89), WR Paul Richardson (#10), WR Jermaine Kearse (#15), WR Phil Bates (#88)
Words cannot express how excited I am to see this group in live action. Harvin is dynamite. Baldwin is a starter and a primary target that Tate had been. Richardson is explosive, and needs to prove he can stay on the field. Kearse consistently makes big plays, and Bates has been everywhere in camp. This group very easily could be the biggest difference between last year and this year. Watch the speed and playmaking.
And so many more...
I don't know if DE/DT Cassius Marsh (#91) will play, but he would absolutely be a must watch if he gets in there. Greg Scruggs (#98), Benson Mayowa (#95), Jordan Hill (#97), DeShawn Shead (#35), Michael Brooks (#70) are all worth watching. Tape the game. It is the only way to really be able to focus on each of these players. Seahawks football is nearly here. Enjoy the night!