The fourth preseason game of the NFL is like seeing a broadway show performed in Issaquah, by the stand-ins. The uniforms and the rules are the same, but game just vaguely resembles what you are used to seeing on Sunday. Some of the most infatuated fans take pleasure in watching the storylines play out for those players battling to keep their dreams alive at the end of the roster. Even those folks were challenged to find pleasure in what was a mostly awful loss to Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders. Even Michael Dickson was merely Pro Bowl good instead of his typical Leg of the Century standard. Nobody won a roster spot in this game, but a few players put a nail through the nail already hammered into their NFL coffin.
There were a few bright spots. Shaquem Griffin is likely going to be a starter for the Seahawks while K.J. Wright recovers from knee surgery. Pete Carroll said the most optimistic timeline for Wright’s return was two weeks, which would be after the season opener. Given that Carroll is often far too optimistic with return estimates, and a guy like Luke Joeckel was out four weeks with a knee scope a year ago, Griffin could find himself in the spotlight for some time.
Griffin has been less than stellar during preseason games thus far. He has made some tackles, but often appears out of position. All eyes were on him Thursday night and he had what I thought was his best game so far. He finished with 8 tackles in the first half and flashed his speed on numerous occasions. That is going to have to be his saving grace, and the good news is that speed can make up for a lot of mistakes. There is no way that Griffin is ready to step into Wright’s shoes, but his performance against the Raiders left me wondering if he could add a playmaking element to the defense that will be hard to remove once Wright comes back. Keep in mind that Wright can play SAM as well.
Austin Calitro played another nice game. He likely earned a roster spot earlier in preseason. Strong against the run, I have some questions about Calitro’s coverage ability, but he seems capable of filling the Brock Coyle backup middle linebacker role. D.J. Alexander seems like a guy who will be on the wrong end of roster cuts given his injury-riddled preseason and far inferior linebacker skills.
Damor’ea Stringfellow had a great 81-yard touchdown reception that could help him find a spot on the practice squad if he had not already earned one. Malik Turner had a far more productive game and preseason. I am more intrigued by Turner’s complete package of skills than Stringfellow, who is a classic “looks the part” NFL player. Turner is guy who nobody talks about, but all he has done is make plays in practice and in games. He very nearly helped complete the play of the night when Alex McGough uncorked a throw 60 yards in the air while scrambling to his right and Turner caught it for what appeared to be a touchdown. Replays showed he stepped out of bounds. Turner has size, some speed, achieves good separation on his routes, and shows some physical run-after-catch ability. He might not stick here on the practice squad, but it would not surprise me to see him catch on in the NFL.
Both Austin Davis and McGough had decent performances. Davis had to deal with especially awful offensive line play in front of him. Isaiah Battle was so error-prone that he got pulled during the opening drive of the game. He had a false start and two holding penalties, one that resulted in taking a touchdown off the board. Davis delivered a perfect ball to Stringfellow in stride for that long touchdown. McGough’s throw to Turner for the almost-touchdown was my favorite play even though it ended up as an incompletion. It was a mind-blowing throw on the move, deep down the field, to a perfect spot, while improvising. McGough also had a couple nice runs, including one where he deked a defender with a nasty cut.
Everything else was pretty bad. Sebastian Janikowski missed two extra points. There was absolutely no pass rush all night, which helped E.J. Manuel look like a good quarterback. Note to Manuel: flexing and screaming during a fourth preseason game when you are five-year veteran is not a good look. Do you scream in your five-year-olds face when you dunk on them in nerf hoops?
Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin were ineffective on the edge. Rasheem Green was quiet. Quinton Jefferson was invisible. Poona Ford was barely heard from. Branden Jackson was quiet. The run defense was pretty good, but the secondary is nowhere near talented enough to make up for a toothless pass rush.
These were not the starters on the line, but guys like Dontae Johnson, Maurice Alexander, and Delano Hill were all playing in the secondary. Johnson looks like a replacement-level player. He has not done anything terrible or promising. Alexander is a physical presence with limits in coverage. Hill has been a major disappointment this preseason. There was a clear chance for him to step forward and he has whiffed, much like he did during the game on a play where he threw his shoulder into a receiver instead of wrapping up and saw the player bounce off him and run another 20 yards for a touchdown.
This Seahawks team is incredibly thin. We have seen that throughout the preseason. The starting group is capable of competing with almost any team in the league, but few teams manage to stay healthy all year. We are already seeing that with Wright, Dion Jordan, Byron Maxwell (who probably is going to be cut), Tedric Thompson, Ed Dickson and others. There is no Richard Sherman on the bench waiting for his chance to get on the field like 2011 or Kam Chancellor playing behind Lawyer Milloy in 2010. Guys like Green and Griffin are two players who will be given a shot to contribute early. Wish for good health and be thankful the fourth preseason game is now behind us. Cuts will be announced Saturday. The practice squad will be formed Sunday, and then real football returns a week later. Buckle up for what is going to be a fascinating and unpredictable Seahawks season.