Thomas Clayton, Josh Portis, Jeron Johnson, Pierre Allen are all names that figured prominently in the Seahawks 24-17 exhibition opening win tonight. Some player that nobody knows may have started his long climb tonight to eventually contributing to the franchise down the road. That’s pre-season football, and I love it. David Hawthorne, Ben Obomanu, Leonard Weaver, Rufus Porter, Dave Krieg are all part of the rich history of underdogs that made good in Seattle. It is easy to get carried away in either the positive or negative in these games. One player looks terrible and the other looks great, only the guy who played great was going against guys who will never pull on an NFL jersey outside of the exhibition season. These games are one of the few places in life where the “how” matters exponentially more than the result.
Let’s start with QB Josh Portis. The undrafted rookie has got quite a bit of pub recently with coaches talking him up. I have been to four practices, and have seen very little to be impressed. The first series or so in the game looked exactly like what I have seen in practice. His throws were off-target, and he ran far too often. Looking for poise and accuracy and good decisions from a rookie quarterback is like looking for leadership from congress, you ain’t gonna find it very often. What you want to see is potential. Stand in and make a throw against the rush. Show some touch or timing or ability to throw deep. Portis legitimately put his name on the Seahawks map tonight, and it wasn’t because he threw for a TD and had a 117.4 rating. It was *how* he got those numbers. He showed character and resolve by fighting back from a terrible start. He showed great touch and timing on some intermediate routes, including a great crossing pattern. He proved that when a play breaks down, he won’t always panic and run. His TD pass came on a play where he easily could have put his head down and tried to score on the ground, but instead, he kept his head and feet, and found an open player to throw to. None of these things mean Portis is destined to be great, or even good. They are, however, reasons to consider him a prospect instead of just a guy taking up a roster spot like JP Losman last season.
Speaking of taking up a roster spot, Charlie Whitehurst is a great foil for Portis. Whitehurst, by the untrained eye, appeared a better QB than Tarvaris Jackson. He had a higher QB rating, more yards, and led the team to its first touchdown. Peer behind those numbers, and you see evidence of a player who continues to tread water instead of growing as a quarterback. Whitehurst finished the night with a paltry 5.8 yards per attempt. His career average is 5.1 YPA. This is where the name “Check-Down Charlie,” comes from. Whitehurst does not display the patience or the vision to throw down-field. His long throws are almost always hail mary passes like the one he tried to send Golden Tate’s way that was nearly picked off. Where Portis showed the patience to let the intermediate routes open up, Whitehurst too often will take the guy 5-yards in front of him. Portis can claim inexperience. Whitehurst is almost 30. These are things he should have long corrected. He is a fine back-up, but I continue to question why he should be paid $4M this year. I’m not ready to say he won’t be cut if a better option becomes available from another team cutting down their roster.
Tarvaris Jackson was not strong in his debut. He held onto the ball far too long, and was sacked unnecessarily. He was the only QB to go through his progressions at all, from what I could see. That is a sign of knowing the offense better than the other two. There were not any starting caliber receivers on the field, so his options were limited. Next week will be a much better barometer for what Jackson can be.
Perhaps, the most encouraging aspects of the game were some real progress in the running game and in the secondary. A 3.1 yards/carry number won’t blow your socks off, but 133 yards rushing would be more than all but four games last year for the Seahawks offense. The 43 carries shows Carroll’s commitment to the run is more than just talk. The repeated decisions to run the ball on 3rd and short, and run back-to-back on 1st and 2nd downs, are great indications that this coaching stuff understands what it takes to establish the run. Make no mistake about it, this team has absolutely no chance of winning if they can’t run the ball. None. One of the biggest places that showed up was time of possession, which Seattle dominated with over 35 minutes. Another was turnovers, where the team gave up zero. Rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt played well enough for their first game. Carpenter got beat a few times in pass protection. That’s going to happen. The team got a few first downs running behind those two. Moffitt was the key lead block on Leon Washington’s touchdown. There was nothing I saw tonight that worried me about the future of those two.
Some folks are going to take the cautious approach on the young secondary. Enjoy that. I’m all in. Brandon Browner could be the Mike Williams of this season. He is a fascinating player that has shined in every practice I’ve watched. Tonight, was a big test and he flashed great coverage and terrific run support. Richard Sherman was not quite as impressive, but played well during his stint. And Byron Maxwell combined with fellow rookie Mark LeGree on a vicious hit to separate a receiver from the ball. That’s not even talking about Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Chancellor may have a Pro Bowl ceiling. He flashed in run support and in coverage tonight, just as he has throughout training camp. He didn’t even get to show off his blitzing ability. Kelly Jennings is so bad, and there is so much talent behind him, one would have to hope that little experiment is over. Walter Thurmond may want to hurry back, because these kids are pushing for his starting spot.
The defense played well overall. Before the final San Diego drive late in the 4th quarter, the Chargers had racked up 158 yards of total offense, and 89 of those came on the first “Kelly Jennings-inspired” series. The linebacker play was solid against the run, and questionable in coverage. Aaron Curry flashed a vicious hit off the edge, even though he didn’t wrap up. Those kinds of instinctive plays behind the line are what we need to see from Curry. Don’t count his sacks. Count his tackles for loss and forced fumbles.
Lots of young wide receivers got some extra play with some many guys sitting out. Doug Baldwin led the team with 4 receptions, and Chris Carter had a couple nice catches (a third impressive catch was ruled incomplete). Dominque Byrd continued to put pressure on Anthony McCoy in the passing game, although McCoy continues to be a superior blocker. Brandon Coutu may be on his way out of town after a series of short kickoffs.
Russell Okung was carted off the field with what people are calling a high ankle sprain. There is no viable replacement for him, and he is a huge part of the growth potential for this team. As aggravating as it is, an ankle problem is better than a knee. Let’s hope he can rehab it, and put this all behind him.
Look for at least a full quarter from Tarvaris Jackson and the starters next week in Seattle. They need to establish some sort of rhythm, and a full week more of practice should help.