Shaquem Griffin

5 Players on the Razor’s Edge as Preseason Opens

Seattle opens preseason play Thursday night against the Denver Broncos as CenturyLink Field at 7PM PT. Somewhere between 37-42 players have already secured a spot on the 53-man roster. That means roughly 45 players are competing for around 11 spots. Many of those players have very little chance of earning one of those spots. Five players are on the razor’s edge. What they do in the next four games will make or break their chances, and almost certainly lead to intense debate among hardcore fans.

Shaquem Griffin

The feelgood story of the 2018 draft had a dose of reality hit as he struggled in his first start at weakside linebacker last season, and never secured the team’s trust back. He excelled on special teams, and has now been moved to a much more natural strongside linebacker spot that has him closer to the line of scrimmage and gives him a chance to rush the passer on occasion.

Up until now, I have had Griffin making the roster. The more I look at the numbers at defensive line, the more I wonder if he is on the outside looking in. If the team wants to find a way to keep an extra defensive tackle like Earl Mitchell on the roster, it probably comes at the expense of a linebacker.

Barkevious Mingo played SAM last year. Even though he did not play it very well and the team wants him to solely focus on pass rushing at defensive end, he represents a safety net should Mychal Kendricks go down. Not only that, but the team may consider Cody Barton the first guy they would try at SAM should Kendricks go down. If that’s the case, the need for a dedicated backup SAM goes way down and very much hurts Griffin’s chances.

Add to that, the SAM does not stay on the field very often in this defense, so there are not many snaps to cover, and Mingo, Barton, Cassius Marsh, and Ben Burr-Kirven all excel on special teams.

So what does Griffin need to do? Make plays. Lots of them. I see a playmaker in him. He is aggressive and quick and looks far more comfortable in this role. He needs to be one of the best players on defense during the preseason. It matters more that he stands out as a linebacker than as a special teamer because the team has the least amount of confidence about his defensive abilities.

His goal should be outplaying Burr-Kirven at linebacker, even if they play different spots.

Ben Burr-Kirven

The former Husky standout made a good impression prior to camp by demonstrating a solid grasp of the playbook. He has been coming back from a sports hernia surgery and has not stood out on the field as of yet.

Burr-Kirven has the edge over Griffin in that the team sees command of the details in him that Griffin failed to show last year. He also is the new kid, who still has the honeymoon period going for him. The team has seen some of Griffin’s warts.

That said, there was a reason Burr-Kirven slipped to the fifth round. He is undersized and has real question marks about his ability to shed or slip blocks and bring down NFL ball carriers. He could end up being someone who has the head and heart for the league but simply is overwhelmed physically.

If it comes down to keeping him or Griffin, he will need to have proven he is at least an equivalent special teams player, and make enough plays to give the coaches and front office belief that he can grow into an NFL linebacker.

Expect Griffin to make plays. Burr-Kirven does not have to match him. He just needs to make a handful of his own that demonstrate potential.

Malik Turner

Most would not list Turner as someone close to making the roster. I think he is in the strongest position of anyone on this list heading into preseason. He has shown off solid receiving skills and excellent special teams ability.

He appears to be the best punt coverage gunner on the squad. Cementing that during preseason would go a long way toward locking down a roster spot. The fifth wide receiver on this team has to be a solid special teams contributor.

Turner would do well to make some plays through the air as well, but that is not nearly as important. In fact, it would not be surprising at all if other receivers who do not make the roster wind up with more receptions. That simply won’t be what puts them on the team.

Gary Jennings

Jennings is a guy I immediately considered a lock after he was drafted. Many still see him that way. It would be a stretch to list him as fifth on the depth chart at receiver right now, and given that he has shown no special teams ability as of yet, that does not bode well for his chances.

I have him as sixth, behind Turner. It is unlikely the team will keep six receivers.

Jennings needs to find some way to contribute beyond receiving to increase his odds of sticking. He also needs to flash undeniable receiving ability to force the team into a tough spot.

Jennings could very well wind up being a better receiver than a guy like Turner, but not this year. He probably would not make it to the team’s practice squad if cut. Guys like Jazz Ferguson and John Ursua have made more plays so far, as has Keenan Reynolds.

Being the eight or ninth most impressive receiver and not having a niche on special teams would be a disaster for Jennings. He still could make the squad if the team chooses to go with six receivers.

C.J. Prosise

Everyone’s favorite ironman has the potential to enrage a large swath of fans who would hate to see him take another player’s roster spot.

The team kept six running backs last year, and it feels more likely that they will do that again this year than keeping six receivers.

The reason being that it was only two years ago that the team felt the pain of injuries to their running back room and were forced to scavenge the scrap heap for players to take a handoff.

Chris Carson appears healthy but has had injury issues in the past and had surgery during the offseason. Rashaad Penny is unproven and had injuries last year as well. J.D. McKissic has had some injury issues and was helped off the field yesterday at practice.

If McKissic goes down, the next best option is Prosise. People can talk about Travis Homer all they want, but Prosise is a former receiver who can do things Homer, Carson, and Penny simply cannot.

It is not out of the realm of possibilities that Prosise even beats out McKissic for the third down back role. What needs to happen most is that he stays healthy. He and Homer both sat out of practice yesterday. If McKissic can’t go for some reason, this could be a big chance for Prosise to take a step forward.

Fans will moan the whole time. The team won’t care. Odds are against Prosise staying healthy given history. Should he buck the trend, his chances are far better than anyone will want to admit.

Another key thing to watch for the running back spot is how often Nick Bellore gets used. He is the only fullback on the roster. Should the team decide they don’t need to keep one, they could go with five backs and keep Prosise and Homer and Jennings as a sixth receiver.