Matchup: Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks
Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)
We are so close to the season opener in St. Louis. The only thing standing in the Seahawks way is the preseason finale. On Thursday, for the 10th consecutive season, the Seahawks conclude their preseason slate against the Oakland Raiders. This is the final job interview for many players fighting to make our week one roster. The starters may play the first series of the game, if that, and then their nights will be done. The spotlight in the fourth week of the preseason is on the young guys. This week I will be focused on position battles. In this preview, I will gloss over what our opening day starting units may look like while noting which battles may be important to watch this week at each position. Let’s get to it.
Quarterbacks: If Tarvaris Jackson is able to play this week, the plans at the quarterback position will surely be set. If he can play, which to me is unlikely, Jackson may see a little bit of playing time before R.J. Archer takes over. If Jackson cannot go, then Archer will likely play almost the entire game. In the grand scheme of things, if Jackson is healthy enough to play this week that makes R.J. Archer’s performance extremely important. During the Pete Carroll era the Seahawks only carry two active quarterbacks on the roster with a third quarterback on the practice squad. Archer’s performance against the Raiders will be the difference between him making the active roster and him getting cut and re-signed to the practice squad.
Running Backs: If Thomas Rawls has any chance to steal Christine Michael’s or even Robert Turbin’s roster spot he must ball out on Thursday. It may be next to impossible for Rawls to make the team now that we know the Seahawks have interest in signing free agent running back Fred Jackson. Rawls started the preseason strong but has been overshadowed by the strong play of Michael the past two weeks. Michael and Rawls will both see a lot of playing time but I believe that Rawls will have to bust off several huge runs and at least one touchdown to even have a chance at earning a roster spot.
Wide Receivers: The trade of Kevin Norwood to the Carolina Panthers on Monday makes the wide receiver competition something to watch very closely this week. I believe 6 roster spots will go to wide receivers. I believe Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Tyler Lockett, and Ricardo Lockette will all have jobs on this team this year. With Paul Richardson starting the season on the PUP list, that means there are four receivers to watch in this game that are fighting for two spots. What will make the coaches decisions difficult is that they all play special teams. B.J. Daniels and Kevin Smith have seen their share of playing time on punt and kickoff returns while Kasen Williams has made a couple of clutch catches including one which set up Steven Hauschka’s game-winning field goal last week. Chris Matthews showed his potential in Super Bowl XLIX but has been a ghost in relation to these other players so far this preseason. Keep a tab on the number of snaps each of these guys see on offense this week. Their presence on the field alone could be a major indicator of who has the lead on the final wide receiver spots.
Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson are locks to make the team. The final tight end spot will go to either Cooper Helfet or Anthony McCoy. Given that McCoy has battled injuries over the past three seasons, and that Helfet had a solid season in 2014 it would make sense if it is Helfet’s job to lose. It very well may be. McCoy will get the opportunity to prove his worth this week. This is one spot that I think could go to either player.
Offensive Line: The release of Lemuel Jeanpierre affirms our starting offensive line going into the season. From left to right our starting line will be Russell Okung, Justin Britt, Drew Nowak, J.R. Sweezy, and Garry Gilliam. This week will give us a chance to see what our depth looks like along the offensive line. One guy to keep an eye on this week is undrafted rookie Kristjan Sokoli. Sokoli has made fantastic progress during training camp and is a favorite of Coach Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable. Unfortunately he is listed as our fourth string left guard, likely because he is still working on converting from defensive tackle to offensive guard (similar to J.R. Sweezy). Due to his standing on the depth chart Sokoli may be destined for a possible practice squad spot. Backup linemen Mark Glowinski and Terry Poole are our drafted rookies who are listed as the backups to Sweezy and Gilliam respectively. Expect to see them on the field a lot.
Defensive Line: The feel-good story of the offseason and training camp was the comeback of defensive tackle Jesse Williams. The third year lineman had a cancerous kidney removed back in May and amazingly has returned to game action this preseason; a remarkable recovery indeed. Unfortunately Williams has a very real chance of not making the team since he is listed as a fourth string defensive tackle. Along the defensive line on Thursday look for Williams, David King and Julius Warmsley. I believe one of these three players will claim one of the Seahawks musical chairs. The others will be left out once the music stops.
Linebackers: I am putting the “you never know” label on the backup middle linebacker job. Brock Coyle won this job last year and he is probably going to earn his job back in 2015. Alex Singleton however refuses to back down without a fight. Singleton has been on the field a lot this preseason, appearing solely in the second half. I get a hunch that our coaching staff likes Singleton a lot but even a great outing on Thursday still makes him a longshot to earn a roster spot but like I said, you never know.
Cornerbacks: I get a weird feeling that surprises are on the horizon in this group. Cary Williams has struggled this preseason and if he did not make so much money I think he would be a serious candidate to be cut. Williams will make the team due to his cap number which puts pressure on our backups. Tharold Simon has played well thus far and Marcus Burley has seen his fair share of playing time with the starters. Two guys to watch are Will Blackmon and Tye Smith. Blackmon is a veteran who has bounced around the league and found himself back with the Seahawks for training camp. Smith is a rookie who was drafted in the 5th round back in May and has impressed me thus far. My guess is that we will keep 5 cornerbacks. One of these guys will make the team and the other will not.
Safeties: The free safety position is settled in my mind. Earl Thomas starts, Steven Terrell backs him up. Strong safety is still up in the air at this point but I believe the breakdown is simple. If Kam Chancellor does not report to the team by the time our roster is trimmed to 53, Dion Bailey will make the team as the presumed backup to starter DeShawn Shead. If Chancellor does report, Bailey will be left out of the picture. This is the only position on the team where the simple presence of one player will likely determine the fate of another player.
Random Thoughts: All College Navy everything for the Seahawks this week. The Raiders will wear white jerseys with silver pants… Curt Menefee and Brock Huard will have the call one last time this preseason. The game will be broadcast on Q13 FOX… Lunch at Tat’s Delicatessen before the game. I’ve never been there but by the looks of the menu I’ll probably enjoy their Philly cheesesteak… Pregame location is to be determined but I wouldn’t be surprised if we make our way to Hawks Nest for the first time this season… Off the top of my head I cannot remember a preseason which included terrible weather for both of our home games. The forecast is calling temperatures in the mid 60’s and a 50/50 chance of rain.
Prediction: The nice way we will be describing this game after the fact is that it will be a “defense battle.” Russell Wilson will fail to lead a scoring drive on his one possession of the game. R.J. Archer will once again struggle to lead touchdown drives but will progress as the game wears on. On defense the Seahawks backups will slightly outplay the Raiders defensive backups which will keep us in the game. The Seahawks will win another close game in the fourth quarter and will finish the preseason 2-2.
Seahawks 16, Raiders 13