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Seahawks open preseason with lots of questions

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By John Boyle
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Running back Christine Michael will get a chance to return kicks and get a lot of carries against the Chargers in tonight's preseason game.

    Associated Press

    Running back Christine Michael will get a chance to return kicks and get a lot of carries against the Chargers in tonight's preseason game.

RENTON -- At some point tonight, probably around 10:30 p.m., a bunch of second- and third-stringers will decide the fate of the Seahawks' preseason opener in San Diego.
And since the NFL isn't about to start awarding playoff berths or home field advantage to teams with the best backups in August, the score of tonight's game, or any other preseason game for that matter, is pretty meaningless.
That does not, however, mean there isn't a lot to be taken from preseason games.
For starters, the limits placed on how often a team can practice during training camp, as well as the amount of physical contact in those practices, make it more important than ever for teams to get in some full-speed, full-contact work. While avoiding injuries is always the most important thing in a preseason game, plenty of other important things can happen, from a rookie winning a job (does the name Russell Wilson ring a bell?) to a veteran battling to continue his career (sorry, Terrell Owens).
So yes, the score may be insignificant, but there is plenty to pay attention to when the Seahawks and Chargers play tonight, including these five things:
1 What rookies are ready to contribute?
A preseason game isn't quite the real thing, but it's as close as the rookies have come to NFL action, so how they respond can be telling. Last year, players like Wilson and Bobby Wagner showed from the get-go that stepping up to another level wouldn't be too much for them
Tonight, we'll start to see if players like tight Luke Willson, running back Christine Michael and defensive tackles Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill are ready to make the leap. All of them are expected to contribute this year.
"It's huge for these guys," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We have evaluated them in practice; now it comes to game time and things change sometimes. We have to get to the truth of who are these guys? What are they all about? Where do they fit in? How can we utilize their talents and all? We are very excited about the young guys."
In particular, it will be worth keeping an eye on how Williams and Hill fit into a very fluid situation on the defensive line. Also, Michael will get a lot of carries, Carroll said, but just as telling will be how he handles the other aspects of that position like catching passes and picking up blitzes.
Another rookie to watch, one less well-known than the members of this year's draft class, is defensive end Benson Mayowa, who went undrafted out of Idaho. With the Seahawks thin on pass rushers because of injuries -- they'll be without Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, and Bruce Irvin -- Mayowa will play a big role in the pass rush. Also playing significant roles in rushing the passer will be O'Brien Schofield, who Seattle recently claimed off of waivers from Arizona, and third-year linebacker Mike Morgan.
2 Who can return kicks?
Carroll said Michael will get the first crack at returning a kick against the Chargers, but the Seahawks are very unsettled at that spot because of Percy Harvin's injury and their decision to cut Leon Washington after signing Harvin. Depending on how many times the Seahawks return kicks, you also could see Jeremy Lane, Will Blackmon, Bryan Walters and Golden Tate get a look.
3 Thurmond-Winfield battle
The Seahawks signed Antoine Winfield, a three-time Pro Bowl player, to upgrade the nickel cornerback spot, yet as of now there are no guarantees the former Viking will have that job come September. That has nothing to do with Winfield's play in training camp, but rather it shows just how impressive Walter Thurmond has been over the past couple of weeks.
"This is going to be a real battle at that spot," Carroll said.
It's a battle that won't be decided tonight, but the game is a chance for both to try to take an early lead in the competition.
4 Which backup QB will win the job?
Tarvaris Jackson seemingly has a leg up in the competition with Brady Quinn to be Seattle's backup quarterback, but nothing has been decided yet. Jackson knows the offense and he's very well respected in Seattle's locker room, but don't think for a second that Carroll would hesitate to go against what seems like the obvious decision if Quinn shines tonight and in future preseason games. After all, if Carroll was willing to let the battle for the starting job stretch well into the preseason last year before ultimately giving the job to a rookie, you better believe he's comfortable taking his time to name a backup.
5 How good of a LB is Allen Bradford?
With starters not expected to play a ton -- some who are dinged up won't play at all -- keep an eye on Bradford when he's in at middle linebacker. With Bobby Wagner dealing with a sore shoulder, Bradford has gotten some work with the No. 1 defense in camp, and has been impressive. Not bad for a guy who came into the league as a running back.
When Carroll recruited Bradford to USC, the coach put Bradford at running back even though he was also one of the nation's top linebacker recruits. Bradford did well enough as a bruising back to be a sixth-round pick in 2011, but he never established himself in the NFL as a running back and landed on Seattle's practice squad. He, Carroll and linebackers coach Ken Norton have decided to see if Bradford could turn himself into an NFL linebacker.
"This is a really big next couple of weeks for Allen," Carroll said. "He's made a great impression, been very physical on the practice field. It's a really important step for him. He's made a big transition. It's taken him a long time to get here. So this preseason is going to be really crucial for him."
Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » Seahawks

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