RENTON — The Seahawks host the Chicago Bears tonight in the most important of the games that don’t count, aka, preseason game No. 3.
And while, as always, the end result doesn’t mean a darn thing, this particular preseason game is plenty important to the teams involved for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is basically the final dress rehearsal for the starters, most of whom will see little if any playing time in next week’s preseason finale.
Here are five things to watch in tonight’s game:
1. Does Marshawn Lynch get involved, and how is Christine Michael looking?
Technically, Lynch made his preseason debut last week, but he played just two snaps — Seattle’s first two of the game — and did not touch the ball. While it’s likely Lynch plays less tonight than a lot of his fellow starters, he should at least get a few series and carry the ball a few times. The Seahawks have made no secret of the fact that they want to limit Lynch’s workload in the preseason and practice, but getting him at least a little game-like action before the season opener would be beneficial.
“It’s time for him to get some carries and get involved a little bit,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I could not be more pleased with the conditioning level that he’s had, the consistency of practice and his preparation has been great. He’ll be ready to go and I know he’s looking forward to that, too.”
Once Lynch comes out of the game, the man to watch will be second-year back Christine Michael. Robert Turbin has clearly been the better back in the fight for the backup job, so he has less to prove tonight, but Michael, a player who came into camp with a lot of buzz, has fumbled in each of his preseason games and has work to do to prove he deserves an increased workload in his second season. Despite those fumbles, Carroll has seen mostly good things out of Michael.
“I think he’s the most improved player on our team,” Carroll said. “He’s come a long ways in so many ways. He just needs to keep playing and he needs to keep competing and showing he’s growing as a football player. He’s explosive, his mind is in it, he’s all over it, so we’re just anxious to keep bringing him along.”
2. Can the O-line continue its growth?
The offensive line took a big step forward from preseason game No. 1 in Denver to last week’s win over San Diego, and particularly encouraging was the play of guards J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter. Center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung have yet to play in the preseason, but if both play tonight — and both have practiced all week — that would be big for a position group that needs to get its timing down.
3. How do Malcolm Smith and Korey Toomer look after long layoffs?
Both linebackers returned from injury this week, and Carroll said both should play in this game. Inevitably there will be rust for both players, but for Smith, who is competing for playing time at a deep position, and for Toomer, who is competing for a roster spot, tonight will be important.
That’s especially true for Toomer, who has missed the past two seasons with injuries, and who, after being one of the big bright spots in offseason workouts, missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury. The talent is there, but if Toomer is going to win a job, he needs to prove it in game action and show he can stay healthy between now and the end of the month, when cuts are made.
“Time’s running out,” Carroll said of Toomer. “We haven’t had a chance to see him. He had a really good offseaon, but unfortunately he just has not been able to get enough time to really establish where he is on the roster. So more than some other guys, he has a lot to and hopefully he’ll get some good opportunities.”
4. How are the backup D-line jobs shaking out?
While the starting group, plus one, of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams seems set, there are jobs and playing time up for grabs beyond that. O’Brien Schofield seems like a near-lock to make the team after two very good preseason games, but the Seahawks still want to find out if second-year defensive tackle Jordan Hill can be this year’s version of Clinton McDonald, or if the versatile Greg Scruggs can be an impact player, or if Benson Mayowa can build off of last year’s promising rookie camp. Rookie Cassius Marsh has looked good so far, but he too can do more to assure himself a significant role in 2014.
5. Is there any more clarity when it comes to punt returns?
Earl Thomas has gotten the bulk of the work as a punt returner in the first two preseason games, and while he hasn’t made any big plays, he also hasn’t made big mistakes. Receiver Bryan Walters, who is fighting for a roster spot, was impressive as a punt and kick returner last week, but a rib injury will likely keep him out of this game. Carroll has mentioned Richard Sherman, Percy Harvin and Doug Baldwin as other punt return options, but so far none of them have done it in a preseason game.