By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat. This is not a Super Bowl rematch. It is not a chance for the Denver Broncos to get revenge for February’s humiliating loss to the Seahawks.
It’s a preseason game, and the first one at that, which means most of the key players from that Super Bowl will spend little if any time on the field.
Revenge for a Super Bowl loss has to come in a Super Bowl, or at the very least in a regular season meeting — though even if Denver won in Seattle next month, it wouldn’t have nearly the significance of Seattle’s 43-8 victory in New Jersey. So no matter what happens in tonight’s preseason opener, even if Denver wins by 50 points, the result will have little if any bearing on either team’s 2014 season.
But that doesn’t mean tonight’s game is completely without meaning. I mean, if there were nothing to be gained from a preseason game then why play them at all? The NFL wouldn’t possibly play a bunch of extra meaningless games just as way to squeeze more revenue out of their fans, would they? Sorry, I’m about to head down a completely different road. Let’s save that debate for another day.
So, about that preseason game … What, if not the result, does matter when the Seahawks and Broncos face off tonight? Here are a handful of things worth watching:
How do the rookies handle the contact?
Rookie receiver Paul Richardson has been a bright spot in camp, at least when he’s been healthy, because of the blazing speed that makes him a home-run threat. But Richardson also has missed a significant amount of practice time because of a sore shoulder. So, how will Richardson react if he takes a big hit over the middle, or if he’s slammed to the ground after making a catch?
Or what might happen when defensive end Cassius Marsh, another impressive rookie in camp, faces linemen trying to cut-block him for the first time? What will second-round Justin Britt, who is competing for the starting job at right tackle, look like when he faces opposing pass rushers at game speed for the first time?
How will undrafted rookie Brock Coyle, who will likely start at middle linebacker in place of an injured Bobby Wagner, look when he’s asked to tackle at full speed. Or more important to his chances of making the team, how will he perform when he’s running down the field on kick coverage?
Those are the kinds of questions that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll hopes his young players can start to answer tonight.
“The first thing we want to do is see them run and hit,” Carroll said. “We’ve held back the whole time, this will be the first real, live work that we’ll get. We use these preseason games for that purpose. As a coach you always wonder what’s going to happen the first couple of opportunities to tackle and to run down the field and make plays on special teams and all of that, and you don’t know until it starts.”
That’s especially true on special teams for a couple of reasons. It’s impossible to safely recreate a play like a kick return or kick coverage at full speed in practice. So those young players hoping to make the team — the one’s who need to excel on special teams to do so — don’t get a chance to really prove themselves on special teams until preseason games roll around.
Which backup running back shines?
Marshawn Lynch won’t play tonight less than week after his first practice, so that should mean plenty of carries for both Christine Michael and Robert Turbin. Both of those backs will make the team, but they are battling for playing time and touches. Turbin was the backup to Lynch the past two seasons, and while many peg Michael as the eventual replacement for Lynch, Turbin has given no indications he plans to idly stand by and watch Michael pass him on the depth chart.
Which backup QB is better?
Tarvaris Jackson has been the more consistent quarterback throughout camp, but the Seahawks didn’t trade for Terrelle Pryor for no reason. They see upside in the dynamic duel-threat quarterback, and with both expected to see significant playing time — Russell Wilson won’t play much and No. 4 QB B.J. Daniels is a question mark because of a groin injury — this will give us a little more insight into the competition. Carroll wouldn’t say which quarterback will get the second-team reps in this game, but whoever it is, it’s wise not to read too much into the decision. Just as the Seahawks split preseason starts between quarterbacks in 2012, they very well might let Jackson or Pryor work with the No. 2 offense tonight, then have the other work with the twos the next week.
Who returns punts?
This is another topic on which Carroll was vague following Wednesday’s practice. He has recently said that safety Earl Thomas is still leading the wide-open competition to replace Golden Tate as Seattle’s punt returner. Regardless of whether or not Thomas gets a crack at punt returns tonight, expect to see Seattle try out several options if given the chance. It’s unlikely anyone could win the job with one or two returns in this game, but it is possible Carroll could lose confidence in a candidate should he turn the ball over.
Will Seattle’s odd preseason winning streak continue?
Did you know the Seahawks have won nine consecutive preseason games? Weird, right?
Well it’s not entirely a coincidence that the Seahawks keep winning these “meaningless” games that are often decided by players who don’t even end up on the 53-man roster. One big reason for Seattle preseason success over the past two years has been its depth. Developing depth is key for a successful franchise because it helps a team survive inevitable injuries throughout a season, but a less important by-product of that depth is that your team’s third stringers are usually better than everyone else’s.
But another reason the Seahawks haven’t lost in the preseason since 2011 is that, as corny as it may sound to some, Carroll’s “always compete” philosophy carries over to everything the team does, from games to practice to, yes, even these preseason games.
“We’re playing to win them,” Carroll said. “We don’t play a game when you don’t care about winning … We like winning them, yeah.”
So no, these preseason results don’t mean much, but the fact that Seattle keeps winning exhibition games does signify depth and a competitive mindset, two things that do matter.
Will flags fly in the secondary?
Illegal contact and defensive holding are points emphasis for officials this season, and in case you hadn’t noticed, the Seahawks have a rather physical secondary. Whether or not you believe those rules were put in place as a reaction to Seattle’s 2013 dominance, the fact remains that officials will be keeping a watchful eye on defensive backs. Starting with these preseason games, we’ll see just how much adjusting the Seahawks might have to do to comply with stricter officiating on the back end.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.