RENTON — For you it’s the time to go to the bathroom or the refrigerator. For the Seattle Seahawks, it’s the time to make the team.
Want to have inside information on who beyond starters and shoo-ins are going to make the 53-man regular-season roster by the end of next week? Watch who makes the tackles and plays on special teams during kickoffs and punts Friday night when Seattle hosts Kansas City at CenturyLink Field in the third preseason game.
Wide receiver Kasen Williams has been fantastic this month. He’s made five ridiculous catches over the first five quarters of preseason games. The former University of Washington standout leaped, twisted and grabbed Russell Wilson’s throw over Minnesota starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes for a 27-yard gain last Friday. Four snaps later, Williams pulled down Wilson’s fade pass over the opposite Vikings cornerback in the back of the end zone for a Seattle touchdown.
He has six catches in eight targets through two preseason games. In two exhibitions this month has two more catches than he had in his first two NFL preseasons with the Seahawks combined.
Yet it was Williams’ sprint down the field and open-field tackle at the Minnesota 12-yard line last week that underlines why he is likely to survive a crowded wide-receiver competition and make the team to begin the regular season. That tackle had him beaming following last week’s exhibition win.
“Yeah, that was honestly the most important part to me,” Williams said. “Coming into this game that was my thinking. We showed we can go up and get the ball. … But what have we done on special teams? The emphasis (in last week’s game) was on special-teams play. And I made a big one. So I’m very happy about it.”
Why this hyper focus by Seattle on special-teams tackles in the preseason? History under Pete Carroll shows the Seahawks who bring down return men in the open field on kicks in August become Seahawks in September, October and November. Special teams is the route Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Thomas Rawls and other Seahawks starters took for their initial ways onto the team. Defensive end Cassius Marsh has been a Seahawk for three years because of special-teams play in the preseason, then regular season.
Some teams tackle in the preseason. The Pittsburgh Steelers still do the old-school “Oklahoma” drill. In that, one blocker and one defender line up with a ball carrier in the back, with just about all rules ceasing in a testosterone-filled effort for the defender to beat the block and make the tackle inside a narrow corridor of cheering teammates.
The Seahawks? They don’t tackle in any practices, at any time during any year. Carroll believes more in player preservation, in avoiding injuries. The only times Seattle’s coaches can see if newer players can actually bring down NFL ball-carriers is in these preseason games. If they don’t do that now, they can’t play in real games. Not for Carroll’s team.
“It’s extraordinarily important for us. This is one of the stages of passage we need to conquer here getting ready for the regular season,” Carroll said of special-teams tackles, following Thursday’s walk-through practice. “We make a huge deal about it, and that’s why our guys play and we want to leave them out there some. Maybe we play more than other teams do in the preseason, but I don’t know. But we need to make sure that they’ve made that connection to the physical side of the game that you can’t do any other way but going for it.”
Friday’s third preseason game will be the final, extensive playing time for starters, likely into the second half. But this still doesn’t really matter for them.
As All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said of fellow veterans this week: “Nobody cares about preseason. Ten years from now, you’re not going to tell me what I did in the preseason.”
But Friday’s game, and next week’s preseason finale at Oakland, are the final chances for Williams, rookie running back Chris Carson, emerging defensive end David Bass and others have to perform in games to win roster spots.
Weeks of training camp and months of offseason drills give coaches a feel for what a player may be capable of doing. But Carroll and his staff put almost all their evaluation stock in what the unproven prove during these four preseason games.
Carroll talks to his team about that before kickoff of each exhibition.
“To see him have the opportunity it’s kind of what we talked about,” Carroll said of Williams. “Some guys would get the opportunity, but it’s whether they seize them or not.”
Offseason addition Terence Garvin is trying to win the starting job at strongside linebacker over former San Francisco 49ers starter Michael Wilhoite. Wilhoite missed practices this week. So if Garvin can consistently tackle some Chiefs, he will make up ground on Wilhoite, who began the month as the starter.
As Williams is showing, even offensive players can win jobs by tackling Friday night.
Like Williams, Carson has shined this month in the offense. His decisive, one-cut-and-go runs have lit up defenses plus Seahawks teammates and coaches. Yet it was Carson’s play on a kickoff last week against Minnesota that may have cemented his place on the roster.
Running backs coach Chad Morton was glowing Wednesday over rookie seventh-round pick — and not because running leap over Vikings for a first down. Morton loved that Carson took a hey-you assignment he got at halftime last week in the Minnesota game on the kickoff team and minutes later delivered the hit that caused the returner to fumble and set up a Seahawks field goal.
It was the first play Carson had on special teams since high school.
And it’s part of why Carson has surged ahead of 2016 draft choice Alex Collins for the fourth running-back spot behind Rawls, Eddie Lacy and C.J. Prosise.
Rawls and Prosise won’t play Friday because of ankle and groin injuries, pushing Carson versus Collins higher in prominence against Kansas City.
It wouldn’t hurt Collins’ chances to make a tackle on special teams.
“It’s a big deal. Our players know it,” Carroll said. “We value it and respect this opportunity highly.
“And it’s the step that we have to go to close the circle and get ready to tackle.”