By John Boyle
The Seahawks nine-game preseason winning streak came to an end Thursday night in Denver in dramatic fashion (can a preseason game be dramatic?), but as we all know, the final score, a 21-16 Broncos victory, isn’t really what mattered. In between those 492 penalty flags (total approximated), we started to get a glimpse of some of the young players who hope make an impact in 2014, or who are battling for jobs on the NFL’s deepest roster. Little if anything was settled in preseason game No.1 , but Thursday’s loss did show us a few things about the Seahawks.
1. Byron Maxwell might be targeted a lot this year
It’s understandable that teams will try to avoid Richard Sherman when they can, and that’s especially true if they get a chance to get their best receiver lined up against him, as was the case early on Thursday when Peyton Manning kept throwing to Demaryius Thomas, who was getting open on Maxwell. Now, this shouldn’t be cause for alarm—Manning to Thomas is one of the best QB-WR duos in football—but it did serve as a reminder that Maxwell will be tested, and that Sherman could go long stretches without seeing a lot of action.
2. Pete Carroll was serious about Earl Thomas as a punt returner
The competition to replace Golden Tate at punt returner is far from settled, but the fact that All-Pro safety Earl Thomas was out there for the first return was telling. Carroll takes special teams very seriously, and that was never more evident than when Thomas, arguably the team’s most important player not named Russell Wilson, was back to field a punt in Seattle’s first preseason game.
3. Brock Coyle lived up to the early hype
With starting middle linebacker Bobby Wagner injured, rookie Brock Coyle has been one of the most talked-about youngsters in training camp, and in his first game action, the Montana product did not disappoint. Coyle showed up at linebacker, particularly in the second quarter when he made several tackles on one Denver drive, and perhaps more importantly for his chances of making the roster, he had a nice open-field tackle on kick coverage.
And Coyle wasn’t the only backup-linebacker-turned-starter to show up. Mike Morgan, who started at strongside linebacker in place of the injured Bruce Irvin, had a few nice plays, and like Coyle, also made his mark on special teams with a tackle in punt coverage.
4. The backup QB battle is on
As has been the case in camp, Tarvaris Jackson looks like the more dependable backup, but Terrelle Pryor showed more than enough to keep himself in the competition. Just like in training camp practices, Pryor missed some throws—he tried to force a pass to Ricardo Lockette in traffic in the end zone on the interception that ended Seattle’s comeback hopes—but he also made some nice throws while also making thing happen with his legs. Jackson should still be considered the favorite to win the backup job, but Pryor showed Thursday that he has a chance at the job, or at the very least that Seattle might have to consider keeping three quarterbacks.
5. A.J. Jefferson wants to be on this team
The spot for the last cornerback job or two is one of the more competitive battles on the roster, and Jefferson helped himself in a big way in the second half. Jefferson had two pass breakups, one of them pushing the boundaries of pass interference (he’ll fit right in), then had an interception in the fourth quarter. Jefferson did, however, leave early with an ankle injury.
6. The rookies had their moments
A big part of preseason football is seeing how rookies adjust to life in the NFL, and there were some bright spots, and struggles, for Seattle’s rookies. Among the draft picks who stood out were defensive end Cassius Marsh, who had a sack and a tackle for loss on a run play, and who just missed a sack just before Denver’s game-winning touchdown. Paul Richardson didn’t show off his speed on any long catches, but perhaps more importantly, he looked like a solid possession receiver making workmanlike catches in the middle of the field. We all know Richardson can fly down the sideline, so seeing him do the little things is probably more important at this stage of his development than the big play. Fellow second-round Justin Britt, who is trying to win the starting job at right tackle, struggled at times with Denver’s first-string pass rushers, which is consistent with what we’ve seen in camp when he goes against the likes of Cliff Avril. Britt should get better, but this game served as another reminder that he has work to do.
7. Pass protection is still a concern
Russell Wilson got hit a lot on Thursday, far more than any team would like to see in a preseason game, and that’s hardly a new phenomenon for Seattle. Wilson was sacked 44 times last season, and while it’s hard to take too much from a game in which three fifths of Seattle’s starting line didn’t play—Russell Okung, James Carpenter and Max Unger were all held out because of injuries—this wasn’t the ideal start in terms of pass protection.