WHO: Seattle Seahawks
WHERE: Carson, Calif. (Week 2 preseason game vs. Chargers)
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 18
HOW: Drove from the Raiders-Rams game in Los Angeles (1.p.m. kickoff) to the StubHub Center in Carson (7 p.m. kickoff)
1. The No. 1 player to watch, in my mind, is Tedric Thompson, Seattle’s fourth-round draft pick last season. Thompson could replace Earl Thomas at free safety if the Seahawks can’t get a deal done with the veteran and he’s inclined to sit out regular-season games while seeking a trade. The impact Thomas has on this defense is well-documented, and you could make the argument he’s the most valuable player on Seattle, other than Russell Wilson, for the better part of a decade. Enter Thompson, who played in nine games last year, mostly on special teams.
I’ve heard and read that Thompson is flying around the ball and making smart plays in Seahawks practice, but I didn’t see it Saturday against Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Thompson is a sure tackler at 6', 200 pounds, but he did nothing to stand out or even begin to draw comparisons to Thomas. His anticipation in coverage seemed to be the biggest issue: Thompson just wasn’t getting there fast enough.
This Seahawks team will not wow you with its pass rush nor will it make DBs look better than they are (though rookie third-rounder Rasheem Green had a promising game and probably earned an opportunity to showcase in the third preseason game), so the unproven defensive backfield has a lot of catching up to do in a division that now includes Jimmy Garoppolo (on the 49ers) and Brandin Cooks (on the Rams).
2. Chris Carson looks like the real deal at running back, dicing though the Chargers defense on a 27-yard end zone sprint that showcased power, agility, decisiveness and speed. He did fumble twice, which clouded his performance, but he increasingly looks like a feature back in the absence of rookie Rashaad Penny, who’s out with a broken finger. It was interesting to see how Carson’s early success translated to some big gains in the play-action game, a specialty of new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Looking forward, the combination of Carson and Penny in two-back shotgun sets could be a potent one.
3. Germain Ifedi is still bad at this. Watching any number of Chargers pass rushers carve up Ifedi with swim moves, rips and bull rushes only confirms the worst fear of every Seahawks fan who would like for just once to stop hearing about how bad this offensive line is. Let me be clear: Some of that talk about the OL in general these last few years is misguided blame that can and should be attributed to Wilson, who takes longer to throw than most every quarterback in the NFL, and is probably hell to protect. (I remember chatting with former blockers for Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III, two other QBs who created opportunities with their feet, about how difficult it can be to block for that sort of player.)
Ifedi’s problems, since being drafted in the first round in 2016, are all his own. More bad news: There’s not another player on the depth chart who has demonstrated he can upseat or reliably backup Ifedi. George Fant in his 10 career starts has done just the opposite.
OH, I DIDN’T KNOW THAT: It was jarring to see just how much has changed with this Seahawks defense. When the Seahawks lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1, 2015, the starting defense was: Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams, Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
Three and a half years later, only Wagner, Wright and Maxwell out of those 11 are expected to start the third preseason game Friday against the Vikings, and Maxwell spent 2015, ’16 and part of ’17 elsewhere.
STORYLINE TO WATCH: Penny had surgery last week on his broken finger, which has allowed Carson to make a case for the starting role. Penny could find himself on the outside looking in, making Carson a viable fantasy option, if Carson can hold onto the ball and continue to display sure hands and rip off big gains.
TOP POSITION BATTLE: The starters aren’t clearcut at cornerback, with Shaquill Griffin, Justin Coleman, Neiko Thorpe and Byron Maxwell each in the mix. The third preseason game Friday vs. Minnesota should go a long way toward determining that rotation.
OFFBEAT OBSERVATION: Fans were treated to a public swearing in of a couple dozen military recruits during a commercial break, followed by a trip around the stadium with the Dilly Dilly Cam™. I always prefer to wash my jingoism down with swill beer.
PARTING THOUGHTS: I saw a roster without an emotional spark, and a quarterback worth maybe seven wins behind an offensive line with big holes. The absence of Thomas and the old guard he represented is not lost on those of us who stepped foot in this locker room in more promising times. I’ll be surprised if this team breaks .500 in the new NFC West.