With final roster cutdowns coming over the next three days and the regular season only two weeks away, the Seahawks will wrap up their exhibition season with one final dress rehearsal against the Chargers at Lumen Field.
To this point, Seattle has endured a challenging preseason, losing its first two games to Las Vegas and Denver by a combined 50-10 score. Those results have happened with the team choosing to rest the majority of its starters on both sides of the football, as 31 players didn't play in the preseason opener and 22 were held out last weekend, including quarterback Russell Wilson for both contests.
Here are five storylines to watch as the Seahawks finish their preseason under the lights on Saturday night:
1. How many starters will play? And how many snaps will they receive?
Following last weekend's 30-3 loss to the Broncos, coach Pete Carroll indicated starters would play in the finale. But after Friday's practice, he didn't seem as committed to the idea, saying choices on playing time would be "made for competition and to give guys the opportunity to show everything that they can show to make this club." That doesn't sound like a coach eager to let his starters play and risk potential injury before the season opener.
Based on Carroll's comments, if Seattle does allow Wilson, receiver DK Metcalf, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and other notable starters to see the field, don't expect them to be out there more than a couple of series. In past preseasons, the team played starters the entire first half or even into the third quarter in the third exhibition game. But that seems unlikely this year, especially with the Chargers reportedly resting the majority of their starters, including quarterback Justin Herbert.
2. Will Seattle get any clarity on the running back pecking order behind Chris Carson?
Remaining in bubble wrap for one more week, the Seahawks won't be giving Carson any snaps on Saturday. But the exhibition finale will be an important game for the rest of the running back group as the team continues to sort out the depth chart at arguably the deepest position on the roster.
In the final year of his rookie deal with much left to prove, Rashaad Penny should receive the start and will be looking for a far more productive outing than a week ago. He has had a stellar training camp aside from missing a week with a thigh injury, showing he has regained his explosiveness following ACL surgery two years ago. But he needs to put that burst on display in a game situation to secure the No. 2 job behind Carson, as DeeJay Dallas' impressive preseason could vault him into that spot. Following the return of Travis Homer from the PUP list, Saturday's game will also be a critical game for veteran Alex Collins, who may need another quality outing to secure a roster spot and needs to showcase his improvement in pass protection and as a receiver.
3. What does the tackle depth situation look like? How will snaps be allocated?
During the early stages of training camp, Carroll told reporters veteran Cedric Ogbuehi would receive a chance to compete for the starting right tackle job against Brandon Shell. Meanwhile, with Duane Brown "holding in" for a new contract and not practicing, Jamarco Jones stepped in as his replacement at left tackle with the first-team.
But neither Jones nor Ogbuehi could capitalize on their respective opportunities due to missing extensive time with injuries and now, their roster spots may be in jeopardy because of the emergence of Jake Curhan. The undrafted rookie out of Cal hasn't given up a single pressure in the first two preseason games starting at right tackle and drew strong reviews earlier this week from Carroll, who said he has exceeded Seattle's expectations thus far. It will be fascinating to see how Seattle mixes and matches tackles with Jones and Ogbuehi returning to practice this week and expected to play. If Curhan gets extensive looks early in the game, that could be a sign the team is leaning towards keeping the rookie over one or both of his veteran competitors.
4. Will someone, anyone stand out in Seattle's ongoing cornerback competition?
If there's been one position group that has disappointed the most during two preseason games, cornerbacks take the cake simply because nobody has stepped up to seize a starting role. Injuries have been a factor, as D.J. Reed didn't play in either game nursing a groin strain, Damarious Randall also missed time with a similar issue, and now rookie Tre Brown has a sore knee that will keep him out of the finale. But the players who have been healthy have underwhelmed in game action for the most part, leaving the competition far from decided.
Even if the Seahawks decide to rest most of their starters again, expect Ahkello Witherspoon and either Reed or Flowers to get at least a few series in to open the game. Those three players seem to have the inside track to the two starting spots by default. But if you're looking for a few sleepers to monitor, Randall has been on Carroll's radar since the start of camp and does offer 30-plus games of starting experience at the position. Gavin Heslop has been the one surprising bright spot in the secondary and with him adding nickel cornerback to his repertoire during camp, he's improved his odds of making the team and a strong preseason finale could clinch a roster spot. Newcomer John Reid, who was acquired from the Texans earlier this week, will be the ultimate wild card to watch after turning in two excellent practices upon his arrival.
5. Which undrafted rookie(s) will explode in their final opportunity to impress?
No matter how many starters play for Seattle, as usual in a preseason game, the bulk of the snaps will still go to players either on the roster bubble or out of the mix completely. A harsh reality of the business, a number of players who suit up on Saturday night likely won't play in another NFL game, so they will want to take full advantage of this opportunity.
Looking at past seasons, the Seahawks have several undrafted players emerge as preseason superstars. Running back Troymaine Pope and receiver Jazz Ferguson are a few recent examples that immediately come to mind. This year, none of Seattle's undrafted rookies have reached those heights in the first two preseason games, though there have been bright spots. Cade Johnson has made some nice receptions from the slot, Jarrod Hewitt had his first NFL sack last weekend, Curhan has been outstanding at right tackle, and Josh Johnson has broken a few decent runs out of the backfield. Will one of those players go off against the Chargers and potentially push their way onto the 53-man roster? Or will an unexpected undrafted rookie pull a Pope and come out of nowhere to turn in a big game? Stay tuned.