What to Watch: Seahawks Mock Game
With seven training camp practices already in the books and the preseason opener just five days away, the Seahawks will take their next step towards opening day with their annual mock game on Saturday.
Unlike previous seasons, however, Seattle won’t be playing the glorified scrimmage at the VMAC in Renton. Instead, coach Pete Carroll and his squad will travel via bus to Pop Keeney Stadium in Bothell, WA to simulate playing a “road” game away from their practice facility.
“It’s going to be as game-like as we can make it for our situations and all that.” Carroll said on Thursday. “So I want to take it off this field to get to a different locale for the guys just so there’s a little bit of something. We’ll be on the bus with their shoulder pads on, kind of like high school. They’ll probably rock to the bus before the game, before they get out, all those normal traditions we will carry out before game time.”
Though he acknowledged players will have to adjust to a change in environment accordingly, receiver Tyler Lockett doesn’t see the mock game as any different than other practices during training camp.
“Every day is literally a grind. A lot of times we practice the mock game out here, it’s just a different situation.” Lockett said, adding. “Every time we move the ball out there that’s pretty much a mock game. You try to put yourself in a gameday situation, whether it’s flags being thrown, whether it’s third down and long, third down and short, first and 10, whatever the case is.”
While Lockett may downplay the significance of Saturday’s practice compared to others, the mock game will be far more significant for many of his teammates who don’t have a roster spot secured.
Here are five story lines to watch in Saturday’s scrimmage.
1. Which backup quarterback will shine the brightest in extended action?
After missing Friday’s practice to attend his grandfather’s funeral, starting quarterback Russell Wilson is expected to be back in town for the mock game. While fans will be excited to watch him air it out to Lockett, DK Metcalf, and other receivers, the backup quarterback race remains one to keep a close eye on.
Without Wilson at practice on Friday, Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch split up all of the quarterback reps with mixed results during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
Smith felt he didn’t maximize on his opportunity on Friday, as he could have been “a little bit cleaner” accuracy-wise and missed on a few throws he normally would have completed. One of his throws bounced off of running back Travis Homer’s hands and linebacker K.J. Wright wound up intercepting it. Lynch also struggled with his accuracy at times, unable to capitalize on extensive reps.
With both signal callers struggling, fans were reminded why they don’t want to see a gameday without Wilson under center. Still, the Seahawks have to figure out who will be the best insurance option behind him, and this race is far from decided at this stage. For now, Smith seems to hold the edge, though Lynch had his best practice on Thursday to close the gap a bit and a strong day at Pop Keeney could help his chances of winning the job immensely.
2. Which reserve running backs will excel most on third down?
Seattle should have one of the best one-two punches in the backfield in the entire NFL with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny returning. Carson returned from meniscus surgery in phenomenal shape and hasn’t missed a beat during training camp, while a leaner Penny has made substantial strides as a route runner and looks far more electric with the football in his hands.
Behind those two dynamic runners, the Seahawks still need to decide who will take over the third down back role after Mike Davis departed to sign with the Bears in free agency. If his pass protection has improved, Penny may be the ideal choice, but there are several other viable alternatives on the roster, including Homer and C.J. Prosise.
Homer would appear to have the inside track for the third down gig, as the sixth-round pick out of Miami has the diverse skill set necessary to thrive in such a role. He can run between the tackles as well as outside, has soft hands out of the backfield, and might be the best pass protecting back on the roster.
Prosise and J.D. McKissic, who have both had chances in prior seasons to lock down the third down role, hold the distinct advantage of previously playing receiver at the college level. However, injuries have been problematic for both players, especially Prosise, who has missed two-thirds of Seattle’s games over the past three seasons.
Saturday could provide some indicators on who the coaching staff trusts to handle third down duties in the backfield and a chance for a player to create some separation in the competition to replace Davis.
3. Will there be any semblance of a pass rush from Seattle’s edge defenders?
Far from full strength at defensive end, the Seahawks will be without veteran Ezekiel Ansah and first-round pick L.J. Collier during Saturday’s scrimmage.
While their respective injuries certainly hurt, however, the mock game doesn’t count in the standings and this will be a great opportunity for other edge rushers on the roster to stand out chasing down Wilson, Lynch, and Smith. Among those who should see a ton of snaps at Pop Keeney, second-year defenders Rasheem Green and Jacob Martin will have an excellent chance to impress.
Coming off an underwhelming rookie year in which he made just nine tackles and a sack, Green has been playing significant snaps with the first-team defense throughout camp as a base five-tech defensive end and also seen action reduced inside as a defensive tackle. With Collier’s status up in the air, he should play a bunch in Saturday’s scrimmage.
As for Martin, he’ll be rotating in at the LEO spot along with Cassius Marsh and Barkevious Mingo, giving defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. a trio of capable speed rushers at his disposal.
If you’re looking for another player to keep tabs on, second-year linebacker Shaquem Griffin may also get a few cracks at pursuing the quarterback. Seattle moved him to SAM linebacker this spring to better play to his strengths and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Norton unleash his speed off the edge as a blitzer today.
4. How will the defensive tackle rotation play out with Jarran Reed’s pending suspension?
The Seahawks have dealt with injuries at defensive end, but their issues along the defensive line don’t stop there. Carroll and his staff must find Reed’s replacement for the first six games of the season and then settle on a rotation behind Poona Ford and whoever starts beside him.
This week, veterans Al Woods and Earl Mitchell have played significant snaps with the first-team defense, while Quinton Jefferson has spent time both at defensive end and defensive tackle during pass rushing situations. Those three would seem to be firmly in the mix for the other starting job next to Ford, but Saturday could present an opportunity for another player or two to stake a claim to the spot.
Naz Jones, a 2017 third-round pick, has missed some time during training camp and finds himself squarely on the roster bubble. A strong performance in the mock game may put him back into contention for a roster spot, especially if he’s able to play snaps both as a defensive end and defensive tackle.
Others who could be in line for snaps in the interior include veteran Jamie Meder as well as undrafted rookies Bryan Mone and Jay-Tee Tiuli.
5. Which young safety(s) will rise to the occasion and stand out in a tight competition?
Due to injuries, the Seahawks weren’t able to see the competition at safety unfold as planned during offseason activities and mandatory minicamp. But with the return of second-round pick Marquise Blair as well as starter Bradley McDougald, the team is now nearly at full strength at the position, which should make it one of the most intriguing battles to watch play out over the next four weeks.
For now, Tedric Thompson and McDougald have remained the primary recipients of first-team reps at free and strong safety respectively. More confident heading into his third season, Thompson has picked off a couple of passes during camp so far, while McDougald has returned to form coming off knee surgery as one of the team’s most reliable defenders.
With that said, Thompson hasn’t won a starting role just yet, and both Blair and fourth-round pick Ugo Amadi made splash plays of their own this week with pick-sixes to put a little more pressure on him.
Blair has been working as the second strong safety behind McDougald, but he’s athletic enough to play both safety roles and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play a little free safety in the scrimmage. As for Amadi, the Seahawks love the former Oregon standout’s versatility, as he’s been playing free safety as well as nickel cornerback.
Saturday will provide the perfect opportunity for both Blair and Amadi to improve their standing and they’re not alone. The Seahawks also have third-year defender Shalom Luani competing at both safety spots, adding another legitimate contender to the fold.