RENTON, Wash. - Ever since Drew Lock arrived as part of the return package in a blockbuster trade with the Broncos in March, the Seahawks have had a plan in place for the fourth-year quarterback.
While Geno Smith would get the first crack to replace Wilson under center, no matter what transpired in the first three weeks of training camp and preseason opener, Lock would eventually get a fair shake at winning the job by starting the second exhibition contest. Carrying that plan out in action amid an abbreviated week, the latter finally received extensive snaps with the first-team offense in Tuesday's practice.
Comparing the situation to when Seattle had Wilson, Matt Flynn, and Tarvaris Jackson jockeying for the starting job a decade ago, coach Pete Carroll confirmed Lock would start against the Bears on Thursday night at Lumen Field, giving him a legitimate opportunity to pry the job away from Smith.
“This is part of the plan," Carroll remarked. "Regardless of what happened, we were going to give Drew [Lock] the chance to start the game to see what happens. Fortunately, he’s played really well and deserves a shot to play just like everybody else deserves a shot to play and show what they can do. We’ll just be able to stick to it."
But just when Lock looked to have momentum on his side after a quality performance in a 32-25 loss to the Steelers on Saturday, his chances of winning the starting gig took a massive hit on multiple fronts on Tuesday. Following a dismal showing on the practice field featuring an ugly interception to rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen, the team announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be able to play against the Bears after all.
There's no way to sugarcoat it. After waiting for weeks to see snaps under center behind the first-team offensive line, Lock needed a strong week to have any shot at surpassing Smith on the depth chart. Instead, stricken by misfortune, he will be forced to quarantine for five days and miss out on a critical opportunity, all but ending Seattle's quarterback competition before it truly ever began.
Up to this week, Lock only had seen a handful of snaps on the practice field with the first-team offense. His most extensive time with the unit came in the Seahawks mock scrimmage earlier this month when he led three consecutive scoring drives, but even after that stellar outing, Smith continued to take the majority of first-team reps when the team returned to practice the next day, casting questions about whether or not this was really a competition.
Still, Lock has undoubtedly gained ground on Smith over the past week, most notably showcasing his arm talent and underrated athleticism in the preseason opener. With the exception of a missed blitz pickup that resulted in a costly fumble late in Saturday's defeat to the Steelers, the former Missouri star impressed in his Seahawks debut, completing 11 out of 15 passes for 102 yards and a pair of touchdowns to running back DeeJay Dallas and rookie receiver Dareke Young.
“Drew and I have been talking that way since he got here. And we’ve been talking about the preparation for the opportunity and how we want to go about it; like from A-Z, everything about it- relationships, work habits, preparation, training, everything," Carroll said of Lock. "He’s been right on point. He’s done everything that he needs to do at this point to position himself to be a starting football player."
Unfortunately, Lock's positive COVID test couldn't come at a worse time for the player and the team. With the preseason shortened to three games under the new CBA, Seattle will have only one dress rehearsal remaining to evaluate Lock once he's cleared to return and Dallas will likely rest starters as well as key reserves in that exhibition finale, making it far tougher to stage a legitimate audition for the starting job.
Stating the obvious, Smith will be the biggest benefactor of Lock's absence. With Carroll saying he's still "our number one guy" going into the game, he should play at least the entire first half on Thursday and could see significant snaps against starter-caliber defenders, creating a prime chance for him to all but seal his spot under center to face off against Wilson on September 12.
With less than a month until the start of the regular season, Smith will have to trip up and fall flat on his face against the Bears for Lock to still be in the mix at this stage. Even then, that might not be enough to keep the competition alive. If he turns in another good performance after playing well and running the offense effectively in the opener, it wouldn't be surprising to see Carroll officially name him the starter next week before the finale, making Lock's return a moot point.
Regardless of what happens on Thursday night, time is working against Lock and compensating for the lost opportunity to start this week will be near impossible. It's a harsh reality for a quarterback who appeared to be making headway in the competition and now faces the prospects of missing out on what could be his last chance to be a long-term starter in the NFL due to unfortunate circumstances out of his control.