The Seattle Seahawks begin the preseason Thursday night at CenturyLink Field against the Indianapolis Colts giving coach Pete Carroll and his staff a first look at a lot of young players looking to hold down starting jobs or simply to make the team.
Finally, it's time for the team to cut loose on the field.
"We’ve been waiting and holding back," Pete Carroll told reporters following practice. "You hold back all offseason. It’s really not a football mentality in the offseason. You have to just hold off and hold back, and now they don’t have to hold back anymore so I’m looking to see if they can embrace the moment and jump on it and we can play our tail off and run up and down the field on those kickoffs and show what they got and have some fun playing the game.”
Here's a look at a few of the many position battles that will be on display Thursday night:
Nothing else will matter for the Seahawks this season unless the offensive line at least becomes solid.
That process in game conditions begins Thursday night. It would be nice for the team to see some signs that the running game can rebound from an abysmal 2017 season that saw quarterback Russell Wilson lead the team with 586 yards rushing.
The only two linemen that have positions locked up are left tackle Duane Brown and center Justin Britt. Seattle must identify three other starters and a few capable backups that can help this unit get through the season.
One newcomer that has certainly made an impression is right guard D.J. Fluker.
"He’s really been kind of what we had hoped he would be," Carroll said of the team's free agent acquisition from the New York Giants. "He’s such a big man. He’s a giant of a guy. He’s 355 (pounds) or something and you can’t move him. He can hold the point on pass protection, which is really nice, and he’s been very aggressive coming off the ball."
Carroll went on to say that he's been pleased with the entire group of linemen. Now the team must see some production.
Running back: Chris Carson will see his first action since fracturing his leg early last season. He's battling rookie Rashaad Penny, selected by Seattle in the first round of last spring's draft, for the starting job. Had Carson not gotten injured last season and had a strong year, the Seahawks might not have taken a back in the first round. Carson must show management that it might have made a mistake by selecting Penny.
As for Penny, he needs to show that he can adjust to the NFL game. If he does, Penny's combination of size and speed and make him tough for Carson to overcome.
Carroll said Carson has certainly done well working his way back this offseason.
"He was really the star of the offseason in that he was just so fit, so strong and so explosive from the moment we got back," Carroll said. "He’s over all of that. What’s important is that he just gets back out and playing ball again. It’s been a while but he looks great and I can’t imagine that he’s going to have any problem with it at all.”
For Penny to win the job, he must show that he can pass protect.
"This is an area that he just needed to elevate and he totally embraced the challenge," Carroll said. "He has not missed a step on this. He’s plenty physical and gifted enough to take care of business. At 236 (pounds) or whatever he is, it’s a big man taking on whomever is coming so we’re not worried about him at all. He’s ready to go. But he’ll get better. No question.”
Expect both to get ample carries all preseason.
Safety: With Pro Bowler Earl Thomas holding out, the starters on paper looked to be veterans Bradley McDougald and Maurice Alexander, who started games last year for the Los Angeles Rams. That was until Tedric Thompson showed the coaching staff that maybe he is the guy. Thompson, selected by Seattle in the fourth round last year, will start Thursday alongside McDougald.
“I want him to feel comfortable and supported," Carroll said of Thompson. "We believe that the guy is a really good player and we just want him to let it go and cut it loose, and not hold back (by) playing cautious or anything. I think he’s got a lot of plays in him, which he’s shown and he’s given us the confidence to support him in that manner. I don’t want him to be inhibited (and) try to work his way in or that kind of thing. Let’s go. I’ve got confidence that he’s going to do alright.”
Thompson said he is excited for the opportunity and that he and MDougald have established some good chemistry.
“B-Mac was somebody last year, like this year, like a lot of the vets that was kind of like bringing me along, showing me different ropes," Thompson told reporters. "I was at B-Mac’s house a couple of days ago. So, me and B-Mac, just like all the other DB’s, got a good relationship going.”
Cornerback: The loss of Richard Sherman has created a void at cornerback. Veteran Byron Maxwell isn't a lock to start while second-year man Shaquill Griffin looks like a certain starter. One man to watch is rookie Tre Flowers, a fifth-round pick last spring out of Oklahoma State where he played safety.
The 6-foot-3 Flowers is a big corner in the mold of Sherman. Asking Flowers to become the next Sherman might not be realistic, but that doesn't mean the team can't hope that the rookie develops into an impact player.
“Yeah, I’m excited," Carroll said of Flowers. "He’s going to get a chance to play a lot of ball. He just needs to be out there and play. He just needs to see what it’s like and see what it feels like and come back play after play and series after series. He’ll get a lot of work and I’m really excited for him. He’s done a fantastic job. He’s really bought in. He’s made the transition to go to corner. Now we need to see – he fights the guy and so we need to see how that plays into it when he deals with the challenges that come your way at corner. I’m real impressed with him so far.”