After months of anticipation, football will finally return to CenturyLink Field on Thursday night as the Seattle Seahawks face off against the Indianapolis Colts in their exhibition opener.
The contest won't count in the win or loss column and starters likely won't play more than a series or two, but the game still holds great importance for numerous reasons.
While star players such as Russell Wilson already know they'll be starting in Week 1 and don't need many snaps, rookies and reserves will be battling for roster spots and treating this game as if it's the Super Bowl. New coaches, including offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., will also have their first opportunities to evaluate players against other teams, a crucial part of the process selecting the final 53-man roster in September.
Heading into the first preseason game, here's a look at five Seahawks to keep a close eye on:
1. Tedric Thompson
Replacing a future Hall of Famer isn't ideal, but with Earl Thomas's holdout appearing to have no end in sight, Thompson has received the bulk of training camp snaps at free safety with the first-team defense. He's picked off several passes during the first two weeks of practice and made a strong impression on multiple veterans, including linebacker K.J. Wright, who praised the second-year defender on a recent episode of "Driving with Gee."
Now, the Seahawks have to find out if Thompson's growth at practice translates to game day situations. After playing only on special teams as a rookie, he's going to be tested throughout the preseason to see if he can handle taking over center field in Seattle's defense. As coach Pete Carroll elaborated on Tuesday, the key will be for him to play with confidence, play fast, and not overthink things on the field.
“I want him to feel comfortable and supported. 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."
Unlike most of Seattle's predicted starters, Thompson needs as many snaps as he can get and it wouldn't be surprising to see him play well into the second half against the Colts to gain much-needed game experience.
2. Amara Darboh
Coming off a rookie year in which he rarely saw the field and finished with only eight receptions for 71 yards, Darboh needs to have a dominant preseason to secure a roster spot. The 2017 third-round pick doesn't have the luxury of being a rookie anymore, as Seattle signed veterans Jaron Brown and Brandon Marshall while also trading for ex-Texas standout Marcus Johnson. Add in 2017 fellow draft choice David Moore and former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, and suddenly, the stakes have been raised and making the team won't be easy.
The 6-foot-2 Darboh possesses great size and athletic talent, but he dealt with injuries last year and never really found his footing during his first NFL season. Now healthy, Carroll said the Michigan product has "been firing on all cylinders" and he's upped his game at recent practices, providing hope he will break out this preseason.
He best bring his A game, however, as Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Brown, and Marshall look like roster locks, leaving only two receiver spots up for grabs. Squaring off against better competition than a year ago with Moore, Johnson, and Reynolds, Darboh is far from guaranteed a roster spot and needs to prove he was worth the third-round investment by making big plays in Seattle's exhibition contests.
3. Shaquem Griffin
Though he's quick to point out he hasn't arrived yet, Griffin has lived up to the hype during his first training camp with the Seahawks. His 4.38 40-yard dash speed apparent on the practice field, the former UCF star has acclimated to his new surroundings quickly, recording an interception against Russell Wilson during the first week of practice and also forcing a fumble against tight end Nick Vannett.
Eager to learn, Griffin has been in the ears of Wright and Bobby Wagner all offseason aiming to get better each day and doesn't want to be known as just a feel-good story. He wants to be a difference maker and force With Wright missing a few practices due to a minor groin injury, his hard work earned him snaps with the first-team defense this week.
With a chance Wright won't suit up tonight due to the injury, Griffin should see a ton of action against the Colts and could potentially start at weakside linebacker. Teams traditionally run pretty vanilla schemes during the preseason, but fans should at least get a small glimpse of how Seattle plans to deploy the incredibly athletic, instinctive defender. Expect to see him flying all over the field stopping the run, rushing the passer, and dropping back in coverage.
4. Jamarco Jones
Most of Seattle's offensive line looks to be set in stone, as left tackle Duane Brown, left guard Ethan Pocic, and center Justin Britt will be starting against Denver in Week 1 and right guard looks to be D.J. Fluker's job to lose. But the right tackle position remains up for grabs thanks to Germain Ifedi's continuing issues with penalties, leaving the door open for Jones to steal a starting spot as a rookie.
Jones, a fifth-round selection out of Ohio State, lacks ideal athleticism for an NFL offensive tackle, but he's fundamentally sound and new line coach Mike Solari loves his makeup. After spending the whole offseason program and opening week of training camp working at left tackle behind Brown and George Fant, Seattle decided to give the 6-foot-4, 293 pound lineman a run on the right side on Tuesday, as he earned snaps with the first-team offense during two-minute drill work.
The Seahawks want to see Ifedi turn the corner, so the decision to move Jones to the right side likely was made as a means to light a fire under the former first-round pick and send a message his starting role isn't secured. But many pundits felt Seattle stole Jones snagging him on day three of the draft, and if he plays well in his first NFL game against the Colts, Carroll and Solari may have no choice but to throw him into the starting lineup moving forward.
5. Poona Ford
Among the biggest surprises thus far at Seahawks camp, Ford has held his own in the trenches and made several huge plays during the team's mock scrimmage last Saturday. Most notably, the disruptive interior defender blew up running back Mike Davis in the backfield and ripped off his helmet for a tackle for a loss.
Built with a thick 5-foot-11, 303 pound frame, Ford offers some similarities to ex-Seahawks starter Brandon Mebane. Thanks in large part to a powerful lower body and above-average quickness for his size, he eats up space as a one-gap defender and eliminates run lanes, allowing opportunities for teammates to make plays in the backfield. Aside from simply taking up space, he can also be a play maker defensively, as he racked up 54 combined tackles for Texas as a junior in 2016.
The undrafted rookie still faces a steep climb to make Seattle's final roster, as the Seahawks have built surprisingly good depth in the interior defensive line. Jarran Reed and Naz Jones return to form the "double cheeseburger" special in the middle, while Carroll indicated free agent additions Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen "are going to play for us and help us." With those four players securely ahead of him on the depth chart, he's going to need to take advantage of his playing time in preseason games to stay on the right side of the roster bubble.