Looking to improve upon last week's 19-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Seattle Seahawks will be seeking their first preseason victory when they travel south to face the Los Angeles Chargers.
Unlike the preseason opener, Seattle's starters should see more field time in the second exhibition match. When asked what he's hoping to see from his team at the StubHub Center, coach Pete Carroll indicated he wanted to see a cleaner football game in all three phases.
"We had ten penalties in the second half. We need to get rid of that. That was terrible." Carroll said. "First half was fine and clean and all that, we moved the ball well and did a lot of good things but that got in the way in the second half – and it was all the young guys [who] were on the field and they need to be poised and make good decisions and play good, clean football.”
Now that training camp has officially concluded, the pressure will be on for numerous players still aiming to impress the coaching staff and make the final 53-man roster. Here's a look at five positional battles still up for grabs heading into Saturday's game against the Chargers.
- Alex McGough versus Austin Davis
Deemed as one of Seattle’s prime competitions heading into camp, neither Davis nor McGough did much to create separation last week.
During his first drive, Davis showed great poise leading the Seahawks second-team offense 68 yards on eight plays. He completed each of his first four passes, including a quick hitter to receiver Demore’ea Stringfellow that went for 15 yards and a first down. Then, the drive came to a screeching halt as he made an ill-advised throw to ex-Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds on a crossing route in the end zone that landed in the arms of Colts cornerback Nate Hairston. His second drive didn’t fare any better, as he was sacked on second and third down plays consecutively.
Similarly, McGough completed a high percentage of his passes, but he averaged less than four yards per pass attempt and found himself under constant duress playing behind Seattle’s third-string offensive line. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said he was “overthinking” things in his NFL debut, but he did flash some athleticism on a read-option keep and evading pass rushers on several drop backs. On his most notable play, he emulated starter Russell Wilson by spinning away from would-be tacklers in the pocket to buy time and eventually found Stringfellow along the sideline.
Unfortunately, as was the case throughout a sloppy second half, a pass interference call on Stringfellow negated the beautifully improvised pass play.
With the race to backup Wilson dead even, Davis hopes to use his experience in Schottenheimer’s system to his advantage, while the more physically-gifted McGough will need to be more aggressive taking shots downfield and find his comfort zone in his second game with the Seahawks. Both players will be under the microscope duking it out for the most important reserve position in football.
- Marcus Johnson versus David Moore
Thanks to the revival of Brandon Marshall, the Seahawks already appear to have four receiver spots locked up, leaving an intense battle to ensue at the bottom of the depth chart.
One of the breakout stars of camp, Moore hauled in a 28-yard reception from Davis against the Colts and nearly made a miraculous diving grab in the second half before succumbing to a head injury on an illegal hit. Carroll has raved about the second-year player’s progress, saying he has a “special catching ability” and knows how to snag contested catches at the point of attack. He’s been impressive all offseason and seems to have the inside track to Seattle’s fifth receiver spot.
With no guarantee Seattle will keep six receivers on the 53-man roster, Johnson has the most to gain or lose based on his performance against the Chargers. Since both Tyler Lockett and Amara Darboh will be sitting out with injuries, the speedy target will certainly see extended action and needs to show up after failing to record a catch against the Colts in the exhibition opener. After acquiring him in the Michael Bennett trade with Philadelphia, Seattle would love to see him pan out, but he has much to prove if he intends to make the team.
- D.J. Alexander versus Austin Calitro
In recent seasons, trying to crack Seattle’s linebacker group hasn’t been an easy task, especially given Seattle’s increasing reliance on using nickel packages defensively.
However, the Seahawks learned a valuable lesson when linebacker Bobby Wagner was forced to exit a game against the Jaguars last season due to an injured hamstring. Once he left the lineup, Seattle didn’t have a quality reserve option behind him and Jacksonville capitalized by feeding running back Leonard Fournette often and shortening the game with a ground-and-pound approach.
Alexander, who Seattle traded for prior to the 2017 season, might be the best special teams player on the roster. In fact, he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl for his special teams prowess with the Chiefs in 2016. When he was forced onto the field as a defender last year, however, he struggled mightily, and the Jaguars immediately went into attack mode to expose him. After missing a solid chunk of camp injured, he’s going to need to show some improvements in that aspect of his game to hold off worthy competitors.
Among those fighting for a reserve linebacker role, Calitro had the most impressive performance in Seattle’s preseason opener and looks to be the top candidate to unseat Alexander. After bouncing around on practice squads for the Jets, 49ers, Seahawks, and Browns over the past year, the Villanova product recorded eight tackles against the Colts last Thursday, second on the team behind only Shaquem Griffin. The 240-pound linebacker is a bit undersized and missed a few tackles in the run game, but he flew around the field in pursuit and also contributed on special teams.
- Byron Maxwell versus Tre Flowers versus Dontae Johnson
Though the Seahawks already have a replacement in place for now-departed Richard Sherman with second-year talent Shaquill Griffin entrenched at the left cornerback spot, the other starting role remains hotly contested.
Maxwell, who re-signed with the Seahawks in May, entered camp as the frontrunner to start across from Griffin after playing well in seven games with the team last season. But the 30-year old veteran, who Carroll said will be a game-time decision against the Chargers, missed the preseason opener and multiple practices with a hip injury and now has legit competition with Flowers and Johnson vying for snaps at practice.
Against the Colts, Flowers earned the start in Maxwell’s absence and the safety-turned-corner did some nice things in his first NFL game. He experienced some expected rookie turmoil, surrendering a few completions and drawing a flag for a pass interference penalty while breaking up a pass against receiver T.Y. Hilton. On the plus side, he made a few nice open field tackles and successfully prevented a touchdown by staying hip to hip with receiver Deon Cain on a fade route in the end zone.
Coming back from a broken foot, Johnson will be the one to focus most on Saturday. As Carroll indicated, the former 49ers cornerback “played a lot of football last year,” starting all 16 games while recording 76 tackles and an interception. Possessing the size Seattle covets at corner (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), he’ll have his first chance to impress while playing on a strict pitch count and could see some action early in the game with the starting unit.
Maurice Alexander versus Lorenzo Jerome
Under the assumption star Earl Thomas won’t be returning to the Seahawks anytime soon, the team has an unexpected battle developing for the last safety spot.
Carroll hasn’t been shy about his interest in seeing where Alexander fits with Seattle, as the former Rams starter has ample experience playing both free and strong safety positions. He’s only two seasons removed from a productive 50 tackle, two interception campaign in 2016 and at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he’s the closest body type Seattle has on the roster in comparison to Kam Chancellor. Like Johnson, however, he’s been trying to work his way back from injuries and hasn’t practiced very much, making Saturday’s game against Los Angeles a critical one for him.
With Alexander being sidelined, Jerome has thrust himself into a position to possibly steal a roster spot. Aside from allowing running back J.D. McKissic to get behind him on a wheel route at practice on Thursday, the ex-Saint Francis standout has performed well in camp and had a steady debut last Thursday, racking up five combined tackles. Carroll intends to play him quite a bit against the Chargers and taking advantage of his strengths on special teams will be crucial to his chances of sticking with the team beyond August.