What a difference a week makes.
For the first time this year, the Seahawks will go into a game knowing who their starting quarterback is going to be. The guy who lost out for the job, Matt Flynn, will play the majority of the game tonight after Wilson takes a victory lap for a series or two with the rest of the starters.
Guard John Moffitt, who was supposed to be out until week one after having his elbow scoped, has recovered quickly enough to play tonight. That’s good news for him, because J.R. Sweezy is on the verge of supplanting him at right guard – Moffitt will need a good showing tonight to remain the starter.
At left guard, Paul McQuistan has played well enough to be the starter, but he may not keep it the entire season. There’s been a lot of talk about James Carpenter possibly going on IR, but it looks like he’s finally responding positively to treatment on his knee and is healing quickly enough that he could be available to play sometime after the season midpoint. Carpenter was a disappointment as a tackle, mainly because he was unable to keep up with speed rushers, but guards don’t have to move quite so far in pass protection. Putting Russell Okung and a road grader like Carpenter next to one another could make the run blocking on the left side of the line truly something special (granted, maybe not Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson special, but still).
But enough about the starters, tonight is all about guys competing for backup spots. Performance on special teams is a big factor in these decisions, but ideally the team would like to have guys who can maintain lane integrity on kickoff coverage and not be a liability if he has to sub in for a starter. Here are the main backup battles to watch for tonight:
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Heath Farwell seems to have locked up the backup middle linebacker position with his strong play there and on special teams, but the backup slots at outside linebacker are wide open. Malcolm Smith and Korey Toomer have the benefit of being draft picks, but that’s no guarantee of a roster slot with a competition-driven head coach like Pete Carroll. From what I’ve seen, Mike Morgan and Kyle Knox have outplayed both of them (Morgan especially), and RB-turned-LB Allen Bradford has shown he’s got some chops, too.
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With Tyrell Sutton being released after the Chiefs game, the third running back spot is now a three-way competition between Leon Washington, Kregg Lumpkin, and Vai Taua. Washington is a great scatback with outstanding return skills, but chances at good returns are few and far between these days, which makes his $2 million salary for 2012 far less palatable.
Kregg Lumpkin is a decent runner and quite possibly the best receiver of all the running backs on the roster. Keeping him on the team would cost $700k, less than half of Washington’s salary.
Vai Taua is somewhat less effective as a runner than Washington or Lumpkin, but he can also play fullback and has sprung guys for plenty of long runs with his lead blocking this preseason. Remember, Michael Robinson may be a Pro Bowl player, but he’s missed games in both seasons he’s been with the Seahawks. Taua also has the benefit of being the cheapest of the three; according to the collective bargaining agreement, the 2012 minimum salary for a player with no accrued seasons is $390k.
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This, more than any other position, is the main attraction for tonight. There are currently eleven wide receivers on the team, but at most only six will remain on the final roster. Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin are locks to make the team. Based on comments made by Carroll, it would appear that Golden Tate is a lock as well, although if he pulls his usual shrinking violet routine in the regular season I don’t think Carroll will hesitate to take Tate out back and beat him to death with a signed copy of Win Forever. His biggest saving grace right now is that his ability as a returner on special teams might end up making Washington expendable.
That leaves three wideout spots for the last eight guys to fight over. Of that group, Braylon Edwards is the most likely to make the team. Over and over again this preseason, Edwards has shown off the kind of aggressive play-making ability that made him a first round pick of the Browns back in 2005. If the Seahawks keep him, don’t be surprised if they decide to start him opposite Rice on offense.
Charly Martin also appears to have a leg up on the competition. Martin is a strong receiver and blocker, but what will really help him make the team is the fact that he’s been Wilson’s go-to receiver all preseason. I hear that having a strong rapport with your team’s new starting quarterback is a good way to avoid being cut.
Lavasier Tuinei has been a favorite of mine all through the preseason. He’s got a big frame and knows how to use it (at 6’4”, 220 lbs, he’s the biggest wideout on the roster), he’s made good on his opportunities in the passing game, and he’s a strong downfield blocker. If the team opts to keep Edwards and slot him into the starting lineup, Tuinei would make a great backup option.
Holdovers Deon Butler and Ben Obomanu have both played well, they just haven’t had any “holy crap, give this guy a roster spot now” type performances. If it came down to a decision between the two of them, I’m not sure who would win out. Butler is the superior receiver, while Obomanu is the better special teams player.
Ricardo Lockette is the fastest wideout on the team and he’s gotten much better at not dropping passes, but a hamstring injury coupled with a lack of production in preseason games might leave him out in the cold. He’s still eligible for the practice squad, but scouts from other teams have been crawling all over the Seahawks’ games so the chances of sneaking him on to the practice squad for a second year in a row is next to nil. The Seahawks are going to have to decide if keeping a guy like Lockette who could help them out in the future is worth cutting a guy who could help them right now.
The last two guys, Kris Durham and Jermaine Kearse, are the least likely to make the team at this point, but both are eligible for the practice squad. Kearse clearly has some big-play ability, but he was injured for much of camp and the preseason. At this point, he’s missed out on too many opportunities to compete to have a legitimate shot at the final roster. Kris Durham has been a huge disappointment all offseason. He’s been sluggish in his routes, lazy in his blocking, and butterfingered on too many catches. Maybe he’s still in the process of coming back from the shoulder surgery that placed him on IR last season, but whatever the reason he looks nothing like the savvy, criminally underrated wideout he was in college.
All other things being equal, the decision regarding who to keep at wide receiver may come down to simple economics – the most production at the cheapest price. As you'll see in the table below, that's bad news for Obomanu. For players with undisclosed or reserve/future contracts, I’ve listed the minimum salary from the CBA in parantheses (locks to make the roster are highlighted in gray):
|#||Name||2012 Salary||Final Year of
|87||Ben Obomanu||$2 million||2013|
|18||Sidney Rice||$7 million||2015|
(* It's unclear how many accrued seasons Martin has. $465k is the minimum for one season. If he has two seasons, he'd earn $540k.)
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The Seahawks will probably keep nine DBs on the final roster: two starting cornerbacks, two starting safeties, a nickel back, and four backups.
The four starting positions are locked up tighter than a bulldog’s jaw on a mailman, but the nickel back position has been a hell of a competition. Prior to his knee injury, Roy Lewis was within a hair’s breadth of earning the job. Unfortunately, the severity of the injury led to his being waived with an injury settlement. Make no mistake, that was a serious loss – the team lost not only a solid nickel back, but a strong special teams player and one of the most popular and respected leaders in the locker room.
Regardless, bad news for Lewis is good news for Marcus Trufant, Byron Maxwell, and Phillip Adams. Of the three, Trufant has the most to lose if he doesn’t win out at the nickel position. Adams and Maxwell are solid enough corners, but if need be they can settle for backup CB slots and a steady diet of special teams action. Because of his injury history, Trufant has no value on special teams; if he can’t beat out Maxwell and Adams with his veteran savvy and coverage skills, he’s going to be shown the door for the second time this year.
The three guys vying for backup safety positions are Jeron Johnson, Winston Guy, and Chris Maragos. That said, it’s probably just Guy and Maragos duking it out for one spot because Jeron Johnson’s performance this preseason has been completely balls-to-the-wall awesome (I believe that’s the technical term the coaches use). If what he’s done so far doesn’t assure him a roster spot, I don’t know what will. Maragos has outplayed Guy in coverage by a wide margin, but he’s looked a bit fragile out there. Guy is a draft pick with the size and power to become a great backup for Kam Chancellor, but he’s been horrific in coverage and his poor blocking on the punt unit led to two blocks earlier this preseason. Like Lockette, whether or not Guy makes the final roster may depend heavily on whether the team feels his potential as a future contributer is worth more to them than a guy like Maragos who could help them out right now.
[UPDATE: Guy appears to be drawing praise from Carroll for his ability to rush the passer in the Seahawks' bandit package. It just goes to show that it's still too early to count anyone out completely. -Ed.]
That leaves DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane as the likely odd men out. Shead has had his moments this preseason, but hasn’t had enough of them to beat out the other DBs on the roster. Lane has the size and athleticism that Carroll covets in, well, pretty much any position you care to name, but so far he’s been more notable for his immaturity than his impact on the field. Unless he does something spectacular tonight, he’s probably going to go the way of Mark LeGree.
As before with the wide receiver position, the size of a player’s salary will likely be the tiebreaker in any competitive deadlocks that may arise.
For players with undisclosed or reserve/future contracts, I’ve listed the minimum salary from the CBA in parantheses (locks to make the roster are highlighted in gray):
|#||Name||2012 Salary||Final Year of
|29||Earl Thomas||$1 million||2014|
|23||Marcus Trufant||$1 million||2012|