Does the secondary look a little shaky heading into the season? Do the running backs look like the most solid position on the team?
Now that Seattle has a 53-man roster, it’s time to hand out some hardware and answer some questions with Seahawks beat writers Mike Vorel and Bob Condotta.
Biggest surprise to make the roster
Vorel: FB Tre Madden. The question as the preseason progressed became whether the Seahawks would ultimately keep a fullback, considering they quickly cut ties with Khalid Hill (who is on the team’s Injured Reserve list), and Jalston Fowler, and the fact Madden barely played in the team’s final two exhibition games. They could have opted to cut bait with Madden and instead rely more on tight ends Will Dissly and Nick Vannett in that role. But Madden — a 6-foot, 235-pound fullback from USC — is indeed back for his second season in Seattle, pending any more imminent roster moves.
Condotta: LB Austin Calitro. And let me preface that by noting I wasn’t surprised by the time cuts had to be made that Calitro made it as Calitro played particularly well in the preseason. But heading into camp, his was not a name I figured would be on the 53-man roster. Remember the Villanova grad didn’t sign with the team until June (though he was on Seattle’s practice squad for two weeks last September). The 6-0, 240-pounder, though, earned his way on to the team by being a steady presence throughout camp and finishing the preseason with 21 tackles, second on the team behind Shaquem Griffin (24) to earn a spot as Bobby Wagner’s backup at middle linebacker and on special teams.
Biggest surprise to be waived
Vorel: SS Maurice Alexander. Alexander has the experience the Seahawks covet, with 23 career starts to his name. Still, a lingering shoulder injury hampered the 27-year-old throughout training camp and he was never able to make the impact or develop the chemistry with fellow safety Bradley McDougald the Seahawks probably envisioned. When Alexander played in the final exhibition game at weakside linebacker, to add depth in the wake of K.J. Wright’s injury, it seemed he would make the roster in that role. Instead, the Seahawks traded for former Washington State standout Shalom Luani and cut Alexander.
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Condotta: WR Amara Darboh. OK, so I actually did not have Darboh on my final 53-man projection so I can’t say it was a huge shock. But I did that in part with the thought the Seahawks would keep Marcus Johnson as a sixth receiver instead of Darboh. If they weren’t going to keep Johnson, I figured they would keep Darboh, who was a third-round choice in 2017, indicating how highly the team once thought of him. Instead, the Seahawks kept just five receivers and traded Johnson to the Colts for tight end Darrell Daniels and then waived Darboh anyway. The Seahawks hoped to keep Darboh on the practice squad, something even written in the team’s official release on the roster cuts Saturday. But that won’t happen as he was claimed by the Patriots on Sunday. Not that the Seahawks won’t wish the best for Darboh, but they also have to hope this doesn’t turn into Alex Collins 2.0.
Position group that looks the best heading into the season.
Vorel: Running back. This would have been a laughable selection at the end of last season. But, with an added emphasis on the running game under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the capable fleet of Seahawks running backs should be showcased in 2018. Chris Carson looks like an improved product in his second season, Rashaad Penny brings high expectations after being selected in the first round last spring, and Mike Davis, C.J. Prosise and (eventually) J.D. McKissic will all provide quality depth. Seattle averaged 4.3 yards a carry in its four exhibition games. That’s the production the Seahawks will be looking for starting Sunday.
Condotta: Punter. It’s probably not accurate to say Michael Dickson was a revelation in the preseason because he came with pretty high expectations given that he was the rare punter to be drafted as high as the fifth round. But Dickson looked the part in every way during the preseason with a 48.6 yards overall average and 43.6 net average, which would each be team records if he kept on that pace during the regular season. And I know the jokes that might come with stating the punter as a strength, but Dickson showed in the preseason just what a weapon he cold be, having six of his 17 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including two at the 3-yard line against the Vikings. Seattle had a net punting average of 38.8 last season. If the Seahawks were able to average 5 yards a punt more than last season — which Dickson did in the preseason — that’s an awful lot of yards over 16 games.
Position group with the most question marks heading into the season
Vorel: Defensive end. Uncertainty abounds on the edges of the Seahawks’ defensive line, as it’s unclear if Frank Clark is totally healthy following offseason hand surgery as well as a recent hyperextended elbow he suffered in an exhibition game. And, though Dion Jordan was just activated from the PUP list after spending the entire preseason there with a stress reaction in his shin, it’s unknown how much he’ll play, or how soon. Add to that Marcus Smith’s unexpected release and Erik Walden’s season-ending injury, and the Seahawks will be depending on guys like rookie Rasheem Green and Quinton Jefferson to consistently contribute at defensive end.
Condotta: Secondary. Agree totally on what Mike said about the ends and the pass rush. Another spot that feels a little queasier to me heading into the season than I thought is the secondary. Seattle at least knew what it had in Byron Maxwell and how he would play in the team’s defense. With Maxwell on IR, the Seahawks apparently will instead go at right cornerback with Dontae Johnson, who did little in the offseason and was limited early in preseason due to a foot injury and now has to also adjust to the team’s “step-kick’’ technique that some new players have struggled with before. And while McDougald has experience at strong safety, Seattle plans to go with second-year player Tedric Thompson at free, assuming he recovers from rib and stinger injuries suffered in the exhibition game against the Vikings. Also seemingly a question is who would play the nickel if Justin Coleman were to get hurt. None of the other corners really seem a fit for it, or did it during the preseason much, anyway.
Player I’m most intrigued by heading into the season
Vorel: WR Brandon Marshall. Which Brandon Marshall will the Seahawks get this season — the guy who piled up 2,290 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in his two seasons with the Jets in 2015 and 2016, or the one who managed just 18 catches for 154 yards and zero scores with the Giants last season? The 34-year-old looked more like the former throughout the preseason, and if Marshall can remain healthy after offseason foot and ankle surgeries, he’ll provide a sizable red zone target for quarterback Russell Wilson that the Seahawks desperately need. Will 2018 represent a renaissance, or the last gasp at the end of a brilliant career? We’ll begin to find out Sunday.
Condotta: RB Chris Carson. Carson was the star of the offseason with his emergence as the starting tailback despite the presence of first-round choice Rashaad Penny. He was overall solid in the preseason with 91 yards on 22 carries, a 4.1 average that was similar to his 4.2 of last season. But he also lost a fumble at the goal line against the Chargers. And there will be the question of whether Carson can turn the offseason hype into consistent 16-week production until he does it. True, with Penny, Seattle has other options if Carson struggles or gets hurt. But the Seahawks are counting greatly on the idea they will have a better running game this season and while the offensive line might have a bigger say in how that goes, Carson will, too.