RENTON — All the work of the last eight months comes to a head over the next eight days.
By next Saturday at 1 p.m., the Seahawks — like every other NFL team — will have to pare their rosters from the current 90 to the regular-season maximum of 53.
That initial roster, of course, will hardly be set in stone. NFL rosters change daily during the regular season. And many of those waived figure to resurface on the practice squad (up to 10 can be re-signed to there once they clear waivers) and as possible reinforcements for injuries and whatever else as the season progresses.
Still, the football futures of many players will be altered greatly, one way or the other, by what the team decides over the next week. And those decisions could still be influenced by what happens over the final two preseason games — Saturday against the Chargers in Carson, Calif., and then Thursday against the Raiders at CenturyLink Field.
Here’s a look at seven Seahawks for whom the next week looms especially critical, in no particular order.
Safety Lano Hill
The third-year player out of Michigan is expected to see his first action Saturday since last Dec. 30, when he suffered a hip injury against the Cardinals that required surgery.
Hill started that game, as well as the previous week against the Chiefs, at strong safety alongside Bradley McDougald. Coach Pete Carroll liked the pairing enough (Seattle won both games) that he hinted strongly that he was leaning toward starting that duo in the playoff game against Dallas before learning Hill was injured.
Hill has yet to play in the preseason, but Carroll has said all along the Seahawks would not make final decisions on the safety spot until they had a chance to get a good look at Hill.
That should happen Saturday. Carroll said Hill is ready to go after practicing the last two weeks.
“He played so well at the end of the season, our hopes were really high for him to be a big factor in play time and the flexibility and things that he can do,’’ Carroll said. “… This is the first action he gets (and) we will guard his plays a little bit. But it’s really important that he gets a chance to make a statement about where he fits into the competition.’’
It might be even more important now that rookie Marquise Blair is battling a back injury and already had been declared by Carroll as needing some time to earn the team’s trust.
That could leave Blair battling DeShawn Shead to earn a roster spot as a trusted veteran who, at the least, can be a dependable backup, and potentially a starter depending on how things develop.
Wide receiver Amara Darboh
A third-rounder in 2017, Darboh also has yet to play in the preseason and, actually, has not played in either the regular or preseason since his rookie year. But he is expected to be healthy and ready for the Chargers on Saturday.
And with David Moore suddenly now out for an extended period, Darboh’s chances of making the team — which seemed really remote before — might now be realistic, especially if he shows anything on the field against the Chargers. Seattle has always been enamored by Darboh’s size — 6 feet 2 inches, 215 pounds — and athleticism. He would also be a natural position fit as a replacement for Moore.
“He’s in good shape,’’ Carroll said this week of Darboh. “He needs his playtime because he hasn’t had a chance to show yet.”
Wide receiver Gary Jennings
Jennings already seemed likely to make the roster due to his status as a fourth-round pick, if nothing else. The injury to Moore might cement that. Still, the Seahawks might like to see Jennings produce on the field a little bit in the preseason to feel more comfortable calling on him once the regular season begins.
Jennings has had some nice moments in practice but has no receptions on three targets in 51 snaps in the first two preseason games.
“He had a solid week for us but opportunities are knocking, so this is a good chance for him in the next couple of weeks to make a statement,” Carroll said.
Moore’s injury also means rookies such as John Ursua and Jazz Ferguson could have better chances to make the team and/or play bigger roles early on, and Seattle will also be looking closely at them over the next few games, as well as veteran Malik Turner.
Running back C.J. Prosise
A third-round pick in 2016, Prosise has battled injuries throughout his career, a situation that has continued into the preseason as he has yet to play. But Carroll said this week that Prosise is ready to go. It’s hard to figure Prosise has any more chances left beyond the next two games, and two games might not be enough to show the team he can stay healthy for the long term. But if he does nothing the next two games, he could make the Seahawks’ decision for them.
Defensive end Barkevious Mingo
The veteran is generally considered as likely to make the roster in his new role as a rush end, and continuing his previous role as one of the most reliable special-teamers.
But Carroll said Friday that Ziggy Ansah could return to practice next week and could be ready Week 1.
Carroll also essentially said this week that second-year player Jacob Martin is ahead of Mingo on the depth chart at the LEO, or rush end, spot.
“I think Jake’s a little bit farther technique-wise, but Mingo’s got a little bit more reach and length and stuff like that,’’ Carroll said. “Both guys I think are going to be a factor for us. We’re counting on it.”
But if the team feels confident in Ansah being ready Week 1 — and that Martin would be next in line along with Cassius Marsh behind Ansah — then the decision on Mingo could be tough because he is a vested veteran and his $3.4 million base salary will be guaranteed if he is on the roster Week 1. That might seem like a lot to pay for a backup rush end and special-teamer, though the fact that Mingo can also play strongside linebacker — where, at the moment, he is the only experienced and healthy backup — will help his case.
Quarterback Geno Smith
Hey, it’s the Geno Smith revenge game! Smith spent last season with the Chargers, backing up Philip Rivers (he threw only four passes all year, completing one) and will get a chance Saturday to play substantially against them as the backup to Russell Wilson with Paxton Lynch out. Wilson is expected to start and likely play more than the two series he played last week.
Lynch outperformed Smith in the first preseason game against Denver, though Smith had to play a few series against most of Denver’s starters. But Lynch regressed last week, and it’s been thought the team has been favoring Smith for the backup spot, anyway, due in part to his experience (31 career starts). A strong performance against the Chargers could go a long way to sewing up the backup job.
Cornerback Jamar Taylor
Taylor got this week to practice as the starter at nickel and will get the first chance there against the Chargers, Carroll said. But the job appears to remain wide open with Akeem King, Kalan Reed and rookie Ugo Amadi also in the mix (Carroll has also indicated Amadi will get more snaps at nickel the next two weeks).
“He’ll start at that spot this week,’’ Carroll said of Taylor. “We’ll see how he does and he’s in there battling. He does bring some experience to us (41 career starts). We have a lot of young guys back there. … He’s done a nice job so far. He’s right in the middle of the competition.”
He’ll get a chance Saturday to move to the top of it.