RENTON — Seahawks fans won’t be able to watch Russell Wilson on Thursday night against Denver at CenturyLink Field. For the first time in his NFL career, Wilson will not play in a preseason opener, with Geno Smith getting the start at quarterback instead.
Many other starters also will sit out, and those who play won’t play much, with coach Pete Carroll saying the team is emphasizing more than ever getting young players a lot of snaps early in the preseason (while also further protecting the veterans, something becoming a growing trend around the NFL).
So what will be worth watching?
Here are six things that stand out, in no particular order.
The backup QB battle
The decision to start Smith is an early official sign of what has been thought all along —the backup job is Smith’s to lose.
But Carroll insists Smith could indeed lose it to Paxton Lynch, even if his experience (31 career starts) and roster-construction logistics make sense for Smith to be the guy.
And the Seahawks have made surprise decisions before.
So Smith will need to show something in the time he gets — likely the first half or so before giving way to Lynch — or it really could become a legitimate battle.
Smith threw just four passes last season as a backup with the Chargers, and Lynch was not on a roster in the regular season, so for each this is also simply the first time to play significantly in a game in a while.
For Lynch, it’s also a chance to begin reviving his career against the only other team he has played for. Lynch was Denver’s first-round draft pick in 2016 but was released entering last season after going just 1-3 in four starts in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
DK Metcalf’s NFL debut
OK, so a preseason game maybe isn’t a true NFL debut.
But the first glimpse of game action by the player who has been as highly hyped as any rookie in team history is enough reason to tune in — though you might want to make sure you tune in early.
Metcalf isn’t battling for a roster spot, so while the Seahawks will want to get him some work and acclimation to the NFL, they also might not want to take any unnecessary risks with a player who will have a big role this season.
But they might also want to make sure they see enough from Metcalf to validate the high expectations he has engendered through pretty regular starring performances in practice.
Bo leading a banged-up backfield?
Due to injuries to three backups, the Seahawks suddenly have some depth issues at tailback — enough that on Wednesday they signed free-agent tailback Xavier Turner, who might well get some carries Thursday.
Seattle is healthy at the top with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. But the Seahawks don’t need to see much out of either of them in the preseason. Bo Scarbrough is healthy, and can be expected to get a lot of work in what will be his first Seahawks action since being signed last December.
Scarbrough, a former star at Alabama who helped knock Washington out of the College Football Playoff in 2016, has impressed with his tough, between-the-tackles running in practice, but as with what they see out of a lot of young players in practice, the Seahawks will be looking to see that he can replicate that in games as well.
But every one after those three on the depth chart is hurt – C.J. Prosise (hip) and Travis Homer (quad) won’t play, and J.D.McKissic (foot) is a game-day decision.
For Prosise, this is obviously a big setback as he attempts to show he can stay healthy after missing 32 of a possible 48 regular-season games in his first three seasons. It’s probably too early to say it’s a death knell to his chances to stay around. But suddenly missing the first preseason game after having been healthy through the offseason program and first 10 days of training camp only revives the concerns about his durability as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
But the injuries to Homer and McKissic also mean the team’s two other main candidates for the third-down, two-minute-back role might not be able to take advantage of Prosise’s absence — while also further muddying the outlook at that spot.
The rest of the rookies
Aside from Metcalf, the game will be the debut for a number of rookies that the team hopes can have a big impact this season.
Linebacker Cody Barton, though, has been dealing with a groin strain and might sit out. Defensive lineman Demarcus Christmas and offensive lineman Phil Hayne remain on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.
But the rest of the 11-man rookie class figures to see action, with Carroll sounding particularly excited to see Marquise Blair, a second-round pick out of Utah.
Blair has a chance to contend for the starting strong-safety spot, and with Lano Hill still sidelined also has a chance Thursday to make a potentially lasting impression. But Hill, who started the final two regular-season games last year at strong safety before suffering a hip injury that required surgery, might be back for the second preseason game at Minnesota on Aug. 18, meaning Blair could have some added competition for reps in practice and snaps in games pretty soon.
“Probably as much as anybody out there, I’m excited to see him,” Carrroll said Wednesday of Blair. “To see him run and hit, because he hasn’t had the chance to show what he’s so unique at — he was really a physical football player (at Utah). We’d love to see how that fits in, he’ll get a chance on special teams, and he’ll play a lot of plays in this game.”
Receivers Gary Jennings and John Ursua also should get a lot of snaps as well as linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven and defensive back Ugo Amadi.
The battle at nickelback
Speaking of Amadi, a fourth-round pick from Oregon, he is part of one of the team’s more intriguing competitions — the battle for the nickel-cornerback spot.
Akeem King has consistently worked as the starter there, with Kalan Reed as the backup. But King has also been getting work on the outside working behind Shaquill Griffin at left cornerback, and the Seahawks seem more willing to mix-and-match personnel on defense, meaning there could be opportunities for more than one nickel to see regular playing time (the 6-foot-1, 215-pound King against bigger receivers, the shorter Reed and Amadi against smaller, quicker types).
Amadi has also been used extensively at safety but has gotten more work at nickel following the signing of DeShawn Shead to add depth at safety.
“The competition at that (nickel) spot is really keen, and he’s going to get a shot,” Carroll said of Amadi. “He’ll play quite a bit at the nickel spot in the game.”
The backup linebacker battle
The competition for final or two spot on the roster became a little more interesting with the revelation Wednesday that starting strongside linebacker Mychal Kendricks will be sentenced in federal court in Philadelphia on Sept. 25 in connection with an insider-trading charge a year ago.
Carroll has expressed confidence that Kendricks will be available this year. But the team might have to set its roster accounting for his possible absence following the third game of the year.
That could most directly impact last year’s preseason darling, Shaquem Griffin, whose spot on the roster this year has not been considered secure due to the influx of others at the position such as Barton and Burr-Kirven.
Griffin is being used at both weakside, where he played last year, and strongside linebacker, and could get a long look against Denver at strongside linebacker. Barton has also played some SLB in practice and, even if he doesn’t play against Denver, could get more reps there going forward.