With quarterback Russell Wilson and another dozen or so starters and regulars sitting out, Seattle’s preseason-opening 22-14 win over Denver was designed mostly to learn about the team’s young players and those competing for some of the final spots on the roster. In all, 29 players sat out, many simply so that younger players could get more work.
So what did we learn?
Here are four things that stood out, in no particular order.
George Fant’s injury could muddy the decisions on the offensive line and tight end.
In what was the only significant injury of the night, Fant suffered what coach Pete Carroll called “a legit’’ sprain of his right ankle.
Carroll didn’t set a specific timeline, but he only uses the word “legit” to describe an injury that will likely take a while to recover from.
If Fant isn’t going to be available for the start of the regular season — which is now barely a month away — then some of Seattle’s roster decisions could get more difficult.
Fant is plugged into a role as the team’s sixth offensive linemen, playing often as an eligible tackle/tight end, as well as serving as a backup at both tackle spots.
But if he’s not available, Seattle might have to keep another tackle — or maybe just keep another tight end. But that also isn’t as clear-cut as it seems.
Seattle has four tight ends on its roster who have legit shots to make it — Will Dissly, Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson and Jacob Hollister. With Fant playing a lot of tight end, the thought has been Seattle might only keep three of that group of four.
But if he’s out, then Seattle might keep all four. The complication there is that Dickson just had knee surgery and also may not be available for the start of the regular season, with Carroll saying he could be out up to five weeks at least.
So, maybe Seattle keeps an extra tackle, such as second-year player Jamarco Jones, Elijah Nkansah or former 49er and Dallas Cowboy Marcus Martin, who has 24 career NFL starts.
We’ll know more in a few days when a prognosis on Fant becomes clearer.
The Seahawks are probably going to sign another quarterback.
In the other somewhat significant piece of postgame news, Carroll revealed that backup QB Geno Smith will have surgery to remove a cyst in his knee. He said the hope is Smith will be out no longer than 10 days, and has said that he thinks he could be available to play against Minnesota on Aug. 18.
But, with Smith almost certainly out a week or so, the Seahawks may well sign another quarterback to take some needed snaps during training-camp practices this week, and also to cover themselves so they wouldn’t be left with just two against Minnesota (the last thing they’d want to have happen is an injury that would require Wilson to take more snaps than planned).
“We’re already working on that,’’ Carroll said after the game.
Among the QBs available are two Seattle knows well — Matt Cassel, who played for Carroll at USC, and Josh Johnson, who is a cousin of Marshawn Lynch and visited the Seahawks last August when Seattle was exploring quarterback options (the Seahawks ultimately traded for Brett Hundley).
A few others who are unsigned include Josh McCown, Brock Osweiler and Mark Sanchez, who also played for Carroll at USC. Sanchez, though, has announced his retirement with plans to work for ESPN this fall.
Or who knows? Maybe Seattle preps former Navy QB Keenan Reynolds to take a few snaps if needed. But Carroll’s comments seemed to hint to bringing in someone from the outside.
The battle for the backup QB job could be closer than expected
Smith, who entered the game No. 2 on the depth chart behind Wilson, played four series, all in the first half, the first ending in a missed field goal, and then two punts, before the final one ended in a made field goal, Seattle down 6-3 when he departed
He was 3 for 9 for 58 yards along the way with three runs for 21 yards, not really appearing to show any issues with his cyst-ridden knee.
Paxton Lynch, No. 3 on the depth chart, then played the second half and led scoring drives on his first three possessions — a field goal and two touchdowns – to put Seattle in control (the final four ended in punts, though Seattle was playing it conservative on the final two drives.)
Lynch had the far better statistical night than Smith, completing 11 of 15 passes for 109 yards and one touchdown and running four times for 38 yards and another TD.
But he also got to play against Denver’s deep reserves while Smith had to go a few series against some of the Broncos starters, including the likes of standouts Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Chris Harris.
Carroll likely had that in mind when he praised both players – despite stats that would indicate Lynch was the clear winner — stating, “I thought Paxton Lynch did a really good job. … I thought Geno played solid, too. We got real good play from the quarterbacks tonight to get us started.’’
Still, Lynch’s numbers have to have closed whatever gap there may have been between the two just a little.
And if Smith is out for a week or so, Lynch will have that much more of an opportunity to state his case, maybe even possibly being Wilson’s backup for the game against the Vikings.
Lynch played Thursday night against the same Denver team that drafted him in the first round in 2016 and then waived him last September after he had gone 1-3 in four starts the previous two years, resulting in him being out of football last season.
But while Lynch’s celebration following his don’t-take-no-for-an-answer TD run might have looked like he had some pent-up emotion to shed Denver’s way, he insisted later that wasn’t the case.
“I know there was some talk that it was about that,” he said. “… It had nothing to do with that. It was more, to me, I had a lot to prove to myself tonight. It felt like I went out there and did that. …. I just wanted to go out there with my guys and win a football game and show those coaches that they can trust me if my number is ever called upon. I felt like I did a good job in that, but it’s only the first preseason game.’’
Jazz Ferguson might have a real shot to make the team
Since he was signed by Seattle in May as an undrafted free agent, Jazz Ferguson has looked like the prototypical receiver to stash on the practice squad for a year — an impressive physical specimen (6-5, 228) with lots of room to grow, especially considering his rocky college career.
But if he keeps playing the way he did Thursday, Ferguson might make it tough for Seattle not to keep him on the 53-man roster (recall that to get on the practice squad a player first has to be waived, and then have none of the other 31 teams claim him to then become a free agent and then re-sign to the practice squad).
In 2017, when Kasen Williams was the team’s preseason standout, Seattle waived him and hoped to re-sign him to the practice squad, only to see the Browns claim him, instead.
Ferguson scored two late TDs in Saturday’s mock game and then was the offensive star against the Broncos with four catches for 54 yards and a TD — all from Lynch — the score coming on an especially impressive play when he used his size to shield Denver cornerback Linden Stephens to make the catch and then reached the ball to the pylon.
Seattle has four apparent sure things in its receiving corps — Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown (neither of whom played against Denver), David Moore and DK Metcalf.
It hasn’t seemed a given Seattle would keep more than five receivers, with draft picks Gary Jennings and John Ursua each seeming ahead of Ferguson in the pecking order, as well as Reynolds, who might be needed as a backup slot player.
As a fourth-round pick, at 120 overall, Jennings in particular seems like he’d be a tough one for Seattle to cut (though he hasn’t done a lot yet to really stand out, with no receptions on two targets against Denver, one coming on what might have been Lynch’s worst pass of the night when he basically threw it at Jennings’ feet).
It’s too early to say yet whether Ferguson deserves a spot but it’ll be interesting to see if the Seahawks give him some legitimate playing time earlier in games the next two weeks against the Vikings and Chargers.
But if he keeps this up, Seattle will have some really tough calls.