The Seahawks are just days away from their regular season opener at Green Bay, a contest that will give evidence if the high expectations greeting this season are realistic.
The Seahawks are now just days away from their regular season opener at Green Bay Sunday, a contest that right off the bat will give evidence if the high expectations greeting this season are realistic.
The game will also begin to answer many other key questions hanging in the air as the first true kickoff of the season looms.
What kind of questions? Glad you asked. Here are five that I think stand out and my guess at some answers.
Q: Will the offensive line be better in 2017 than it was in 2016?
A: Yes, if only because it can’t be worse.
Okay, that’s the smart-alecky answer.
But even a more-nuanced view would be that the offensive line appears in better position now than it was for the opener a year ago, despite the season-ending injury to left tackle George Fant.
Rees Odhiambo will make his first NFL start in place of Fant Sunday and will be as pivotal of a player as any on the field.
But remember that a year ago Bradley Sowell — who hadn’t started since 2013 – was Seattle’s opening day left tackle winning that job mostly because Garry Gilliam couldn’t. And the right guard was J’Marcus Webb, who had been so disappointing as a free agent signee that he was destined for the bench until Germain Ifedi got hurt in practice the week before the opener. Mark Glowinski was in his first year as the starter at left guard and Justin Britt his first year starting at center. And Gilliam, having been moved from the left side, was the winner of a “battle’’ with Webb at right tackle.
Sunday, Seattle will have an established Britt at center with Glowinski and Ifedi back at positions they played in college and presumably will be more comfortable — right guard and right tackle, respectively. Free agent signee Luke Joeckel will be the left guard.
To be clear, there are still a lot of question marks there even aside from the obvious of Odhiambo. Can Joeckel, who had Regenokine treatment on his knee last week and is coming off major knee surgery last October, hold up? Will Ifedi make the jump in year two back at right tackle after a somewhat disappointing rookie year at guard?
But optimism reigns in the NFL when summer has yet to turn to fall and we’ll buy in that the line is ready to stop its several-year slide and show improvement this season.
Q: Who will get the most carries this season — Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy, Chris Carson?
A: The preseason gave us no real evidence on the Rawls-Lacy battle so I’m just going to take a flyer and say Rawls since he was atop the depth chart throughout the preseason. The caveat is that he then missed the last three games with an ankle injury, reigniting worries about his durability. But assuming Rawls can stay upright he appears primed to get back to his 2015 form. And until proven otherwise, a healthy Rawls seems like the team’s best overall running back. Carson was a preseason standout. But it’s worth remembering that the regular season is a different deal. He’ll get chances early to see if he can have the same success now that the games count. But I think for now he remains Rawls and Lacy in the pecking order (with C.J. Prosise as the third-down back).
Q: Can Russell Wilson become a legitimate MVP candidate this season?
A: Sure. Check out any Vegas odds of NFL MVP candidates and Wilson is among the top choices — he’s fifth this week in Bovada’s odds, for instance, behind Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger.
And while his injury-riddled 2016 season is what’s freshest on most minds, don’t forget how he ended the 2015 season with a 24-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio n the last seven games. Seahawks’ coaches feel Wilson is back to that form after recovering from the injuries of a year ago and if so, he’ll be right in the MVP hunt.
Q: Will Jimmy Graham truly break out this season?
A: Okay, so before levying an answer, a reminder that the Seahawks hardly forgot about Graham last season — his 923 receiving yards last season were the third-most in the NFL and most of any Seattle tight end ever.
Even his six touchdowns, while below the average of 10 per year he had in his New Orleans career, was sixth-most among NFL tight ends.
To break out a lot more than he did last season would mean having maybe the best season of any tight end in the NFL, and that might be hard to do in an offense that hopes to run the ball more than the 59 percent pass-to-run ratio of last season.
Seattle coaches, though, seem almost giddy when talking about Graham and the fact that he enters this season healthy after a year ago at this time having yet to play while recovering from a significant knee injury — Graham had only four catches for 53 yards the first two games last season as he eased his way back.
What the Seahawks would like is for Graham to be more of a factor in the red zone. Given his health and some of the overall uncertainty at receiver (notably, how well and quickly Tyler Lockett resumes his regular form) it makes sense to think Graham should be even more of a focal point of the offense from the start and could increase all of his numbers this season.
Q: What’s one underrated area of concern?
A: Meaning, not the offensive line, which is the most obvious area of concern.
How about this — depth at cornerback. Jeremy Lane is the presumptive starter at right cornerback. But he battled a groin injury in the preseason and is coming off an inconsistent season. Rookie Shaquill Griffin is in line to be the third corner (meaning he’ll play the right corner spot in the nickel with Lane sliding inside). But while hopes are high for Griffin, he remains just that — a rookie — at a tough spot to step right into. The other two corners are Justin Coleman, who is set to be the backup nickel but until Friday was with the Patriots, and Neiko Thorpe, whose spot on the team is due part to his special teams prowess.
One injury at cornerback and an apparent position of strength could look a lot different quickly.