RENTON — Just when the Seahawks’ quarterback battle appeared to be entering a different stage, real life got in the way.
Roughly 90 minutes after coach Pete Carroll said that Drew Lock would start for the Seahawks in their preseason game Thursday against the Chicago Bears at Lumen Field as part of a long-held plan to assure he got a start in his competition with Geno Smith, the Seahawks announced that Lock had tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be able to play.
The NFL is following CDC guidelines that state anyone with a positive test must isolate for five days. Lock participated fully in Tuesday’s practice meaning the earliest he could apparently return is Sunday.
Players are only testing if they experience symptoms. Lock is the first Seahawks player to test positive in camp.
That leaves Seattle with two quarterbacks for the game — Smith, who started Saturday against the Steelers and whom Carroll said remains atop the depth chart, and former Husky and Lake Stevens standout Jacob Eason.
Lock also tested positive when playing last year with Denver, missing two games in November. At the time, Broncos coach Vic Fangio told reporters that Lock was vaccinated and had suffered a breakthrough case. Lock also had to miss a game in 2020, when he was Denver’s starting quarterback, when he was deemed a close contact after backup Jeff Driskel tested positive.
The positive test throws an obvious unexpected hurdle into Seattle’s quarterback competition as the Seahawks had planned to use the week to prepare Lock as the starter and then give him the start against the Bears.
Lock worked with the first team throughout Tuesday’s practice for the first time in training camp with Smith playing with the second team.
Afterward, Carroll said plan all along had been that Lock — acquired in the Russell Wilson trade with Denver in March — would get the start in the second preseason game.
“Regardless of what happened, we were going to give Drew a chance to start a game and just see what happens,” Carroll said. “And fortunately, he’s played really well and he deserves a shot to play just like everybody deserves a shot to play and show what they can do. So we’ve just been able to stick to it.”
But Carroll clarified that the decision to start Lock did not change the depth chart, saying that the team still considers Smith as the starter.
“Geno is still the No. 1 guy,” Carroll said. “He is holding on to the spot at this point.”
Carroll compared giving Lock the start in the second preseason game — and third gamelike opportunity — to how the Seahawks handled the preseason in 2012 when Matt Flynn, Russell Wilson and Tarvaris Jackson were competing for the job — the last time the Seahawks had a quarterback competition.
Then, Flynn, who had signed in the offseason as a free agent, started the first two games and Wilson, then a rookie, the third game. Wilson was named the starter after the third game.
“It’s somewhat the same format,” Carroll said, saying that Smith “deserved more” than simply rotating with Lock from the start of camp due to his three previous years with the team and starting three games last year.
“He deserved the starting opportunity (to start camp),” Carroll said, adding “that’s how we came to settle on” the plan to have Smith start the first two games (including the mock game, which Carroll has said he considers as basically another preseason game) and Lock the second game.
But all of that is now out the window with the news that Lock will miss the game. There was no immediate word on if that means Smith will now start, but that is the assumption. Eason has not been a contender for the starting job, working solely with the third-team offense in practice and not playing at all in the preseason opener against the Steelers.
And that could mean the Seahawks will now have to prep Lock to start in the final preseason game Aug. 26 at Dallas and possibly wait until after to name a starter. Teams historically have played only deep reserves in the final preseason game.
But the change in the NFL schedule for the preseason — and that there are no games the weekend before the opening of the regular season — could allow Seattle to treat the Dallas game as they would have the Bears game to give Lock a fair shot at a start. After the Dallas game, the Seahawks don’t play again until the regular-season opener against Denver on Sept. 12.
In saying that Smith remained atop the depth chart, Carroll also said after practice that both Lock and Smith “did well” against the Steelers and seemed to try to imply there had been no change not only in the depth chart but in whether Lock was closing the gap.
Carroll noted that Smith, who was 10-for-15 for 101 yards in playing the entire first half with the first-team offense, had two drops and another pass that would have been complete had tight end Noah Fant gotten his second foot inbounds and also that he led a two-minute drill for a TD in what was the last of his five possessions — the other four ended in three punts and a field goal.
“He did everything we asked of him,” Carroll said.
Lock, meanwhile, was 11-for-15 for 102 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 131.1 compared to Smith’s 85.7
“I really like what Drew has shown us,” Carroll said. “You look at his passer rating and some of the stuff that he did, he did a great job.”
Lock had one big error, failing to read that the Steelers had an unblocked rusher coming off the left side after the Seahawks got the ball back at the Pittsburgh 47 with 1:17 left and the game tied at 25.
The Steelers recovered, which led to the winning TD for Pittsburgh with three seconds remaining.
Carroll said after the game his initial thought was Lock needed to read the play better, and Lock agreed, saying, “I could have handled that better.”
Carroll reiterated Tuesday that the play was ultimately Lock’s fault.
“He made a mistake,” Carroll said. “He needed to read the guy coming off the edge and he didn’t do it right and so he got walloped. He’ll never miss that hot again. It was a great lesson.”
Certainly, the Seahawks hope so as that’s the kind of game-turning play that coaches count on quarterbacks being able to avoid — and the kind of turnover that Lock had a reputation for making during his time with Denver.
With the team having a short week, the Seahawks ran a more intense practice Tuesday than they might normally to get Lock adequate reps with the starters.
Lock ran all four of the team sessions with the starting offense and Smith with the backups.
Lock hit his first two passes in team sessions, but then struggled some, going 0-for-4 during a red-zone session and then tossing an interception later in practice to rookie Tariq Woolen. It was just his second interception of the preseason, to the four of Smith.
Smith, meanwhile, had touchdowns on three straight passes during the red-zone sessions and then concluded his day with what might have been his best pass of camp, a touchdown of about 60 yards to Penny Hart in which he rolled to the right and threw a perfect strike down the sideline, finishing with a 4-0 edge to Lock on TDs in team sessions.