RENTON — As the Seahawks prepare for their second preseason game Saturday night against Denver, the composition of the cornerback spot seems as muddled as when training camp began.
One thing seems certain: Ahkello Witherspoon, signed as a free agent in the offseason to a contract that includes $4 million guaranteed, will start at the all-important left cornerback spot.
D.J. Reed, the presumptive starter on the right side, hasn’t practiced in two weeks due to a groin injury.
That’s had Tre Flowers filling in with the No. 1 defense. It will be surprising if Reed and Flowers end up as the one-two on that side.
In the past week, two young corners have begun to make a move up the depth chart and show they could factor into playing time this year, as well.
One is a player whose name most Seahawks fans surely know — rookie Tre Brown, a fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma.
The other is off-the-radar — Gavin Heslop, a second-year player who entered the league as an undrafted free agent from Stony Brook.
Each will get a chance to make a further impression on the coaches Saturday night when the Seahawks host the Denver Broncos in a preseason game at Lumen Field. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Brown has seemed assured a roster spot due to his draft status and likely large role on special teams.
But over the last week he has gotten increasing reps working with the starting defense at left corner and had one of the highlight plays of Thursday’s practice when he batted a pass away from DK Metcalf.
“These games are really important for him to make a bid for how much he can contribute,’’ Carroll said Friday. “He’s been really active, he’s tough, he’s been really competitive with the ball, he has not given up plays. He’s just been really consistent. He’s been a real bright spot in camp. It’s a guy — you draft him and wait and see, you don’t know. But he’s battling. I’m really excited about just the competitive side of this because he’s trying to earn a job to start. He’s that close already, so we’ll see what happens.”
Heslop, who was on the Seahawks’ practice squad all last season, played 33 snaps against the Raiders and earned the team’s fourth-highest defensive grade from Pro Football Focus.
Indicative of the team’s apparent desire to find ways to use him, he is playing more at nickel in the wake of the waiving of former Husky Jordan Miller, who had been working there behind the top two at that spot, Marquise Blair and Ugo Amadi. Blair remains out with a sore knee, so Heslop could get a long look at nickel against the Broncos.
“He’s done a nice job,’’ Carroll said. “All the time that he’s been here he’s been an active guy that makes plays, knocks the ball down at the right time, has been tough. He’s had a really good camp. He’ll get some work in the nickel spot, he’s been practicing there because he’s done well. We’re looking to find a way that he can contribute. It’s been a real good camp for him.”
Will the starters play?
Throughout his Seahawks career, Carroll has always been as playfully vague when asked about starters playing in the preseason.
He was again Friday when asked if starters will see action against Denver.
He initially responded “yeah.” But when asked a follow-up if he was saying the starters will indeed play, he said only, “We’ll show you what’s going on when we get there. We’re not going to announce anything.’’
The Seahawks held out 31 players last week against the Raiders, the third highest total in the NFL.
The assumption is at least some of those players will play against Denver and Carroll has always given the starters a few series in the second preseason game and usually into the third quarter in the third game.
But teams learned last season they could get ready for the regular season without playing preseason games. The Seahawks have a new offense they won’t want to show until the regular season. There are also just three preseason games but two weeks in between the last one and the regular season.
So will Carroll play it differently this year? As he said Friday, we’ll have to wait and see. Though for what is the first game the Seahawks will play with a full stadium at Lumen Field, Carroll may want to give some key players a cameo.
Denver is expected to play its starters for at least a couple series, in part to get a fair evaluation of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who will get the start and is in competition with Drew Lock for the starting job.
Injury updates and other notes
- Carroll said rookie receiver Dee Eskridge had a good week of practice after returning from a toe issue. He said Eskridge won’t play against the Broncos and the team is waiting to see if he will play against the Chargers.
- Ethan Pocic remains out with a hamstring issue, so Kyle Fuller continues to work as the starting center.
- Left tackle Duane Brown was away from the team Wednesday and Thursday for what Carroll said was “an urgent family issue.’’ But he was back Friday. Brown remains “holding in’’ — present but not practicing — while angling for a new contract that the Seahawks don’t appear willing to give him. When asked Friday if he had any concerns about Brown playing in the regular-season opener, Carroll said, “No, I’m not concerned about that.’’
- Jamarco Jones practiced again Friday after dealing with back spasms last week, and Carroll said he would be available to play against Denver. Jones has been working with the starting unit at left tackle in Brown’s absence. Without Brown last week, rookie Stone Forsythe got the start against the Raiders. But having Jones back could factor into whether Carroll wants to let more of his offensive starters play against Denver.
- Receiver Penny Hart has not practiced since suffering an ankle injury in the mock game Aug. 8. Said Carroll Friday: “He had a legit ankle sprain, and it blew up pretty good. We really think that next week is the time that he can start running with us and get out on the field by the middle of next week. But he had a substantial sprain, he got hurt and really wrenched it bad. It’s taking a little bit longer than we hoped.”
- Carroll said backup QB Geno Smith has been cleared to return to action after suffering a concussion against the Raiders. Smith did not practice Friday.
- Tight end Gerald Everett, who sat out the end of Thursday’s practice with an unknown issue, was back on the practice field Friday.
- Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche practiced this week after sitting out last week with a groin injury. But Carroll said he didn’t know if Nkemdiche will play against Denver.