RENTON — When the Seahawks open the regular season Sunday at Indianapolis, they will do so against a Colts team facing significant issues with its receiver corps.
Veteran T.Y. Hilton, who led the Colts with 63 receptions last season, is on injured reserve due to a neck injury and out the first three games.
And third-year receiver Parris Campbell — who has played just nine games in two seasons but was listed as one of three starting receivers on the Colts’ official depth chart this week — was limited in practice Wednesday with a lingering Achilles tendon injury.
Of the Colts’ four healthy receivers, one is rookie Mike Strachan, a preseason surprise who made the roster as a seventh-round pick out of Charleston, a Division II school in West Virginia. Another is Ashton Dulin, a former undrafted free agent who has five catches in his two-year career.
That means fourth-year player Zach Pascal and second-year player Michael Pittman Jr. could be the leading targets Sunday for QB Carson Wentz.
Both had serviceable seasons last year — Pascal had 44 catches for 629 yards and five TDs and Pittman had 40 for 503 and one. But Indy’s receiver corps as currently constructed won’t be confused with what the Seahawks will face in Week Two from Tennessee in A.J. Brown and Julio Jones.
In other words, this is about as soft of a landing as the Seahawks’ much-scrutinized cornerbacks corps could probably have hoped, short of playing a Houston team that might make a legit run at going 0-17 this season.
As Seahawks’ fans might not need reminding, but which remains relevant, no position has undergone as much change as cornerback since camp began.
Seattle has made 18 transactions involving cornerbacks since July 26, and seven cornerbacks who were on the roster at some point during camp are no longer, including prospective left corner starter Ahkello Witherspoon and veterans Pierre Desir and Damarious Randall, who some speculated could contend for starting roles.
Seattle’s starters now are much-maligned Tre Flowers on the right side and D.J. Reed — who had been competing with Flowers for that starting job — on the left, taking the spot of the departed Witherspoon.
The three backups are all players Seattle has acquired since Aug. 25, including one who practiced for the first time Wednesday, Blessuan Austin, recently cut by the Jets. The others are John Reid (acquired in a trade Aug. 25) and Sidney Jones (acquired in a trade Sept. 1).
Austin started 16 games for the Jets the past two years before being waived. He hadn’t yet practiced when coach Pete Carroll talked to the media Wednesday about what the Seahawks liked about him, and Carroll noted the obvious — it’s too early to say when he might contribute.
“He’s a hitter,’’ Carroll said. “He has a really aggressive and physical style of play, and that’s what I loved about what I saw. He’s got good size to him (6-1, 198), but his willingness to throw his body around and give you everything he’s got is what jumped off of the film to me. … I was excited about bringing him to the club, and we will see what happens. It’s going to be hard for those guys who got here today to have an impact right away, but we are going to push it and see what happens.”
That Jones was a standout at UW and a former second-round pick of the Eagles leads to obvious excitement about his potential.
Coaches have cautioned the past few days that Jones also is something of a work in progress as he adjusts to a new team.
“It’s been such a short time,’’ defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said Wednesday of what he has seen of Jones so far. “At this point, you pretty much want to get him out on the grass, run around a little bit, just kind of see the rawness of him, the running and hitting and being able to listen and be coachable. But so far, so good.’’
Not that those three are the only options — Seattle this week re-signed Gavin Heslop, who was with the team last year and in camp this year — to the practice squad and also has former Patriot and Cowboy Michael Jackson on the practice squad.
But the player on whom most eyes will focus is Flowers, a four-year veteran and full-time starter in 2018 and 2019 who lost his job after a rocky playoff performance in 2019.
If Seahawks social media might have hoped someone else would win the job, Carroll made clear again Wednesday that, for now, Flowers has his full support.
“Every number that he had was at the highest end he’s ever been,” Carroll said. “It’s the best he’s played and the most consistent. He has recaptured his aggressiveness that he had a couple of years ago that was really special about him. It waned somewhat but he went right back to it, and I think it brings out the best in him.”
— Every player on the 53-man roster practiced Wednesday. Seven were listed as limited — WR Dee Eskridge (toe), OL Gabe Jackson and Duane Brown (load management), RB Rashaad Penny (calf), C Ethan Pocic (hamstring), OL Jamarco Jones (groin) and DB Ryan Neal (oblique).
— Carroll said cornerback Nigel Warrior, who was claimed off waivers from the Ravens last week and then put on injured reserve Tuesday, is dealing with a knee injury. “There’s some stuff he has to work on physically,’’ Carroll said.