So far, it would have to be the secondary, particularly the safeties. In the offseason, the Seahawks perma-demoted strong safety Michael Boulware and let free safety Ken Hamlin walk to Dallas, replacing them with veterans Deon Grant and Brian Russell from Jacksonville and Cleveland, respectively. The hype was that the experience of Grant and Russell would seal up one of Seattle's biggest liabilities in 2006 - an extreme vulnerability to the deep ball. Add in new secondary coach Jim Mora, and we were supposed to see a redefined secondary.
It hasn't even come close to happening. The one notable improvement has come from cornerback Marcus Trufant, and I'd attribute that to the fact that he moved back to his preferred left side. Overall, though, safety help has been frequently late, and zone handoffs haven't exactly been smooth. Grant had proven to be a solid tackler, but too many of those tackles have been on the recovery side, and that's not the thing you want to note about your safeties above all else. A team would like to expect more from expensive veterans.
With most of the starts getting a rest, who should the Raiders be wary of for Thursday's game?
If receiver Ben Obomanu plays, he's definitely one to watch. Th second-year man from Auburn reportedly suffered a leg injury in practice on Tuesday (possible hamstring strain), so we're waiting for word on that. He's been one of the stars of Seattle's preseason, and insured himself a spot on the final roster with eight receptions for 164 yard and two touchdowns. Fullback Leonard Weaver might be playing for a roster spot after an iffy preseason, and you can bet he'll be running hard and trying to get a handle on his blocking. Third-string quarterback David Greene put together a solid showing against the Raiders in the 2006 preseason, and he'd better hope he does something similar on Thursday - Greene has had an abysmal preseason and patience is running very thin.
On defense and special teams, the name is the same - rookie cornerback Josh Wilson. Look for him to get many reps in the defensive backfield, and prepare for him to blow by Oakland's gunners - Wilson has taken 11 kickoffs for 292 yards (a 26.5 average), and he's a threat to break one every time. Keep an eye on linebacker Will Herring as well - the Auburn rookie linebacker is one of those "right-place-right-time" guys who's starting to impress the most jaded veteran.
Along the same lines, how many undrafted free agents do you expect to not only make the roster but contribute?
The one guy I've had an eye on is Oregon State tight end Joe Newton, who has looked good in camp but hasn't seen time on the field. The Seahawks are very thin at the position after 35-year-old Marcus Pollard, and the 6'7", 257-pound Newton would be an intriguing option in the two-TE sets the Seahawks almost never run! Seriously, Newton is not fleet of foot, but he's a willing blocker and he can catch in traffic. I think he has the best (perhaps the only) shot of any undrafted free agent of doing more than practice squad duty this year.
Seattle signed another UDFA who might make a go with the final 53, but not Seattle's 53. Cornerback Tim Mixon of Cal, who the Seahawks released due to injury concerns, has looked solid for the Bears.
The offensive line has been a point of contention for Seahawks fans - has anyone stepped up to assume the position you tried to fill with Kris Dielman?
Well, second-year man Rob Sims was that guy last year - the idea with Dielman would have been to move Sims to right guard from left to give the line a dominant inside presence. Like Dielman did in San Diego, Sims came out of nowhere and made it impossible for the team to ignore him. The only time Seattle's line looked consistently solid last year was the final three regular-season games and the two playoff contests, when Sims finally started next to Walter Jones.
Right now, it's a line that stands to be decent if there are absolutely NO injuries. But Jones has worked his way back slowly from shoulder soreness, right tackle Sean Locklear had some knee tendonitis, center Chris Spencer is coming off shoulder surgery, right guard Chris Gray is durable but he's also 37 years old . continuity is crucial to any offensive line, and I'm a bit nervous about Seattle's ability to keep the same five guys out there all the time. That line went though eight different combinations in 2006, with frequently disastrous results.
I'll tell you, though - Spencer has really impressed me this preseason. He's gone up against freakish Chargers nose tackle Jamal Williams, and the Williams "twins" from Minnesota, Pat And Kevin (hey - maybe the Seahawks need an interior lineman named "Williams") with good results. Spencer could be a breakout performer in 2007 - perhaps a potential Pro Bowler. I just hope he stays healthy, because the depth at center is inexcusably thin.
The Seahawks went cornerback for the second straight year with your first pick in the draft in taking Josh Wilson. How has he looked, and is the late signing of DeJuan Groce a sign that Wilson has not been up to par?
Not at all - if anything, Groce's signing was a bone thrown in the direction of former secondary coach Larry Marmie, who's still with the team in some nebulous coaching capacity. Groce played with the Rams when Marmie was the defensive coordinator there. If you saw New Orleans' questionable secondary in the playoffs last year, keep in mind that Groce couldn't make the cut with the Saints, and the Rams' secondary isn't going to win any awards, either. The Seahawks like Wilson, and he's making good progress. Groce has camp fodder written all over him.