Hawks lose 22-20 but rookies bring fireworks

The Seahawks lost Friday night 22-20 to the Denver Broncos and injuries to backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and wide receiver Chris Matthews made the defeat that much tougher. Eye-popping debuts from rookies Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett (among others), however, certainly provided a silver lining to the evening.

As is often the case in the first preseason game of the year, the defense was ahead of the offense, especially up front. Neither the Seahawks nor Broncos' offensive lines were able to slow down the speedy pass rushers with Von Miller forcing a Russell Wilson fumble on just the second play from scrimmage and a barrage of pressure from Seattle's defensive line taking over the rest of the first quarter.

The Seahawks had just 29 total yards of offense in the first half with the team's only touchdown coming on a spectacular 103 yard kick return from rookie Tyler Lockett.

While the loss is certainly disappointing for a club that has dominated preseason games over the past few years, Lockett's big play was the perfect microcosm of the night for Seattle's rookies. Their big plays kept the Seahawks in a game that frankly otherwise was a tough one for Seattle, with backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and wide receiver Chris Matthews each suffering potentially serious injuries.

The game started off inauspiciously for the Seahawks with Denver's star edge rusher Von Miller beating right tackle Justin Britt for a quick sack and forced fumble of Russell Wilson.

Certainly Britt was beaten on the play but give Miller some credit. He was able to gain room from Seattle's second-year right tackle with a strong initial shove, then showing off his closing speed to knock the ball free from Wilson.

Fortunately for Seattle, Cliff Avril split through Denver's rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo and tight end Virgil Green to sack quarterback Brock Osweiler to provide an effective counter-punch for the Seahawks. The Seahawks held Denver from there, forcing the Broncos to kick a field goal despite the "easy" starting field position.

While Tyler Lockett's initial kick return left a bit to be desired (three yard gain), the blocking and his vision and trademark burst were much more evident on his second and third attempts -- returning it 46 yards in the first quarter and the touchdown in the second quarter. As noted by Danny O'Neil of 710 ESPN, by comparison, the Seahawks' longest kick return all of last year was 47 yards.

Though his returns made Lockett the flashiest of Seattle's first-year pros, he was far from Seattle's only rookie standout.

Frank Clark's initial snap in the NFL resulted in 5-yard tackle for loss and forced fumble. Showing off the core strength and lateral agility that had caught the attention of Seattle's scouts and coaching staff throughout training camp, Clark powered through Denver rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo. A few snaps later, Clark pushed through another Denver rookie - left guard Max Garcia - to force a throwaway from Osweiler.

Clark then showed off his athleticism with he and fellow rookie Ronald Martin chasing down Ball to thwart a screen on third and long to force a punt on Denver's first drive of the second half.

He then slipped through again in the fourth quarter to stop running back Jeremy Stewart for a loss of one on 4th and 1, giving the Seahawks the ball again with 11:49 remaining.

The Seahawks also received impressive plays from undrafted rookie cornerback Tye Smith and undrafted free agents T.Y. McGill (defensive tackle),Kevin Smith (wide receiver) and Keenan Lambert (strong safety).

With star Richard Sherman held out, Smith saw plenty of action. He held up nicely in coverage, closing quickly on underneath passes and helping break up an intermediate pass from Osweiler to veteran wideout Andre Caldwell in the second quarter.

McGill's big play was even flashier. He caught my attention in camp with impressive initial quickness and that was what helped him slip through the line to tackle Montee Ball for no-gain on 3rd and one, forcing a Denver field goal attempt in the second quarter.

Built like a bowling ball at 6-0, 299 pounds, McGill offers an intriguing combination of power and quickness that most closely resembles Jordan Hill among the Seahawks' current defensive linemen. Given how Hill emerged a year ago as one of Seattle's best interior rushers, a defensive tackle with a similar (albeit lesser) skill-set could be tough to let go.

Smith wound up leading Seattle with just two catches for 36 yards. While the box score numbers aren't eye-popping, Smith's catches were. The former UW receiver hauled in two terrific catches of inaccurate passes from third-string quarterback R.J. Archer in the third quarter, demonstrating impressive body control and hand-eye coordination to pluck passes thrown behind him.

While Seattle can take solace in the play of their rookies, the injuries to Jackson and Matthews are a significant concern. Jackson was carted off the field with an ankle injury. Matthews left with a shoulder injury. The Seahawks announced shortly after each left the field that their returns were questionable.

Following the game, Pete Carroll said that Jackson suffered an ankle sprain and that he'd be out for two weeks. Matthews suffered an AC sprain and is expected to miss 10-14 days.

Frankly, given how serious the injuries first appeared, the relatively short amount of time Carroll expects the Seahawks to be without Jackson and Matthews is good news.

Some of the biggest stars for either team were held out despite their health. Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas and DeMarcus Ware were among Denver's healthy scratches with the Seahawks holding out Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman, among others.

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