FMQB - "The Unnamed Feeling"

The Seahawks closed out their preseason with a 23-21 victory over the Vikings, but the real drama played itself out in position battles and final cuts.

Seattle Seahawks 23, Minnesota Vikings 21
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
Thursday, September 2, 2004

It starts with a feeling in the pit of your stomach.

A matter of survival, and the slow, dawning recognition that you might not make it? Perhaps. All you know is that ever since you were very young, your only dream in life has been to play football at this level. As a child, you see yourself in the uniform of your favorite team, scoring the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl even as reality dictates that you first learn to take the ball quickly enough to hit the line from your Pop Warner coach.

But you’re determined. And you learn. You ask your parents and friends to help you practice after hours. Slowly, the light comes on. You can play this game. Your teammates, your friends, the girls in your school…they all know you can play this game.

Through high school, you are the Unstoppable Alpha Male. Nobody can beat you. You’re a man among boys. Stringers for your local papers fight to interview you. Colleges start remembering your name. Then, as you enter your senior year, the letters start coming in. Major colleges want you…yes, YOU…to come to their school so badly that they’re ready to send representatives to your house, to meet your parents, to promise you not only a fine education, but the chance…no, the honor…to play for their school. “You could redefine your position”, they tell you. And you start to believe them when enough people say it.

You choose a college, get with the program, begin to make your mark, and enjoy the further exposure of your talents. Maybe you even see a play you made on the local news that night. You don’t play for a “SportsCenter” school, but you know you’re worthy. Although the college game comes harder that you expected, you’re a good, solid, consistent player with the occasional flash of brilliance. Once again, the “moles” from the next level are watching you. You know it. You can feel it. You’re so close to the dream of your lifetime, you can taste it.

And then, Draft Day arrives. You, your buddies, your family, people you haven’t seen in years are all crowded around the television in your parents’ living room, watching to see where you’re going to become the next NFL star. You’re nervous, but confident. If you go to the combine, you’ll run the drills, talk to coaches until your voice is hoarse, and believe that you proved to everyone that you’re ready for the NFL. Maybe you’re drafted in the first round…but most likely, you’re not. The reports on you say that you’re a “high-character” guy…not a first-round talent, but a fine addition to the right team. You just hope you get picked in the first day.

Sometimes, you begin to learn, things don’t go as planned. Day One, the first three rounds, go by without your name being called. Maybe you get picked in the later rounds, and the nervous crowd that surrounds you breathes a sigh of relief. Maybe you don’t get drafted at all.

Even if you go undrafted, there’s still hope. You can walk on and make the team. You just know it. And when you’re invited to an NFL mini-camp, you’re excited but nervous. You’ve heard everyone talk about how much faster the NFL game is, how much more you need to know…hell, you’ve heard about Heisman Trophy winners washing out at this level. But it occurs to you that maybe you have the intangibles it takes at this level. Only one way to find out.

And even though the coaches want to see what you can do at training camp, you begin to wonder…can you take it? They weren’t kidding when they talked about the speed of the NFL game…even in simple drills, plays you could make at the lower levels aren’t nearly as easy. Everyone’s smarter. Everyone’s faster. Everyone hits harder. You’re starting to question whether you can measure up. And you’re not the only one with those questions.

Two-a-days have caused more than one retirement…more than one holdout. Nobody likes them, but you don’t have a choice. You tolerate the heat, the repetition, the nagging sense that the knowledge you’re supposed to be taking in can’t be assessed and acted on in the limited time you have to prove yourself. Yet, you see others all around you showing that they can bring it. Some who are “on the bubble”, just like you, hit some sort of momentum and the “no-names” become players. They start to fit in – the coaches start paying more attention to them because they can visualize them in the uniform.

Meanwhile, you’re feeling more and more isolated. The coaches used to yell at you when you screwed up…now, they barely talk to you at all. There are eight men, including you, in this camp who play your position. Problem is, only four positions are available. Two are “gimmes” for the stars and high draft picks, and the other two are held out in front of the remaining six contestants. A blood war will be fought, and those spots are the spoils of victory.

First cuts are coming soon. That nagging gets stronger and stronger. The unnamed feeling inside you…goading you…making you work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life…because you know that one blown play, one whiffed tackle, or one missed block could sit in your coach’s head and become your death sentence.

Sure, there’s always the waiver wire…maybe even the practice squad. But there are no guarantees in this league. As the cuts are decided, you dread the tap on the shoulder at the lunch table…the words, “Coach wants to see you – bring your playbook.”

First cuts for the Seahawks came on August 31, as quarterback Bryson Spinner, running back Clarence Farmer, wide receivers Sammy Moore and Marque Davis, tight end Casey Poppinga, guards Isaac Herring and Dustin Kroeker, defensive end Gabe Nyenhuis, linebacker Rod Royal, cornerback Derrick Tatum and kicker Tyler Fredrickson took the road heading away from Seattle.

Free safety Arnold Parker, a rookie free agent, was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Cornerback Jernaro Gilford never passed his precamp physical and was released. The Seahawks cut their roster down to 65 (plus 11 NFL Europe exemptions) by placing linebacker D.D. Lewis on injured reserve. Lewis is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

The next cuts, which will take the roster down to the final 53, will come this Sunday, leaving the final preseason game against the Vikings as the final test of survival for many players. Tonight, many starters grabbed 60 minutes of bench as the coaches for both teams ran the numbers one last time before setting their lineups in stone.

And in the “Battle Of The Backups”, Seattle came away with a 23-21 victory when Josh Brown nailed a 28-yard field goal (his third of the night) at the very end of the game. The Seahawks finished the 2004 preseason 3-1.

Offense – (First Half - A-, Second Half - B):
If there’s one thing you can say about Trent Dilfer, it’s that he is absolutely fearless. This man will sit in the pocket, take the hits, get back up and do it all over again. Dilfer’s one mistake – a floater intercepted by DT Steve Martin in the first quarter – was due to his inability to accept defeat and take the sack. Indomitable will is a valuable quality, but when it trumps good judgment…well, you kill a drive. However, if there’s another thing you can say about Trent Dilfer, it’s that he hasn’t lost his fastball. With very limited starting time over the last two years, Dilfer just shredded an aggressive Minnesota defense with a 17 of 20, 211-yard performance in the first half.

Dilfer’s first-half performance was assisted by four wide receivers fighting for positions. First half stats: Jehreme Urban (3 catches for 48 yards), Jason Willis (5 for 26 and a TD), Taco Wallace (2 for 17) and the from-out-of-nowhere Antoine Burns (2 catches for 79 yards, including a 72-yard reception) all made strong cases for themselves. Mike Holmgren will have some very tough decisions to make when he has to cut some of these people.

Until Dilfer just went unconscious in the second quarter, it looked like the star of the first half might be RB Maurice Morris. Morris, the erstwhile backup to Shaun Alexander and a player who would start for many teams, jumped and juked his way for 52 yards on 10 carries in the opening 30 minutes. Morris may not resemble the statuesque classic runner, but his “bowling-ball” style of running downhill is generally very effective.

The second half was Seneca Wallace’s. While Wallace didn’t match Dilfer’s efficiency, he did go 15 of 25 for 148 yards, including a 6 for 6, 48-yard performance on the final game-winning drive. Few Seahawks have done more this preseason to help their case than Wallace, who has nabbed the third QB slot and appears to be gaining confidence as he goes. Wallace was helped by WRs D.J. Hackett as well as Urban, Burns, Willis and Wallace, all of whom continued to turn in fine performances through the second half.

One player who appeared doomed was oft-maligned FB Heath Evans. Evans may not have done enough to save his job in this game (although he did come down with a miracle grab of an arcing Wallace pass late in the game), but with Chris Davis’ knee injury, Evans may stay on by default.

Defense - (First Half - B, Second Half - C): The game was marked by Grant Wistrom’s very brief Seahawks debut, but it was Ken Lucas (again) who set the tone. The defensive play of the first half was…um…the “first half” of Lucas’ second preseason interception. Gus Frerotte had absolutely frozen the Seahawk front line on a play fake and went “Bombs Away!” to Nate Burleson in the end zone. What Frerotte didn’t notice was that Lucas had read him perfectly and was waiting for the ball. Where Lucas made it “interesting” (and where he probably got an earful from the coaches) was when he hesitated for a second, took the ball out of the end zone and promptly fumbled at the Seahawk 18. Fortunately, Anton Palepoi grabbed the fumble at the 23. Ken, we know you’re the man, but…think before you run. That’s all we ask. Now, continue with what will be a Pro Bowl season. Thank you!

Overall, the Seahawk defense displayed a little less of the speed, pursuit and aggressiveness than we saw last week in San Diego. As it was last year at the Metrodome, “read-and react” seemed to be the order of the day. And at the beginning of the game, it really wasn’t working. Daunte Culpepper was 5 for 5 with 92 yards on the Vikings’ opening TD drive, and early on, the game began to resemble the 34-7 shellacking the Hawks took at the hands of Culpepper and his Elite Death Squad of receivers last season.

Backup Gus Frerotte did not share Culpepper’s success. Frerotte was 6 of 9 for 59 yards in the first half – no touchdowns and the Lucas INT, but Ray Rhodes and his defense would do well to take a more proactive stance against the NFL’s best.

One would imagine that next week’s season opener against New Orleans will see much more forward motion from the starting defense, but the second half of this game was more about who might make the team than anything else. Isiah Kacyvenski probably helped himself the most on defense. After some iffy performances this preseason, Kaz was playing like a man possessed, sharing the team lead in tackles (4) with Solomon Bates, Tracy White and Michael Boulware. Tereal Bierria (who will likely start at safety with Ken Hamlin) got a devastating hit on Vikings WR Keenan Howry that even Hamlin would have been proud of. I’m telling you, offensive coordinators…pick your spots when you come against this secondary. DE Omar Nazel also stood out with two goal line stops in the third quarter

Summary: The last game of the preseason may be just as irrelevant in the final standings as any other exhibition game, but the meaning jumps up a level or two as many players walk off the field at the final gun with the belief that they’ve sealed their fate…one way or another.

Good luck, gentlemen…wherever you go.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. You can reach him at doug@seahawks.net.

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