Six To Watch vs. Oakland

When asked on Monday if compelling performances in the final preseason game could decide final roster spots, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren replied affirmatively. "There are some really close battles. How do you decide? If someone were to have a spectacular game where you just say, ‘There is no way this guy can not make the football team', that has happened. It could happen Thursday night."

This will be the game many casual fans will bypass – after all, Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander and the rest of the Super Bowl starters won’t likely get more than a blow or two before tens of desperate young men hit the field in shifts and waves, trying to make that one block, that one tackle, that one highlight catch or broken-field run they pray will make them impossible to cut on Saturday, September 2nd, when the NFL’s final 53-man roster limit must be reached.

In many ways, this game, and all the other preseason finales like it around the league, will be among the most intensely contested of the entire season. Fighting for a game up in the standings is one thing – fighting for your future in the NFL when you’ve been a bubble guy your entire career is quite another.

The following six players will all be fighting for something when they face the Raiders on Thursday night – a starting spot, a presence in a rotation, or a place on the team at all. These are six of the faces you should watch when the Seahawks and Raiders play:

1. QB David Greene: With the release of popular backup Gibran Hamdan this week, the pressure is now on Greene to show what he can do, and has learned, after two training camps in Seahawks blue. According to Holmgren, the 2005 third-round pick will see considerable action against the Raiders in the second half, and possibly a series in the first. Though it would appear that Greene’s roster spot is safe no matter what he does, one never knows what might occur if he looks ill at ease on Thursday night, and Sunday’s final cuts around the NFL set loose a veteran backup option to man the quarterback position along with Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace. .

2. WR Peter Warrick: The word is that injured #1 receiver Darrell Jackson will be ready for the regular season opener on September 10th in Detroit, a move that would push everyone else down a peg on the depth chart, and Warrick out of any starting consideration. This was thought by many to be Warrick’s rebound year, but there hasn’t been consistent evidence of that just yet. He’s most likely the top option at punt returner, but to make any sort of difference as more than a backup and jump over highly regarded youngster D.J. Hackett for the 4-spot, Warrick should consider this game to be a continuation of his audition process. His drops in camp didn’t help his case, to be sure, and his preseason receiving totals in three games – only 4 catches for 57 yards, with youngster Maurice Mann looking very solid in the background – could mean that the pressure is on for a monster game.

3. TE Will Heller: Starting tight end Jerramy Stevens will miss the first month of the regular season with a knee injury, and second man Itula Mili may or may not be ready for the regular season. Heller, an undrafted free agent in 2003 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (acquired then under the watch of current Seattle personnel chiefs Tim Ruskell and Ruston Webster), was signed by the Seahawks as a blocking TE, replacing Ryan Hannam, Now, he will get a chance to show all he can do. Heller did a bit of that against San Diego last Saturday, when he brought in 2 passes for 31 yards, including a 26-yarder. Heller, like Chuck Darby, Joe Tafoya and Joe Jurevicius last year, could prove to be a valuable pickup from Ruskell’s Tampa Bay days.

4. G Rob Sims: Though Floyd Womack is the no-doubt-if-healthy starter at the left guard position, his recent injury history puts that “if” in sharp relief. Sims, this year’s fourth-round pick from Ohio State, has taken his big-school experience to the pros with an impressive start. When replacing Womack through most of the preseason, Sims has looked surprisingly mature - dominant at times – and he provides yet another depth option for Seattle’s offensive line. Womack will see a bit of action against the Raiders, but it will most likely be Sims’ show after that. This game will virtually guarantee him a spot on the 53-man roster if he plays as he has.

5. DE Joe Tafoya: Don’t be surprised if you see a great deal of rotation among the defensive ends fighting for the final spot behind Grant Wistrom, Bryce Fisher and Darryl Tapp. Tafoya has found time at all of Tim Ruskell’s ports of call – Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Seattle – the veteran has a knack for the important play off the bench. This season, the competition is tougher for him, as former Carolina Panther Kemp Rasmussen has shown impressive athleticism, and ex-Raider and 49er Chris Cooper (who can also move inside) has been a star of the preseason, gaining accolades from Holmgren himself. If Tafoya wants to survive the final call from the Turk, it’s time to make a big statement.

6. S Jordan Babineaux: Projected as a corner/safety “swingman” coming into the season, Babineaux will play more of a role at safety due to Mike Green’s season-ending foot injury against the Chargers. The coaches love his versatility and he doesn’t need to worry about cuts, but it will be interesting to see if he proves comfortable enough inside to make another safety roster spot – for example, a chance taken on the less experienced Etric Pruitt or a continued look at Oliver Celestin – a necessity for the coaching staff. In Seattle’s increasingly depleted secondary, Babineaux is the utility man who will decide how things shake down.


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